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Reliable Sources

Interview With Brian Ross; McCain Back on the Campaign Trail

Aired April 29, 2007 - 10:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: The D.C. madam has been talking to ABC News about her escort service, and a top administration official fingered as a client has already resigned. We'll ask ABC's Brian Ross about this breaking story.
The media and the maverick. John McCain back on the campaign bus, are journalists all but writing off their formerly favorite presidential candidate? Have they turned against the senator because he backs the war?

And Jon Stewart takes on McCain. What happened to the comedy?

War stories. Army officials are caught lying about Pat Tillman's death from friendly fire and Jessica Lynch's heroics turned out to be fiction. Has the wartime press fallen down on the job?

Plus, Rosie pulls the plug. Was her high-decibel act just too controversial for "The View?"

(INAUDIBLE) not surprisingly, plenty of gossip and titillation when the woman who's been dubbed the D.C. madam -- her real name is Deborah Jeane Palfrey -- who's charged with running a high end prostitution ring here in the nation's capital. She says lots of important people use the service and she's been talking about this with ABC's Brian Ross.

On Thursday, Ross spoke with Deputy Secretary of State Randall Tobias, whose phone number was in the escort service's records. Tobias resigned late Friday and Ross, who's working on a story for next week's "20/20," posted some of the details on his blog that night. ABC's chief investigative reporter joins us now by phone from Connecticut. Brian Ross, thanks very much for calling in. Roughly, how many names are on this list and what kind of people are they?

BRIAN ROSS, ABC NEWS: There are several thousands names, tens of thousands of phone numbers and they range from administration officials to lobbyists to advisers who are well known, people who appear on television, layers, and then just a lot of sort of ordinary businessmen and CEOs.

KURTZ: And some women as well?

ROSS: The women who are the -- the women who worked for Jean Palfrey range from university professors, legal secretaries, military officers themselves. KURTZ: Brian, as I just mentioned, you spoke on Thursday with Randall Tobias. He was running the Agency for International Development at the State Department. What did he tell you about his involvement with the escort service? Was he agitated during this conversation?

ROSS: No, he was I would say more Howie he was subdued. Initially, I placed a call on the number he used to contact the escort service. His press secretary called back and I explained that I wanted to speak to Mr. Tobias directly only if he authorized the press secretary to talk to me would I continue. And then about an hour later, Tobias himself called back. And I told him what we had seen in the records and it was his number listed to his home address in Indiana, and after about a five-second silence, he confirmed. He said he had gals come over to the condo to give him massages, that he had found the number in the "Washingtonian" magazine and recently he been using some what he called central American gals to give him massages.

KURTZ: So Tobias is saying only massages, no sex.

ROSS: No sex.

KURTZ: Now on Friday night's "World News," you did not report this. You put it on your blog, the blotter, about 9:00 that night. Is that because you didn't know or decided not to go with it for television?

ROSS: I was off on Friday, actually attending my son's high school debate tournament and the State Department release came out around 5:00 Friday afternoon. I just didn't know about it until about 8:00 at night and about an hour later we put it on

KURTZ: Here I thought there was some elaborate conspiratorial reason and it was your son's debate tournament. All right. This list of thousands of names, got all these phone records, just as a practical matter, is it difficult to find out who these phone records belong to?

ROSS: It takes some work. We've been working on it, our investigative team for the last month, month and a half, going through them all and I think we have a pretty good idea now of who is on the list.

KURTZ: Jeane Palfrey originally talked about selling her list of clients to a tabloid outfit and then obviously, ABC News does not pay for information. Why did she decide to cooperate with you?

ROSS: We told her that we would take it seriously, that it was a potentially important story. Her point is that she runs an operation that she claims offered no sex. And that she sees it as hypocritical that the government is going after her and the women who worked for her and not the men. The phone lists were in her home when the Federal agents raided it. But they were not interested in apparently the names of the men, only the women who worked for her. So she thinks that it is hypocritical. Secondly, she wants to call some of these men to testify on her behalf. She's turned down a deal, a plea bargain deal from the government and wants to go to trial.

KURTZ: I should have mentioned at the top she's under indictment and as you say, she apparently plans to go to trial. If a government official pays for this kind of service personally and has nothing to do with his job, is there at least an argument that it's not news worthy and shouldn't be reported?

ROSS: Well, I think there -- I think it is news worthy that there is this indictment. It's part of a Bush administration effort under the Department of Justice to crack down on prostitution and this is part of it. Tobias in particular, given his role as spearheading the Bush administration effort overseas to crack down on prostitution, seemed to us to be news worthy.

KURTZ: You are faced with a list of names. You say some of them are fairly prominent people, from not just the government but different walks of life. Is this a dilemma for you as to how far you should push your reporting?

