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The Media Get Juiced; Rather's Revenge
Aired September 23, 2007 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HOWARD KURTZ, CNN ANCHOR: The media get juiced. Television goes haywire as O.J. is arrested, jailed and freed on bail over charges of armed robbery. Are journalists rooting for the conviction that never happened in the double murder case a dozen years ago and are they wallowing in yet another celebrity scandal?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAN RATHER, FORMER NEWS ANCHOR: I want to say personally and directly I am sorry.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Rather's revenge -- the former CBS anchor sues his old network, charging that he was made a scapegoat in the botching of that story about George Bush and the National Guard. How could rather defend those disputed documents when he's already apologized? And is it too late to seek vindication?
Plus is television polluting our culture with the never-ending flood of sexual images? A conversation with Laura Ingraham.
It was, let's face it -- a media fantasy come true. O.J. behind bars, O.J. charged with armed robbery, O.J. yelling and cursing on audiotape. O.J. Simpson, the man whose murder trial launched television into its current fixation with celebrities, crime and controversy; whose case blazed the trail for the frenzies over Chandra and Laci and Natalie and Anna Nicole and Paris and Lindsay and Britney. Back on our screens, the lawyers and prosecutors and psychologists arguing over the case again. O.J. released on bail -- and this was really case -- news helicopter following his car as if it were another low-speed Bronco chase. It was like a time warp, 1994 all over again, and every program on the planet got juiced.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: There are late developments tonight in the O.J. Simpson arrest story in Las Vegas.
CHARLIE GIBSON, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: Tonight, O.J.'s glory days seem even more distant.
TUCKER CARLSON, MSNBC ANCHOR: The father of modern cable news, O.J. Simpson, is back in the big house.
NANCY GRACE, CNN ANCHOR: This time, it's Vegas style. BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: O.J. Simpson is quite simply a sociopath.
GERALDO RIVERA, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: That's why he killed Ron Goldman with that savage passion.
GLENN BECK, CNN ANCHOR: Let's talk about O.J. Simpson. It seems like that's all people want to about.
GLORIA ALLRED, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Is there a lower life on the face of the planet than O.J. Simpson?
A.J. HAMMER, CNN ANCHOR: This is getting to be like a bad B movie.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: It doesn't get more surreal or sleazy than this.
KURTZ: Joining me now from Chicago, Roland Martin, radio talk show host and a CNN contributor. In New York, Julia Allison, editor at large of "Star" magazine. And in Los Angeles, Jane Velez-Mitchell, investigative TV reporter and author of the aptly-titled book, "Secrets Can Be Murder."
Jane Velez-Mitchell, the first three days here, there was a lot of breaking news, new charges are being filed -- absolutely legitimate story. But hasn't it generated since then into the usual media blab- a-thon fuelled by gas bags?
JANE VELEZ-MITCHELL, INVESTIGATIVE TV REPORTER: Yeah, it has. And I've probably been one of those gas bags, to be quite honest with you. This is like the media winning the lottery. This was what we've all been waiting for, America basically was left with a cliffhanger, a man appeared to get away with double murder and walk off into the sunset.
After 12 years, finally it appears he might be getting what's coming to him, not in the form we expected but in some form. You couldn't create a juicier scenario. This is act three. All the same cast of characters from the past coming back, Marcia Clark, the prosecutor, in court as a reporter. It is like a murder mystery dinner theater except they are coming back for act three in different outfits.
KURTZ: Big feeling of deja vu. Roland Martin, agree or disagree?
ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I agree.
KURTZ: What's driving this story is that journalists believe that O.J. is, one, crazy, two, guilty, and three, got away with murder last time.
MARTIN: No. I think what's driving the story is O.J. Simpson equals ratings. Bottom line is the public watches. Now, take out the arrest. Prior to the arrest, look at "If I Did It." The book shot to No. 1 on Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com. It did not get any kind of advertising. The companies initially said they were not even going to stock it on store shelves. But the American public bought into it. Was that driven by the media?
No. It was driven by the story itself. Now when people say, I am so sick of O.J. Simpson, show me where ratings declined? Show me where they remain flat. The reality is when these stories come out, the ratings spike. That means people watch.
Look, I don't understand who buys celebrity magazines. But I flip through and watch people buy coffee at Starbucks. That doesn't excite me, but somebody's buying it.
KURTZ: All right, but of course on cable television you only need a few hundred thousand more people to watch for the ratings to spike. It doesn't mean the whole country is transfixed by this.
MARTIN: Right, but they go up.
KURTZ: All right. Julia Allison, O.J. is such a huge story this is going to be on the cover of "Star." Right?
