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Reliable Sources

Coverage of the Foley Scandal; Coverage of Bob Woodward's New Book

Aired October 08, 2006 - 10:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: From the George Washington University in the heart of the nation's capital, this is a special edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.
I'm Howard Kurtz.

We'll turn our critical lens on the media and hear from our studio audience right here just ahead.


KURTZ (voice over): The Foley frenzy. The media scandal machine kicks into high gear over the tawdry tale of Mark Foley and his sexual correspondence with teenage House pages.

Why did top Republicans and two Florida newspapers fail to uncover what took ABC's Brian Ross only a couple of days to learn? And is the journalistic speculation about Dennis Hastert resigning as speaker out of control?

Plus, the endless war. Why is television coverage of the conflict in Iraq continued to fade? And has the press bought into the Bob Woodward account that the White House is hiding the truth?


KURTZ: The sex scandal that has produced a daily barrage of heated, some would say overheated, media coverage has been building since ABC's Brian Ross revealed that Florida congressman Mark Foley had sent sexually graphic messages to a number of teenagers who had been House pages. And from the moment Foley resigned, that story, steamy details and all, has dominated the news.


KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS: His lawyer acknowledged today that Foley is gay, but denied Foley had sex with congressional pages.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: A cesspool hidden away on Capitol Hill.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: It's left Republicans scrambling to explain how Foley's alleged misconduct went unchecked.

KURTZ (voice over): There was no shortage of media speculation about the future of House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who was warned about Foley's unusual interest in the pages months or as much as three years ago, depending on whose account you believe.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I talked to one senior Republican strategist earlier today who said he would be surprised if the speaker still is in his job at the week's end.

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC: In fact, tonight we've been told by every lawmaker -- every Republican lawmaker we've called has said that Dennis Hastert will not be the speaker of the House this time next week.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: I think the chances that Speaker Hastert will return as speaker next year are almost zero.


KURTZ: Joining us now, Steve Roberts, professor of media and public affairs here at the George Washington University, and a former congressional correspondent for "The New York Times"; CNN Senior Political Correspondent Candy Crowley; and Jill Zuckman, national correspondent for "The Chicago Tribune".

Steve, the press loves a scandal, no bull (ph) in there. Especially a sex scandal. But after one week of this, is the coverage just starting to go overboard?

STEVE ROBERTS, PROFESSOR OF MEDIA & PUBLIC AFFAIRS, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: I don't think so, because there was so many elements to the story beyond sex. There was hypocrisy. The fact that...

KURTZ: We like that, too?

ROBERTS: We like -- we love hypocrisy. The fact that Republican had portrayed themselves as defenders of the family, there was the hypocrisy of Foley himself being the head of a caucus on children -- child abuse. And there was the cover-up, the clear fact that the leaders of the this Congress could not get their act together, could not...

KURTZ: You're not jumping to a conclusion here by using the word "cover-up"?

ROBERTS: No, I don't think so.

KURTZ: Isn't it an alleged cover-up? Isn't it a possible cover- up?

ROBERTS: Well, it's a very -- a very clear cover-up because they haven't gotten their story straight.

KURTZ: We have...

ROBERTS: Someone is not telling the same story.

KURTZ: We have the Roberts verdict.

Jill Zuckman, you covered Denny Hastert over the years working for a Chicago newspaper. This constant drumbeat, will he resign, he's about to resign, he's toast, he'll be gone in an hour and a half, wasn't that getting ahead of the story?

JILL ZUCKMAN, "CHICAGO TRIBUNE': Well, you know, the thing that most reporters don't know about Speaker Hastert -- and let's face it, most people really don't know a lot about him. He's been a very kind of shadowy...

KURTZ: Low profile.

ZUCKMAN: ... speaker. He's got a big stubborn streak. So does his office. And they don't like to be pushed around. And they didn't feel like this was justifiable, and he made a decision that he wasn't going to be driven out of office.

And so, unless you knew that, you have to be able to factor that in to how they were going handle this.

KURTZ: Candy Crowley, Dennis Hastert got a number of warnings according to various accounts, but the only hard evidence he had was that one initial e-mail from Mark Foley to a 16-year-old saying, "Can I see a picture?" Now, "The St. Petersburg Times" had the same e- mail, "The Miami Herald" had the same e-mail. They ran nothing.

So are we being a little self-righteous here in rushing to judgment about why he didn't move more aggressively.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, not only that, we think the FBI had the same memo, too, in July. And they didn't see anything in it.

You know, we don't know Hastert's point of view. I mean, we learned from all these child experts and people that watch this sort of thing that this is a red flag. I just thought it was creepy. I thought it was a number of things, but I'm not sure I would have jumped up and thought, OK, this guy is writing really graphic things now.

So, in this day and age, Hastert may have been behind the times.

KURTZ: On Friday, Steve Roberts, CNN named one of the teenagers who had received some of these really raunchy instant messages with the permission of his lawyer, Stephen Jones. NBC also interviewed Stephen Jones. They did not name teenager.

The reason his name even surfaced was because ABC put -- had an online posting. It inadvertently included the screen name. A blogger tracked him down.

