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Reliable Sources

Hillary Clinton Announces Run for Presidency; Coverage of Duke Rape Case

Aired January 21, 2007 - 11:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice over): Hillary's bombshell. The former first lady announces she wants to move back into the White House. On a Saturday? Will the media keep portraying her as a calculating and polarizing figure?

And will journalists continue to swoon over Barack Obama or finally ask some hard questions about his record and lack of experience?

The Duke debacle. Now that the rape case is crumbling, should the media apologize for rushing to judgment and turning one woman's shaky charges into a racial maelstrom?

Plus, Tim Russert, Bob Woodward, Judith Miller, Robert Novak headed for the witness stand. Why the Scooter Libby trial will drag the media through the mud.


KURTZ: Our critical lens this morning has suddenly had to refocus on a new presidential candidate who beamed her way into the race with an online video just 24 hours ago. Everyone knew Hillary Clinton was going to run. No one expected her to say she was forming an exploratory committee on a Saturday morning.


SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: So let's talk. Let's chat. Let's start a dialogue about your ideas and mine.

JOHN SEIGENTHALER, NBC NEWS: Senator Hillary Clinton made history today. She is running for president. The first first lady to ever take that step.

JOHN BERMAN, ABC NEWS: It was just two words, but they were two words that send tremors across the political landscape -- "I'm in."

KURTZ (voice over): Earlier in the week, after Barack Obama announced his exploratory committee, Clinton's effort to talk about anything else, such as Iraq, was overshadowed, as she learned during a round of morning show interviews.

HARRY SMITH, CBS NEWS: Very quickly, your impression of Barack Obama throwing his hat in the ring yesterday.

CLINTON: Well, it's terrific that we're going to have a very vigorous primary on both sides.

KURTZ: Coverage of Obama has been nothing short of gushing, which the Illinois senator acknowledged in his online video.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: Running for the presidency is a profound decision, a decision no one should make on the basis of media hype.


KURTZ: So will Hillary Clinton's coverage be more critical of Obama's now that she's officially in?

And joining us now, Clarence Page, columnist for the "Chicago Tribune"; Jonah Goldberg, editor-at-large at "National Review Online"; and Gloria Borger, national political correspondent for CBS News and columnist for "U.S. News & World Report."

Quick question, quick answer from all of you.

In media terms, did it make sense for Hillary Clinton to announce online on a Saturday morning?

GLORIA BORGER, CBS NEWS: I think she wanted to beat the president to the State of the Union. I think she wanted to have an element of surprise. She wanted to do it on the Web. So why not?

CLARENCE PAGE, "CHICAGO TRIBUNE": She only got covered by "Saturday Night Live," which was interesting. And by us this morning. At least it got her into the weekend discussion. I think it's what she wanted to do.

JONAH GOLDBERG, "NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE": Yes, politically, her hand was forced by Obama. But media-wise, I think doing it on a Saturday got her on the Sunday shows, changed the topic, and put that video out there before the State of the Union.

KURTZ: And missed all the magazine coverage, by the way.

All right.

Gloria Borger, here is a couple of descriptions of Hillary Clinton from this morning's "New York Times." "She has to humanize herself for those who find her too polarizing or calculating." "She has to combat her image -- this is in a separate story -- "of being radically liberal, ruthlessly ambitious, or ethically compromised."

My question is, is she going to get kicked around by the press for the next few months?

BORGER: Yes, I think she will get kicked around by the press. I mean, Hillary Clinton has always been a polarizing figure. That's why so many people in the Democratic Party were looking for somebody else, perhaps in Barack Obama or somebody in a second tier. But I think Hillary Clinton knows and the people who work for her knows that she's not going to have an easy time of it.

She's always had a tough time. And I think she's in for it.

KURTZ: Senator Clinton spent the week trying to talk about Iraq. She wanted no more troops to go there under the president's so-called surge, but she does want more troops for Afghanistan. And the journalists all said she's triangulating, she's trying to -- she's responding to Obama, she's trying to placate the antiwar left of the Democratic Party.

Almost no one in the media seems to give her the benefit of the doubt. You know, maybe she thinks is the right thing to do.

PAGE: Well, she has a record for shaping and sculpting her opinions and her record in order to fit the swing of the times. In other words, lately she's been backpedaling on her vote in favor of the war without actually -- actually repudiating it if you look at her statement. So...

KURTZ: So you're saying it is a perfectly fair for journalists to point out, that she does seem to be a calculating politician.

PAGE: Exactly. And, you know, in talking about how she's in for a rough time, yes, she has -- she and her husband have had a rough time for years. So they're experienced at it. And I think that to some degree, she's got a sympathy factor going in her favor which she will be able to play to in coming weeks when -- if the media beat up on her too much.

KURTZ: Jonah Goldberg, you vividly remember the Monica Lewinsky scandal in which your mother played small role. Will the media now dredge that up and Whitewater and other baggage from the 1990s and the role of Bill Clinton in this campaign? Do you see that happening?