JULIA ALLISON, STAR MAGAZINE: Absolutely not. We're not putting him on the cover of "Star." Our readers don't care about O.J. Simpson. In fact, our readers were in junior high or high school like myself when he was acquitted. And they don't particularly know who he is. I think it's something that perhaps might be spiking ratings for certain demographics, but it certainly isn't something we're concerned with.
KURTZ: So you're saying this is like bringing back Paul Anka or The Monkees.
ALLISON: You know what, I don't know even know who that is.
KURTZ: You don't know who the Monkees is?
ALLISON: It's just not within the purview of my generation. I think also, in addition to that, we're interested in Lindsay, Britney, Nicole and Paris. We're talking about sexy young girls who are doing random things. And I think that O.J. is just not something we're interested in.
MARTIN: Howard, but the reality there is, I understand what she's saying. But the focus on Lindsay, Nicole Richie, Paris Hilton, that's an offspring of O.J., as you talked about in your open.
O.J. was what created this whole notion of celebrity justice, celebrity focus, in terms of in mainstream media. So frankly, without what we went through with O.J., you would you not see the fascination with Nicole, Paris, as well as Lindsay.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Howard, can I jump in for a second? I think what's really pathetic is that the choice is between Britney, Paris and O.J. That's what our society has come down to. I'd love to talk about other issues, environmental issues, the obesity crisis. Nobody ever asks me. This is what America's addicted to. We are addicted to crime and we are addicted to celebrity. We need to ask ourselves why are we so obsessed with these two issues?
KURTZ: When you say America is addicted, I think there is a media addiction. We feed this stuff to people and then they become -- it is more interesting to at least some -- not everybody, believe me I've heard lots of people sick of O.J. It is more interesting to some to listen to this than to hear another report on the Iraq war.
Well, when we ran out of things to say about O.J., suddenly television began to focus on another person, a woman who's been hanging out with him. Look at some of this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBIN ROBERTS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: During the last few days, Simpson was arrested, jailed, put out in front of the cameras on court, one person was consistently by his side, and her name is Christie Prody, Simpson's long-time girlfriend.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Who is she and why is she still standing by her man?
MEREDITH VIEIRA, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: I think people are so fascinated with this woman, Christie, because they don't understand the relationship given O.J.'s past, reputation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right. How could she?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Jane Velez-Mitchell, are the media fulfilling a deep public need for knowledge about Christie Prody?
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, it's kind of a sort of Shakespearian drama combined with a soap opera. This woman is obvious a Nicole Brown look-alike. Marcia Clark pointed that out and even asked rhetorically, doesn't she know she could be next?
So, there is a sense this woman is sort of putting herself in harm's way by being with a man that basically the entire free world feels killed two people, including his ex-wife, and there is a fascination with why are you so addicted to being on the front page of something that you'd be willing to risk your life to be with this man?
KURTZ: Julia Allison, I know you're too young to remember some of this, but as Roland Martin mentioned, sorry, as Jane Velez-Mitchell mentioned, some of the characters from the trial in the mid '90s have come back to life in other guises, for example, Marcia Clark.
ALLISON: Yes, blonde hair and nose job apparently.
KURTZ: That's an apt observation. She was a prosecutor, now she works for "Entertainment Tonight." So, are we going to see the same thing? There she is. Are we going to see the same thing now where every golfing buddy or sports memorabilia dealer associated with O.J. is also going to get 15 minutes or 15 seconds in the media spotlight?
ALLISON: Oh, sure. And I think that's one of the reasons that the media harps on it so much. There are so many characters willing to talk about this. But I think to call it -- I'm sure you've heard the term "reunion" used. It just seems unseemly to talk about something that was a murder trial and say, oh -- almost in joyous terms, we're so glad to see each other again. It doesn't make any of the media look good who are celebrating this.
KURTZ: I can't argue on that point.
Now one of the things that I think has really driven this story in television terms is the audio tape of Simpson and during that hotel room confrontation in Las Vegas, filled with expletives. And that was obtained by TMZ.com. We'll listen to some of the tape and then we'll listen to Harvey Levin of TMZ explaining why he thinks it was OK to pay for that material.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
O.J. SIMPSON, FORMER ATHLETE: Don't let nobody out of this room. Mother (EXPLETIVE DELETED). Think you can steal my (EXPLETIVE DELETED) and sell it?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.
SIMPSON: Don't let nobody out of here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wow.
SIMPSON: You (EXPLETIVE DELETED)think you can steal by (EXPLETIVE DELETED).
HARVEY LEVIN, TMZ.COM: I mean, we don't say how we get it. I will say we got it legally. And I also will say that it is common practice for lots of organizations to pay for tape. There is nothing wrong with it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Roland Martin, TMZ did pay for that tape, it pays for information and obviously not embarrassed by it. Does that give you any pause?
