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Reliable Sources

Media, Giuliani and Abortion; Sharpton's Standards

Aired May 13, 2007 - 10:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice over): The abortion obsession. The media target Rudy Giuliani as the only pro-choice Republican in the race. Is he handling the situation badly or are journalists just piling on?

Radio talk show host Laura Ingraham on her grilling of the former mayor.

Sharpton's standards. Why were journalists slow to react to his slam against Mitt Romney and Mormons?

Blair bows out. Why the British press has savaged the prime minister, while he gets more respectful treatment in America.

Plus, video voyeurism. As David Hasselhoff's drunken stupor is endlessly replayed, why are the media wallowing in the most moments of celebrities?


KURTZ: It is, in a sense, not news. It's never been a secret. Rudy Giuliani supports abortion rights, has since he ran for New York mayor nearly two decades ago, and did not change that fundamental view when he launched his presidential campaign. But the media have focused on little else since the first Republican debate, when Giuliani somewhat awkwardly fielded a question about how he'd feel if Roe v. Wade was overturned.


RUDY GIULIANI (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It would be OK to repeal. It would be OK also if a strict constructionist judge viewed it as precedent.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: Do you really think that somebody in Tennessee thinks that the mayor of New York is pro-life? Any mayor of New York has ever been pro-life?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN: That was my one piece of advice, was you're going to have to flip-flop on abortion if you want to be the Republican nominee.

KURTZ (voice over): Things heated up again when "The Politico" newspaper reported, based on a leak from one of Giuliani's GOP rivals, that several years ago he contributed $900 to Planned Parenthood. Many conservative commentators were upset, as Rudy Giuliani learned on Laura Ingraham's radio show.

LAURA INGRAHAM, "THE LAURA INGRAHAM SHOW": Why would you donate to something like Planned Parenthood, that makes hundreds of millions of dollars off the procedure that you say you hate?

GIULIANI: Because Planned Parenthood makes information available. It's consistent with my position.


KURTZ: Joining us now is Laura Ingraham, whose syndicated program is carried by 340 radio stations; Bill Press, host of a morning show in Sirius Satellite Radio. And in New York, Dominic Carter, senior political reporter for the cable channel New York 1.

Laura Ingraham, you spent about two-thirds of that interview pressing Giuliani about abortion. Why?

INGRAHAM: Last time I checked, we weren't supposed to allow candidates to determine the focus of interviews. And Giuliani is clearly more comfortable talking about what happened on 911, talking about terrorism. He likes to talk about fiscal issues.

However, what I think was revealed in that interview, and also partly in the debate, is that his position on this is internally inconsistent. You say you hate abortion, but then when asked, not just by me, but this morning on another network, Chris Wallace said, "Why do you hate the procedure?" He again avoided the question.

HARRIS: He won't answer that. And I think you have to...

KURTZ: So you felt a responsibility to pin him down? Is that why you kept pressing it?

INGRAHAM: Well, I think he's very confused on this issue. And I think when you say you hate abortion, and you don't think it's morally correct, and then you donate money to the organization that is responsible for more abortions in the United States, I think, than any other single group, it doesn't make sense to a lot of people. And he proved how uncomfortable his position is, I think, in the way he tried to avoid the answers.

KURTZ: Bill Press, the liberal media love to focus on Republican divisions on abortion. "The New York Times" had a page one story yesterday about Giuliani's explanations. But are conservative commentators now really driving this story?

BILL PRESS, "THE BILL PRESS SHOW": I think it's an important issue. I've got to say, by the way, Laura's interview I thought was great, and it showed what talk radio can really do, which is ask tough questions without having to call people names.

So, kudos on that.

INGRAHAM: Thank you. I appreciate it.

PRESS: But look, this is a legitimate issue, very legitimate. And he is a Republican who is running not as a Democrat. He's running in the Republican primary, where conservatives really do care about this issue, and he's telling them, I can be pro-choice, pro-gay rights and pro-gun control, and you have got to support me because I'm the best candidate to win in November.

Now, that is a leap at best, and I think it's newsworthy.

KURTZ: Dominic Carter, every reporter has known for years that Giuliani is a pro-choice Republican. You don't have to be from Brooklyn to know that. Why have the media suddenly turned this into a major national issue?

DOMINIC CARTER, REPORTER, NY1 NEWS: Simply, Howard, because the man is running for president and everything is fair play now in terms of -- in fairness to Mr. Giuliani -- and I think that -- and Laura's interview was great -- but I think that there are very few reporters that have covered him as consistently as I have over the years. And his position -- and you may disagree with this, Laura, but his position as mayor of New York City on abortion, he has been consistent.

He says -- but he didn't talk about it, of course, as much as mayor of New York City and pro-Democratic liberal New York. He said that he was opposed to abortion, but supports a woman's right to choose.

Now, as for the donation to Planned Parenthood, one could make a case that Mr. Giuliani was trying to have it both ways. But there are many people that feel his position -- and I understand he's under great scrutiny right now -- but that his position is consistent. It may not sell in America, but it is consistent.

INGRAHAM: I would disagree that he's been consistent on this issue. He, on the one hand, says he doesn't think public funding on abortion should be a fact, and then earlier he did. Now it's hard to figure out what he believes about public funding, whether it should be state public funding...