Do you think the news organizations should use this kid's name?

ROBERTS: Only very, very carefully, with their permission, with their parents' permission. Otherwise, no. I think that ABC was right initially to block out the names because you're dealing with kids, and the whole -- the whole furor here is about protecting kids from predators and from embarrassment and from news accounts. And a child who -- a young man who would be named in this, his whole life will be changed. Forever after he will be known as that person. You've got to be very careful before you do that.

KURTZ: Although, some of them apparently are already appearing on TV, and I bet you some of them are hiring agents.

Let's go to our audience.

Your name and question, please.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi. My name is Adam Otterman (ph). I'm from Washington, D.C.

A question. Why are we not focussing on Mark Foley, the real criminal, as opposed to Hastert?

KURTZ: Jill Zuckman, would that be because Foley is already gone from Congress?

ZUCKMAN: I think he -- you know, a lot of times when you talk about how to handle a crisis, the whole point is to say your thing, to say you're sorry, and to be done with it. And he resigned from Congress. He essentially admitted he did this. And he checked himself into rehab where, you know, you can't really go get at him anymore.

So I think...

KURTZ: Well, just to jump in, I mean...


KURTZ: ... he did all this through statements and through lawyers.


KURTZ: He has not stood in front of a television camera and apologized to the people of Florida, to his family.

ZUCKMAN: Well, who says that he has to? I mean, he may do that some day. He may have to do it in a court of law. But there's no requirement that he come out and face the television cameras.

KURTZ: It's only a requirement...

ROBERTS: Or until his book comes out.

KURTZ: Oh, we're looking at that.

It's only the requirement in the court of public opinion. There's certainly no constitutional requirement.

What is fueling this story, Candy Crowley, it seems to me, is journalists love -- they feast on unanswered questions. And so you have these conflicting accounts -- Dennis Hastert, Majority Leader John Boehner, Tom Reynolds, the GOP campaign chief in the House, the aide who resigned and said, oh, no, I told Hastert's staff two years ago that Foley was a problem.

Is that in your view why there's been a second day story and a third day story and a fourth day story? Because we haven't unraveled this yet?

CROWLEY: Absolutely. I mean, you sort of see the Republicans out there just dreading picking up their morning paper, because it's been above the fold, it's been the lead story on all the cable networks, because every day something else happens, which is why every single political adviser I've ever known said go out, tell them everything you know, and then go away.

KURTZ: And they never seem to take that advice.

CROWLEY: And they don't do it.

ROBERTS: But there's another factor, too. We're five weeks from an election. There's only a 15-seat margin. Foley's seat now is in play, it could go Democratic. That means there's only 14 seats.

This could have an impact on voters, particularly married mothers who have been a critical vote. They've gone for Bush in the last election.

KURTZ: So you're saying this is why Republicans are being on the defensive?

ROBERTS: Absolutely.

KURTZ: Right.

ROBERTS: It's a political story as well. Republicans have admitted that if their core voters stay home -- they're not going to vote Democratic, but if they stay home that could throw the election. That's the other reason why it's a big story.

ZUCKMAN: It's also a story of the unraveling of the Republican leadership in Congress. I mean, this is a group that we always used to work (ph) in lockstep.

CROWLEY: That's the only story it is now. I mean, Foley we know.



KURTZ: The finger-pointing has been an amazing spectacle. ZUCKMAN: We've never seen this before with this group. They've always been -- you know, they've always talked from the same page. They've always marched to the same tune. And suddenly they are all saying different things.

KURTZ: Let me let you in on a secret. We in the news business, we love finger-pointing, we love disarray. We don't like unity. It's a boring story.

Back to the audience.

Your name and your question, please.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Heather Martin (ph), American University's Washington semester program.

And the reason Foley friends see -- the parents of the 16-year- old boy issued a statement requesting that he be kept out of the news. By throwing the boy into the mix of this X-rated story, how do you feel the media has respected his identity and his future?

KURTZ: How do you feel the media has respected his identity and his future?


KURTZ: You feel sorry for him?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I kind of do, because if he -- he is forever -- like the gentleman on stage said, he is forever going to be known as the kid involved in the Foley frenzy or scandal.

KURTZ: He certainly didn't ask for this. He didn't blow the whistle. He got dragged into this.

ROBERTS: Well, that's true. And I think, you know, one of the reasons why this story didn't break earlier was his parents asked that his name not be used. And to this day I don't think his name has surfaced, the young man from Louisiana.

KURTZ: Right. Of course there are multiple pages now who have received his messages, some of whom are starting to come forward, some of whom are speaking to journalists anonymously.

CROWLEY: Right. I mean, this young man, to my knowledge, we in fact know who he is. A lot of news organization know who he is, but he has not come forward. His -- Alexander, who is his congressman, has said, you know, they don't want to come forward. They don't want to have any part of this.

Now, are people staked out outside his home? Probably. Have people tried to call? Yes. And that's why you saw a message from the parents saying could you leave him alone, but publicly he's been protected.

KURTZ: Dennis Hastert, the House speaker, held a news conference this week. Let's take a brief look at what he had to say.


REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: The bottom line is that we're taking responsibility because ultimately, as someone has said in Washington before, the buck stops here.


KURTZ: That's Dennis Hastert channeling -- channeling Harry Truman. And earlier in the week he made the rounds of conservative radio talk show hosts. Here's what Rush Limbaugh had to say during his interview with the speaker.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, "THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW": It's clear to me that what the Democrats are doing here in some sort of cooperation with some in the media is to suppress conservative turnout by making it look like you guys knew this all along, but because you're so interested in holding the House rather than protecting children that you've covered it up.


KURTZ: The media cooperating in trying to suppress conservative turnout?

ROBERTS: That's totally absurd. The fact is that this story broke when it broke.

Now, can this story have a political effect? I just said yes. Can it suppress Republican turnout among conservative Christians? Yes, it could have that effect. But the -- but the notion that this was somehow a liberal media conspiracy is ridiculous. There's absolutely no evidence of that.

KURTZ: ABC's Brian Ross said that although he put the story aside for a few weeks after getting an initial tip, his sources were mainly Republicans. But are you hearing from Republicans that they think that Democrats have played some hand in this?

CROWLEY: Only publicly. I mean, I don't -- look, this is a sort of, you k now, shell game. You know, you need to watch it over here, and don't watch it over here.

So, I mean, I think the problem with this whole blame the Democrats thing is that you can't sit up there and say we take full responsibility, but the Democrats are to blame. So, look, whoever leaked the story may -- I mean, people who leak stories always have political agendas. So I don't know who leaked it to Brian, but to blame the news media I think is crazy.

You go with a story when you have the story. I don't know about the...

KURTZ: If it hadn't been for ABC News, we would still not know about this and Mark Foley would still be a congressman.

Let me get a break.

When we come back, why some former House pages are fed up with the media in the Foley scandal. And more questions from our studio audience here at the George Washington University.



KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES here at the George Washington University.

And here in the audience is a former member of the House page program.

Hi. What's your name?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My name is Caitlin Funk (ph), and I was a page for Congressman Jeb Bradley from New Hampshire.

KURTZ: How long ago was that?


KURTZ: And your question for our panel?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Since the scandal there has been a lot of attention on the negative aspects of the program and security, and there's been talk about abolishing the program, shouldn't the focus be placed on removing corrupt members of Congress rather than the program itself?

KURTZ: Steve Roberts, is the House program -- page program going to be collateral damage in this frenzy?

ROBERTS: I certainly hope not. It's a wonderful program. My own son, in fact, served as a page a number of years ago, wound up marrying a woman he met that summer when he was 16. So I have a deep devotion of the page program, and it's been a wonderful experience for thousands of young people who become very involved in politics.

It would be an enormous mistake to follow Congressman LaHood and others who talk about killing the page program. The kids are not responsible for this.

KURTZ: Let's look at what some other former pages are saying online on the phenomenally popular Web site FaceBook, which is frequented by college students.

Here's one who says, "Please stop seeing the media as an enemy. Use the media to your advantage. Use the media to see our side of the story and the joys of the page program."

But someone else writes, "The media have blown this story completely out of proportion. Don't get me wrong, what happened was really bad, but contacting every page on FaceBook is a bit ridiculous on the media's part."

Candy Crowley?

CROWLEY: Well, first of all, that's how you find out a story. You know? That's just the nature of reporting on a story.

KURTZ: Right. Every report in every newsroom is calling up...

CROWLEY: Looking for the next...

KURTZ: ... every former House page they can find.

CROWLEY: Absolutely. And that's -- if it were something else, I mean, if it were about coal miners in West Virginia, we'd be calling up every coal miner. That's the process.

But to mistake coverage of the pages -- for instance, this "let's abolish the program," -- it wasn't the news media that said time to abolish the program. It was congressmen on Capitol Hill. You can't not cover that.

KURTZ: Jill Zuckman, TV in particular has been rather skittish about these e-mails and instant messages. They're pretty raunchy. I wonder if it's been too skittish.

Some of these are about -- let's just talk about it right here. Some of these are about masturbating while talking to Congressman Foley during a vote. The kids talk about their mother coming in. One of the kids says his mother came in during -- "I have homework to do."

It kind of reminds us that these are kids, that these are teenagers. Do you think we owe it to readers and viewers to tell them more about what's in these exchanges even though it's a little embarrassing?

ZUCKMAN: Well, it's still -- television is still a family medium. Newspapers are still a family venture that you read over the breakfast table.

I mean, there are -- there are lines that have to be drawn, and I think that the news media has tried to describe what this was about without going over the line and making you not want to eat your cereal in the morning.

KURTZ: It's a delicate balance.

Let's go back to our audience.

Hi. What's your name?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi. I'm Bob Costa (ph) from the University of Notre Dame.

KURTZ: And your question, please. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How much do you think that the top stories are driven by the online media like "The Drudge Report" or ABC's "The Note"? And what are the consequences of having the traditional media so reactive to online commentary in news?

KURTZ: Jump all. Who wants it?

ROBERTS: It's an excellent question. And I think that -- you know, I teach media ethics right here in this building, and we were talking about that in class just this week. And I think you have a plus and a minus here. I think the plus is that the inner activity of this media allows information to flow.