ROSS: The reporting is -- we want to know all we can know and then the decision has to be made as to what information we'll actually use on the air next week on "20/20" or on "World News". We actually hadn't made the decision about Tobias and he didn't ask me whether we're going to name him. I guess he just assumed that.

KURTZ: As of now, you are planning on reporting the story on Friday on "20/20."

ROSS: "20/20" and on other ABC outlets, "Good Morning America" and "World News" and on the ABC News blotter.

KURTZ: I suspect the story may get a little bit attention when you report it. Brian Ross, thanks very much for calling this morning. Good to talk with you.

And joining us now to give us our take on this and other issues, Karen Tumulty, national political reporter for "Time" magazine. Chris Cillizza, political columnist for and radio talk show host Blanquita Cullum . So, 20-second answer from each of you. Let's say you this list and you had to decide whether to make public the names of people who used this escort service. Would you do it?

KAREN TIMULTY, TIME MAGAZINE: I'm not sure I would without a lot more reporting because careers are going to be destroyed when this list becomes public, and it will become public.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, WASHINGTONPOST.COM: I think Brian made the point that is the right one, which is if it looks like an administration official is being hypocritical, that they are saying one thing in their public life and one thing in their private life, I think it at least begs the question that they may have opened themselves up to it. I agree with Karen. It may not matter whether we think it should or shouldn't be, because it's going to be made public.

BLANQUITA CULLUM, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: But if it is, you can't just target one name. You can't pick one guy because he's an administration official. You've got reveal the whole list and in that case, that is a big kettle of worms.

KURTZ: If you are going to do, not just administration officials, you've got to do the lawyers. You've got to do the TV people.

CULLUM: Right. Exactly. You got to lay it all out on the line because one can't go just because you don't like one individual because of their politics. You got to take them all.

CILLIZZA: From a logistical point of view, there are 10,000, how do you do that? Do you just scroll a list of 10,000 people? I don't think they are going to make a segment on "20/20" where they read 10,000 names.

TUMULTY: There is at least an outside chance here that in fact these guys weren't engaging in anything illegal and that's why it really requires a lot more work.

KURTZ: We need to be awfully cautious.

Turning to the presidential campaign, I spent some time this week with John McCain in New Hampshire. I sat next to him for an hour on the straight talk express as a handful of reporters peppered him with questions. But that once close relationship has turned rather chilly. For instance, a reporter on that bus asked whether Alberto Gonzales should resign, McCain ducked and shortly afterwards he told Larry King in a taped CNN interview that, yes, the attorney general should step down. The next day, Adam Nagourney of the "New York Times" was challenged McCain, saying some reporters felt misled by his non- answer.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You can feel any way you want to. The fact is that that wasn't going to be on until 9:00 at night. I wanted yesterday -- the day's stories to be about the announcement of our campaign. If your tender feelings are bruised, then I apologize.


KURTZ: Chris Cillizza, The press used to love this guy when he ran last time. Now the stories all seem to say he's struggling, having trouble raising money, he's too old, he's not exciting. Why all this piling on?

CILLIZZA: Well, I think because the media in many ways fell in love with John McCain in 2000. Any time the media is given direct access to a candidate, it's very appealing. We deal, all of us deal with handlers and four ways to get to a candidate. So when you can talk directly to a candidate, it's appealing. But the McCain people make this point over and over again, to mean, I'm sure, all of us on the panel, OK, they won the media primary in 2000. He's not President John McCain for a reason. They lost the actual primary. They're willing to sacrifice losing some votes in the media and winning some votes in the Republican primary. KURTZ: But this situation, which I was reminded of this week, where you can just ask him endless questions for hours, the reporters have eventually run out of questions, it's very seductive, but this phenomenal access doesn't seem to be helping him as much as it did last time when it was more of a novelty.

TUMULTY: That's right, because he's running a totally different kind of campaign in a totally different kind of context. He's trying to run as the establishment's pick as a frontrunner, and that's where the whole -- the techniques that really work well for a maverick are not and that begins with his media strategy.

KURTZ: But with liberal pundits -- E.J. Dionne, Jonathan Alter -- writing columns that have titles like "the McCain meltdown," "the McCain tragedy," what conservatives are telling me is it's all about McCain's support for the war and the press doesn't like that.

CULLUM: Let me tell you, right now in this whole campaign, what the people out there want is they want Arthur that's pulling Excalibur out of the stone. They are looking for something new and someone fresh and, unfortunately, I think anyone who was a senator on either side of the aisle is going to have a very tough time, including Democrats and Republicans. Senators are not going to fare well on this issue.

CILLIZZA: Unless you rarely talk about being a senator, like the gentleman from Illinois.

KURTZ: What about the argument that Barack Obama doesn't publicize that. What about the argument that this is about the war, that the press was in love with McCain when he was a maverick taking on his own party, pushing campaign finance reform and now that he's a staunch supporter of President Bush's surge, the love is not so much there.