KURTZ: He says it should be up to the States.

INGRAHAM: ... or federal funding, and he was very -- he was very confused on this. And a lot of people don't understand how you say you hate something that is also a liberty interest guaranteed in the Constitution.

How do you hate a liberty interest? It's very confusing, Howard. And I think before we get into the politics of this, you have to talk about what it is.

Most women who look at the ultrasounds of their babies don't guess whether this is life or not. This morning he said -- and I quote -- "I don't know really when life begins..." when it was asked about embryonic stem cell research. You say you don't want to destroy life to preserve life.

And then he was asked about that, and he said, well, yes -- "So you are saying you know when life begins?" And he didn't want to answer that question. That's legitimate, Howard.

KURTZ: Here's my theory, Bill Press -- yes.

INGRAHAM: It's not piling on. That's legitimate. And I think it's wrong for you to say that journalists are piling on, on a fundamental issue of who we are as a people.

KURTZ: Well, it is fundamental, but it is one issue.

INGRAHAM: Yes, it is.

KURTZ: And Giuliani is running for president on the basis of a whole lot of issues.

INGRAHAM: Of course, but we have a long campaign ahead of us.

KURTZ: But I think that journalists decided early on, Giuliani can't win because the Republican Party is never going to nominate somebody who's pro-choice. Then he shot up to the top of the polls, and now I think some reporters are trying to prove themselves right.

PRESS: Well, you could be right. I mean, that's the price of being a frontrunner.

I mean, you know, go whine all the way to the bank. I mean, the fact is, he's running for president, as Dominic said, for the first time. He's in the public view really for the first time as a presidential candidate. And we all go after the frontrunner.

But look, I think Giuliani turned the corner yesterday in a sense when he gave this speech down at the Houston Baptist Association, whatever, and he decided, you know, you've got a lemon, try to make -- try to make lemonade, which is, all right, here I am. You may not agree with me on all of the issues, but I've got the best chance again of winning in November.

And so, he's trying to say this is an asset and a plus, not a minus. I don't know whether that will succeed...

INGRAHAM: Well, the one thing...

PRESS: ... I think it's the only way he can deal with it.

INGRAHAM: ... the one thing I think Americans don't like, whether you're pro-choice or pro-life, is someone who wants to be on two sides of the same issues at one time. That's the risk he runs.

KURTZ: Dominic, go ahead, please.

CARTER: I just wanted to say, that is one area where I think the three of us agree with. Again, I have covered Giuliani consistently, and he is known, Howard, as a straight shooter. Like it or not, you know, if you go to other issues, perhaps he was not the great mayor when it comes to race relations in New York City, but he was an accomplished mayor of this city to turn this city around. And the problem he's facing now is that he is losing his image as a complete straight shooter, and he's being seen or perceived -- and I don't believe the media is piling it on -- but he's being perceived as someone when it comes to abortion that wants to have it both ways.

KURTZ: How has he treated you, Dominic, as a guy who's covered him for a long time? Have you ever felt the mayor's wrath?

CARTER: Well, I have on numerous occasions. It's been played out in the media, on television, in the papers here.

But I can say this about Rudy Giuliani: He is a fair man. When you talk to him -- my interactions with him in public, Howard, were sometimes very tough, in terms of the names that he used in describing my coverage of him pursuing his marriage. And we all know how that ended up playing out. And at the time he was denying any trouble with his marriage.

But he is a fair man. And as I know him as a journalist, he is a straight shooter.

INGRAHAM: I just think he shouldn't be surprised that people are asking these questions. I mean, I was surprised, frankly, that he wasn't more prepared to talk to me.

I mean, he knows where I come on this issue, and he hadn't been on my radio show in six years. He had been on my television show a number of times. I was delighted that he finally came on. That was great. But you have to be -- you're running for president. It's going to get a lot tougher than my show.

KURTZ: I want to move -- in other words...

PRESS: I was surprised that he agreed to do the interview.

INGRAHAM: Well, it's good that he did it. He shows that he's...

KURTZ: If you can't deal with Laura Ingraham, how are you going to deal with the terrorists?

INGRAHAM: Well, thank you.

KURTZ: All right. Let me move on to Al Sharpton, because he had some comments this week where he talked about the Mormon religion. Mitt Romney came back with a sharp response there.

Let's take a brief look.


AL SHARPTON, NATIONAL ACTION NETWORK: As for the one Mormon running for office, those that really believe in God will defeat him anyway. So Don't worry about that.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hearing that statement, you wonder whether there's not bigotry that still remains in America. That's an extraordinary thing for someone to say.


KURTZ: Laura Ingraham, it took two days for the media to focus on Sharpton's remarks. Not until Romney called into Joe Scarborough's MSNBC show did this become an issue.

What explains this delay?

INGRAHAM: Well, I think that Al Sharpton can say a lot of outrageous things, as he has over the years, and he has gotten covered by the media or the media hasn't covered the story. I think after what happened Don Imus, he obviously led the charge against Imus.

I think Sharpton's got to be a little bit more careful. And I think you couldn't get away with saying this about a lot of groups. You couldn't get away with saying this about Muslims, you couldn't get away with saying this about other minority groups, and I think it's frankly shocking that he would take this stance and that it would take two days.