As soon as ABC posted the first e-mails, other pages jumped in and we learned a lot more than we would have through traditional methods. The downside is that the Internet can disseminate a lot of unfounded rumor. And that can get -- make its way into the journalistic bloodstream.

So there is a big plus. There's a big minus.

KURTZ: I'm glad you mentioned the plus, because was it not for the Web, ABC wouldn't have been able to break this story...

ROBERTS: Absolutely.

KURTZ: ... because that initial story was not quite ready for prime time.

Steve Roberts, Candy Crowley, Jill Zuckman, thanks very much for joining us here at GW.

When we come back, we'll turn our attention to Iraq and talk to CNN's Nic Robertson about covering the conflict on the ground.




NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I've got my helmet on. I've got my protective glasses. If there's a blast I don't get fragments in my eyes. This city has more roadside bombs along this route than about any other city in Iraq right now.

It's being manned by tribal militias. There are -- polling stations -- that was one of the first big explosions this city. That's what we're talking about here.

Anderson, we have to go in.


KURTZ: He spent much of the last four years reporting from Iraq. CNN Senior International Correspondent Nic Robertson, he joins us now from London.

Nic Robertson, all that time, the murders, the car bombs, the roadside explosives, the torture, the attacks at hospitals and funerals, how do you make each day's bloody report sound different from the rest?

ROBERTSON: I think you try and look for the trends that are happening. And it is difficult when the violence does seem so repetitive. But try and look for the trends, try and look for what's changing, try and make each day seem significant compared to the -- compared to the previous day, even if you're already highlighting one of the issues that's exemplified by what's happening on the ground.

KURTZ: Nic, here in our studio audience we have a Navy midshipman.

Would you stand, please?

Hi. What's your name?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Leah Gold (ph) from Plainsboro, New Jersey.

KURTZ: And nice to have you here. What is your question for Nic Robertson?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If the press showed more of the reconstruction effort and less of the violence could public opinion be shaped more in favor of finishing the job in Iraq?

KURTZ: You've heard that criticism before, Nic. Go ahead.

ROBERTSON: I think we do the best that we can to report most accurately the preponderance of what's happening in Iraq. And I do believe that we manage to get to some of the reconstruction stories.

It's incredibly difficult these days for a journalist to get around the country independently. In fact, it's near impossible to get outside of Baghdad without being embedded inside the U.S. military. And when we are, we get access to that reconstruction.

I don't believe that coverage of more reconstruction would change the course of the war. I think there's a dynamic that's happening in Iraq that is beyond our ability as journalists or even politicians to shape at this time. The dynamic really is something that nobody seems to be able to control at the moment, and that's really what we spend a lot of time reporting on now.

KURTZ: Does that seem reasonable to you?


KURTZ: Are you frustrated by the coverage? Do you think it's too one-sided?


KURTZ: All right.

Nic, there's been a resurgence to the Iraq story in recent days because about two dozen American servicemen have been killed. But going back over the last several months, a dramatic drop-off in the coverage. A number of stories on the networks, a number of stories on the front pages of newspapers.

Is it harder for you as a correspondent who spends a lot of time there to sell stories about Iraq, even on CNN, which does a lot of international coverage, because it's overshadowed by the Foley mess or the midterm elections or the school shootings here in America?

ROBERTSON: I think people are still very interested in what's happening to the troops who are in Iraq and why they're still there and what they can achieve, and should they stay and how many should be there. So I think there's a huge amount of interest. And I think it's our job as journalists to try and dig through the sort of superficial day-by-day stories to try and pick up some of those long- term trends.

We've learned just recently that about 12,000 Iraqi policemen have been killed in the past couple of years, 4,000 -- 12,000 injured, rather, 4,000 killed in the past couple of years. There are trends that get buried below the surface, and I think it's our job to dig deep and find those and draw them to people's attention.

It is tough, yes. There are other stories, and as Iraq grinds on, it perhaps becomes increasingly difficult. But that's our job, and that's why, you know, a handful of us try and specialize in Iraq and try and -- and try and see those trends.

KURTZ: Let's go back to our studio audience for another question.

Hi. What's your name?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Peter Cohen (ph) from Vermont.

KURTZ: Nice to see you here.

Your question for Nic Robertson, please.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I was just wondering how you think journalists should cover the war if the public is losing interest and it's often too dangerous to work in the field and uncover facts that would keep people interested.

KURTZ: You've certainly talked about the dangers, Nic. What about public interest?

ROBERTSON: It's the job of any reporter covering any story to try and make the story engaging, to try and help the audience want to understand, want to learn about what's happening. And it is a challenge, and we try and do that in a number of different ways by perhaps telling a personal story that gives you an idea of the bigger picture. Perhaps by, you know, featuring one particular school or one particular military unit, or whatever it is, to try and -- to try and make that connection with the audience.

There's no doubt that it is a challenge. I've said that several times already. It is. Again, it is our job to do that.

But I think there are tremendously important things happening in Iraq. How the United States is viewed around the world, particularly in the Muslim world at this time, is being shaped by what's happening in Iraq, and this is something that's going to resonate in the coming years, if not decades.

