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Bush's Plan to Send More Troops Into Iraq Draws Negative Reaction; Is Democrats' Congressional Agenda Undercovered?
Aired January 14, 2007 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice over): Surging criticism. As the president sends more troops to Iraq, the media reaction ranges from skeptical to hostile. Have news organizations declared not just the speech but the war itself a failure? And have they changed their tune since war opponents like Jack Murtha first called for an American withdrawal?
The first 100 hours certainly not getting 100 hours of coverage. Is the Democrats' domestic agenda being unfairly overshadowed?
Plus, Apple's new iPhone. Does Steve Jobs walk on water or does the press just make it look that way?
KURTZ: Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES, where today we turn our critical lens on the latest escalation of the war in Iraq.
I'm Howard Kurtz.
By the time President Bush announced that he was sending another 20,000 troops to Iraq, every detail of his speech had been leaked to news organizations in advance. Even the fact that Bush would admit error.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me.
KURTZ (voice over): Even as Senator Dick Durbin was delivering the Democratic response, NBC, ABC and CBS quickly went back to their entertainment programming.
ANNOUNCER: Now join "Deal or No Deal" already in progress.
KURTZ: The speech did not get rave reviews, even from conservatives, and there was no shortage of journalistic skepticism about whether the so-called surge would work.
KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS: If the early reaction to President Bush's Iraq strategy is any indication, selling the American public on it could be a mission impossible. TIM RUSSERT, NBC NEWS: Four years ago I said that the president had bet his presidency on the war in Iraq. Well, I think it's pretty clear tonight that he just went double or nothing.
JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC: The mistake after mistake after mistake has lost the president's own base.
BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: "The New York Times" kicked it off saying, "There is nothing ahead but even greater disaster in Iraq." Doesn't leave "The Times" much wiggle room, does it? That paper continues to have a vested interest in the failure of the Iraq conflict.
DAVID GERGEN, FMR. PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: We haven't seen this kind of presidential defiance of popular public opinion on a war since President Nixon expanded our efforts and went into Cambodia.
PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC: The president and war have lost the country. They've lost the Congress. They certainly have lost the punditocracy and the media.
KURTZ: So are the media shooting straight on this war?
Joining us now here in Washington, Martha Raddatz, White House correspondent for ABC News; Pam Hess, Pentagon correspondent for United Press International; and Steve Roberts, professor of Media and Public Affairs at the George Washington University and former correspondent for "The New York Times."
Martha Raddatz, most of the media pan Bush's speech have been pretty skeptical of his latest strategy for Iraq. Conservative critics are saying the press has just soured on this war and it shows.
MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC NEWS: Well, I think one thing the press has done is they've learned many lessons during this war. You've had a lot of people on the ground in Iraq. You have people who understand this war at a very basic level. And I think the American public understands this war. And when you have the president coming out and saying things that the public may feel they've heard before and that the press can fact check -- I mean, I remember -- I watched that speech and thought, wait a minute, I remember this happened the first time, or, wait a minute, that happened the second time.
KURTZ: But so you're saying because strategies were not successful in the past that, therefore, there is an ingrained skepticism on the part of journalists to doubt this latest war plan?
RADDATZ: No, I'm saying failed, whatever, what the journalists know is what has happened in the past. Not necessarily, OK, it failed, so this time it will fail, too. But, look, they tried this. They tried that.
I mean, we know, and we have had so many people tracking this for four years, that I think the press really understands. We understand the numbers. We understand 20,000 -- is that enough? I mean, compared to what other people are saying?
And more and more people are talking about it. You're certainly getting a lot of people -- a lot more people in uniform showing skepticism about this as well. It's not just us.
KURTZ: Steve Roberts, why did the White House leak every detail of this in advance? And did that put reporters in the position of being theater critics when Bush finally gave his speech? We already knew what he was going to say.
STEVE ROBERTS, THE GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: To some extent. I mean, usually the White House leaks information because they want to set the frame around which people understand this, and they -- but the White House has lost the ability to do that in some ways. You know, they kept saying -- using the word "surge," and then immediately the Democrats started using the word "escalation".
And how a story like this as seen by the public, who sets the framework, is very critical. And one of the key changes, in addition to what Martha said, is the election, and the fact that Democrats now have a much bigger megaphone and a much larger platform to criticize the president in many ways, follows its sources and follows the debate. And the big difference here from the last six years is that the Democrats run committees and the Democrats, when they get up there on Capitol Hill and make criticisms, people pay attention because they now have power, which they didn't have two weeks ago.
KURTZ: We now have to listen to them.
Pam Hess, has the sending of 20,000 additional troops gotten a fair hearing in the media or has it gotten caught up in this wrenching, emotional debate about whether the war itself was a mistake?
PAM HESS, UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL: I think it's gotten caught up about it, and the debate about it is actually all wrong. What reporters know and what Martha says is that 20,000 really isn't that big -- isn't that big a jump. We're at 132,000 right now. It's going to put us even less that we had going in going across the line.
What we're not asking is actually the central question. We're getting distracted by the shiny political knife fight.
What we need to be asking is, what happens if we lose? And no one will answer that question. If we lose, how are we going to mitigate the consequences of this?
It's so much easier for us to cover this as a political horse race. It's on the cover of "The New York Times" today, what this means for the '08 election. But we're not asking the central national security question, because it seems that if as a reporter you do ask the national security question, all of a sudden you're carrying Bush's water. There are national security questions at stake, and we're ignoring them and the country is getting screwed.
KURTZ: President Bush, in his speech, finally said mistakes were made, and he took responsibility for them. Is that a tacit admission, after all the criticism of the coverage by Dick Cheney and by Donald Rumsfeld and others, that the media reports have basically been right all along about Iraq?
RADDATZ: Well, I think there's probably a bit of self-righteous indignation with the media. I think -- I think you can't ignore that. I don't think...
KURTZ: On whose part?
RADDATZ: The media as well. I mean, the administration has blamed the media. I remember sitting through Donald Rumsfeld's press conferences, saying, it's all the media's fault, or, you know, if you guys were just doing this better, then everything would be all right.
KURTZ: So now journalists feel you finally have woken up to reality?
RADDATZ: I'm saying there has to -- there has to be a little bit of that. But I don't think -- certainly the administration has admitted some mistakes, but then they go on to talk about the exact same things.
I mean, Pam made the point, too, 20,000, and what if they're wrong. I mean, the debate -- nobody has a silver bullet. Nobody.
I mean, I sometimes go crazy because it's so simplistic. Everybody has their bumper sticker. This is a very complicated conflict.
And you can ask -- you can ask Peter Pace the other day, is 20,000 enough? And he'll say, well, it wasn't an -- we were not trying to do an invasion here. That's right. counterinsurgency is much, much more complicated.
ROBERTS: Look, I do think that it's true that reporters who have taken so much flak from the secretary of defense, or the former -- from the president himself, said repeatedly, you're misrepresenting the situation in Iraq, and now when the president finally said, yes, it actually was much more like the way the media did portray it and our criticisms were inoperative, that there is some self-satisfaction. But there's another point to remember.
I think still in the press corps there's a sense of failure having in the early days of the war not revealed and not been able to call to account an administration which we now know was fabricating intelligence, was wrong on weapons of mass destruction, wrong on the presence of al Qaeda. There is a sense of failure in the press corps for having not been tough enough then. I think they're making up for it.
KURTZ: Well, the administration would dispute the fabricating part. But if there is that sense of failure, perhaps even guilt, is there now overcompensation? Are we much more negative than we would have been because we feel that -- journalists feel that they blew it the first time? ROBERTS: I think there's some element to that. But there's so many variables here, Howie.
The other variable is public opinion. You know, when the polls show six out of 10 people don't believe the president, are against this war, and critics, including Republican critics, are emboldened, that also is part of the dynamic.
KURTZ: Journalists read the polls.
ROBERTS: Sure they do.
KURTZ: You were shaking your head when I said overcompensation by the media.
HESS: Yes. I don't think so. It's that we finally have an invigorated opposition.
Now there is finally stuff to write that's against the president. And that's what we do. I mean, we reflect what's going on on the Hill.
But the problem that I think here is that there are two kinds of stories about Iraq. There's the accountability story which we're all obsessed with covering. And the president's even added some fuel to the fire by admitting he made a mistake, although not delineating what those mistakes are. But then there is the success stories.
We're not writing those. We're not asking those hard questions. We're only talking about accountability. And again, it's the country that's paying.
Bush is leaving in two years, but we are still going to be in Iraq. We need to figure out a way to make this work.
KURTZ: My knee-jerk reaction is, well, what does Don Rumsfeld say about this? Because Rummy is gone. So how is covering the Pentagon different under Robert Gates in terms of the way they make the case to reporters?
HESS: They haven't really made the case to reporters yet. It's something that we've been complaining about pretty much since he was nominated.
KURTZ: Lack of access?
HESS: Lack of access. He has a different style than Rumsfeld. He doesn't particularly want to be out there bare-knuckling it with reporters.
So we haven't had even a press briefing with him or an off-the- record meeting with him. He's only talked to reporters that traveled with him.
RADDATZ: What you had heard on the Hill the other day, what Robert Gates said, "I'm no expert on Iraq," I mean, he was very much admitting or acknowledging the fact that he's new. But he was very humbled. You would not hear Don Rumsfeld say those things.
KURTZ: But there is a big White House media blitz that continues today. Vice President Cheney, on FOX News this morning, President Bush on "60 Minutes" tonight. The day of the speech -- that was Wednesday -- you had the network anchors and Sunday show hosts in for a background briefing with the president and other top officials.
Take us behind the scenes. How much have White House officials pushed you, cajoled you, lobbied you to convince you that this is a viable plan?
RADDATZ: Well, I think it's exactly what you see in the public is what you've seen behind the scenes at the White House. They very much want to make a public case for this.
I think they were surprised at the opposition they faced on the Hill, and they're going to try and continue this. But I think what they didn't realize is they put so much stake in this. They have this major speech of the president. And I don't think they realized that the reaction would be so sudden, so swift.
And I would argue that it's not really we now have things to argue against the president. I would argue again that it's facts on the ground. This all goes back to what's happening there.
ROBERTS: And there's something else that's changed in these six years. And that is the growth of independent media, citizen journalism.
Abu Ghraib, Don Rumsfeld said it was the worst day of his tenure. Why? Not only because of the horrific behavior of American soldiers, but because that information surfaced because one person with a digital camera and a laptop was able to broadcast this.
The ability of the administration to control the images and the messages people get around the world -- look at the photos from Haditha, look at the cell phone pictures of Saddam Hussein...
KURTZ: Which, by the way, conservatives said that the media were making too much of the way that the -- hanging of Saddam Hussein has handled. But at this background briefing I referred to, the president told Brian Williams of NBC that he thought that the pictures of Saddam's hanging ranked just below Abu Ghraib in terms of mistakes in the war.
But one more question for you, Steve Roberts.
You talked about the Democrats now having power, you talked about the polls, these instant network polls. Fifteen months ago, Congressman Jack Murtha called for a pullout. And "The Washington Post" reported that day that he had stunned his colleagues. And the White House said that he endorsed "Michael Moore and the extreme liberal wing of the Democratic Party."
How much has the media mindset about the war changed since then?
ROBERTS: Oh, I think significantly. You know, I mentioned the polls. You look at the election. You look at the exit polls.
KURTZ: So are journalists following public opinion?
ROBERTS: To some extent I think that's true. But also, Jack Murtha, six months ago, 12 months ago, was a lone voice. Today he's chairman of the Subcommittee of Appropriations that handles the money. That makes him a very different and much more important figure.
KURTZ: That's why we have elections.
Let me get a break here.
Up next, is the press giving Democrats a pass when it comes to this war?
And later, 1:00 p.m. Eastern, CNN's John Roberts hosts "THIS WEEK AT WAR."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ROBERT WEXLER (D), FLORIDA: Why should we give you the benefit of the doubt this time, when it appears so evident that so many mistakes have been made in the past?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Democratic congressman Robert Wexler at a hearing this week with Condoleezza Rice.
Martha Raddatz, most Democrats, as we just saw, denouncing Bush's plan for escalation. But except for a few, like Ted Kennedy, they're basically planning a non-binding resolution vote against the 20,000 troops.
Are the media letting them have it both ways, posing it rhetorically but not really trying to pull the plug on it?
RADDATZ: I have a feeling the media will dig in on this in the coming weeks. There was so much news this week, Howie, with the speech and looking at the speech. And I think the media really does have to look and say, OK, who has a better idea? What do you do here? Is there unanimity between the Democrats, is there unanimity between the Republicans on what to do?
This entire week was all about, let's look at President Bush and this so-called new strategy.
KURTZ: Vice President Cheney this morning said the Democrats have no coherent plan. And this goes to your earlier point, Pam Hess.
Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are now running things on Capitol Hill. And they have a lot to say about this war and they are kind of in tune with majority public opinion, but they're not really being pressed about alternatives. Why is that?
HESS: It's not Congress' job to come up with alternatives for Iraq. It would be great to hear some fresh ideas from them, but...
KURTZ: It's not Congress' job?
HESS: Constitutionally, it is the president's job to come up with our foreign policy.
KURTZ: But isn't...
HESS: Congress' only power in this is to cut off funds or not to cut off funds, and then criticize. And that's what they do.
KURTZ: Well, you can also say...
RADDATZ: But you can't criticize without a plan, right? I mean, you have to have...
HESS: But, no. I think -- I mean, why do you have to offer -- why do they have to offer a counter plan to this? I mean...
KURTZ: When you say it's not Congress' job, I would counter, isn't it journalists' job to say to any member of Congress, any elected...
RADDATZ: It's a false choice. That's like telling -- that's like telling them, if you can't come up with something better, you can't criticize this policy.
ROBERTS: Look, I do think that it is the responsibility of journalists to ask those questions. And I hope they will ask them. But it's an interesting conundrum here, because while the president -- the Republican talking points all week are the Democrats have to have their own plan, they can't just criticize. But if Congress ever tried to assert itself in terms of really taking control of the war, the first thing you'd hear from the White House is, wait, it's our responsibility, it's our constitutional power, they don't have a right and they can't micromanage.
So there's also duplicity on both sides.
KURTZ: But how does your view of this not give a free pass to the Democratic Party?
HESS: I'm not sure that this is about the Democratic Party or the Bush White House. In my view, this is about United States national security. And I want to hear all ideas, and I want to hear people really finally deal with it in a serious way, where we're talking about how to mitigate the effects of what's going on in Iraq and not make this about a horse race.
This is not about whether the Democrats or doing well or whether Republicans are doing well. This is about the United States of America. George Bush is going to be gone in two years, Iraq is still going to be there. We need to deal with it seriously.
RADDATZ: But the reality is this is Washington, D.C., and all parts of a war have a political impact. You have to have the American people behind you or you fail. It is -- those are important questions to ask, and I don't believe you can just let criticism fly from the Hill, without question.
KURTZ: What did you make of Condoleezza Rice saying at one of those hearings that this was not an escalation, this was an augmentation.
RADDATZ: Augmentation. We all said, what is that? That reminded us of some other things that we didn't really want to talk about. I mean, the language...
ROBERTS: Language matters an enormous amount. A few months ago, when the press started calling it a "civil war," that reshaped the way Americans viewed it. Whether it's a surge or an escalation matters. Words matter. And the single biggest debate over words is, are we losing?
KURTZ: NBC was the first to use that "civil war" terminology, but not all news organizations go along.
Before we go, an historic moment in the White House press room this week. I want to play a few seconds of that for our audience. Let's take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Does Martha have a hip- hop ring tone? Play that funky music, white girl!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: How did you feel about that?
RADDATZ: Could you see me turning red there? Howie, thanks a lot for reminding me.
KURTZ: I can see it now.
RADDATZ: It was the only laugh of the week.
KURTZ: Martha Raddatz, Steve Roberts, Pam Hess, thanks very much for joining us.
When we come back, shades of Diana. The paparazzi's obsession with a potential British princess.
Plus, Howard Stern hits satellite radio pay dirt.
And later, what ever happened to coverage of Congress's much ballyhooed first 100 hours?
KURTZ: Time now for a look at the news business in our "Media Minute."
KURTZ (voice over): We all remember how the paparazzi hounded Princess Diana. Some would say to her death. Now it's Prince William's girlfriend, Kate Middleton, who's being chased and harassed by photographers amid speculation that the prince may soon pop the question that would lead to a royal wedding.
JOHN GIBSON, FOX NEWS: They're honing in on Prince William's girlfriend, Kate Middleton, who's been pursued doggedly by the press amid rumors of a pending royal engagement.
PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): It started out with a trickle of pictures, but is now a flood of photos captured in hot pursuit.
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS: It's gotten so bad, Kate now has a British police escort. What's up with the paparazzi madness?
KURTZ: Now, this is truly pathetic. The woman is 25. The royals have made it clear they want the press to back off, but there isn't much bloody chance of that.
HOWARD STERN, RADIO HOST: No way that they can ever sensor this.
KURTZ: Howard Stern can say anything now that he's beyond the FCC reach at Sirius Satellite Radio. And in the year since he joined, the company has blasted off from less than 3.5 million subscribers to six million, all of them paying $12.95 a month.
Stern's reward for helping the firm exceed its target? Eighty- three million dollars in Sirius stock. Holy (EXPLETIVE DELETED).
And forget about "Sports Illustrated's' annual swimsuit issue. "People" magazine has got a topless shot of Barack Obama in a spread called "Beach Babes." The senator says it's a paparazzi shot and he's a little embarrassed.
KURTZ: And some breaking news this morning. It was only a matter of time before that revolting O.J. Simpson book, "If I Did It," saw the light of day after Rupert Murdoch's news corporation canceled the project.
In a chapter obtained by "Newsweek," Simpson describes how his ex-wife Nicole -- he calls her "the enemy" and says she taunted him with her sexual dalliances. He recalls in gruesome detail how he knifed Nicole and Ron Goldman to death and says a friend named Charlie was there at the time.
Of course, it's all hypothetical. Right.
Coming up in the second half hour of RELIABLE SOURCES, the hurricane of hype over Apple's new iPhone. Why are journalists in love with Steve Jobs' company?
And more harsh words fill the airwaves with Rosie, "The Donald," and now Barbara. Will the media ever get tired of this schoolyard brawl?
That and more after a check of the hour's top stories from the CNN Center in Atlanta.
KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES.
The new Democratic House delivered on some of its promises, raising the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour, loosening federal restrictions on stem-cell research, and changing the rules for Medicare drug prices. How much did you see about those issues, especially on television? Chances are not very much.
Joining us now to talk about the media's handling of Congress, the war, and one celebrity food fight, Rachel Maddow, host of "The Rachel Maddow Show" on Air America Radio. She's in Springfield, Massachusetts.
And in Seattle, Michael Medved, host of "The Michael Medved Show" on Salem Radio.
Michael Medved, minimum wage, stem cell, Medicare drug prices -- I know the war is the dominant issue, but these very important questions haven't really gotten much coverage, have they?
MICHAEL MEDVED, HOST, "THE MICHAEL MEDVED SHOW": Well, they haven't gotten nearly enough. They've given more coverage to Nancy Pelosi's status as the first female speaker of the House of Representatives. And what really struck me most about the coverage of the first 100 hours of the Democratic House was how different it was from the first 100 hours of the new Republican House back in 1995 when New Gingrich took over.
You may remember, before Newt even came to power, there was a "TIME" cover that said "The Gingrich Who Stole Christmas," there was a "Newsweek" cover that uses the same pun. And there was all this talk about Newt Gingrich and the barbarians are going to be coming -- storming Washington and taking lunches away from the poor and destroying America's social network.
The coverage of Nancy Pelosi has been almost entirely a valentine. She's handled it well. I give her all the credit in the world. But there's a very, very striking difference between the negativity toward...
MEDVED: ... a new Republican House and the very positive, glowing response to a new Democratic House.
KURTZ: We have talked about that contrast on this show.
Rachel Maddow, if you compare the coverage of the House boosting the minimum wage for the first time in nine years, the $7.25 an hour, versus David Beckham signing with an L.A. soccer team, not even close, was it?
RACHEL MADDOW, AIR AMERICA: Well, David Beckham is really, really cute, and you do have to factor that into this. So that is important. I mean...
KURTZ: If only I had factored that into the equation.
MADDOW: Yes, exactly, the cute factor.
I think that in response to Michael's point, just briefly, I would say that the "Contract with America" agenda that the Gingrich Republicans came in with in '94 was a much more controversial than the Democrats' first 100 hours agenda. If you look at the poll numbers on how Americans feel about what the Democrats wanted to do in their first 100 hours, they're very, very, very popular steps.
So, politically, I think there's a little bit of a cost to the Democratic Party in that they're doing all these very popular things that in partisan terms you would want them to get a lot of credit for, things like the minimum wage, implementing the 9/11 Commission recommendations. By doing them so quickly, they may be losing a little bit out on their partisan advantage they could gain if they were instead to stretch them out over a long period of time.
KURTZ: One thing that happened this week, Michael Medved, California senator Barbara Boxer had some striking criticism for Condoleezza Rice at a hearing. I want to play a little bit of that and the secretary of state's response on FOX News.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA: Who pays the price? I'm not going to pay a personal price. My kids are too old, and my grandchild is too young. You're not going to pay a particular price, as I understand it, with an immediate family. So who pays the price?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: Gee, I thought single women had come further than that.
(END VIDEO CLIP) KURTZ: Now, this became an issue only after "The New York Post" put a story about it on the front page. And then it was picked up by ABC News and FOX and CNN's Lou Dobbs.
But should it get even more attention?
MEDVED: Well, I think it should. I mean, by the way, it became an issue on our radio show, my radio show, immediately.
KURTZ: I thought it might.
MEDVED: Yes, of course, because as you see again, here is the double standard. It is unimaginable to me if some white male Democrat had, for instance, attacked -- a white male Republican, pardon me, had, for instance, attacked a black female Democrat for being, basically, a single woman, saying there's no cost to you because you don't have children. There would have been hell to pay. It would have been Armageddon.
And I think it is very striking that Senator Boxer has not yet, to my knowledge, apologized, which she obviously should. Because, look, the secretary of state's personal status really ought to be off the table when you're talking about matters of war and peace.
KURTZ: Rachel Maddow, you have a view on that?
MADDOW: I think that Senator Boxer probably would have apologized if she had actually attacked Condoleezza Rice for not having any children. Instead, she said, neither of us are in a position where we're going to have a son or daughter in this conflict, or a sibling in this conflict. She brought herself into it and, therefore, I think, softened what might have otherwise been...
MEDVED: If I may so say, Rachel, she brought herself into it by the context of saying, look, I'm a mom and I'm a grandmom, and you're basically nothing.
MADDOW: No. She said -- no, Michael, but -- we just saw the clip. She said, "Neither of us are going to face having an immediate family member in this conflict."
That's not an attack saying you're worst than me and I'm better than you because my kids are somehow more morally relevant here. She didn't attack her. And you can try to make it into that, but I don't think it's going to stick.
MEDVED: Well, again, I think that most American people heard that, saw the reaction of Secretary Rice, just the way that anyone would react in a situation like that. I mean, look, the idea of raising this entire issue, it's like the stupid line -- and frankly I'm tired of it -- there are all kind of fine arguments against the war.
It's a very, very crucial public issue. But the one line that you're hearing again and again is, why doesn't Bush send his two daughters? If he believes in this war, if he wants a troop surge, send Jenna and Barbara to fight the war.
I mean, how ridiculous is that? First of all, you don't send 22- year-old people -- you don't control people anymore. And I can say that, by the way, as a parent.
KURTZ: All right. Let me jump in here because there's another media issue I wanted to ask you about, Rachel Maddow.
In an interview this week on FOX News with White House counselor Dan Bartlett, FOX anchor Gretchen Carlson -- they were talking about hostile enemies in Iraq, and she said the following -- "Hostile enemies right here on the home front. Yesterday, Senator Ted Kennedy proposed a congressional approval being required for a troops surge."
What did you make of that kind of language?
MADDOW: Well, I thought that was the kind of attack that ought to get the kind of reaction that Barbara Boxer is instead getting. I mean, actually calling a U.S. senator a hostile enemy to the United States because he disagrees with the president, that's kind of par for the course in -- and Michael, I excuse you from this absolutely -- but that's par for the course in kind of right-wing talk radio. That's the kind of attack you expect be kind of pushing the boundaries.
You don't necessarily expect that on cable news, even if it is on FOX. I thought that was surprising, and she did go back and correct herself.
MEDVED: I agree. And again, it's over the line. It was a stupid thing. But the point is, you expect more from a United States senator who's been elected three times than you do from a commentator on FOX News.
KURTZ: All right. And Dan Bartlett, by the way, did disagree with that characterization.
I want to turn now to this endless spitting match between Rosie O'Donnell and Donald Trump, because an actual journalist has gotten involved. Barbara Walters, who, as you know, is the founder of "The View," strongly denied Trumps' account that she was unhappy with O'Donnell as her new high-decibel panelist.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARBARA WALTERS, "THE VIEW": Let me say definitively that everything that he said I said about her is totally untrue.
ROSIE O'DONNELL, "THE VIEW": Here's my official comment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: In a letter to O'Donnell, Trump said Walters had told him that working with her was -- and we are quoting here -- "was like living in hell." Barbara Walters stood by her woman. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WALTERS: That poor, pathetic man.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Michael Medved, Donald -- excuse me, Barbara Walters is the only serious person here -- serious journalist, I should say. Is she getting tarnished by this whole mud fight?
MEDVED: Well, Barbara Walters? I mean, I think that "The View" has compromised Barbara Walters' status as a serious journalist a long time ago.
KURTZ: Why? Because it's a fun talk show?
MEDVED: This is entertaining -- no. Because basically a serious journalist -- Barbara Walters, if she was a regular on RELIABLE SOURCES, it would be different. But this is "The View."
And one of the problems with "The View" is -- first of all, I have got to give Rosie O'Donnell credit. She has made "The View" matter in a way that it didn't matter before in national dialogue. But this conflict with Donald Trump -- on my radio show, I mean, I played an old trailer from the movie from 30 years ago, "King Kong Versus Godzilla," and it says, the whole world -- "Two powerful, unstoppable monsters, and the whole world powerless to halt their destructive rampage." And that's basically, I think, what people are dealing with here, is it's just -- you're so astonished that people are behaving in this way.
And for Barbara Walters to get directly involved -- I guess she had to -- I think does tarnish it.
MEDVED: Are you astonished because you expected more dignity from both of them?
KURTZ: Rachel, what explains the media's just seemingly bottomless fascination with this? Every time one of them pipes up, you know, the clips are played on television.
Well, I think that, you know, we have a real interest at a time when there's a lot of really kind of serious, horrible things going on in the world. Just this week with the debate about the war and the five-year anniversary of Guantanamo and all of this serious life-and- death stuff going on, it makes a lot of sense that we'd prefer to see a no-stakes, no-blood cartoon punch-up between two zillionaires.
I mean, it's harmless fun. It's kind of like watching a "Punch and Judy show." I think it's been a hoot. And it's both of their jobs to get these kinds of headlines.
KURTZ: So we're not going to pretend here that the media -- that there's any larger meaning to this. It is your basic schoolyard fight between rich people who always like to be in the headlines?
MADDOW: Well, I think there's one little bit of seriousness here, and that is that they're both earning their salaries. It's been good for both of their ratings.
Rosie O'Donnel's job on "The View" is to be a cultural commentator. Donald Trump's job is keep Donald Trump's name in the news. And they're both doing a great job and earning their keep. That's what they do.
KURTZ: I thought his job was to be a real estate developer.
MADDOW: Yes. Well...
MEDVED: And I think that the larger cultural meaning you saw in that clip that you played, Howie, from Barbara Walters, where she describes Donald Trump as a poor pathetic man, now you don't normally look at Donald Trump, with his wealth and wife and all of that, as poor and pathetic. But I think what this reminds people is even glamorous celebrities who seem to have everything that the American people are supposed to crave can behave in a disgusting way and can actually be subject to public insults and grime.
KURTZ: I want to thank you for at least finding a modicum of meaning in this whole thing.
Michael Medved, Rachel Maddow, thanks very much for joining us.
MADDOW: Thank you.
KURTZ: Coming up, the big hullabaloo over Steve Jobs and his new iPhone. Are journalists part of the Apple cult?
KURTZ: Welcome back.
In the age of the Blackberry, introducing a fancy new phone just doesn't sound like that big a deal, unless it comes from Apple. And then it's not just a product launch. For the media, it's so big, so huge, so momentous -- well, just watch.
CYNTHIA MCFADDEN, ABC NEWS: From all the oohs and aahs, you would think the company's founder, Steve Jobs, had reinvented the wheel. So, has he?
ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Apple is changing the world today. Today is actually a monumental day.
ROBIN ROBERTS, ABC NEWS: The suspense is killing us, especially my friend Diane over there. Are we in for another new gadget that's going to change American life like the iPod did?
KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS: The technology world was buzzing today as Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple, unveiled a gadget he claims will change the way we get information, communicate, even live our daily lives.
KURTZ: Joining us now to cut through the hype, in Boston, Robin Liss, a consumer electronics analyst and president and CEO of reviewed.com.
And in New York, Steven Levy, senior editor and technology writer for "Newsweek" and author of the book "The Perfect thing: How the iPod Shuffles Commerce, Culture and Coolness."
Robin Liss, this phone may be the greatest thing since the pop-up toaster, but it's a $500 gadget and it's not even out for several more months. Why do the media go wild over every new Apple product?
ROBIN LISS, REVIEWED.COM: I think a lot of journalists -- you have to realize, they're inherently technophiles if they're covering technology. And Apple is a sexy, cool product, and a lot of journalists use these products. They use MacBooks, they use iPods, and they have a hard time removing themselves from the story.
KURTZ: Steven Levy, you introduced Steve Jobs after the big iPhone unveiling. Is he the secret behind Apple's great P.R.? And is that in part because he talks to people like you?
STEVEN LEVY, "NEWSWEEK": Well, he certainly is an incredibly charismatic figure, and he has a lot to do with, you know, getting publicity for his products, which, though, you know, in the case of the iPod, it turns out that millions of people really love them. But for a business journalist, Steve Jobs is an incredible bonanza.
A lot of the people we cover are pretty dull CEOs. If you ran into the CEO of IBM or HP in the street, you wouldn't know who they were. If Steve Jobs walks down the street, he would be mobbed. And this is a great story for us to cover.
His story, he got kicked out of the company he co-founded, then came back and transformed the company which was just about to go under beforehand and came out with these products which a lot of people use and a lot of people love. So, for us, it's a fantastic story. We can't get enough of it.
KURTZ: We are suckers for a good narrative.
Robin Liss, would you describe Apple as a company that's friendly to journalists?
LISS: Not exactly. I mean, this is a company that's suing bloggers. And they're very, very tight-lipped and tough. And I think a lot of major media journalists out there who do get access to Jobs and sometimes early releases of Apple products are very afraid of upsetting the company because they understand how popular these stories are going to be. So I think there's a lot of kind of overly- positive coverage, ignoring maybe the negative parts of this product in order to not upset the Apple P.R. department.
KURTZ: Just to explain the reference, Apple has been suing a couple of bloggers because of -- for disclosing what it contends are trade secrets and arguing that bloggers don't deserve the same First Amendment protections as journalists.
Steven Levy, are journalists, or some, at least, afraid to criticize Apple because of this cult following? I mean, even the iPod has problems, but these always seem to be played down.
LEVY: Well, that's right. I think there might be some of that.
I try to avoid that. In my book I refer to Apple's suing bloggers as thinking different about the First Amendment. So I am critical in some cases. On the other hand, I do like the iPod, as millions of people do. And when something deserves to be praised, I think you have to praise it.
Apple has gotten a lot of ink about the options problem it's in now, and I think this is sort of the other side of the good publicity they get when something bad happens. You k now, right now Apple is in the middle of a, you know, options imbroglio.
They're going to get more coverage because of that. And quite possibly, prosecutors are going to take more interest in pursuing them because of that. So there's a flip side to this good publicity.
KURTZ: You anticipated my next question. And just to explain to viewers, Apple admitted just two weeks ago that the company had falsified approval for 7.5 million stock options for Steve Jobs. And this, you know, has certainly been covered by the business press, but I checked and there was nothing about that investigation on ABC, CBS, or NBC evening newscasts. But when the iPhone was unveiled, they all did stories and they didn't mention this little investigation.
What do you make of that, Robin Liss?
LISS: You know, I think part of it, to be fair, is there's a lot of interest in the iPod and the iPhone. And these organizations are aggressively covering it. But the problem is, they're playing into what Apple wants.
They create this secrecy, they create this hype. You know, they're very secretive with these products, and they make it seem as though this is breaking news. You know, that this is of a level of, you know, developments with the war in Iraq. And I think it's very manufactured from the Apple P.R. department. But it as an interesting product and there a lot of interest in it, to be fair.
LEVY: Yes, certainly. I mean, I'm a technology critic. And I have to say, I went to CES, the big consumer show in Las Vegas, beforehand, and if that iPhone had been in an obscure booth at the back of the Sands hotel, people would have discovered it and they would have been swarmed by people saying, wow, look, they're doing this, they're doing that. The fact is, there's a lot of innovation in that product that's new and interesting, and Apple products are popular for a reason.
KURTZ: But Steven, you mentioned...
LISS: I did an...
KURTZ: Go ahead, Robin. Go ahead.
LISS: Yes. No, well, talking of CES, I was there in Vegas, too. And I did a very interesting comparison on Google News, where you can count the number of stories. And there were 11,799 stories with the word "CES" in it, and there was 9,027 with the word "iPhone."
Now, by comparison, there were 2,700 companies at CES, almost all announcing many new products. So with one product, Apple got nearly as much coverage as those 2,700 other companies at CES.
KURTZ: Steven, you brought up the investigation into the handling of the options. And when this has happened at other companies, it is treated as very serious business. Sometimes CEOs have been known to lose their Jobs over this kind of fiddling with the books.
And yet, I kind of get the impression that Steve Jobs is treated differently, at least in the media, because he's seen, as you were saying earlier, as a very cool guy.
LEVY: Well, I think, you know, there's certainly been a lot of coverage -- there's been about the options problem. And I think if the SEC decides to, you know, pursue an investigation of it, you'll see more coverage of it.
If Steve Jobs, even if the possibility that his position at Apple might be threatened, that's going to be huge news. And I can't imagine the media ignoring that.
KURTZ: You said he's a great story because he got bounced from the company and he's just kind of an inspiring character. But is it also the fact that he provides access to journalists like you and, therefore, becomes a bigger player in the press?
LEVY: Cell, you know, certainly I'm happy to have the access to him, but the fact is, it isn't because he gives the access that he becomes newsworthy. People constantly ask me, "What's Apple coming up with next?" And there was a huge curiosity about the iPhone.
I don't think it's that interesting to write articles to speculate about what the iPhone might have been, and we didn't go in beforehand. But afterwards, what I really wanted to do when I went in to talk to Steve was to find out more about it and answer some of the questions that have been left hanging by his presentation to explain more about what this product might be.
KURTZ: Robin Liss, I've got about half a minute. I mean, does it seem to you that journalists just swoon over this company and its products? I mean, let's just be honest here.
LISS: Yes, absolutely. When you go to these Apple press events, they're like a religious event. And you have these fan boys there going crazy. And I think a lot of them just buy into the excitement and the bias of the crowd, which is usually all Apple fans.
KURTZ: All right. Well, I'll reserve judgment until I see how these phones actually work.
Steven Levy of "Newsweek," Robin Liss, thanks very much for joining us.
LISS: Thank you.
KURTZ: And speaking of iPods, you can now download a video podcast of this very show at cnn.com/podcast.
Up next, the media's failing grade in the Duke University sex scandal.
KURTZ: It was, when you get right down to it, a local police blotter story, a woman who had accused three young men of rape. But because she was black and they were white, because they were on the lacrosse team and because they played at Duke University, the media just went haywire.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Now to that explosive Duke sex scandal.
MATT LAUER, NBC NEWS: First we want to talk more about the Duke rape case.
BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS NEWS: ... the case that has rocked one of America's elite college campuses and divided the community around it.
BROOKE ANDERSON, CNN: It's the story that everybody is talking about, television can't seem to get enough of it, the Duke University rape case.
KURTZ (voice over): And so began a nightmare for Collin Finnerty, David Evans and Reade Seligmann. "Newsweek" put to of their mug shots on the cover.
The lacrosse season was canceled. They were suspended by the school. And the press coverage was relentless.
Fast forward to late last month. The accuser who was hired to strip at a late-night party changes her story, saying she doesn't think she was raped after all. Rape charges are dropped, but sexual assault charges remain.
On Thursday, we learned that the accuser was changing her story yet again, saying she was assaulted by two men, not three. "The New York Times" put that story on the front page. You needed a microscope to find the tiny wire story inside "The Washington Post."
And on Friday, Mike Nifong, the Durham district attorney who brought this badly flawed case, agreed to step aside and let state prosecutors decide whether to proceed. That was front page news in "The Post" and "The Times" and other papers and made the network newscast.
Now news organizations are all over Nifong for bringing indictments even after there was no DNA match with the players.
KURTZ: But here's what you're not seeing. You're not seeing editors and reporters and producer standing up and saying, we blew it, we jumped the gun, we went overboard, we helped ruin these kids' lives on the basis of very little evidence, and we're sorry.
How did they do it? The media made this into a racial controversy. The media made this into a story of athletes out of control. The media made into a tale of elite, privileged white kids at a prestigious university, versus an underprivileged single mother at the black college across town. And they did all that because it was the only way to pump up the story into a national soap opera.
They treated the players' denials as a minor detail that wasn't going to stop their train of sensationalism from rolling down the tracks.
Well, the Duke express has now derailed. Journalism has another black eye. And someone should tell these three lacrosse players where they go to get their reputation back.
I'll have more reporting on this Tuesday night at 8:00 p.m. Eastern during a special edition of "PAULA ZAHN NOW" live from Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina.
That's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.
I'm Howard Kurtz.
Join us again next Sunday morning, 10:00 a.m. Eastern, for another critical look at the media.
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