MARTIN: It doesn't give me pause considering the fact that when the fact the Rodney King video was shot that video, too, was purchased. We also need to remember historically when the film was shot, remember that was a bidding war going on between CBS, as well as "Time" magazine, or "Life" magazine. I can't recall, I wasn't even born then.
I remember when Dan Rather talked about -- he stepped out of the room to take a phone call. When he got back in, the deal was closed. So it is not unusual for this to happen. If there is a particular amazing photo that is shot under fire or even any kind of major story, news media may buy it from a freelancer.
So that's not surprising. Look -- they're in the business of celebrity news. You asked the point about what was driving the whole notion of this audio, look, television is a visual medium. Radio is all about audio. So if you have a witness to something who is describing what happened, but then you have an audio recording also allows you to hear what happened, it is a whole different reaction in terms of how we respond in terms of the media.
KURTZ: Jane Velez-Mitchell, just briefly, does the buying of information, buying of tapes, cause you any problem?
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, it would if it was an interview where somebody would have an incentive to exaggerate the story to get more money. But a tape is a tape. We buy stringer tape all the time.
I think there is a lot of jealousy of Harvey Levin. I worked with him for three years. He's very fast, he broke the Michael Richards story, he broke the Mel Gibson story. He's breaking the stories on top of everything. So I think there is a little bit of envy out there that might cause some criticism.
KURTZ: It is fabulously successful. Julia Allison, I know that your enthusiasm for this O.J. story is somewhat limited, but do you see it having legs -- are the media going to keep pumping this up for a while or do you think it is going to fade?
ALLISON: Well, I hope it is going to fade. No, I don't. I'll tell you why. As long as it is getting the ratings in certain demographics, I think it will continue until they get justice that they want. The only reason this robbery case is getting any attention is because everyone thinks it was a betrayal of justice in the first place. So no, they're going to wait until O.J. gets his.
KURTZ: It really is true that we've come full circle here. The Simpson trial in the mid '90s, televised by CNN, really was the first television addiction to this kind of celebrity crime. When we ran out of celebrities, television just invented others, like Laci and Chandra and Natalie and now of course, with the B-list bad girls that have been mentioned here, Britney, Paris, Lindsay, keeping us in business.
But the thing about O.J. is it's become a proxy, this bizarre Las Vegas robbery case -- it's become a proxy for the original murder trial. That's why the media just won't let it go. Julia Wallace (sic) in New York, thanks very much for joining us. When we come back, the media mom descends on Jena, Louisiana. How did charges of racial injustice in a tiny town suddenly become a huge national story?
KURTZ: The racial controversy in Jena, Louisiana has been going on for a year since a half dozen black teenagers were charged initially with attempted murder in the beating of a white school mate who was left unconscious. There were a handful of national stories over the summer, first in the "Chicago Tribune," then in the "Washington Post" and on "NBC Nightly News." But black radio hosts and bloggers publicized complaints about excessive prosecution.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL BAISDEN, RADIO HOST: Welcome back to the Michael Baisden show. This is the week I'm calling journey to Jena.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: The coverage took off this week and when thousands of protesters converged on the small town Thursday, CNN covered it much of the day, airing a prime-time special as well. Jena was also the lead story on the ABC and NBC nightly newscasts.
Roland Martin, how important were black radio hosts? Michael Baisden hosts a show that's called "Love, Lust & Lies" but he really got on this Jena case inspiring the national media into action here.
MARTIN: Well, it was vital. First and foremost, the first story done was on the "Final Call" newspaper. Jesse Muhammad was the lead writer.
Then as that story began to go out to the various black newspapers across the country, then black radio picked it up. So you had Michael Baisden. And when Michael began to talk about it, then you had Steve Harvey, Tom Joyner, Rickey Smiley. You had the Reverend Al Sharpton with his radio show on syndication one. You had Joe Madison on XM satellite WOL in D.C.
We talked about it on my radio station in Chicago for five or six months. And so it began to trickle, began to really get out and you're right. Then of course reporter with the "Chicago Tribune" picked up on it and the press began to say, wait a minute, why is mainstream media ignoring this story?
So they were absolutely vital in terms of driving this story, no different from when you see conservative radio talk show hosts drive other stories. Same thing happened.
KURTZ: You mentioned Sharpton in his radio show, Reverend Al and Jesse Jackson -- their involvement I think also galvanized national media attention. A lot of people think they are two men who inflame local situations.
MARTIN: Well, I mean you have people who say they inflame situations. There are others who say they bring attention to stories that otherwise would be ignored.
The reality is, you also had a significant number of grass-roots people who were also driving the story -- bloggers. There were many young people at the rally on Thursday in Jena. That also cannot be overlooked.
And so again, it was one of those stories that had all of these various elements. You had race, you had young people, you had some people say unfair sentences. You say again, we look at those stories, and also, Howard, it causes us when we cover that kind of story to examine what's happening in our own local cities also based on injustice.