KURTZ: Nic Robertson, thanks very much for joining us.

And in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, we'll ask two Pentagon reporters why Iraq keeps fading in and out of the headlines.

And later, Bill Press and David Frum square off over the coverage of Bob Woodward's book and its charges of an administration's dishonesty about the war.

And more questions from our studio audience.

That's after a check of the hour's top stories from the CNN Center in Atlanta.



KURTZ: Welcome back to this special edition of RELIABLE SOURCES here at the George Washington University.

The coverage of Iraq has seemed to fade in the last few weeks, but in recent days the bloody conflict has made it back on to the television screen.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: Now we switch to Iraq. And we have grim news from there to report tonight. Twenty-one American soldiers have been killed in just the first four days of October.

LARA LOGAN, CBS NEWS: What can be worse than killing patients, killing their relatives when they come to see them, killing relatives when they come to claim bodies?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): No one will be safe. There will be destruction. Complete destruction is what we are watching with our own eyes, and it's getting worse.


KURTZ: Joining us now are two veteran journalists who patrol the Pentagon, CNN's Jamie McIntyre and Pam Hess, a correspondent for United Press International.

Pam Hess, as I mentioned, a decline, at least in the volume of Iraq coverage in recent months. Do journalists sense that the public is just tired of the same old depressing news?

PAM HESS, UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL: I'm not sure that it's the journalist that are deciding it, because certainly the journalists are in Iraq and filing it. But it's having a hard time making it on to the television screens and in the newspapers because it is so repetitive.

KURTZ: And so editors are making the judgment that enough, or let's tone it down, or let's devote our precious air time and news space to other subjects?

HESS: To other things that capture the public's eye.

KURTZ: It's got to be frustrating, Jamie McIntyre. I mean, you're there every day. The numbers change, the killing methods change, but the basic story line, death and destruction, has not changed.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, but it has changed a little bit recently. We're seeing a sort of growing consensus that -- that the strategy that the United States articulated about as Iraqi forces stand up the U.S. forces will stand down isn't working. And so the reason that it was a little harder to get stories on a while ago is that every story seemed the same as the day before.

It was this many people died in a terrible bomb, this many bad things happened. But where was the difference from the day before? And the reason I think you've seen the story burst back on to the screen is that with the realization that U.S. troops weren't coming home any time in the foreseeable future, it really brought home that there are some serious questions about how the strategy is working.

KURTZ: The question came up earlier in the program, Pam Hess, what about the progress in Iraq? What about the good news? An example of that should have been this new Baghdad police academy that was being constructed there for $75 million. What happened?

HESS: Yes. In August, they -- the Army Corps of Engineers brought a bunch of reporters to the Baghdad Police Academy to show them this reconstruction project, and they filmed it and everyone was happy and it was a great example of the use of U.S. taxpayer money. Four weeks later, an inspector general report came out. They had not brought reporters to the building where feces and urine was pouring through the ceiling and buckling up the floor.

It's a problem that the military sort of runs into time and again, is that one thing like that, one omission of a very salient fact ends up affecting their credibility. And that in turn sends the relationship between the military and the media into a downward spiral.

MCINTYRE: I'll tell you the other thing that's changed, is that we used to get a lot of questions when we were roaming the halls of the Pentagon along the lines of the audience member earlier, "Why don't you report more of the positive things that are going on?" We don't get that question as much anymore.

KURTZ: That's exactly what I was going ask you.

MCINTYRE: We don't -- there -- there's not so much emphasis on, well, don't forget the schools are open, you know, the hospitals are being built, the stock market's working, the dinar is strong. I mean, that's not why U.S. troops went there. And we don't get that criticism, and that's and that's another very subtle signal that the story has shifted and...

HESS: And the story has shifted within the Pentagon as well, and within the military, is that there is a greater realization that this situation is serious and they can't make the same old complaints.

KURTZ: Let's bring on the studio audience.

Your name and question, please.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi. My name is Amy Anderson (ph). I'm from Provo, Utah.

How do you feel you can support the troops but not the cause?

MCINTYRE: Well, you know, our job is not to do either, frankly. But you can't help feel when you report -- when you're reporting on the Pentagon, you can't help but be impressed by the U.S. military, especially as Pam does. You know, you can talk about being out in the field. She's been out with them more than I have.

When you relate to people and even the people in the Pentagon, the sort of pointy-headed bureaucrats who are -- you know, most of them are earnest people trying to do the best job they can. So it usually is never personal about the people involved. It's always about the policy.

KURTZ: Amy (ph), do you have relatives in the military?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. Two, in fact. One just came back from Iraq in July and one served in Afghanistan about a year ago.

KURTZ: Are you unhappy with the media coverage based on the contact with your brothers?


KURTZ: Because?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because I think it's similar to what the midshipman said earlier. I think it's unfair about what's going on over there. And I just see the media saying, hey it's important to support the troops, support the troops, yet they're not supporting the cause. And that doesn't give them any hope over there at all.