KURTZ: Dominic Carter, you've covered Reverend Al for a long time. Do journalists give him a pass because he's very entertaining?

CARTER: Well, there's no doubt, Howard, he is -- whether you like the Reverend Al Sharpton or whether you hate him throughout this country, he is very good for our business in terms of -- and understand what I'm saying -- as a newsmaker. I will say this: When you raise the ante in terms of going after Don Imus, one has to be very careful what you say in terms of the future.

And I just happen to be -- it's funny this comes up. I was there, present with Reverend Sharpton, as he started receiving the telephone calls on the Mitt Romney story, and he -- he basically tried to portray it as not much ado about nothing. But he has to be very careful. He's walking a fine line now more than ever.

PRESS: First of all, I've just got to say, welcome to the age of Al Sharpton. I mean, I'm just amazed.

INGRAHAM: Yes. Hello?

PRESS: I mean, you know, first you've got this run-in with Barack Obama, then he brings down Don Imus. And now he's after Mitt Romney. And everybody is circling around to see what Al Sharpton says about any candidate.

But here's what I think we miss here. What Al Sharpton was really saying is that the Christians, those who consider themselves the only true believers, will never accept Mitt Romney. And Jerry Falwell and James Dobson have said that, because he's not a Christian. That's a real issue that Romney's got to deal with. KURTZ: Real quickly, a Romney interview on "60 Minutes" tonight with Mike Wallace, among the things he's asked, he's asked about polygamy. He's asked about whether or not he and his wife have ever had premarital sex.

What kind of a question is that?

PRESS: You know, outrageous. Why the hell is that any of Mike Wallace's business, or any of our business? And I wonder if he's going to ask the question of every single candidate.

KURTZ: Or is it a question that only gets asked of Mormons.

INGRAHAM: I'm beginning -- yes, I'm beginning worry about "60 Minutes" if that's really where you're going. I mean, this is something you would expect more from, like, "Entertainment Tonight" or "Access Hollywood," maybe. But, you know, this is -- if this is where "60 Minutes" is now, please.

PRESS: Or boxers or briefs.

INGRAHAM: Yes, exactly.

KURTZ: For the record, Romney said the answer was no.

Dominic Carter...

INGRAHAM: All right.

KURTZ: ... thanks very much for joining us.

When we come back, the latest twist on the Iraq war debate. Are Republicans rebelling against the president, or are the media just pumping up that story?

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

Here's a preview.


ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That sense of hope, that sense of optimism has pretty much dissipated. People are not feeling safer in the streets.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: It was still struggling (ph) against the insurgents.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Baghdad itself, it's as risky as it's ever been.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Had this attack worked, it would have been a blow against the United States.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: All the president bought himself this week was a little more time, a bridge to September.



KURTZ: Vice President Cheney may have detected signs of progress during a visit to Baghdad this week, but the media portrayed the administration as being very much on defense over the war, especially when NBC's Tim Russert broke news of 11 Republican moderates delivering a blunt message to President Bush at the White House.


TIM RUSSERT, NBC NEWS: The Republican congressmen then went on to say the word about the war and its progress cannot come from the White House, or even you, Mr. President. There is no longer any credibility. It has to come from General Petraeus.


KURTZ: When the president spoke approvingly of a war-funding bill, with benchmarks for the Iraqi government, he was depicted as backpedaling.


CHARLIE GIBSON, ABC NEWS: Defensive maneuver. President Bush considers a compromise in Iraq funding, but won't accept money for just a few months.

KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS: In the standoff between Congress and the president over paying for the war in Iraq, the president blinked today, and it was members of his own party who forced him to do it.

DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS: Tonight, senior White House officials insist that Republicans have not abandoned the president.


KURTZ: Bush clearly under pressure on the war. But are the media portraying him as being ins a somewhat desperate situation?

PRESS: I think this is a new situation in Iraq and in the United States today that the media is portraying. I mean, for six years, it was a Republican Congress going along with whatever the president wanted on Iraq, and now there's a Democratic Congress and the White House, there's a clear difference of opinion as to how to go forward. And I think that's what we're seeing.

And when the fact that those 11 moderate Republicans went down to the White House and looked him in the eye and said, Mr. President, this is not working, you've got to change direction, I mean, that's big news.

KURTZ: "U.S. News" cover this week, Laura, said, "Bush's Last Stand," and the sub-headline is was, "Is he Resolute or Delusional?" INGRAHAM: Oh, OK. Great.

When Tim Russert, by the way, came on "The Nightly News" to break the news about the moderate Republicans, it was such a breathless report. I actually thought we had captured bin Laden. I had the sound down, and I'm, like, "Oh, my God, what's happening?"

But look, any time Republicans...

KURTZ: But everybody wrote this later.

INGRAHAM: Of course they did. But any -- I was just saying, he was so -- any time Republicans turn on other Republicans, the media loves the story. You can get op-eds in "The New York Times," you'll get interviews on every television show. They love the story.

However, this is a very difficult time for President Bush. We all know where his approval ratings are. We all know that the public is putting a lot of pressure on these congressmen and senators.

The constituency heat is something they are feeling. I don't think it's bad to portray it as, you know, just some dissension in the ranks. However, I mean, the big story, I think, has been how through this incredibly difficult time Republicans have remained fairly resolute on the war, considering how unpopular it's become in some segments of the United States.