GOLDBERG: I think in many ways Hilary wants some of that to happen. Hillary's actually very good at playing the victim.

When her biography came out, for example, she said all sorts of very controversial, very serious substantive things about the Supreme Court, about the Republican Party, and all the rest. She refused to talk about them. All she wanted to talk about was how she coped with her marriage and all of these things so she could do the Barbara Walters circuit. And I think to a certain extent the media played along with that.

KURTZ: Hold it. Hold it.

You're saying that Hillary Clinton, who is now running for president of the United States, wants the media to talk about how her husband betrayed her with an affair and that she had to testify before a grand jury in the Whitewater scandal? She wants the media...

(CROSSTALK) GOLDBERG: I think what they want is what Clarence just referred to, is the sympathy factor. One of the brilliant things that she's doing, which is a replay of her 2000 Senate race, is, you know, this awful cliched thing about, "let's have a conversation, let's chat" that she did in her video, was a replay of her 2000 Senate race where she went on a listening tour...

KURTZ: Right?

GOLDBERG: ... which was tactically brilliant because it meant she didn't have to talk about herself at all.

KURTZ: What about the baggage?

GOLDBERG: And it worked.

BORGER: You know, enough with the baggage. We're sort of -- I'm honestly over that. I don't think people want to rerun the Bill and Hilary marriage.

GOLDBERG: I don't want to either. I want to talk about some real ideas.

BORGER: But what's so interesting to me about Hillary Clinton is that the woman is now the establishment candidate of the Democratic Party. And I never thought I would sort of see that, that she is the favored candidate, the established candidate.

And you know what happens to front-runners. We like to get them up to where they're front-runners, and then we knock them down. And so that's what's going to happen with Hillary.

And it could also happen with Barack Obama, because he is now the rock star. He can do no wrong. And that's going to change.

KURTZ: Gloria says that the media, at least she personally, is tired of all the controversies from the '90s involving the Clinton White House. But it was earlier this year "The New York Times" ran this huge front-page story about their marriage, and what was really going on there, and would people care, and how would Bill be as first spouse?

So, I doubt the media are going to let go of that story line.

PAGE: And that story proved to be a big fizzle. I mean, I thought it was going to deliver with some new revelations. It didn't. All it did was kind of recap what we already knew, that everybody's waiting to see, you know, what's Bill going to do, blah, blah, blah.

KURTZ: But will every news organization in this country run some version of that story in the next couple of months?

PAGE: Yes. Yes.

The thing is, Gloria is expressing what a lot of voters are saying out there, that they're tired of all that. And so I think the funny thing about Hillary Clinton is, Democrats are nervous about her because she is so easy to attack, but she also generates a lot of enthusiasm on her side. So that's why she is right now the establishment candidate.

BORGER: She could get "swift-boated" that way. Let me be very honest about it.

The whole -- the whole Bill and Hillary thing could come back up in that sort of sense where a third-party group does it, and then the press makes believe, oh, it's not our story, it's their story. And then we cover it.

KURTZ: We're just repeating the charges.

Let me ask you, Gloria Borger, about your coverage of Barack Obama this week. He announced his exploratory committee on Tuesday, made the online video, which now, I guess, is par for the course.

You said he has a great personal story. He says that politics is too divisive. You question whether America is ready for an African- American president. And then you had this to say on the evening news.


BORGER: There is one problem, though. He has few national security credentials beyond a couple of years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.


BORGER: Why was that last? Why was that not first?

BORGER: Now you're sounding like an editor, Howie. You know, obviously, we had to give Barack Obama his due. And I think you're in a sense introducing him to the American people.

And what happened in that story was we decided that I would end with that and then Katie Couric would ask me a question about it. And then we discussed the issue of his national security credentials, given the fact that two years ago he was a member of the Illinois State Senate, and that's going to be a topic of debate. So fair enough.

KURTZ: I'm going to engage in the same sneaky trick with Clarence Page.

I'm going to read you from your column...

PAGE: Oh, good.

KURTZ: ... on Obama. Among other things, you wrote, "Can he take the heat? Does he have enough experience? Will he be hurt by his middle name, Hussein? Will he quit smoking?"

Why those questions?

PAGE: Did I say that? My goodness. I'm always amazed by what I have to say.

You say why those questions?

KURTZ: And particularly why the question of smoking. Does that hurt him?

PAGE: You know, it's funny. The buzz around is that the smoking charge is going to hurt him worse than anything else, because all the other stuff -- you know, he couldn't help his middle name -- not that it's any dishonor to have the middle name "Hussein."

And at the same time, all the stories about marijuana smoking as a teenager. Who cares? But being a current smoker, my own e-mails in response to that column were running three to one against him smoking and saying that it's going to hurt in this campaign if he doesn't quit.

I remember Bill Bennett had to quit when he became drug czar. Same kind of thing.

KURTZ: Give us a reality check here. Why does Barack Obama, who's been a senator for all of two years, gets this glowing coverage in the media, which continued this week after his announcement?

GOLDBERG: Because he's new. And that's the greatest advantage that he has, the advantage, in many ways, that JFK had.