CILLIZZA: I think there is an obstinacy factor, which is that the press wants McCain to sort of give up more and say look, OK, things aren't going right, but still I'm with it. I think they -- the only reason he's supporting it is because he's trying as Karen said to be the George W. Bush candidate. And they don't like that sense of disingenuousness. Whether he's actually disingenuous or not, obviously is not something that we can know.

KURTZ: Couldn't a guy who served 5.5 years in a prisoner of war camp be sincere in his support for this war?

TUMULTY: I think he is sincere in his support of the war.

KURTZ: So why the skepticism?

TUMULTY: Because it's an issue that puts him on the opposite side of about 70 percent of the American public. So -- I do think that having been through a race once before where he was the -- the maverick, the -- the context has now changed, and, you know, he might have been getting points for just staying true to who he is. KURTZ: I tell you something else that's changed. He's dropped in the polls and somebody drops in the polls, the press piles on it. McCain comes back in the polls, you'll be reading the McCain comeback story any second now.

When we come back, McCain touts his candidacy on the "Daily Show." But what got into Jon Stewart?


KURTZ: John McCain was on the "Daily Show" this week. He's been on the Comedy Central program a number of times and here is what happened with Jon Stewart.


JON STEWART, COMEDY CENTRAL: They say that asking for a timetable or criticizing the president is not supporting the troops. Explain to me why that is supporting the troops less than extending their tours of duty from 12 months to 15 months, putting them in stop loss and not having Walter Reed be up to snuff.

MCCAIN: If you talk to these young men and women who are fighting, they tell you they think it's a worthwhile cause and that they are fighting for freedom.

STEWART: Not all of them.

MCCAIN: All I'm saying, the overwhelming majority of them do.

STEWART: You cannot look a soldier in the eye and say questioning the president is less supportive to you than extending your tour three months, when you should be coming home to your family.

MCCAIN: Every American...


STEWART: And that's not fair to put on people that criticize.


KURTZ: Jon Stewart is one of the funniest guys of the planet, but he was dead serious.

CILLIZZA: I was just think too that that was on Comedy Central. It seemed like a very serious interview. Look, I think that politicians go on these kinds of shows, because they want to show that they are regular guys that they are not just sound bites and that kind of thing, but it can backfire. I think it did there. John McCain never wants to have footage where people are booing him when he's talking about the war. That's not a good stance for him.

I will say just quickly though, remember, the Comedy Central audience isn't necessarily who John McCain needs to woo over to win this primary. In several of these early states, Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, the war among Republican voters, those most conservative voters most likely to vote next year, he's still relatively popular and the president of the United States is still relatively popular.

KURTZ: It's fascinating to watch because most candidates on news shows don't get challenged like that.

TUMULTY: The question is why he went on the Jon Stewart show in the first place. And I think it shows that John McCain doesn't understand how the media context around him has changed. But the fact is...

KURTZ: So you're saying that it was just a mistake to go on. He's been on the show a number of times. He's got a very good sense of humor. Why would he go on the "Daily Show?"

TUMULTY: Because of what we just saw, and I think that was a totally predictable thing to have happened to him. The problem for John McCain however is that he's not that welcome on conservative shows either, because their viewers don't trust him either.

KURTZ: Was Jon Stewart acting as an interviewer, as a comedian, or as an anti-war liberal?

CULLUM: Jon Stewart was acting like a combination between the Bill O'Reilly, Geraldo Rivera, Rosie O'Donnell, Donald Trump. When you go over the board a little bit, now we're looking at Jon Stewart. We're looking at that clip. Everybody's playing that clip and consequently it helps him get more ratings. It didn't necessarily help John McCain, although the rank and file, the base that support the military are going to look at him and say well, McCain you were pretty good to get out there and do that.

KURTZ: Jon Stewart feels very strongly about the war. You can tell that from watching the program, but I'm not sure I buy into the notion this was a disaster for McCain. Some people booed him. He was seen as standing up for what he believes in. Why is that a bad thing?

CILLIZZA: I don't think it necessarily is, frankly for the reasons I talked about and I also -- let me just mention another thing that John McCain's got a lot of press for. This "bomb Iran" video that was sort of on youtube, where he's singing "Barbara Ann" to "bomb Iran" at a town hall in South Carolina. There was a lot of hue and cry about this. He's not taking it seriously enough. Is this someone who can lead the world? But frankly, I think if you talk to McCain's campaign privately, they say look, people like this, they like the idea that again, people who vote in these primaries, that's who we're talking about. We're not talking about the general public that this isn't a losing message for him.

KURTZ: John McCain is not a scripted candidate. People like that. And he told us on the bus, that joke about bomb Iran goes back to 1980 and the hostage crisis. I didn't realize it had been around so long.