PRESS: Which is why the Tim Russert story was big news, because that was the first sort of crack in the dam.

INGRAHAM: Right. But they -- yes, but they don't really...

PRESS: And they were -- and they said so publicly.

INGRAHAM: Right. But they don't really cover it with the same enthusiasm, the fact that Republicans really have stuck together through very difficult times on this.

KURTZ: So was too much made out of that visit to the White House?

INGRAHAM: No. I think you should cove ever it. I'm just saying, again, they love it when Republicans eat their own, and that's kind of what's going on.

PRESS: It was the Goldwater-Nixon visit, as far as I'm concerned.

INGRAHAM: OK. We didn't hear that too many times.

PRESS: No, it was on that rank. I mean...

KURTZ: For our younger viewers, that was during Watergate, when... INGRAHAM: Nobody knows what you're talking about.

KURTZ: ... the president was told he had lost political support in the Congress and he later resigned.


KURTZ: Let me play a clip, a brief clip of the president this week addressing the point in this war debate.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The interesting thing about the Iraq debate, by the way, is I don't hear a lot of discussion about what happens if we fail.


KURTZ: Why aren't the media analyzing the possible consequences of a pullout, as opposed to just domestic politics?

PRESS: Well, let me answer that by saying, the most interesting thing I saw yesterday, front page, "New York Times," the Iraqi parliament voted to set a timetable for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, whereas here in this country...

KURTZ: Right.

PRESS: ... you can't even think of that without being considered a traitor.

Now, if the Iraqis are saying we want a timetable for American troops to get out of Iraq, they are not worried about a bloodbath afterwards. So I think the media has covered this story, but the idea that the only solution, the only possible scenario is a bloodbath after Americans withdrawal, has been way overblown.

INGRAHAM: Iraqis have told me that they're worried about a bloodbath when I was there over a year ago. And this was right before the Golden Mosque exploded. It's even more dangerous than it is today.

Secretary Gates, who's pretty sanguine about things, has said, including on my show, look, if we leave precipitously, we can expect there to be countrywide ethnic cleansing. This is something I think we have a responsibility to at least confront, the reality of what could happen on the ground. And maybe we'll make that judgment, Howard, that that's just something we're going to have to deal with. And we'll have to be able to take it in as a people.

KURTZ: And do you think it's not been confronted because the press has largely turned against this war?

INGRAHAM: Oh, you think the press has turned against this war? How can you ever think that?

Of course they've turned against this war. The press has turned against the war.

PRESS: Please.

INGRAHAM: Most of the Democrats have turned against the war. They've said we have lost this war on a number of occasions, in a number of ways. And Howard, of course they don't want to cover carnage that will happen that then won't be our fault.

PRESS: I beg to differ. Look, the media, in large part, gave us this war, because they went along and repeated everything that George Bush said without asking tough questions. And I'm even talking about "The New York Times".

KURTZ: Hold on. Hold on. Hold on.

INGRAHAM: Oh, come on. That's ridiculous.

KURTZ: Now, it is certainly true that everybody at every news organization I've talked to said that the media were not aggressive enough during the run-up to war. But you're saying they gave us this war? That we...


PRESS: Wait. I'll repeat what I said.

KURTZ: We would not have gone to war had it not been for the press?

PRESS: In part, they are responsible for this war, because they didn't do their job. And yes, I do believe that they if they had asked the questions and more -- and American people knew what the truth was, as opposed to the propaganda we're getting from the White House, I think there would not have been the support for the war.

INGRAHAM: Now the press is supposed to be an intelligence agency, too?

PRESS: No, just tell the truth.

INGRAHAM: I mean, every intelligence agency in the world thought there were WMD.

PRESS: Tell the truth. Ask questions. Don't just take it and swallow it.

INGRAHAM: Well, their answers would have been they have WMDs.

KURTZ: Why don't we have you both back here to debate this?

INGRAHAM: Oh, no. We love each other.

Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers out there.

KURTZ: Thanks so much for joining us. Up next, to shock jocks hit a new low in sliming Condi Rice. Some journalists have a royal time dining with the queen. And outsourcing reporters' jobs halfway around the world?

All that in our "Media Minute".


KURTZ: Time now for the latest from the news business in our "Media Minute".


KURTZ (voice over): Somebody made plenty of money off Rupert Murdoch's bid for "The Wall Street Journal". The Securities and Exchange Commission this week brought insider trading charges against a Hong Kong couple who made $8 million by snapping up stock in The Journal's parent, Dow Jones, before Murdoch's News Corp. made the surprise offer.

Meanwhile, it turns out, The Journal's top editor, Paul Steiger, and his incoming successor, Marcus Brauchli, knew in advance of the Murdoch bid and sat on the story. Murdoch had told Steiger of his bid in an off-the-record e-mail, but Steiger didn't tell his reporters, and The Journal was beaten on the takeover attempt by CNBC's David Faber.

Most reporters covered this week's visit of Queen Elizabeth visit from the outside. But the White House invited a select few to President Bush's white-tie state dinner for Her Royal Highness, including NBC's David Gregory, "Newsweek's" Richard Wolffe, and ABC's Robin Roberts. Critics say such gathering make journalists appear too cozy with the administration, but not many turned down dinner with the queen.