KURTZ: Interesting point. Jane Velez-Mitchell, I want to roll some tape of CNN's Kyra Phillips during the special this network aired in Jena, Louisiana, questioning some white residents.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: People from the outside are saying, oh, my gosh, those people in Jena, Louisiana, are country backwards racist White people. How do you respond to that?
EVELYN TALLEY-MOSER, CABOOSE CAFE: I think they're generalizing, I think they're labeling, I think they're bigoted.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Do you think there is a danger here that the media are going overboard on this one incident and tarnishing this town as if -- and generalizing as if everybody there is racially insensitive?
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, certainly everybody's not racially insensitive but I think there is a real problem there.
I believe that guns were pulled out on her somewhere during a lot of her reporting, and also there was another truck driving around with nooses hanging off the side.
This is a problem. I'm so thrilled to see these protests reminiscent of the '50s and the '60s and the '70s coming out. I remember growing up and seeing massive antiwar protests. Somewhere along the line, they disappeared, people took to the Internet and with the rise of the Internet they sort of let their fingers do the talking.
And there was this disconnect between feeling outraged about something and getting out into the streets. And now we're seeing the convergence where the Internet and bloggers and these syndicated radio talk show hosts are being used to fuel these demonstrations.
I hope we see them about other justices. I hope we see them about women's issues, gay issues, more anti-war protests.
KURTZ: Let me break in here. The notion on injustice -- hold on, Roland. We just were looking at pictures of Justin Barker, he was the white student who was badly beaten in that incident. Not everybody agrees with that. Let me play just a quick bite from MSNBC's Tucker Carlson on this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CARLSON: The national press is definitely -- "New York Times" this morning made it seem like the kid who got beaten up by the six other kids was just kind of scratched and probably deserved it anyway and it was not a big deal, it was blown out of proportion by the racist crackers who run the justice system down there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So Jane, you make it sound like it's undisputed that there was a serious injustice there when that's very much the subject of debate.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, there are schoolyard brawls all the time. I think the question is selective indignation. Were any of the white kids prosecuted with attempted murder for similar brawls that allegedly occurred?
I think the bigger picture is that there is this double standard of justice. We saw it with ironically the Paris Hilton case. And now we're seeing it again as a theme where look at that teenager who had consensual sex with another teenager who was sentenced to 10 years in prison. I wondered where the protests at that time?
KURTZ: Let me get Roland Martin back because we only have half a minute. Mychal Bell, who is still in jail on this case, convicted of second degree battery, he had a criminal record before this, so he seems like an unlikely rallying point for sympathetic media attention.
MARTIN: The issue is not the individual in terms of him being the rallying point. What sparked this was the fact that the D.A. charged all six initially with attempted murder. That's what Jane said.
The injustice is, how did you arrive at the conclusion that you were charging for a schoolyard fight with attempted murder and you said the weapon was someone's tennis shoe?
See, that's where people are ticked off. I've never said that if they're found guilty, they shouldn't serve any time, shouldn't be punished.
The point is how do you arrive at attempted murder when the woman in West Virginia who was kidnapped, raped, beaten, stabbed, the most serious charge in that case of Megan Williams was kidnapping.
KURTZ: All right. Roland Martin, Jane Velez-Mitchell, thanks very much for your appearances here this morning.
Up next, the "New York Times" gets slapped down by an in-house critic this morning. And some of cable's top talkers are temporarily silenced in our "Media Minute," straight ahead.
KURTZ: Time now for the latest in the news business in our "Media Minute."
KURTZ (voice-over): "The New York Times" says it's experiment with charging for online content was a success, but it's pulling the plug. For two years if you wanted to read Maureen Dowd, Frank Rich, Tom Friedman, David Brooks or other columnists online, you had to pay an extra $50 a year, unless you already subscribed to the print edition.
About 225,000 people signed up, which brought the "Times" an extra $10 million a year. But, stashing the commentators behind a pay wall severely limited their reach in a medium where a rollicking debate rages for free. The "Times" is liberating Dowd and company saying free content will bring in more advertising money.
Par Ridder, once part of the Knight Ridder empire used to be publisher of the "St. Paul Pioneer Press," then he defected to become publisher of the rival "Minneapolis Star Tribune" and took a few things with him that he shouldn't have. A judge ruled this week that Ridder must step down from the "Star Tribune" job for taking confidential valuable information from his old paper. So much for newspaper ethics.
Being a cable anchor may be a more dangerous occupation than you thought. MSNBC's Keith Olbermann underwent an emergency appendectomy and CNN's Lou Dobbs had a tonsillectomy, thereby lowering the argument level on the airwaves by several degrees. Both men are bouncing back from their brush with cable silence.
KURTZ: And fresh embarrassment for the "New York Times" this morning. The paper had argued, as I said here last week, that it did not provide a discount by charging MoveOn.org $65,000 for that full- page ad attacking "General Betray Us." But "Times" ombudsman Clark Hoyt writes that MoveOn should have been charged the regular rate of $142,00 because the group was guaranteed placement on a specific day and the "Times" violated its own standards by accepting an ad that included a personal attack. What a fiasco.
Coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, has Dan Rather gone off the deep end, as one of his former colleagues put it? We'll look at the ex-anchor's strange lawsuit against CBS.
Plus Laura Ingraham on how television is polluting our culture.
KURTZ: Dan Rather still believes that his discredited story about President Bush and the National Guard was right on target. Why is he bringing it up again? We'll tackle that in a moment.
But first here's Rob Marciano at the CNN Center in Atlanta with a check of the hour's top stories.
KURTZ: Thanks, Rob. After the break, what is Dan Rather trying to accomplish by suing the network where he spent 44 years? Rather versus CBS, next.
KURTZ: He was the face of CBS News for a quarter century before the messy divorce last year that ended in acrimony when his contract wasn't renewed. But no one expected Dan Rather to do what he did the other day, hit his former network with $70 million lawsuit stemming from the botched "60 MINUTES II" story charging that President Bush received favorable treatment from the National Guard.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC ANCHOR: Tonight a giant of the television industry is suing a giant of the television industry.
KATIE COURIC, CBS ANCHOR: He accuses the network of making him a "scapegoat" for a discredited story about President Bush's National Guard service.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: The suit names majority owner Sumner Redstone of Viacom, CBS Chairman Les Moonves, and former CBS News chief Andrew Heyward. Why on earth would he go to court now? Because, Rather told me, he wants to prove that the 3-year-old story is true and to punish CBS executives with a big financial judgment. Here's how he put it on Larry King.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAN RATHER, FORMER CBS ANCHOR: It wasn't a fraud. The facts of the story were true.
LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": Are you saying that CBS then copped out?
RATHER: The ownership and management. And what they did was they sacrificed support for independent journalism for corporate financial gain.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Why is Rather drudging up the darkest hour of his long and controversial career? Joining us now in Toledo, Ohio, Laura Ingraham, radio talk show host and author of the new book "Power to the People." Here in Washington, David Zurawik, television columnist at The Baltimore Sun. And by phone from Roswell, New Mexico, Rome Hartman, former executive producer of the "CBS EVENING NEWS."
Rome Hartman, you once worked for Dan Rather on the "CBS EVENING NEWS," more recently you worked alongside him at "60 MINUTES." What was your reaction upon hearing that he had taken this extraordinary step of suing CBS?
ROME HARTMAN, FMR. EXEC. PROD., "CBS EVENING NEWS": Well, Howard, more than anything, it made me sad. I just -- it made me sad for him and for CBS News. I don't understand why he would choose to dredge back into the spotlight what's undoubtedly going to be remembered as the darkest moment of his career and a very dark moment for CBS News.
KURTZ: Do you think it is about the $70 million in damages he's seeking?
HARTMAN: No, I don't. I take him at his word that it's not about the money. I think it's about Dan's very sincere desire to find vindication in this affair. The problem is, I just don't think that's how it is going to end up.
KURTZ: Laura Ingraham, everybody is asking the question, why would Rather dredge this up and re-litigate and go to court for what was clearly the worst episode of his professional career.
LAURA INGRAHAM, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: He said when he issued his apology back in '04, he said that look, I'm not a victim, I'm a victim of my own shortcomings, the shortcomings of the story. And so now there is a different story, and it is that the documents -- the facts behind the documents were true and he's going to show all of us that he was right all along.
I mean, it is extremely, I agree, sad. He's 75 years old. He had a long run in the media. Obviously he had years of sparring with conservatives and obviously now the Internet, which blew the story open, freerepublic.com, Little Green Footballs, and then talk radio.
So I think he is a little bit angered that the new media really pulled the curtain back on what was going on at CBS and I don't think he has gotten over it.
KURTZ: CBS has limited it self-to a single sentence on the story with a statement saying, this is old news and the lawsuit is without merit. David Zurawik, here's a guy who was at the absolute pinnacle of his profession, long and controversial career. Now he wants to haul Les Moonves and Sumner Redstone into court. Does he come across as bitter?
DAVID ZURAWIK, THE BALTIMORE SUN: Howie, it's beyond bitter. You know, when Rome said sad, I'm sure when you reported the story this week you got the same thing. The kindest thing anybody would say is how sad it was about Rather.
You know, this lawsuit, he says he wants to restore his reputation, that CBS damaged his reputation, but that is based on credibility, a journalist's reputation. And this lawsuit really shreds his credibility. He says -- you know, he got on the air after memogate and said, I sincerely apologize. Now he says, I didn't really apologize, Andy Heyward made me apologize.
You go down that. You know, when he stepped down from the anchor desk, he insisted it was planned, and now he says it wasn't planned. He was forced off. You know, he says one of the reasons he's suing CBS is because they let Mike Wallace and Andy Rooney and Walter Cronkite say bad things about him. Doesn't he believe in freedom of expression?
INGRAHAM: Yes, what about that? Now you mentioned the apology. It was three years ago this week. I want to play some of that again to remind viewers what Rather had to say 12 days after he was defending the story, 12 days after the story blew up on "60 MINUTES II" and CBS.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RATHER: The failure of CBS News to do just that, to properly fully scrutinize the documents and their source led to our airing the documents when we should not have done so. It was a mistake. CBS News deeply regrets it. Also I want to say personally and directly, I'm sorry.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Rome Hartman, how can Dan Rather now say, well, I didn't mean that apology, I was pressured into it, I believe the story is true, even though CBS admitted and an outside panel confirmed that it could not authenticate those 30-year-old National Guard memos?
HARTMAN: I don't think he can say it, Howard. I don't think he can say it with credibility. I'm not saying he doesn't believe it, but I just don't think it is going to end up where he wants it to end up. And that is -- when I said sad, I think the biggest part of it for me is there are a lot of people, including me, who came to work for CBS News because we wanted to work for and with Dan.
And you think about the great work that he has done from the assassination of JFK to Vietnam and Watergate and election night and hurricanes. I mean, this is a great giant of television news in our lifetime. And that's -- unfortunately, all of that is being pushed back into the background again by Dan's own doing as he chooses to highlight something that is not going to turn out well. This did enormous damage to him but this was a self-inflicted wound, this story.
KURTZ: I agree with that. And he pushed for it to get on the air, although in the lawsuit he kind of makes it that, well, it wasn't really his decision. How involved was he. I spoke this week with Josh Howard, he was the executive producer of "60 MINUTES II." He was one of the CBS executives who lost his job in this whole debacle.
And he told me Rather had just gone off the deep end, that he seems to be saying that he was just a narrator but actually he did every interview on story, he worked sources on the phone, he argued over every line in the script.
So, Laura Ingraham, is rather trying to avoid responsibility for something that he was intimately involved with?
INGRAHAM: Well, it certainly sounds like it. And I think from the very beginning he threw his producers under the bus, Mary Mapes and Howard. And I don't think it is just -- I don't think it is just sad and pathetic, although it is both of those things. I think it's supremely arrogant after what he tried to pull with these documents, after it took the new media and the blogosphere to expose what was going on with those documents. For him to come and, frankly, I think it is an abuse of the legal system, to file a lawsuit against CBS is absurd. It is probably a good example to all of us of what's wrong with our legal system when people can sue in these types of claims. He has already made...
HARTMAN: The one thing I would say is...
INGRAHAM: Can I finish? Can I finish, please?
HARTMAN: ... he and his team did not try to pull anything off. They did not try to perpetuate some kind of a fraud. This was a mistake.
INGRAHAM: Well, can I say something? First of all, that's not true. For the several days that followed this story, Dan Rather was followed by various reporters, locally in New York and bloggers, and they asked him, do you stand by this story? Do you stand by this story? His first response wasn't, we're going to look into this given the issues that have been raised. His first response was, there will be no investigation and I don't take back anything, to paraphrase what he said. So there was supreme arrogance from the beginning and nothing has changed.
KURTZ: Well, Laura, you're partially right on that point.
INGRAHAM: I remember what he said.
KURTZ: I remember several times that week, and he absolutely doggedly dug in and defended this story, but he didn't say that it shouldn't be looked at whatsoever. But let me ask you...
INGRAHAM: He said, there will be no investigation. That's what he said, Howie.
KURTZ: Let me ask you, because you, in the mid '90s were at least briefly a commentator for the "CBS EVENING NEWS." You understand the culture there. Does it sound plausible to you that CBS, as Dan Rather alleges in this lawsuit, was making him a scapegoat, his word, a scapegoat to placate the Bush White House?
INGRAHAM: Well, no. I didn't see any effort to placate Republicans when I was at CBS. I mean, I was a conservative, I was kind of a fish out water when I was there for a couple of years in '96, '97. And the idea that this was an effort to appease President Bush? I mean, that is Comedy Central time. That is laughable. And I think that was probably one of the more absurd things that he said on "LARRY KING LIVE" the other night.
HARTMAN: Well, and I was there during this time. This was not an effort to placate anybody. There was a very sincere and thorough -- exhaustive really, effort by the people that ran CBS News to look into this and to get to the bottom of it. This was not an attempt to paper anything over or to find any scapegoats. I'm telling you that the people that launched that internal probe and conducted it did so in good faith. I know Dan disagrees with that. But he's wrong.
KURTZ: Rome Hartman, you were the executive who helped launch Katie Couric on the "CBS EVENING NEWS." You produced that broadcast for six months. Not that long ago Rather came out and said that Katie and CBS were tarting up the news, dumbing it down. Does Dan have a need to sort of insert himself into the spotlight?
HARTMAN: I can't read his mind. I don't know. I think, again, there's nobody that I've talked to looking at the events of this week that can figure out how or why Dan would think that filing this suit and dredging this up again would be in his best interest.
ZURAWIK: Howie, one fast thing on this. Dan Rather with that story did enormous damage to CBS News that it still hasn't recovered from. I think they rushed into Katie Couric because of it, and now he's doing more damage to them. That goes what Laura said about his arrogance.
KURTZ: And last question for you, David Zurawik, Rather told me that -- he said, well, why hasn't there been a government investigation of a wartime president, George W. Bush, who has missing military records? And I wonder whether that feeds the impression that some people have had that he has it in for Republican presidents, going back to Richard Nixon.
ZURAWIK: But, Howie, here's the story. Cut aside all the politics, journalism 101 in democracy. And he said in your piece that he was fighting for the beating red heart of oppressed democracy. You are supposed to supply information to citizens, verified, reliable information. Job one. You couldn't violate it worse by giving unverified information on the eve of a presidential election. That's all that matters. It doesn't matter what happens after it. He did wrong and he did hugely wrong.
KURTZ: And the facts of that have not changed. Rome Hartman, David Zurawik, thank you very much for joining us.
Up next, Laura Ingraham's indictment of the mainstream media and its addiction to Paris, Britney and lots of sexual images.
KURTZ: Hillary Clinton making the Sunday show rounds this morning ahead on "LATE EDITION."
Television is obsessed with sex and celebrity scandals. That's the argument that Laura Ingraham makes to her new book, "Power to the People." Laura Ingraham, before I get to that, you tell the story in the book about two years ago, you were battling cancer, you were undergoing chemotherapy, your fiancee had broken off your engagement and had a knock at your door at home. What happened?
INGRAHAM: Yes, it was pretty funny because I had lost all my hair at that point and I was resting upstairs and I heard this knock. I'm like, oh gosh, where's my wig? I couldn't find my wig so I threw on a baseball cap and went downstairs. And I usually look to see who was at the door but I was tired. I opened the door, and it was this young guy, Howie.
He was maybe 23 or 24, and he was waving a copy of The Enquirer and pointing at a photo, and he is like, can you identify who this? It was Katie Couric and my ex-fiancee. And I looked at him and I said, hey -- I took off my hat and I said, hey, I'm a little busy right here. And he's like, oh, can you just identify -- and of course, I closed the door and walked back upstairs and it really was the first time I personally had been -- not the victim, I don't think I'm a victim, but just had my experience with the tabloid culture that we live in.
It is just an illustration of what personally I've seen in my years in the media and personally.
KURTZ: Home visit from the National Enquirer. Let me read from your book: "Did the viewers of MSNBC, FOX News Channel, and CNN band together to implore news directors that they wanted nonstop Anna Nicole Smith coverage? Did I miss the e-mail write-in campaigns urging certain shows to keep up the fine reporting on the Natalee Holloway disappearance?"
You're suggesting here that television is shoving these stories down the viewer's throats?
INGRAHAM: Yes, I've been in 10 cities in ten days on the "Power to the People" tour. And by the way, the book hits number one on The New York Times bestseller list, it debuts next week, so we're really happy about that. But I've been talking to people about the "pornification" of the culture and the tabloid sleaze.
And they keep telling me, Laura, this is what people want. You know, we wouldn't be running this on CNN or MSNBC or FOX or the morning news shows if people didn't love the coverage.
And I think, Howie, you know, people will watch a lot of stuff. And we actually might be gravitating toward tabloid stories because maybe they make us feel better about our own lives. I don't know. But it doesn't mean that it is good for us and it doesn't mean that we should continue to elevate these rather sad oftentimes young girls who have -- with a lot of money and sometimes not a lot of talent have messed up their lives and are held out as some kind of objects of fascination for the world.
So I'm finding that people really want more from our news organizations and are finding ways to either shut it out of their homes completely or starting e-mail writing campaigns to networks to say, please, please, stop the madness.
KURTZ: Well, I agree that television in particular and the media in general just seem to go overboard when it comes to Britney and Paris and some of these missing white women cases. But you do have this question of ratings and television, as you know, as a veteran of the business.
And so, I remember the week that the Anna Nicole Smith hearing took place with that crazy judge and CNN didn't cover it wall-to-wall. FOX and NBC did. And CNN got clobbered in the ratings that week.
INGRAHAM: Well, I think we have to ask ourselves as citizens, as Americans, and many people listening today, watching today, parents, just because can you do it and just because you make money from it doesn't mean we should do it. I mean, we could put a public execution on television. We would get lots of people watching that. We're probably not going to do that.
I mean, you could put live porn, live porn in hotels. That might be coming, by the way. People will watch that. But should we do it? So it is not whether there is a First Amendment right to do it. Of course there is, and you might get some ratings.
But I think there is a big audience out there, and an untapped audience, Howie, for shows that really can lift us up a little bit more as Americans and highlight the bravery and courage and the self- sacrifice of so many Americans, left, right and center, across this country and deployed overseas. And this is not a political issue. This really is an American issue.
KURTZ: You were discussing this subject on Neil Cavuto's FOX show. I want to play a little bit of that and ask you on the other side. Hang on.
INGRAHAM: Uh-oh. OK.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NEIL CAVUTO, HOST, "YOUR WORLD WITH NEIL CAVUTO": You don't like the Paris Hilton burger commercial.
INGRAHAM: Well, it's now -- I think now we've succeeded in knocking a few of those Carl Jr.'s commercials off the airway. Another "Power to the People" moment.
CAVUTO: All right.
INGRAHAM: And wait, wait, wait. Neil, have you shown any B-roll during this interview?
CAVUTO: No, no, no.
INGRAHAM: We are making progress with you. That's "Power to the People."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Now you can't see it, because you were in Toledo, but he was showing lots of pictures of Paris soaping up her body and her skirt dropping down.
INGRAHAM: Yes. (CROSSTALK)
INGRAHAM: I think I was in Kansas City. I don't really remember where I was at this point. But I was fairly disappointed about that, to say the least. But it's not just one network, it is really all the networks. CNN still slips into this as well. And Neil Cavuto, to his credit, the next night ran a number of letters, all of them slapping FOX across the face for doing that.
I just think we are a better than that. And it is really I think at some point ridiculously immature. I mean, we're not all in high school still, and I think we can move beyond this.
KURTZ: All right. I've got 20 seconds. Do you think these stories get the air time they do in a way as an antidote to all the depressing news from Iraq and other serious stories that we do cover?
INGRAHAM: Well, I think there are a lot of us who want to stay numb and dumb. There are also some great stories out there, our soldiers, our troops, their bravery and courage and progress, and stories that we need to know about -- scary stories that we need to know about. And it takes a lot of reporting and it does take a lot of money to cover that. But I do think there is a market for it, Howie, I really do.
KURTZ: All right. Laura Ingraham, "Power to the People." Thanks for joining us this morning.
KURTZ: Still to come -- don't Tase me, bro. How amateur videos like this one are changing the nature of television news.
KURTZ: You've seen the video again and again, that University of Florida student getting hauled off by campus police while peppering John Kerry with questions and in the subsequent scuffle, getting Tasered.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Help! Don't Tase me, bro! Don't Tase me! I said don't do it! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Now, imagine trying to sort out what happened if all we had were conflicting accounts by the police and the student, Andrew Meyer, it was the cell phone video taken by a local college student, Clarissa Jessup, and provided to CNN that turned this into a national outrage.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why! Why are you doing this! KURTZ (voice-over): It is just the latest example of citizen journalism in action. Just about everyone it seems has video cameras and cell phone cameras these days and seems willing to send that footage to networks and TV stations, becoming what CNN dubs "I- Reporters."
That's how we got the first pictures of the Minneapolis bridge collapse and of the horrifying massacre at Virginia Tech. And sometimes of devastating hurricanes and tornadoes that rip through an area.
That racist comedy club rant by Michael Richards was also shot on a cell phone camera, though that was given -- or sold, to the gossip site tmz.com. For news organizations that can't be everywhere, this veritable army of camera-wielding citizens is a godsend and nearly all the videos and still photos are provided free of charge. You can't beat that price.
All that's required is some checking to make sure submissions are -- what's the word, real.
KURTZ: Clearly the Florida police overreacted and the Tasering went too far, but one other point, Andrew Meyer is a journalism student. He wasn't questioning Kerry. He was delivering a liberal diatribe.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Amidst all these reports of phony, bogus (INAUDIBLE), how could you concede the election?
I'm not even done yet, I have two more questions. If you are so against (INAUDIBLE), how come you're not saying, let's impeach Bush now? Impeach Bush now before he can invade Iran?
Also, are you a member -- or were you a member of Skull and Bones in college with Bush?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: No way Andrew Meyer deserves to get Tasered, but what are they teaching him in journalism school?
Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES, I'm Howard Kurtz. Join us again next Sunday morning at 10:00 a.m. Eastern, another critical look at the media. "LATE EDITION" with Wolf Blitzer begins right now.
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