HESS: To your question about supporting the troops but not supporting the cause, one of the real triumphs, I think, of this Pentagon is they have been able to get reporters to separate in their heads the difference between the military, who is in the implementing job, and the Pentagon, which is the policy job. The cause of the war, the reasons that we're at the war, that's not troops' fault and they don't have any control over it. And they shouldn't get credit for it if it's something that you support. Their job is just to implement it, and that's how we separate it.

KURTZ: And let me expand further, Jamie, on Amy's (ph) question about supporting the troops and not supporting the cause.

As you answered, and rightly so, that it's not journalists' job to support or pose any of these things, it's to ferret out the facts. But do you find that a lot of people out there criticize journalists who appear to be reporting critically on the war and don't make that distinction and, therefore, think that you are undermining our brave men and women who are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan?

MCINTYRE: Well, I do think that a lot of the criticism of the reporting does -- people do believe that it undermines the goals of the mission because it is defeatist, or whatever. But one thing to discover in any organization -- and this is probably true at CNN as it is in the military -- is the people inside the organization know the flaws better than anyone. And one of the things that Pam and I experience is that we're in the Pentagon, we're out with the military. We have to face the same people that we cover every day about -- and defend the story that we did the day before.

We get a lot of feedback from them. And you'd be surprised how many -- just as many people who feel frustrated by the coverage also say, yes, you're doing a good job. And you get that -- that feedback. It's one of the advantages of being on the beat (ph).

KURTZ: Pam Hess, another thing that has brought Iraq back into the headlines is the Bob Woodward book. "State of Denial" paints a very unflattering portrait of Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who did cooperate with Woodward and gave him some (INAUDIBLE) interviews.

How is he dealing with all the publicity generated by the Woodward book?

HESS: Rumsfeld actually has been traveling quite a bit in the last couple of weeks, so he's been sort of dipping in and out. He hasn't had to stand at the Pentagon podium for a couple of weeks. So I think that's -- that's sort of helped things.

But kind of a funny sideline about how that ended up happening, Rumsfeld was ordered by the White House to cooperate with the first two books. He hadn't wanted to talk to him. And from what I understand, when Woodward came along he assumed that the White House was sending him and so sat down with this interview, or two interviews. And it turned out that many of the people in the administration were not cooperating with that book.

KURTZ: "The New York Daily News" described Woodward's portrait of Rumsfeld, Jamie McIntyre, as "a devastating picture of an arrogant, indecisive bungler who won't take responsibility for his mistakes."

What happened to the days when Rumsfeld got all this great press as a rock star?

MCINTYRE: Well, you know, when he was riding high and they were talking to him about, you know, the sex symbol rock star, secretary of war, I remember talking to him in one of the hallways and said, "So, what do you think about all this? Everybody thinks you're great." And he just sort of smiled and said, you know, "Those who the gods would destroy they must first build up."

He's been around a long time. He knows as well as anybody that the same news media that praises you can then break you. But back to your question about how he's handling it, he's not paying any attention to it.

KURTZ: Is he not paying any attention, or is it he wants the press corps to believe that he's not paying attention to it?

MCINTYRE: Well, at 74, with $200 million...

HESS: Million dollars.

MCINTYRE: ... of assets, and he really doesn't take this seriously. He -- and it's one of the things that they fault him for, is that he's so self-confident, he so believes that he's doing the right things, making the right decisions, that this kind of criticism doesn't bother him. And in a way, that's the core of the criticism of him.

KURTZ: Jamie McIntyre, Pam Hess, thanks very much for joining us.

Just ahead, Bill Press and David Frum face off over the coverage of Iraq. And the Foley feeding frenzy on Washington's latest sex scandal.



KURTZ: Welcome back.

We're here at the George Washington University.

More on the House page scandal in just a moment, but joining us now to talk about coverage of the Iraq war, David Frum, "National Review" contributor and a former speechwriter for President Bush, and Bill Press, who hosts a morning program on Sirius Satellite Radio.

David Frum, the press is increasingly depicting Iraq as a major liability for the Republicans, mounting violence, the situation kind of being portrayed as hopeless. Have the media just turned against this war?

DAVID FRUM, "NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE": Well, it is a place of mounting violence, and the situation is very difficult. And in a way, that is an important piece of information for the public to know. We're not going to be able to fix the problem unless we absorb the gravity of the problem. So I think on the whole, the media there face incredible dangers. I think they do a pretty good job. And I think maybe we'd be better off now if people had paid more attention to warnings earlier on.

KURTZ: Bill Press, President Bush recently tried to kind of refrain this whole debate by casting Iraq as just another front on the war on terror. Did news organizations push back hard or hard enough in your view against that argument? And if so, was that a change from the media's behavior earlier in this conflict?

BILL PRESS, SIRIUS SATELLITE RADIO: I don't think they pushed back hard enough, but I do think they -- they've started to push back. I think what happened unfortunately for President Bush is the national intelligence estimate came out but sort of took the fire away from that part that was leaked.

KURTZ: It didn't just come out. It was leaked to "The New York Times," and then Bush declassified other parts of it and that kicked off this whole debate.