CILLIZZA: Real quickly, it's worth noting that when John McCain arrived in South Carolina as part of his announcement tour, strains of "Barbara Ann" were playing as he took the stage. So sort of a wink and a nod to the media that you think you got us, but we may have gotten you.

KURTZ: The Beach Boys as a theme song. Up next, the Democrats square off in their first nationally televised debate. We'll rate NBC's Brian Williams' performance as the moderator.


KURTZ: The eight Democratic presidential candidates were in South Carolina this week for a debate carried on MSNBC. Here are some of the questions they got from Brian Williams.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC: Just this week, the Chicago "Sun-Times" reported on questionable ties you have with a donor who was charged last year for demanding kickbacks on Illinois business deals. Why do you think Republicans looking forward to running against you with so much zeal?

I want to read you a quote from the political journalist Roger Simon. Many people missed the point about the haircuts. The point is not the cost. John Edwards is a very rich man and could afford even a $4,000 haircut. Why did he pay for his haircuts out of campaign funds? Senator.


KURTZ: Karen Tumulty, you moderated a Democratic presidential debate last month on health care. It's not easy to get eight candidates off their prepared scripts. How did Brian Williams do?

TUMULTY: I thought he did pretty well, but the format was an absolute killer because you had in the course of 90 minutes, you had eight different candidates. They were limited to 60-second answers. And it is very, very difficult and on top of everything, they weren't allowed to interact with each other. It's very difficult to get anything beyond your bumper sticker and your slogan in that sort of format.

KURTZ: Blanquita Cullum, what about that $400 haircut question to John Edwards? This was a subject of a Maureen Dowd column. It's been debated in the blogosphere. Is this a legitimate issue or is it just silly?

CULLUM: It's not actually silly because frankly when you look at it, we all go back to that clip where he's sitting there looking at himself in the mirror combing his hair. It was a very powerful image and so consequently, he -- I was a bit disappointed with his answers all throughout the debate, because I felt like a guy who has already been here before, he's already been on the trail. He's been grilled a million times and he was the biggest disappointment to me.

KURTZ: What's the most you ever spent on a haircut? CULLUM: Probably around $250 and I got a lot of hair.

KURTZ: That beats me by a lot of dollars. Chris Cillizza, the "New York Times" has already done a sidebar on the amazing obscure Mike Gravel, who was obscure even when he was an Alaska senator. He was sort of a bomb thrower on that stage. Why should a network allow somebody with, say, zero chance of becoming president into these debates?

CILLIZZA: I'm not sure that beyond this debate we're going to see Mr. Gravel. The sort of talk among the operative world after it ended, the debate ended, was that it may have gotten -- he took advantage of his one opportunity, but it may have been his only opportunity. The issue is you have to decide who has a legitimate chance of winning this election. Now, the media takes a large amount of criticism for self-selecting the people who come in.

KURTZ: Top tier, second tier.

CILLIZZA: But the reality is is when had one candidate raises $25 million, two candidates raise about $25 million, one candidate raises $100,000 or less. At some point you need to say, this is not us making a subjective decision. This is an objective analysis of what it takes to win a campaign and that's yes shouldn't be included.

TUMULTY: Could I argue that that would also be -- that same criterion would be used to eliminate Dennis Kucinich, who on the other hand does in fact have a coherent world view that represents a significant segment of the Democratic party base and, therefore, he should be on the base.

KURTZ: We'll have to leave it there. I thought the questions from Brian Williams were pretty good, even with those format restrictions that you referred to. Thank you all for joining us this morning. Ahead in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, the death of Pat Tillman and the rescue of Jessica Lynch stories that seemed just like made for TV movies when they broke. Were the media buying the Pentagon spin?

And later Rosie's rants on hold for now. She's leaving "The View." Did the critics force her out?


KURTZ: Jessica Lynch and Pat Tillman's family appeared on Capitol Hill this week, a reminder of how the media bought into bogus stories in both cases. We'll tackle that in a moment, but first, here's TJ Holmes at the CNN center in Atlanta with a check of the hour's top stories. TJ.


KURTZ: Welcome back.

When Pat Tillman died in Afghanistan almost exactly three years ago, the Army said he was killed in an ambush. When Jessica Lynch was badly wounded in Iraq four years ago, she was portrayed, first by "The Washington Post," as heroically killing enemy soldiers. A congressional hearing this week made clear the initial stories in both cases were flat wrong.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: Today in Washington we heard another story, accusations that the Pentagon has tried on more than one occasion to make the story look better than it actually turned out.

CHARLIE GIBSON, ABC NEWS: The family of Pat Tillman, killed in Afghanistan, and Jessica Lynch, who was captured and rescued in Iraq, accused military officials of dissorting and exploiting their stories as part of a public relations ploy.

JESSICA LYNCH, FMR. U.S. ARMY PRIVATE: I'm still confused as why-to-why they chose to lie and try to make me a legend when the real heroics of my fellow soldiers that day were legendary.