Senators that hang around too long get stale, they start talking about how they co-sponsored some omnibus piece of this or that, get really boring. He's exciting, he's interesting, he's exotic. He's in many way the anti-Hillary.

I mean, whether fair or not, whether that baggage should be covered, how it's covered, all the rest about Hillary, the American people don't want to have those fights anymore. The right feels about Hillary and Bill the way the left feels about Bush. And what Obama provides is this way out, a way out to start a new conversation.

KURTZ: He's exciting, he's interesting, he's exotic.


KURTZ: And that's all it takes to dazzle journalists? What happened to our...

GOLDBERG: Where have you been, Howard?

KURTZ: What happened to our innate skepticism to ask questions about, is this guy...


GOLDBERG: I think he's the Howard Dean of 2008.

BORGER: You know, I think that will come. And honestly, the generational issues that he raises, the notion that it's time for the baby boomers to go away, let's stop re-litigating the old fights of Vietnam, et cetera, and let's skip that generation has some appeal to journalists, a lot of whom happen to be baby boomers.

And they're saying, you know what? This would be interesting to cover a younger candidate.

GOLDBERG: I think the smoking thing will probably -- will help him in the long run, too, by the way.

KURTZ: You also said that the -- this is the first candidate of African descent to actually have a realistic shot of going all the way. Do you take some pride in that?

PAGE: Pride? Well, I took pride in Colin Powell being the first potential candidate to have a shot. And I think he could have won in '96.

I think Obama can win. I'm not going to say he will, but there's a possibility of it.

And the very fact that there is that real possibility says a lot about this country. That's a big reason why he's so popular with conservatives, who say, well, get him in the race. Because the only way to really tell in this country if we're making progress is to have the people decide.

GOLDBERG: A sure sign that he was a serious guy was his convention speech in 2004, where the way he talked about God was very different than what we've heard about from Democrats for a very long time and very reassuring.

KURTZ: Well, here's my take. Obama is an impressive guy, but some of the coverage has just been embarrassing.

In fact, there was a columnist in the "Chicago Tribune" who likened -- the journalist that covered it -- to the shrieks of young girls watching the Beatles in the 1960s. This has created -- this has created an uneven playing field for Hillary Clinton, because the coverage of Obama is so positive, the coverage of Hillary is so, shall we say, skeptical.

But I think that will change on the Obama honeymoon. It can't last forever. That's the way journalists are.

Let's get a break. When we come back, some conservative news outlets are touting a new anti-Obama spin. Is it just a smear?

And coming up later today at 1:00 p.m. Eastern, John Roberts interviews the aforementioned Hillary Clinton on "THIS WEEK AT WAR."

Here's a preview.


CLINTON: It's been just a steady diet of bad news and setbacks, mistakes and problems. And That was apparent. ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The so-called "new way forward," not so new, not so forward.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Republicans actively working to put a resolution on the Senate floor.

MAJ. GEN. DON SHEPPERD (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: And all-out assault is not something that's really feasible.

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Al Qaeda is regrouping in Afghanistan, on the Pakistan border.



KURTZ: Are some conservative journalists smearing Barack Obama? "Insight" magazine, owned by "The Washington Times," said last week that Obama was educated in a Muslim school called a madrassa and has not been forthcoming about his Muslim heritage.

First, Obama is a Christian. Second, he was 6 years old at the time. More important, he writes in his autobiography that he spent two years at a Muslim school in Indonesia. But here's where it gets interesting.

"Insight" magazine claims without citing evidence that Hillary Clinton's camp is spreading these stories. FOX News jumped on the subject, with morning show host Steve Doocy saying that madrassas teach hate -- students to hate the West, that is, and questioning whether that was the curriculum 40 years ago when little Barack was there.

FOX anchor John Gibson picked up the Hillary angle.


JOHN GIBSON, FOX NEWS: The gloves are off. Hillary Clinton reported to be already digging up the dirt on Barack Obama. The New York senator has reportedly outed Obama's madrassa past.


KURTZ: Clarence Page, John Gibson said "reportedly." That means that he hasn't done the firsthand reporting. I don't know whether it's true, you don't know whether it's true. And the "Insight" magazine piece cites, you know, just a couple of unnamed sources.

PAGE: I know it's not true. He didn't go to a madrassa. He went to a school that had a predominance of Muslim students in it.

KURTZ: Which he has already acknowledged.

PAGE: Yes. And it's easy to make a call to his office to find this out. That "Insight" story had no named sources. None of these stories that are floating around the Web and through the e-mail -- and I've been getting them in my e-mail box -- none of them are sourced to anybody. But the denials are sourced because it's very easy to find people who can tell you it's not true. But, you know, I mean...

KURTZ: Well, when you say that you know it's not true, how do you know that it's not true?

PAGE: Because I believe -- well, you know, I've got my Chicago skepticism, right? If your mother says she loves you, check it out. And I've checked it out. And it's obvious there's nothing to back up -- there's no evidence that he went to a madrassa, but there's plenty of evidence to deny that he went to a madrassa.

KURTZ: The Obama campaign calls those allegations completely ludicrous.

Is this fair game for the media, what this Muslim school in Indonesia taught Obama when he was 6 years old?

GOLDBERG: Oh, I think it's -- we do these backgrounds, we hear all these stories about Bill Clinton standing up to his stepfather and all that. I think the background on Obama, when all he's running on is his background, is fair game.

If this thing is a lie or smear, then it needs to be denounced and pelted from the public sphere for being an unfair and untrue allegation. But talking about his childhood and all that, he's written two books talking about his childhood and all that. How is that not an issue?

KURTZ: Gloria Borger, on that John Gibson show on FOX News, former Bush spokesman Terry Holt said this could be a despicable act by an absolutely ruthless Clinton political machine if it was true. And he said if it's not true, Hillary should disavow it.

Is that a responsible commentary?

BORGER: No. I think, look, the easiest thing to do is say that the Hillary Clinton campaign is spreading this about Barack Obama, which is, you know, ridiculous.

None of us would be shocked that one campaign is saying something about another campaign. But Hillary Clinton's campaign doesn't need to talk about madrassas when it comes to Barack Obama.

They're going to have a debate on the war, they're going to talk about other things. And I think it's kind of ludicrous, ridiculous, silly. And at this point in a campaign, it's just -- it's too early, and people will just turn off totally on this campaign if they think that this is one charge one campaign is floating against another.

Honestly, I think Jonah's right. It comes from his book. Read his book. You'll see his background. He puts it all out there. KURTZ: If you're going to say essentially that one campaign is engaged in a bit of dirty trickery by floating information unflattering to another candidate, doesn't it help to have a document, a fax, a named source?

I'm serious. I'm serious.

PAGE: Yes, it does help to back up your journalism with sources. I'm surprised that "Insight," I'm surprised that FOX were picking up on this so unquestioningly.

The fact is, there's no evidence that the Clinton campaign is putting this out, but I do see a lot of conservative-leaning media, bloggers and all, who are spreading it around. There is a certain pattern. But, you know, this is hard-ball politics, it's not something that's new. Barack may as well get ready for it.

I've seen it in many campaigns. It's just as well that they prepare themselves for being "swift-boated" or whatever else, because we're going to be seeing quite a bit of this over the next few months.

KURTZ: You were making the point during the break that Barack Obama has never had to go through a rough and tough campaign since he kind of had a cakewalk in his...


PAGE: Bobby Rush had lost big-time. That was his first time...

KURTZ: All right. Well, my take is that Jonah is right. Any part of your background is fair game. That's what happens in a presidential campaign.

But there's something in journalism called nailing it down. This did not seem to be nailed down. In fact, it seemed to be anything but. And I think we ought to proceed cautiously on this story.

Jonah Goldberg, Gloria Borger, Clarence Page, thanks very much for joining us.

Up next, a huge blunder by the nation's top consumer magazine. And Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert meets the man he's been ridiculing. A look at two giant egos.

And ahead, the media mess in the Duke sexual assault scandal. Do journalists owe anyone an apology?


KURTZ: It turns out we've got too much for a "Media Minute" this week. So let me just squeeze in as much as I can.

"The Today Show" is expanding to a fourth hour. Great, but why stop there? Why not just extend until the "NBC Nightly News" comes on? And a rough week at Time Inc, which laid off 300 people at its magazines, following 600 pink slips last year. "TIME" magazine is closing bureaus in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Atlanta.

What a blunder at "Consumer Reports," which had to retract an article charging that most infant car seats failed trash tests. It turns out the company hired by the magazine staged the crashes at more than 70 miles an hour, not the required 38 miles an hour the study claimed. "Consumer Reports" has launched an internal investigation.

He was a funny man, a newspaper columnist, an author, and Washington institution.


KURTZ (voice over): Art Buchwald died this week after entertaining us for five decades. What a character! And when he had to go into a hospice, he continued to give interviews, wrote one last book, and taught us all a lesson with the way he faced the end. In fact, "The New York Times," in a first, had him record a video to be played after his death.

ART BUCHWALD, AUTHOR: I'm Art Buchwald, and I just died.


KURTZ: Art Buchwald, getting the last word and the last smile.

Finally, everyone knows that Stephen Colbert modeled his right- wing talk show blowhard for Comedy Central on Bill O'Reilly. On Thursday, the fake loudmouth and the real one appeared on each other's shows.


BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: It is tough being me. Is it tough being you?

STEPHEN COLBERT, COMEDY CENTRAL: It's hard for me to be you.

O'REILLY: Is it?

COLBERT: I'll tell you that much. You know what I hate about people who criticize you?


COLBERT: They -- they criticize what you say, but they never give you credit for how loud you say it.

O'REILLY: That's true.


KURTZ: Well, I know who I find funnier, but O'Reilly was a good sport. Stick around for the second half hour of RELIABLE SOURCES. A black accuser, three white lacrosse players -- did news organizations fan the racial flames at Duke University?

And a free speech fight. A conservative radio station fights back against liberal bloggers.



The Duke rape case which sparked such a media frenzy last spring when a black woman made allegations against three white lacrosse players has been slowly collapsing. The accuser changed her story so many times that the rape charges were dropped but sexual assault charges remained.

Prosecutor Mike Nifong bowed out of the case, turning it over to North Carolina's attorney general. But the media's role in this case remains controversial, as does that of the woman whose identity is being protected by news organizations.


CASH MICHAELS, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, "THE CAROLINIAN": Here you had the perfect storm of a crime story. The steps over there, you couldn't breathe on those steps. There was a camera here from every part of the country because it was a good story.

GAIL DINES, SOCIOLOGY PROFESSOR< WHEELOCK COLLEGE: I think this woman has been hung out to dry by the media. I think questions about her morality, her emotional stability, her psychological stability, which is what happens to women in rape cases, and especially to women of color...


KURTZ: Joining us now from Boston, Callie Crossley, media commentator and panelist on WGBH's "Beat the Press." And in Toledo, Ohio, Christine Brennan, sports contributor for "USA Today" and a contributor to ABC News.

Christine Brennan, when I look back on the coverage, particularly those first few months, it just looks to me like an absolutely awful performance by the media, pumping this into a big national melodrama.

Would you argue with that?

CHRISTINE BRENNAN, "USA TODAY": I'd agree with you, Howie, for sure on that. I think what we saw was the perfect storm for our media in 2006, in this 21st century, the sense that you've got all of these, what, 300 channels now out there, all this time to fill, 24/7, the sound bite rules, the quick hit, make it very simple for the viewer, try to keep that viewer for a few more minutes, fill the time as best you can. Really, an awful performance, an embarrassing time, I think, for journalism. I feel good personally about what I did on the story, Howie. I feel good about some of the mainstream coverage. But even those of us in the so-called mainstream I think went way too far and forgot the idea of restraint in journalism.

What do we know? When did we know? How did we learn it? Instead, for that ratings grab, for that hope of getting attention, keeping ratings, keeping circulation, I think some people lost their minds in this story.

KURTZ: Some people lost their minds.

Callie Crossley, would you agree with that? Did journalists just get plain old carried away with the elements of this story?

CALLIE CROSSLEY, MEDIA COMMENTATOR: Yes, I would absolutely agree with that. But I would also like to underscore that I think that some in the traditional media did try to offer some skepticism.

I think where we fell down was not offering enough, not questioning enough what the political motivations might have been by prosecutor Nifong. And I think we're also in a situation where we are sort of trapped -- I'm saying traditional media now -- because what I call repeater information folks are out there.

So the salacious details are always just repeated and repeated and repeated and speculated upon with no sort of shoe leather work going on to determine whether or not, is, in fact, this true or not? And so the more you hear it, you know how that is, then you start to believe it. I do think that the late, great Ed Bradley probably saved a lot of us in traditional media by doing probably the most pulled- together skeptical story, taking a look at everything that was happening there in the Duke case.

KURTZ: Christine Brennan, you're a sports writer. Is there some kind of button on your keyboard when this kind of controversy there says "athletes out of control"? I mean, that seemed to be one of the themes that the national media picked up on, not just the racial aspect -- that was certainly there -- but the idea that these were, you know, pampered white athletes behaving badly?

BRENNAN: Howie, I think that might be one of the positives. That might sound a little strange, but the idea that it opened our eyes, a little bit of a wakeup call to what's going on in some minor men's sports around the country.

We traditionally in sports journalism have looked at football, have looked at men's basketball, and have wondered if that's where the problems are. And clearly there's been everything from, you know, criminal activity, to misbehavior in football programs, big-time football, football factories in colleges, and then, of course, men's basketball. There's certainly been some there as well, up to and including murders. And so those have been issues we've covered.

If there's anything good out of this, I would hope it would be that journalistically in the sports world we are able to say it's time to look at some other sports and other programs. You know, in the Duke men's lacrosse situation, you had privilege, you had athletes on scholarship, you have athletes representing a university.

And taking the criminal aspect away for a moment, the potential criminal aspect of if a crime was committed or not, if what was going on the campus of Duke University had been going on in lacrosse, had been going on in a fraternity or a sorority on any campus in the country, it's very likely that the university would have tossed that sorority or that fraternity off campus. The same way that what happened with the Duke's men's lacrosse team, that they were kicked off for a year, now they're back. So I think if we as journalists learned anything, it is that we should start looking at some of these other programs to see what's going on, on this campus.

KURTZ: You're more optimistic than I am when it comes to the media learning lessons. I've been through so many of these things where somebody was a suspect. And, of course, it later turns out that they were exonerated. But they do have a way of getting convicted in the press.

Let's take a look, Callie Crossley, at what you said on this program last April, soon after the Duke accusations first surfaced.


CROSSLEY: You have this incident, which is really based on what the old South was all about, that historical context of the sublimation of black women by white men.


KURTZ: So did you buy into the notion that this was something that could have happened in the old South?

CROSSLEY: Yes, I certainly did, because the history of it is that not only did you have the long historical context of that racial tension, as I described there, but also, when the Duke case started to be reported, you talked to black students on campus who talked very openly about being catcalled and being approached sexually by some of the white men on campus.

Then you have the history of those wild parties going on in that house and the community complaining about it and the racial tension between community of color with those privileged athletes carrying on with wild parties there. So I think it wasn't -- it wasn't out of the box to think that there was some truth to this. The question was, did a rape take place?

I hoped to God that young woman was telling the truth. Apparently she was not, as the facts are coming forward. But I think there was enough historical context there to take a look at this and think that there could be some truth there.

KURTZ: Well, let's talk about the damage to the reputation of these three young men. Even though most people all look at this and say, boy, this case is really falling apart, let me put up a poll, a CNN and Opinion Research, on the Duke lacrosse players.

"Do you believe that Duke University lacrosse players sexually assaulted a woman at a team party?" Thirty-one percent still say probably or definitely true. Forty-eight percent say probably or definitely not true.

So, Christine Brennan, this is not over, from the point of view of these young men and their families.

BRENNAN: Howie, think about Google. You know, think about someone trying to hire one of these three young men, say, 10, 15 years from now. And they'll put their names in and the computer will have steam coming out of it from all of the news back in '06.

You're right. They'll never -- it's always the story. And, you know, we worked together at "The Washington Post," where the story's out there on the front page, and the correction, if there needs to be a correction, is buried somewhere inside.

And that's -- all I can hope in this case, Howie, for these three young men is, assuming that they are guilty of no crimes, for this particular statement or argument, would be that the attention has been so great and the support from the Duke community and the millions of dollars raised for their defense is so great that they will be able to reclaim their lives if, in fact, they were guilty of no crime.

KURTZ: Let's take a look at a "60 Minutes" interview with Kathy Seligmann. She's the mother of Reade Seligmann, one of the accused players.

Let's watch that.


KATHY SELIGMANN, READE SELIGMANN'S MOTHER: Any mother of a son in this country should be scared to death that this was so easy to perpetrate. All that it's based on is a woman's word, and she's changed that story seven, eight, nine times. And we still sit here -- our families have been held hostage of this D.A., of this woman, of the police department.


KURTZ: Callie, the question of the impact on the players is obvious (ph). But, you know, some people are saying the media have also been unfair to the accuser. But my thought is, we don't know who she is. We've all protected her name, her -- unlike the players, the defendants in this case, her identity remains a secret.

What's your thought on that?

CROSSLEY: Well, as soon as it becomes clear that it was not a rape case, then I think that it's fair that she be identified. I am still of the old school that I do not believe that those who have charged rape have to be identified. I think we should offer some protection. That's been the traditional way in old media, and I still think that that's appropriate.

I mean, bringing a rape charge is heavy duty against those young men. I am recognizing the damage done to them. But, at the same time, experiencing a rape and having to deal with all of that is really tough, too. So we in the media, of course, assumed she's telling the truth because that's what the official record said from Nifong and others.

KURTZ: Right.

CROSSLEY: And so I believe in protecting her until such time that it is otherwise revealed.

KURTZ: I agree with that, but it does set up sort of an uneven situation, because obviously when you're a defendant -- and there were indictments in this case -- you get kind of dragged through the media mud.

Here's my take. This was, at bottom, a local crime, a local accusation of a crime. And the media -- and Christine alluded to this earlier -- journalists just couldn't resist the racial angle, the class angle, and just pumped this up into a national story week after week after week.

There was no presumption of innocence. And these three men, Reade Seligmann, David Evans, and Collin Finnerty, will have to bear the scars for the rest of their lives.

Thank you both, Christine Brennan and Callie Crossley. We appreciate it.

CROSSLEY: Thank you.

KURTZ: Coming up, ABC radio takes on the blogosphere over how hot is the talk at a San Francisco station. A free speech showdown next.


KURTZ: Want to put up on the screen the top Google searches of last week. This is interesting.

Number one -- have we got that -- number one is the iPhone. A lot of interested in that.

Number two, Yvonne de Carlo. I wasn't sure who this was, but she played Lily on "The Munsters."

Number three, Michelle Manhart. For those of you haven't Googled her, she's the Air Force staff sergeant who posed for the February issue of "Playboy" magazine and was relieved of her duties.

Kate Middleton clocks in at number four. She's Prince William's girlfriend, for those of you who are living in a cave.

And number five, Victoria Beckham, the former Posh Spice, married to soccer star David Beckham, who just signed a zillion-dollar contract with an L.A. soccer team.

Now, the talk gets pretty hot on KSFO, conservative San Francisco radio station. And one blogger found some of the hosts' language offensive. Melanie Morgan, for instance, said this of new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.


MELANIE MORGAN, KSFO: We've got a bull's eye painted on her big, wide, laughing...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Easy. Easy, easy.


KURTZ: Then there was this bit where the host talked about what it would sound like to execute "New York Times" editor Bill Keller.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're going to take Bill Keller. And if he were to be tried and convicted of treason, he needs to go to Old Sparky.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. And so Officer Vic (ph) was giving us a wonderful imitation of what that might sound like. So we're just going to allow you to feast your ears on this.

Go ahead, O.V.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. Here you can see it's being strapped in now. And here comes the switch. They're throwing the switch.


KURTZ: Wow. The blogger who posted these clips on his Web site, known only as "Spocko," sent audio clips from KSFO to advertisers in trying to launch a boycott. ABC Radio, which owns the station, successfully pressured Spocko's Internet provider to take down the clips on copyright grounds, which triggered a backlash from bloggers on the left.

Neither ABC Radio nor KSFO would give us a comment, but KSFO hosts complained on the air about crackpots with keyboards.

Joining me now in New York, Dan Riehl, who blogs at --, excuse me. And here in the studio, Mike Stark from

Mike Stark, this guy, Spocko, he doesn't like what the KSFO hosts are saying on the air so he tries to get an advertising boycott going. What happened to free speech?

The way to fight free speech that you disagree with is to engage in more free speech. And that's exactly what Spocko did.

MICHAEL STARK, CALLINGALLWINGNUTS.COM: Spocko recorded these segments, he spread the segments. He enlarged their free speech. He send sent them to advertisers, who had been told, by the way, that KSFO was a family-friendly Disney station.

They had no idea that they were advertising MasterCard and Federal Express and. And, you know, several of their advertisers had know idea that this kind of speech was occurring on KSFO. And they exercised their free speech rights and said I don't want to say this anymore.

KURTZ: Do you know who the mysterious Spocko is?

STARK: I don't. I don't know his name.

KURTZ: And neither do we.

Dan Riehl, when a blogger sends audio clips from a radio station around, I mean, you are technically ripping off the station's product, right?

DAN RIEHL, RIEHLWORLDVIEW.COM: Yes. I think there certainly are legitimate elements of fair use here, although in this case I think it's a little bit more of unfair misuse because I think things were blown out of proportion misrepresented. But yes, we do take clips from radio shows and so forth.

KURTZ: Mike stark, I'm not defending some of these outrageous comments on KSFO, but, you know, when Melanie Morgan, one of hosts there describes Barack Obama as a "Halfrican," meaning he's only half a minority -- black father, white mother -- isn't that obviously intended as a satire?

STARK: You know, it's funny, because I don't believe you've even brought up the most egregious clips. Lee Rogers (ph) called for killing of millions of Muslims in Indonesia if they didn't bend to our will. We have got troops in theater in the Middle East right now in Muslim land, and Lee Rogers (ph) is calling for the killing of -- I mean, essentially the genocide of Indonesian Muslims.

Other Muslims are going to take up the cause. They're going to join that battle, and it's endangering our troops.

KURTZ: Wait a minute. Other Muslims are going to take up the cause and join the battle because of what somebody said on a radio station?

STARK: Because of the entire psyche of the United States, which is, you know, essentially set by our media. They see our media. Our media goes worldwide. And when Lee Rogers (ph) says that, it expounds to, you know, the president saying things like -- that Democrats don't support the war on terror, that we're supporting the terrorists.

KURTZ: All right. But, you know, radio hosts are opinionated.

Let me go to Dan Riehl.

Look, KSFO is a major station. None of this is a secret. Don't advertisers know what they're getting into when they buy time on that station?

RIEHL: Yes, I think they do. And I find this silly.

I mean, in essence, the clip he's talking about, I believe what was said is that there were a lot of terrorists in Indonesia. And if they don't knock it off, we'll end up in a war and we'll end up killing millions of them. That's a far cry from the way Mike is representing it. That's his typical tactic.

It's my understanding just last week Don Imus and Mike Barnicle did an entire bit on hanging Vice President Dick Cheney. We had a movie released last year that the premise -- the basis premise was the hypothetical assassination of the sitting president of the United States. You know, during a week when a young woman died allegedly because of some involvement with talk radio, if this is the most outrageous thing Mike is seeing, he might want to revisit what's going on in the media around him today.

KURTZ: You're referring there to the woman who drank seven gallons of water apparently at the urging of some radio jock and did die. What a tragedy that was.


KURTZ: Mike Stark, do you want to respond to that?

STARK: Yes. Actually, that's not the most egregious thing.

I think this rhetoric bleeds over from right wing talk radio into the blogs and even into the leading influential on the right side. Ann Coulter was at CPAC. That's the Conservative Political Action Committee meeting they had here in D.C. last year.

She said, "Ragheads talk tough, ragheads face consequences."

Who else attended that? Dick Cheney, Mitch McConnell, John Fund, John Cornyn.

KURTZ: All right. I don't want to get into too much of a tangent about the impact of right-wing talk radio, but you seem to have a problem with the First Amendment. I mean, some of us think -- you and I may think this is the most offensive stuff in the world. We can always turn it off.

STARK: I am the champion of the First Amendment. I want their speech to be known by everybody. Because you know what? These people marginalize themselves. The more their speech is heard by reasonable people like you and me, the more they marginalize themselves. So I want their voices to be heard by everyone in America.

KURTZ: Well, thank you for including me in that description.

Dan Riehl, what about ABC Radio, which reacts to this blogger Spocko who starts this boycott campaign by going to his Internet service provider and getting these clips taken down? Isn't that a little heavy-handed?

RIEHL: Well, I thought it was a little heavy-handed, but I just need to say one thing. OK, I'm not here to push my blog, but I have a picture on it right now of Mike sneaking into camera view on a national network, holding a banner which is probably one of the most obnoxious distasteful things you've seen. He's not exactly the person who should be making judgments about what's outrageous in media today.

That said, yes, I think if I were ABC, knowing what I know about Mike Stark, I would have sent him a hat with funny ears and let him wear it around the house and let him shine them on, frankly.

KURTZ: Mike, just explain to our viewers, what banner were you holding up and where was this?

STARK: I was on your competitor, FOX station. I stood behind Colmes during a viewing of "Hannity and Colmes" with a sign that said, "Hannity sucks ass." All I did was tell the truth. That's not a major...

KURTZ: You had no right to be there.

STARK: I'm sorry?

KURTZ: You had no right to be there.

STARK: Sure I was. I was at Ned Lamont's headquarters.

KURTZ: I see. All right.

STARK: Something I'd like to suggest...

KURTZ: Let me ask this last question because we're running short on time.

STARK: Sure.

KURTZ: Is this, the way ABC and the parent company reacted, is this a big corporation trying to intimidate bloggers?

STARK: Oh, it's absolutely a big corporation trying to intimidate bloggers. But what they're enabling here is Ann Coulter calling for the rat poisoning of Justice Stephens. Supreme Court justices, each one of them, received a box of cookies filled with rat poisoning.

KURTZ: So you're saying there are real world consequences to some of this speech. STARK: Real world consequences. Anthrax attacks all went to journalists and two Democratic senators.

This elimination (ph) rhetoric from the right is irresponsible and I don't know why Dan would ever defend it. But he engages in it himself. He posted pictures of "The New York Times" publisher's home on his Web site...

KURTZ: All right.

STARK: ... essentially encouraging people to...

KURTZ: You two continue this off the air. I want to give you my take, which is, I don't like boycotts, but, you know, tough luck. It's fair game when you're in the media business for critics to talk about what's on your air.

And ABC Radio should not be saying no comment. ABC is in the communications business. They ought to have some kind of comment about what they did.

But you all are continuing this exercise in free speech. And it's an interesting one. It shows that bloggers have become a real force.

Dan Riehl in New York, Mike Stark here, thanks very much for joining us.

RIEHL: Thank you, Howie.

STARK: Thanks very much.

KURTZ: If you missed any of today's show, you can download a video podcast of the program by logging on to

Up next, Tim Russert, Bob Woodward and other top journalists aren't on trial next week, but the media's reputation could be.

Stay with us.


KURTZ: Just when you thought you'd never hear the name "Valerie Plame" again, when the whole cast of characters had mercifully faded from memory, they're coming back, live from federal district court in Washington, where jury selection began this week.


KURTZ (voice over): Scooter Libby is on trial, not for leaking word that Plame was a CIA operative -- that would be too simple -- but on perjury charges related to the seemingly endless investigation. Libby, in case you've forgotten, was the top aide to Dick Cheney, who is expected to testify.

Plame is married to Joe Wilson, the ex-ambassador who drew the White House's wrath for criticizing its use of prewar intelligence.

Patrick Fitzgerald is the special prosecutor who will be trying the case. But the real stars, who would just as soon avoid this particular spotlight, are the journalists.

Tim Russert, who usually grills guests on "Meet the Press," will testify that he and Libby never discussed Plame's CIA connection, contrary to Libby's account.

Bob Woodward, who prefers meeting with sources in secret, will testify that he was told about Plame by Richard Armitage, the former deputy secretary of state.

Judy Miller, who lost her job at "The New York Times" during the uproar, will testify that Libby told her about Plame. Miller spent 85 days in jail for contempt until Libby agreed to waive the confidentiality of their off-the-record discussions.

Matt Cooper, the former "TIME" magazine correspondent who almost went to jail in the case, will testify that he got the information from White House aide Karl Rove, who was not charged in the case.

And Bob Novak, the former CNN commentator who started the whole melodrama three-and-a-half years ago by outing Valerie Plame in his syndicated column, will testify that his sources were Rove and Armitage.


KURTZ: The questions for these and other journalists go well beyond the charges against Libby. Why did some of them participate in what appeared to be a White House effort to retaliate against he wife of a critic? Why did they refuse to come forward when the very leaking of Plame's status may have been a crime? Had they gotten too close with their high-level sources?

Whatever the verdict, chances are the reputation of Washington journalism in this trial will be further tarnished.

Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.

I'm Howard Kurtz.

Join us again next Sunday morning at 10:00 a.m. Eastern for another critical look at the media.