PRESS: The part that kicked off this whole debate. It also undermined his argument. And then Mark Foley comes along, and then a shooting in Pennsylvania, and suddenly Iraq and the war on terror and everything is off the front page and George Bush can go to California and give lots of speeches about Iraq and nobody listens.

FRUM: I think there's a poisonous dynamic that's governed a lot of the coverage of Iraq. You're supposed to believe one of two things, and only two things.

You're supposed to believe Iraq is really important and necessary and going well, or you're supposed to believe that Iraq was a distraction and a diversion and going badly. But you should be able to cross those positions, and you should be able to believe logically Iraq is really important, it was really necessary, the president did the right thing, but it's not going well and we better act as fast as we can to fix it.

KURTZ: One journalist who says it's not going well, Bill Press, is Bob Woodward. We talked about his book "State of Denial" earlier in the program. Now, you and your fellow liberals criticized Woodward on his first two books. You thought he was way too favorable to George W. Bush. Now he writes a book that says Bush is in denial, he's misleading the public about Iraq, and you love him.

PRESS: Now Bob Woodward is new hero. I admit it.

KURTZ: So great -- so great journalists are the ones who agree with you?

PRESS: No, I have to tell you, I think Bob Woodward is the best investigative reporter in the country. I think he's proven that through a serious of 10 books now. The first two books were very, very positive for George Bush. They showed him as a man in charge that did the right thing, took us into a war where we should be in.

KURTZ: The second book was mixed.

PRESS: Yes, but it was still -- I thought it was still pretty favorable.

This book, you know, the same reporter did the same kind of reporting. I think things have changed in Iraq and he comes up with a much more negative story.

KURTZ: Now, by contrast, David Frum, the White House pretty much embraced Woodward's first two books. President Bush gave him several interviews. And now the White House is saying this book is very different, all sort of mistakes, all sorts of distortions.

Isn't that a tough sell when he was sort of the anointed favorite author of this administration?

FRUM: Well, their behavior in the first two was reckless and inexplicable.

KURTZ: Reckless to talk to journalists?

FRUM: Reckless to invite a journalist in during the conduct of a war, to give him that kind of access, to invite people to talk to him individually, to give him lots of opportunities to back-bite, and then to extract no promise that this is for history, to allow him to print...

KURTZ: Extract no promise? A journalist and author should in exchange for being able to interview these high officials promise them an account that they're going to like?

FRUM: No, promise them that he'll wait until some time has passed. Edmund Morris made that deal for his Reagan biography.

KURTZ: Oh, you're saying to delay the publication.

FRUM: Right.

KURTZ: But the book publishing world doesn't work that way.

FRUM: Well, if you're president of the United States and you're allowing somebody to come into your office and have national security council notes, if you want someone to write history, let them write history.

PRESS: But they wanted the book out at that time. They wanted that book out. They wanted that...


FRUM: I'm not -- I'm not blaming Bob Woodward for taking this one-sided deal. I'm blaming the White House for having agreed to it. It was predictable how this would come out.

KURTZ: Let's go back to our audience.

Hi. Your name and question, please.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi. My name is Matt Savage (ph) from St. Charles, Iowa. And I guess my question for you guys is, what ethical responsibility do you believe that the media should have in reporting the news around election time?

KURTZ: In terms of the war?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In terms of just everything. It seems like before any election, you know, a month before the election, there seems to be some sort of scandal that seems to be leaked right before the election to try and affect politics.

KURTZ: But, of course, is it our fault that the scandal has erupted in five weeks to go before Election Day?

PRESS: No, absolutely not. I think the media's responsibility -- I think the media's responsibility before the election is the same that it is at any other time, which is to ferret out the facts and report the facts right straight down the middle.

FRUM: Well, I think I would say I would agree with that, but with this caveat. It is impossible or very difficult for journalists to avoid becoming part of the story. And we saw with Dan Rather, for example, in the 2004 election that I think there was there a pretty conscious attempt to influence a vote with a story that was not a highly relevant story even if it had been true because it dealt with matters that were years old.

Now, in the end, of course, that story blew up in CBS' face and in Dan Rather's face, and it ended up helping the president. But, you know, ideally you'd like journalists to report without reference to the election cycle, but they're aware of the Ds and the Rs.

That's one of the reasons why, for example, they covered -- why we got so little coverage, for example, of Haley Barbour's handling of the Katrina story. I think if Haley Barbour had been a Democratic governor, he would have been on the cover of "TIME" magazine.

KURTZ: All right. Well, I need to get a break here. We're going to come back to this question of scandal around election time.

Stick around. Just ahead, we'll go back to the story that is absolutely consuming the media this week. Why are news organizations obsessed with the Mark Foley sex scandal?



KURTZ: House Speaker Dennis Hastert told "The Chicago Tribune" the other day -- talking about the Mark Foley sex scandal -- "The people that who want to see this thing blow up are ABC News and a lot of Democratic operatives, people funded by George Soros."

Bill Press, leaving George Soros aside, ABC News, why beat up on ABC, which broke this story?

PRESS: Well, they didn't want the story broken. That's why they beat up on ABC News. But, I mean, the idea...