No one is immune from outsourcing these days, not even local journalists, it turns out. The Web site Pasadena Now has hired two reporters in India -- India -- to cover local events in the California town.

After all, editor James MacPherson told The AP, the city council's meetings are carried on the Internet, and there are always phone calls and e-mail.


KURTZ: Oh, and it saves money, too. Great. Good luck tracking down the writer if he mangles the facts.


KURTZ (voice over): Remember all of the talk about cleaning up the airwaves after CBS dumped Don Imus? Well, apparently it didn't reach Opie & Anthony, who got fired from commercial radio five years ago for encouraging a couple to have sex in St. Patrick's Cathedral.

On XM Satellite Radio this week, they play along with a guest who said he would like to sexually assault the secretary of state.

ANTHONY CUMIA, "OPIE & ANTHONY": I just imagine the horror on Condoleezza Rice's face when she realizes what's going on, as you were just, like, holding her down.

KURTZ: Opie & Anthony later apologized, saying they regret any offense that this segment has caused.

GREGG "OPIE" HUGHES, "OPIE & ANTHONY": We apologize to the public officials for comments that were made on the XM show on May 9th. And we do take very seriously the responsibility that comes with our creative freedom that we get here, and regret any offense that this segment has caused.


KURTZ: What an outrage. I know it's satellite, but I look forward to all of the Imus critics demanding that they be taken off the air.

Coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, celebrity voyeurism has taken another ugly turn with television airing interview of a very drunk David Hasselhoff. Have we all just gone tabloid?

And later, Tony Blair in his last days in office. Why is the British press so much harder on him than journalists on this side of the Atlantic?


KURTZ: Alec Baldwin screaming at his daughter. Paris Hilton going to jail. David Hasselhoff drunk as a skunk, why exactly is this news? We'll tackle that in a moment. But first, here's T.J. Holmes at the CNN Center in Atlanta with a check of the hour's top stories.


KURTZ: Thanks, T.J.

In a moment, celebrity voyeurism careens out of control. Where do we draw the line?

And later, British journalists bid a not so fond farewell to Tony Blair and say, we're too gentle with President Bush. Why does coverage across the pond look so different?


KURTZ: Welcome back. First, there was the cringe-inducing voicemail of Alec Baldwin yelling at his teenage daughter. This week, it was the cringe-inducing video of a very drunk David Hasselhoff, the one-time star of the series "Baywatch," while his teenage daughter scolds him about his alcohol problem. If you haven't seen it 4,000 times, here is a little bit of it from the program "Extra."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why do you like doing this to yourself?

DAVID HASSELHOFF, ACTOR: Because I'm lonely. And I'm in trouble in my life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tell me you're going to stop drinking. Tell me right now or I'm not going to talk to you ever again and I'll totally disown you because it's not fair to your family, what you are doing.

HASSELHOFF: I'll be fine.


KURTZ: Days later, his ex-wife, Pamela Bach Hasselhoff, was decrying his behavior on Larry King.


PAMELA BACH HASSELHOFF, DAVID HASSELHOFF'S EX-WIFE: It's her cry for help because she sees there is nothing else going to work. As I've tried thinking, if I just pour out the bottles, if I just be by his side, if I just babysit him, give him more love, do more for him.


KURTZ: Lovely. So why are the media pushing this new wave of celebrity voyeurism? Joining us now, Mark Jurkowitz, associate director of Project for Excellence in Journalism. In Los Angeles, Jill Ishkanian, editor-in-chief of And Ashlan Gorse, editor-at-large of Life & Style weekly magazine.

Jill Ishkanian, what on earth justifies television running this Hasselhoff video again and again?

JILL ISHKANIAN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, CELEBRITYBABYLON.COM: Well, I think at this point, television is competing against the Internet, and good luck. I mean, this video was viewed on the Internet, you know, hours and hours before it ever aired on television.

So TV people are amping it up and going, OK, we have got to go head to head with these guys on the Internet. And that's what that is. And everyone just sort of dissected it and got their ratings from it and then moves on to the next thing.

KURTZ: Ashlan Gorse, David Hasselhoff hasn't even been a big star since "Baywatch." Excuse me, he was in the movie "Spongebob Squarepants." So isn't this pure voyeurism and aren't the media feeding this as celebrity voyeurism?

ASHLAN GORSE, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, LIFE & STYLE: Well, I would say -- I don't think that this is necessarily a plea by David Hasselhoff to try to get publicity, which does happen a lot of times with celebrities. They kind of fall out of the limelight and they come out with a sex tape or some sort of scandal to put their name back in the papers. But this actually kind of went the opposite way. It was bad press for David and I don't think that anybody in the family really wanted it out there. He didn't leak it himself. And, you know, just the fact that we keep on seeing it over and over and over again, I think everybody has gotten tired of it and they are ready for the next story.

KURTZ: My years of experience as a media analyst convince me that this was indeed bad press for David Hasselhoff.


KURTZ: Mark Jurkowitz, once there were supermarket tabloids and glossy magazines that trafficked in this sort of thing, now it's CNN and the other cable channels and the morning shows, what happened?

MARK JURKOWITZ, ASSOCIATE DIR., PROJECT FOR EXCELLENCE IN JOURNALISM: Well, that's the key. And first of all, those other places that used to traffic in it used to have brown envelopes on top of them and you used to go -- kind of be embarrassed to pick them up. The big difference here is dividing between the tabloid media and the mainstream media in these kinds of stories.

There is a whole, you know, genre of entertainment, infotainment, celebrity tabloid style programming and Internet, a good example, that traffic in this stuff. And that's their bread and butter. And if they want to do it, they can do it. Let's call it voyeurism. That's what it is.

For the mainstream media, I think there ought to be general standards of newsworthiness. And they basically are, how important is what happened? And how important is the person it happened to? And I think David Hasselhoff, although "Baywatch" got exported to 160 countries, is exactly the kind of C-list celebrity that we really have to raise questions about.

KURTZ: Well, you know, talk about how this stuff gets out, Jill Ishkanian, Hasselhoff's ex-wife said that she didn't leak the tape. Alec Baldwin's ex-wife, Kim Basinger said that she didn't leak the voicemail. I am rather skeptical. I mean, very few people have access to this sort of thing. I mean, it just seems like a family dispute.

ISHKANIAN: Exactly. And in the old days, when Pam Anderson said, oh, I didn't leak my sex tapes and construction workers stole it, you know, we believed her, that kind of thing. In this instance we have got two ex-wives both in bitter sort of divorce battles. And Pamela Bach's is not over. And in Kim Basinger's case, she is deciding custody issues of her daughter.

And in your intro, you said that Kim and Alec's daughter is a teenager. She is only 11 years old. And so you really have to think about a parent that would want this sort of information out there, a call between a father and an 11-year-old child, I think it's pretty disgusting. KURTZ: And that's exactly the point. If ex-husbands and ex- wives want to fight it out in the media, fine. There are kids involved, Ashlan Gorse. And why doesn't the media therefore just -- why don't they just say no when this clearly sort of drags these young people into these awful family disputes?

GORSE: It's so true, when there are children involved, I think the ethics need to be stepped up a little bit. But it's just the fact that there are so many cable news outlets out there that need news 24 hours a day, seven days a week, that they need some things to fill time.

And I think that is one of the reasons why a lot of these stories are getting into the mainstream news media is just because, well, you know, what else are you going to fill at certain times of the night when nobody is watching, or, oh, you need another two-minute segment.

Well, just use the David Hasselhoff. It's really easy to talk about as we all know. So I think just that when there are children involved, the ethics need to be stepped up a little bit more.

KURTZ: Is there a privacy issue here, Mark Jurkowitz? I mean, when Michael Richards starts throwing around the N-word at a public comedy club, that's fine, it's in public. Here we have basically two actors having fights with their daughters in the middle of these divorce and custody battles.

JURKOWITZ: Well, unfortunately, the privacy -- to the extent that the mainstream media outlets worry about the privacy issue, it kind of gets resolved because it gets on the Web sites or it gets on YouTube and then people can take the easy answer, which is, oh, it's already out there.

That's an abrogation of news judgment, which is really what we ought to be using. And frankly, if you look at these kinds of cases, David Hasselhoff, pretty hard to make a case it was anything other than voyeurism.

Now Mel Gibson, being arrested and making anti-Jewish remarks, Semitic remarks is part of A, who is he is, and a bigger story. Michael Richards have a racist rant on stage, there is legitimate news value to it, but they are not separating the wheat from the chaff here.

KURTZ: All right. Well, here is my take. I think that Hasselhoff video was awful and we just went too far playing it over and over again. It just turns your stomach. I love Larry King, but he spent too much time on this. And I don't know how we can ask people to respect our profession if we don't respect ourselves.

Now another celebrity, boldfaced name that we can't seem to get away with, was on every anchor's lips seemingly this week, well, let's take a look.


LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": What are they saying about Paris?






KING: Paris Hilton...


KURTZ: Jill Ishkanian, what accounts for the media's bottomless fascination with Paris Hilton and her antics? Are journalists enjoying this?

ISHKANIAN: I mean, I do think it's pretty bad that journalists -- you know, Paris Hilton is actually part of our world, we profit off of her, you know, she could have been an heiress that was sort of a trust fund dummy, content to live off -- she is a working person, she has a clothing line coming out at (INAUDIBLE). She is -- you know, there is a perfume line that has done very well.

She's part of our world and the fact that they've turned on her...


KURTZ: Why do you think that she is part of our world. She is only part of our world because the media keeps the spotlight on her. She's not part of my world.

ISHKANIAN: She's not part of your world. She's part of our celebrity world. And obviously, if you have a segment on celebrities, and she has infiltrated your world. And why? Because the public is fascinated with her.

And she's out, she's -- you know, as far as the media goes, she's very nice to the media, she shows up at their book signings, you know, the different editors of magazines and I do feel like they have turned on her in this situation.

KURTZ: So she keeps violating probation, Mark Jurkowitz. She gets a 45-day jail term. Do you care?

JURKOWITZ: Not particularly. I don't think we're going to worry about her getting treated too badly in jail.

KURTZ: All right. Ashlan Gorse, there seems to be a whole new coverage category here. Bad girls. It's not just Paris, it's Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, what explains this? Do they really attract a lot of eyeballs? GORSE: You know, they do, but I think that, you know, the general public likes to see people going through bad situations, they like to see the people they put up on a pedestal kind of going through some rough times and having issues. Because we like to build people up to knock them down to build them up again.

And somebody like Paris, who is famous for being infamous, this is only -- all of this coverage and this jail time is only helping her celebrity, which is probably the opposite of what most people in mainstream want to hear.

But because of this, Paris is always on our lips. We're going to be following her through jail through the whole process. I'm sure she's going to get a big deal when she comes out of jail to talk about it.

KURTZ: Oh, I can only imagine.

GORSE: I know. And it is just -- it is perpetrating itself.

JURKOWITZ: Let's not be naive, these are three very attractive young women who don't mind sort of exhibiting themselves in public either, which is an issue.

GORSE: Right. And they love the attention.

KURTZ: But we love to give to them. And that is the question. All right. Ashlan Gorse, Jill Ishkanian, Mark Jurkowitz, thanks very much for joining us this morning.

Still to come, as Tony Blair steps down, much of the British press treats him with disdain. A very different picture here in the States. We'll bloody well find out what's going on.

But first, a look at what's ahead on "LATE EDITION."

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Howie. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Coming up at the top of the hour on "LATE EDITION." The Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, on whether President Bush is losing GOP support for the war.

Iraq's deputy prime minister, Barham Salih, discusses his government's efforts to try to meet some specific benchmarks. And senators Barbara Boxer and Lindsey Graham on what's next in the Iraq War funding fight. All that plus our political panel on "LATE EDITION."

Now back to Howie Kurtz and RELIABLE SOURCES -- Howie.

KURTZ: We'll be right back.



TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Hand on heart, I did what I thought was right. I may have been wrong. That's your call.


KURTZ: Tony Blair announcing this week that he is stepping down after a decade as prime minister.

Well, the media coverage in America largely cast him as a statesman brought low by the war, much of the coverage in Britain was much more negative, with some of the commentators calling the Labour Party leader a failure.


ANDREW MARR, FMR. BBC WORLD AFFAIRS EDITOR: A spreading belief in the media that Tony Blair would say whatever you wanted to hear, that everything he announced was mere spin. It got to the stage where if he had walked down Downing Street and announced it was sunny, half of the country would have gone, yes, yes.

Spin was ceasing to be something that made Tony Blair stronger and was now sapping him.


KURTZ: Joining us now, Justin Webb, BBC Radio's chief Washington correspondent. And from London, Merril Stevenson, Britain editor of The Economist.

Justin Webb, the American press, seems to me, treated Blair with a lot of warmth and respect as he announced he was stepping. Not so much in Britain. Why?

JUSTIN WEBB, BBC RADIO: We don't treat your politicians with warmth and respect. We don't think they deserve it. We have a long tradition of doing that. It's part of our parliamentary tradition. So this isn't all about the media, it's about the wider political atmosphere that there is in the United Kingdom.

And look what we did to Winston Churchill. You may remember, he was a quite successful British politician. He won a war. In 1945, he held an election, he was kicked out. The British people kicked him out. That day he had move out of Downing Street. We like our politicians unsentimentally to be moved on.

And when the time has come to go, and the British people think the time has come to go for Tony Blair, we like to just be rid of them and we don't spend a lot of time fussing about it.

KURTZ: Merril Stevenson, do the American media, from your vantage point there, see Blair mainly as steadfast and eloquent U.S. ally and not perceive his flaws as they are seen in the U.K.?

MERRIL STEVENSON, THE ECONOMIST: Yes. I think that's a fair assessment. From our point of view, I would say that Blair is seen as far more popular on all of the rest of the world's stage than he is in Britain. That's not to say -- I rather agree with Justin, that's not to say that the negative feelings about Blair in Britain are entirely related to the war.

He is in a sense a victim of his own success. He came to power convincing people that there was going to be a new Britain and that this Britain would have a unique position in the world of men. And it hasn't worked out quite as he hoped.

KURTZ: Well, one London host calls him "Captain Showbiz," Justin Webb, and in reading a lot of the columns and pieces, one of which even attacked his wife Cherie, I sense a real anger and a real disdain in some of these British accounts, almost as if he was so tarnished by the war, that nothing else matters.

WEBB: You know, I think what we just had there was right, that it wasn't simply the war. He was tarnished by a lot of things. I mean, you look at the recent polls, the polls that were taken when he announced that he was going. One poll suggested more than 70 percent of the British people thought that he was dishonest. And that's an extraordinary figure when you think about it.

An in a way very much explains the media coverage, which has piled on. So there is this feeling that in the country, and I was about to do an interview there (INAUDIBLE) on a completely different subject. I was listening to some of the BBC's coverage -- BBC Radio coverage, and they were having letters from listeners and e-mails from listeners, and it was all negative. And I noticed there was one positive comment, and it was from a listener in Africa. And that is very much the way that it is.

KURTZ: Is Blair's image -- his media image, that is, in Britain, Merril Stevenson, still one to some degree of being Bush's poodle?

STEVENSON: Yes. I think it is very much so. Possibly unfairly. I think the only time at which the press maybe did get it a little bit wrong was the "yo, Blair," incident at the St. Petersburg summit. I come from a place that is probably not very far from where you come from in the United States. And "yo, Blair" could be seen as a sort of streetwise mateyness rather than a condescending summoning of a servant.

We all did make rather a meal of it in Britain. And I think that didn't help Blair any. Yes, I think he is seen very much as man who aligned Britain's interests with America's at the expense of the British.

WEBB: And you know, the manner of his departing is seen as American too. And not American in a good sense.


KURTZ: I read a columnist who said it was very American, is that an insult?

WEBB: It is an insult, frankly speaking. Yes. Let's be blunt about it. It is an insult. Because as I was saying with Winston Churchill, we like our (INAUDIBLE) to go, Margaret Thatcher just went. He is now staying on, he is doing kind of a world tour. He's not going on until the end of June. What's going on now? It's an un- British thing. The fact that he said in his leaving speech, Britain is the finest country in the world, the greatest nation on the face of the Earth, that's not something a British person would ever say. It's utterly American (ph).

STEVENSON: Absolutely appalling (ph).

KURTZ: Absolutely appalling? I don't understand why.

STEVENSON: I was watching it -- I was watching with a group of people, and as he came to this "British are the greatest people in the world," he subsequently referred to them as "it," which was rather strange. But as he said this, everyone in the room gagged and said, take it back to Texas.


STEVENSON: But I think it's wrong to think that Blair isn't emotional. After all, he has mastered -- he has made his own that he sort of engineered emotional, vocal hiccup, the short takes, his voice choked with emotion. He plays emotion a lot, but it is not always very popular with the British, I have to say.

KURTZ: Now, Justin Webb, as far as coverage of President Bush in this country, I would say, in the last couple of years, it has been pretty tough after Iraq, Katrina, various scandals. But in the British media, Bush seems almost an object of ridicule.

WEBB: Yes, absolutely. And has been for some time. And actually wrongly, I think. He was object of ridicule before. And this is the downside of the British system where we just tear people down again and again. We don't give them the benefit of the doubt on anything at all. We, as Brits feel bad about it sometimes and worry about our own system.

But, Bush, I was worried that certainly our coverage of President Bush before he won his second term was that he was an idiot, and he plainly is not an idiot. Was that he was ludicrously unpopular, and wasn't going to get in. He plainly to me was going to get in. So you can...


KURTZ: So it can be distorting.

WEBB: It can be a distorting prism to see the world.

KURTZ: Merril Stevenson, I've got about half a minute. What do you make of this notion that the British press just loves to tear down politicians whether they are your own politicians or here in the States?

STEVENSON: I think it's a bit different with Bush. I think people do distinguish between Bush and the rest of the American people. There is a great, I think, wave of affection and common feeling with Americans as a whole. But Bush himself is just not at all popular, partly because he is reckoned to have stolen the first election, quite apart from whether he's considered an idiot.

And I agree with Justin, I think the reporting has been very un- nuanced on Bush. As for Blair, he has made his bed.

KURTZ: We appreciate the trans-Atlantic perspective. Merril Stevenson, Justin Webb.

After the break, why one newspaper section is fast back becoming an endangered species.


KURTZ: There was a demonstration the other day outside The Atlanta Journal Constitution. Was it about coverage of the war in Iraq, or some terrible mistake the paper had made? No, the protesters wanted the books editor, Teresa Weaver, to get her job back.


KURTZ (voice-over): The Journal Constitution has eliminated Weaver's job for financial reasons, says editor Julia Wallace, as the paper concentrates on the Internet. And it has got plenty of company. The Los Angeles Times has combined its book review with the opinion pages, cutting the space for reviews in the process. And The San Francisco Chronicle has trimmed its book review by one-third.

The Boston Globe merged its book review and opinion pages five years ago, leaving only a handful of newspapers with separate sections. The New York Times, by far the biggest, along with The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, and San Diego Union Tribune.

What's going on? Newsroom budgets are strapped these days and publishing companies aren't doing as much print advertising. That is how it works. Food sections get supermarket ads. Auto sections get car ads. Travel sections get vacation ads. Since book reviews deal with exactly one product, it's hard for them to survive without plenty of publisher's ads. Not everyone thinks this development is so terrible.

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE COLBERT REPORT": The literazis are retreating. And it is curtains for the tradition of literary criticism. People are going to read what Oprah tells them to read and they are going to like it.

KURTZ: Well, there are always naysayers, but books are important to our cultural life. In fiction, from John Updike to Philip Roth to J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter," certainly. But in journalism as well.

Just look at the impact of such books as Bob Woodward's "State of Denial," Tom Ricks' "Fiasco," Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor's "Cobra II," and the debate over George Tenet's new book.

And you would think newspapers, in an age of Web surfing, would want to encourage reading.

(END VIDEOTAPE) KURTZ: I wish this plot had a happy ending, I read books. I write books. I love books. There are more book blogs these days, and that is great. But book reviews are an important part of the conversation in this country. And regional papers can help highlight local authors.

The best-selling blockbuster types, Tom Clancy, John Grisham and the rest, will be fine, but thousands of other authors need book reviews to call attention to their work. I wish more newspapers would recognize that. It is, after all, something you can't get on TV.

Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz. Happy Mother's Day to everyone, this means you, mom. Join us again next Sunday morning, 10:00 Eastern, for another critical look at the media.

"LATE EDITION" with Wolf Blitzer begins right now.