KURTZ (voice over): Tillman's brother Kevin scoffed at the Silver Star awarded to the former pro football star after his death, but before we knew he had been killed by friendly fire.

KEVIN TILLMAN, PAT TILLMAN'S BROTHER: There was one small problem with the narrative, however. It was utter fiction. We believe this narrative was intended to deceive the family, but, more importantly, to deceive the American public.


KURTZ: Joining us now, Jamie McIntyre, CNN senior Pentagon correspondent; Steve Coll of "The New Yorker" magazine, and a Pulitzer Prize-winning author; and Donatella Lorch, former foreign correspondent for "Newsweek," "The New York Times," and NBC News.

Steve Coll, after -- even after we learned that Pat Tillman had died from friendly fire, you conducted a lengthy investigation for "The Washington Post". How difficult was it to gather information?

STEVE COLL, "THE NEW YORKER": Well, I was fortunate in finding some sources early on who provided documents that provided a clearer picture of what happened in the aftermath of his death. But even in possession of those, I found the Pentagon initially quite reluctant to deal with the narrative that the documents described, which essentially was that they had covered up the facts about Pat Tillman's death for about 30 days after he was killed.

KURTZ: Jamie McIntyre, you also looked into the Tillman death. Did you feel had at all, deceived by the original account provided by the Pentagon?

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, absolutely. But one thing that all of these investigations have shown is that virtually everyone knew from the very beginning that this was a friendly fire death. And what none of the investigations have answered is, how did the original lie get started? Who started it? Who wrote that fictitious Silver Star citation? We still don't know. And again, no evidence yet to indicate what the real motive was.

We've heard that it was a propaganda ploy, but we don't actually know who did it and why they did it.

KURTZ: Well, couldn't the real motive -- obviously this is partially speculation -- have been an embarrassment at what happened, because Pat Tillman was a famous pro football player?

MCINTYRE: Well, you know, that's the obvious conclusion. But you have to wonder since everyone knew what actually happened, they had to know that the truth was going to come out. So what was the thinking behind putting out a bad story initially? You know, it's mind-boggling.

KURTZ: Initially, everyone knew except the public. I mean, I'm picking up the paper, readying the story, seeing it on television. And I didn't know what had happened.

Now, the press eventually got the Tillman story right, but journalists were certainly manipulated at the outset, were they not?

DONATELLA LORCH, JOURNALIST, COMMENTATOR: They were very manipulated. It was the proverbial snowball going down the hill. It picked up strength, and there was this grueling desire, particularly in television, to do -- here was a manmade hero. How bigger a story -- how big a story could you get that was more titillating and...

KURTZ: But there was a receptive audience, in your view, because, you know, there are so many casualties in these wars, and it's difficult to deal with them. Sometimes we run 30 seconds of who they were, and here was Pat Tillman, a well-known athlete.

LORCH: And it was a good story, it was at a time when the media had really not started its introspection on how it was dealing with the war on Iraq. It was just at the beginning of Abu Ghraib. But particularly in cable television, this was the time where they could fill time.

For the people at the top of the chain in cable television, they have to fill 24 hours a day. They have to have the news.

MCINTYRE: Well, just to be clear, there was no reason initially not to believe it. I mean, believe it or not, the military doesn't usually lie about these things, for the obvious reason that the truth comes out.

KURTZ: Now, in the case of Jessica Lynch, one of the reasons that she became so famous so quickly was that the military had some video of her rescue after she had been wounded. Now, some new video has come out on a site called We're going to play a little bit, but I should point out that she appears to be reacting to the gunfire outside the hospitals, so you shouldn't get the impression that she's reacting to anything that the U.S. medics did. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Scoot this bed up. The doctor, myself, (INAUDIBLE) working here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All we're going to do is I'm going to put cuffs (ph) on you.


KURTZ: All right. You hear -- you get the flavor of it.

Steve Coll, it was in 2003 you were managing editor of "The Washington Post," when the paper wrote in a front page story that Jessica Lynch fought fiercely and several enemy soldiers, even after she sustained multiple gunshot wounds. She was also stabbed. As it turned out, none of that was true.

How big of a mistake was that story?

COLL: It was a big mistake. And it was a product of haste in that case.

I think there were probably three or four hours from the time between the first reports that our experienced reporters had about radio communication supposedly from the field, to the first deadline. But as with Tillman, it mushroomed, because there was such an appetite for this story. And the military continued to feed the idea that she had acted in a way that it was later clear she had not.

In her case, the military did have to consider her continuing rights of privacy as they stonewalled. So they were doing two things at once. They were feeding the media's appetite for the story, at the same time they had a live human being who had been kidnapped and brutalized and whose own recovery had barely begun.

In the Tillman case, they deliberately constructed this narrative at press conferences and through releases for a long period, knowing that the opposite was true. So I think it's a slightly more egregious case. They both were certainly egregious.

KURTZ: Right. Jessica Lynch was unable for a time to speak for herself, although her family said they didn't -- had not been told of any gunshot wounds or stabbing, which it turns out she was injured by a bomb, and badly injured at that.

Donatella Lorch, you talked about the media's receptivity for heroes, for the making of heroes. "Newsweek" put Jessica Lynch on the cover a few days later.

Were you and other journalists under pressure to match this scoop?

LORCH: I think the pressure comes not just -- everyone was out there. Everyone was in West Virginia. It was pandemonium in terms of the press. There wasn't even room to park all the way down the hill from where she lived.

And yes, there was a pressure to outdo the next-door neighbor in terms of the -- you know, the other publication. And I think to try and find the little nugget that no one else had.

I think that the other thing, the military released that video, and there has been criticism about the Special Forces troops saying that it was just made for the specific purposes of public relations. However, I've traveled with Special Force units. They video everything. They have more -- you know, they are taking pictures of absolutely everything, whether they're in fighting or just bored.

KURTZ: On the other hand, the video helped turn into a television story. But you initially did not report on the Jessica Lynch story. Why was that?

MCINTYRE: We had a different take than what Steve did on what happened at the Pentagon the day that story hit, which was that nobody in the Army could figure out where the information was coming from. There were no official statements that ever portrayed Jessica Lynch as going down fighting, and it appeared that "The Post" story was based on a single source who in retrospect may have confused the actions of other soldiers with Jessica Lynch.

You know, we have this saying in reporting where we say, another good story ruined by too much reporting. That is, you hear something, it sounds great. The more you check it out, sometimes -- and as Steve indicated, they were faced with a deadline, they went with the information they had. But even in that original story it said that the Pentagon could -- had heard rumors of this but couldn't confirm it.

The big fault I thought was not doing a follow-up story the next day when they had more time to set the record straight.

KURTZ: And, in fact, "The Post" ombudsman at the time criticized the paper for taking some time to correct the record, but, of course, some of this was still shrouded by the fog of war.

I want to turn now to something else that broke late in the week.

George Tenet, the former CIA director, has a book out. He'll be on "60 Minutes" tonight talking about his version of what happened when he was with the Bush administration.

Here's a clip from the "60 Minutes" interview.


GEORGE TENET, FMR. CIA DIRECTOR: It's the most despicable thing I've ever heard in my life. Men of honor don't do this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Men of honor don't do this?

TENET: You don't do this. You don't throw people overboard. You don't -- you don't do this -- give them -- you don't call somebody in.

You work your heart out, you show up every day. You're going to throw somebody overboard just because it's a deflection? Is that honorable? It's not honorable to me?


KURTZ: What Tenet was talking about there was the leak to Bob Woodward for his book "Plan of Attack" about the famous "slam-dunk" quote, that Tenet had told the president that the evidence, the intelligence on Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction, was a "slam-dunk". But now it's no longer the liberal media, Steve Coll, saying that the administration wanted to invade Iraq all along and rushed to war.

Does this validate some of the press criticism of recent years?

COLL: Well, I think it makes clear what was really happening in 2003, and particularly in 2004, as the occupation in Iraq started to deteriorate and the United States was engaged in a presidential election campaign. I think the Bush Political White House began to panic that the war might cost them the president's re-election, and as that summer unfolded they were looking for ways to protect the president from things going badly in Iraq, and they chose Tenet, and that "slam-dunk" quote was part of the campaign. And that's why Tenet is striking so forcefully now.

KURTZ: Tenet quit three years ago. This issue has been consuming the country. This week, the House and Senate voted to force a withdrawal from Iraq. Now he tells this to "60 Minutes"?

LORCH: Yes. Better late than never. Where's his moral integrity?

KURTZ: How much should we discount the fact that Tenet is coming out and telling this story while he's peddling the book?

MCINTYRE: Well, clearly, this an attempt at trying to resurrect his reputation, which was badly tarnished by the -- what happened. You ask a very legitimate question.

If his real motivation is setting the record straight, why does it take three years to write a book and then promote it? That's the traditional way it's been done in Washington. But again, you know, if people feel -- you know, the questions are, why -- if he felt that the intelligence wasn't as strong, if he felt that there was a march to war in Iraq, if he felt that Dick Cheney was publicly misrepresenting what the intelligence said, he has an obligation to his country, not just to the administration, to speak up at the time.

KURTZ: Instead, he accepted a presidential Medal of Freedom and has remained quiet until now.

Jamie McIntyre, Donatella Lorch, Steve Coll, thanks very much for joining us this morning.

Still to come, with Rosie O'Donnell leaving "The View", what are the media going to talk about now? Well, how about why she's leaving?

That's next.

And later, 1:00 p.m. Eastern today, join CNN's Tom Foreman for "THIS WEEK AT WAR".

Here's a preview.


ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You have majorities in both houses of Congress that have now voted and gone on the record for withdrawing all U.S. troops from Iraq.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: The reality, it's facing a lot of division.

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They're growing disenchanted with al Qaeda.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's a real handful (ph) between who's actually going to win the heart of the Taliban.

MCINTYRE: The key question, what was the motive behind the lie about Pat Tillman's death?



KURTZ: From the moment Rosie O'Donnell joined the ABC gab-fest "The View" last fall, she's had a lot to say.


ROSIE O'DONNELL, "THE VIEW": I'm taking my medicine until everything's gone.

KURTZ (voice over): She's raised the decibel level and the ratings while popping off and picking fights. Most flamboyantly with Donald Trump.

O'DONNELL: He's the moral authority. Left the first wife, had an affair, left the second wife, had an affair, had kids both times. But he's the moral compass for 20-year-olds in America.

DONALD TRUMP, REAL ESTATE MOGUL: Well, Rosie is a loser. She's always been a loser. From a physical standpoint she looks like hell.

O'DONNELL: Here's my official comment.

KURTZ: O'Donnell has repeatedly bashed President Bush, and even strayed into conspiracy theory land about 9/11.

O'DONNELL: I do believe that it defies physics for the World Trade Center tower 7, building 7, which collapsed in on itself. It is impossible for a building to fall the way it fell without explosives being involved.

KURTZ: The criticism kept growing louder.

TOM DELAY (R), FMR. HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: I'm calling for conservatives to take on Rosie O'Donnell. She called Christians -- compared them to Islamofascists. She criticized and ridiculed Chinese Americans. She accused the president of being responsible for 9/11.

Let's now start calling for her resignation.

KURTZ: This week, O'Donnell made an announcement.

O'DONNELL: Big news, breaking news, breaking news. Did you hear it's on CNN as breaking news?

BARBARA WALTERS, "THE VIEW": I heard. I know a little bit about it.

O'DONNELL: Breaking news.

I've decided that we couldn't come to terms with my deal with ABC, so next year I'm not going to be on "The View".


KURTZ: Joining us now by phone from Springfield, Massachusetts, Rachel Maddow, who hosts "The Rachel Maddow Show" on Air America Radio.


KURTZ: And here in Washington, Matthew Felling, media director for the Center for Media and Public Affairs.

Matthew Felling, Rosie said she wanted a three-year contract, ABC only offered a one-year contract. Is that what her departure is really about?

MATTHEW FELLING, CENTER FOR MEDIA & PUBLIC AFFAIRS: No. And I think what was really telling was when we saw that clip of her saying, you know what? There is all this breaking news.

If you went forward in that clip, Barbara Walters was sitting there like this. Like a ventriloquist. And her lips were not moving. And Rosie's doing this explanation about "They wanted years, I wanted one year." But at the same time, last year, she said, I signed up for one year because of Barbara. I would do anything for Barbara.

But now, all of a sudden, despite the fact that the ratings have gone through the roof, there's no longer that goodwill.

KURTZ: Rachel Maddow, I'm sorry we couldn't get your picture up through the magic of television. So, for Barbara Walters, you know, a serious journalist on this program, maybe she concluded that Rosie had just become a liability?

MADDOW: Well, it's interesting. I mean, she's very provocative, she's very funny. The ratings, as you noted, went through the roof with Rosie. She was great for ratings on "The View," but there is very little tolerance I think for a provocative person who is also coming from the left.

There isn't very much overt liberalism on TV, and despite all of the accusations about the liberal media -- and I think the fact that she was coming really overtly from the left made her intolerable to them.

KURTZ: You're saying very little tolerance. Not among the viewers. Obviously, more people were watching the show. But among network executives? You think that the conservative criticism of Rosie O'Donnell had something to do with this?

MADDOW: Well, certainly a lot of conservatives are taking the credit now that she has stepped down.

I see a real parallel here with Rosie to the situation with Phil Donahue, who had a show on MSNBC that for MSNBC had good ratings. But he was told, and he's been very open about the fact since then, that he was told to book two conservatives for every liberal. The fact that his ratings were good still meant that the network executives didn't want to keep him on because they felt uncomfortable having an overt leftist voice on TV. I think it's hard to be a liberal on TV today.

FELLING: Rachel, I'm with you to a point, but not all the way. I think that Phil Donahue's ratings didn't quite go up to the extent that Rosie led -- "The View" did this past year.

I think that, honestly, we've been dealing with Rosie's -- Rosie's rants, Rosie's tirades, and the ratings went up and everybody was fine with it. But I think what we're dealing with now is we're dealing with a second Nipplegate.

Right after the Super Bowl, we had Janet Jackson, and decency police came out of woodwork. But now we have after Imus a raised threshold. And a lot of people are very sensitive about what's going on over the airwaves.

And yes, if it's too political or if it's too provocative, I think that the sponsors -- it's like the justice officials who were removed. "We all serve at the pleasure of the president." Well, you know what? The hosts serve at the pleasure of the sponsors and of the media outlets, and if you start to make them queasy, you get the boot.

KURTZ: But Rachel Maddow, we're not just talking here about someone who is a liberal. And, you know, look, when she was throwing mud at Donald Trump and he was throwing it back, I mean, I think everybody enjoyed that as a spectator's sport. But I criticized her on this program when she started to spin these conspiracy theories about why one of those buildings in the World Trade Center complex came down. Some of what she was saying was getting to be pretty far out there.

MADDOW: Certainly. She hit some third rail issues, but so do people like, for example, Glenn Beck, who's on CNN HEADLINE NEWS.

I mean, somebody like Glenn Beck, who is overtly coming from the right, was able to tell a sitting member of Congress, prove to me that you're not an enemy of the United States because you're a Muslim. I mean, if you want to talk about hitting third rail issues, I would say Glenn Beck hits them on a very regular basis. But because he's coming from the right, I think there's just more tolerance from that.

That's why you're able to see, you know, former Republican congressmen as hosts. That's why you're able to see people like Tucker Carlson, people like Pat Buchanan, who have a very strongly right-wing ideological agenda, who are just as provocative as people on the left, but there's a higher tolerance for them doing it.

KURTZ: Well, I asked Glenn Beck about that exchange on the program a few weeks ago.

On the other hand, Matthew Felling, I thought that network executives were basically interested in hearing the cash register ring. And look, not only the ratings up on "The View," but, you know, we have talked about Rosie and her gang on this program several times this year. We never used to talk about "The View," except once in a while.

FELLING: No. And I don't know where I'm going to go anymore to get my fix of Danny DeVito showing up on a TV show absolutely stone- drunk. I mean, I don't know what's going to happen.

KURTZ: You're going to be in withdrawal.

FELLING: I know. Maybe I'll have to take a role.

KURTZ: But are you buying the notion that she became too hot to handle for ABC executives and the fact that she's on the left side of the spectrum made it worse?

FELLING: I don't -- I don't drink all of Rachel's Kool-Aid, but I do think that there is a certain amount of, you know, pushing the buttons too often, pushing them all the time. I think that ABC, "The View," was fine with her pushing the envelope and being a little bit more political than they like, as long as the ratings went up. But since Imus, since we are now really critical of the what things -- the things that people are saying out there and pushing off in the ether, that make them a little less comfortable, no matter whether or not the ratings are going up.

KURTZ: Rachel Maddow, I've got about half a minute.

So, do you think that if the Don Imus instance hadn't happened and he was not dropped by CBS Radio and MSNBC that Rosie O'Donnell would still be on the air next year?

MADDOW: I don't see a connection between Imus and Rosie here. I think that what's going on with Rosie was probably brewing for a very long time.

I think she was just too provocative to handle for daytime milquetoast ladies' TV.

KURTZ: All right. Well, we have an agreement on one thing. She was provocative.

Rachel Maddow in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Matthew Felling here.

Thanks very much for kicking it around with us this morning.

After this break, David Halberstam was not only a brilliant reporter during Vietnam, he was one of the first authors to break into media criticism.

Some final thoughts in a moment.


KURTZ: David Halberstam, who died this week, spoke the truth about war when it counted.


KURTZ (voice over): In the early 1960s, when the press was swallowing much about what the government said about Vietnam, Halberstam's dispatches to "The New York Times" revealed how troubled the war effort was, eventually prompting President Kennedy to suggest that the paper recall him.

That may seem unremarkable now with so much critical reporting on the Iraq war, but it came at a time when the media were far more respectful to the government. Halberstam later wrote the phenomenal work "The Best and the Brightest," questioning how the JFK and LBJ whiz kids, Robert McNamara, Dean Rusk, and the rest, could have led us into that military quagmire.

A few years later, in an era when there was virtually no media reporting in this country, Halberstam produced "The Powers That Be," a groundbreaking portrait of such major news organizations as CBS, "TIME," and "The Washington Post".


KURTZ: In some ways, the Pulitzer Prize winner, whose ego was rather considerable, might seem a dated figure. We live in a world of insta-news, of blogs and podcasts and video on demand. Halberstam came of age during the civil rights battles in the South as an old- fashioned newspaper man, and his books, some of which were about baseball and basketball, not high policy, are the slowest medium of all to write, to publish, and to read, yet they will outlive him because he often wrote about large things, things that mattered, getting inside the heads of those he was portraying.

David Halberstam, it turns out, was among the best and the brightest. He was 73.

Well, 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.