KURTZ: So what is Dennis Hastert saying, that he would prefer that this not have been reported by ABC and that Mark Foley, therefore, would still be in Congress and still be sending messages to pages?

PRESS: Well, I think Denny Hastert would much prefer that Mark Foley still be in Congress and we knew nothing about what he was doing until after the election, and then deal with it after the elections.

But Brian Ross, I wish as a Democrat -- I'm a Democrat, I'll admit that. You called me a liberal earlier. I wish Democrats were organized enough and smart enough to have engineered this entire crisis.

They can't organization a two-car funeral. So you can't blame this on the Democrats.

KURTZ: The one thing we can agree upon, David Frum, is that the story is true. These computer messages were sent. "Do I make you horny" and all of that.

So even as a political strategy, does it make sense for any Republicans to be attacking the messenger in the sense of attacking the press?

FRUM: Well, I think a lot of Republicans do feel that these stories do get orchestrated. They remember the Dan Rather story.

KURTZ: You keep bringing up the Dan Rather story. Is there any evidence that this story was orchestrated by ABC News in order to affect the midterm elections?

FRUM: I don't have evidence of that, but I know that there are a lot of Republicans who have a smell politics about the timing of this story. And what they do know is that because they operate in a more hostile information environment, the Democrats do, they remember in 2000 how the George Bush DUI story broke just the weekend before the election. They remember Dan Rather.

They remember -- and there's a long list of these things engraved in the Republican memory...

KURTZ: Sure.

FRUM: ... going back to 1968. And they feel that they are always in the disadvantage in the information war. And that may -- they could be wrong about that, and there may be a perfectly innocent explanation, but when a story like this breaks five weeks before the election, a lot of old wounds start twitching among Republicans who know the media -- you know, the media is an institution that tends to see the world through Democratic eyes, even if it's not actively sympathetic to them.

KURTZ: Well, just for the record, Brian Ross has said that his source on this initially were Republicans. He's obviously plugged into the network of former House pages. And so, if anybody's got any evidence that this was orchestrated, I'd like to see it.

We have a questioner here in the audience.

Hi. What's your name?


KURTZ: Stand up, please.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Jamie Barmerra (ph) from Diamond Bar, California.

KURTZ: And your question?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I just wanted to know, do you think the media coverage would have been different if it were a female page and if Foley wasn't gay?

KURTZ: Gentlemen?

PRESS: I would hope there would be equal outrage. I think there would be. And not just hope.

I think there would be equal outrage, maybe even more outrage if it were a female page. And I think that Mark Foley is gay has nothing to do with this whatsoever. This is a grown person taking advantage of an underage child.

KURTZ: But don't you think a congressman taking advantage of an underage child if it was a woman would have been a 10 on a scale of 10, but this is an 11 on a scale of 10 because it led to all these sidebar stories about gay Republicans and why they're closeted, David Frum?

FRUM: I think for sure it gives an extra impetus, because the Democrats use the story as a way of splitting the Republican coalition. And, I mean, I think we now have this very ironic punch line where Nancy Pelosi is trying to signal in coded language and the kind of dog whistle politics above the air that, vote Democratic is a way to clean up that nest of perverts on Capitol Hill. And, I mean, it's a strange message for a Democrat to run on.

KURTZ: But before you completely go off on the Democrats, David Frum, there was an editorial in the conservative "Washington Times" days ago that demanded Denny Hastert's resignation at a very early stage here. A number of conservative commentators have piled on, have criticized Hastert's handling of this.

Why? FRUM: Because the handling of it has been bad. And so people would pile on. And I think they are very genuinely shocked by the story.

And I think what is laudable about conservatives is they do not have the impulse to protect and shield their own when their own are guilty. I mean, William Jefferson is still in Congress, after all, and Mark Foley is not.

KURTZ: Bill Press?

PRESS: Well, first of all, I think that the Republicans here have -- are shielding their own, and they're shielding -- they're shielding -- but they're shielding Dennis Hastert, who knew about this, didn't know the explicit e-mails, but certainly knew that there was unwelcome or inappropriate activity going on and didn't...


KURTZ: But just to bring you back to the press coverage. We've got about half a minute.

PRESS: I'm sorry.

KURTZ: Just to bring you back to the press coverage, is what -- is part of what is fueling this is a story day after day, the fact that there are conflicting accounts among Hastert and his top Republicans, a lot of finger-pointing? Isn't that providing some of the fuel for this fire?

PRESS: I think it's several things, Howie. It is that.

KURTZ: We only have time for one or two.

PRESS: We don't know -- we just said earlier we don't know all of the answers, right? Also, you have a congressmen preying on an underage kid, and you have leadership who knows about this. The alarm should have gone up, did not go off. And they all gathered around to protect him, and now they're protecting Dennis Hastert.

So it keeps going. And it's gong to keep going.

KURTZ: It will probably keep going until our next show.

Bill Press, David Frum, thanks very much for joining us.

Well, that's it for this special edition of RELIABLE SOURCES here at George Washington University.

I'm Howard Kurtz.

I want to thank the studio audience here at the university for their insightful questions.

We'll be back in our own studio next Sunday morning, 10:00 a.m. Eastern, for another critical look at the media. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT