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'New Yorker' Cover an Outrage?; Is Obama Backing Off Pledge to Withdraw From Iraq?
Aired July 13, 2008 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice over): Malice or mockery? Is this "New Yorker" cover on Barack Obama what it seems, an outrage?
War and words. The press says Barack Obama is backing off his call for a withdrawal from Iraq. He calls that a media distortion.
Should Fox and everyone else have reported Jesse Jackson's off- mike insult against Obama?
And why is the senator putting his young daughters before the camera? We'll ask Maria Menounos of "Access Hollywood."
Tabloid fodder. Lara Logan's Baghdad affair; Christie Brinkley's sleazy divorce trial; the soap opera of Madonna, A-Rod, A-Rod's wife -- why the media can never get enough.
And the passing of Tony Snow, a happy warrior in journalism and in politics.
KURTZ: We're throwing out the script this morning. I want to get right to this magazine cover. It's a remarkable, some would say incendiary, cover. There it is up on the screen.
"The New Yorker" magazine has Barack and Michelle Obama. She's got the -- it looks like an AK-47 strapped around her, he's got the Muslim garb. There's a picture off to the right -- you can't quite make it out there -- of Osama bin Laden on the wall, and the American flag burning in the fireplace.
Joining us right now to talk about this and some other campaign issues, from Seattle, Michael Medved, host of "The Michael Medved Show" on the Salem Radio Network. And here in Washington, Clarence Page, columnist for "The Chicago Tribune." And CNN correspondent Jessica Yellin.
Michael Medved, you've had a chance to look at this "New Yorker" cover. What do you make of it?
MICHAEL MEDVED, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, it's obviously succeeding in getting attention. I think it's tacky, I think it's outrageous, and it's just a bid to actually get to you read an article that is remarkably pro-Obama. And again, in good taste in the middle of a campaign? Absolutely not.
KURTZ: I talked to the editor of "The New Yorker," David Remnick, who tells me this is a satire, that they are making fun of all the rumors...
KURTZ: ... Clarence Page, and all the false allegations about Obama's upbringing and so forth.
Does it work on that level?
CLARENCE PAGE, "THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE": You know, look at history, Howard. I remember a few years ago, when "The New Yorker" had a cover at a time of great black/Jewish tension in New York. You had a cartoon of an obvious Orthodox Jewish male kissing a black woman, and this created a lot of buzz.
That's what it is, buzz. It's discussion. It's talk. And that's what covers are supposed to do. So I think, you know, it's quite within the normal realms of journalism.
KURTZ: But not everyone may react to this thing.
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, it's very provocative. And it both overstates what -- it's obviously untrue. They are not Muslim. They are not trying to overthrow the American government and. And it also overstates what the Republicans are doing.
This is not a message machines that's coming from John McCain's campaign. These are rumors generated on the Internet, and it's general buzz out there.
KURTZ: Barry Blitt is the artist, and there is one true thing here. It does have the fist bump. They do do that, or at least did it once. And I just think...
PAGE: You know what inspired that? On Fox News, a woman who said, "What is that, a terrorist handshake?" Something like that.
KURTZ: Terrorist, yes. Right. That was a tease that was later apologized for...
PAGE: That's what the cover is about. It's just lampooning all the crazy ignorance out there, and I hope the American people are more intelligent than that. I think they are, most of them.
KURTZ: All right. Let me move on now to another subject. You
know, the press loves more than just about anything to zap candidates for changing their position, but what happens when the candidate insists that the journalists are wrong, that there's no shift, no flip-flop, no move to the center? Barack Obama says he hasn't altered his stance on with drawing from Iraq at all. Media reports to the contrary.
But I'll have to say this: When you have to hold two news conferences on the same afternoon on the same subject, as Obama did last week, you've got a communications problem. Here's the Illinois senator meeting the press.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I have a chance to talk to some of the commanders on the ground. I'm sure I'll have more information and will continue to refine my policies.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: "Refine my policies." Well, here's Obama after summoning reporters just hours later.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Apparently I wasn't clear enough this morning on my position with respect to the war in Iraq. I have said throughout this campaign that this war was ill conceived, that it was a strategic blunder, and that it needs to come to an end.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Michael Medved, is Obama changing his position on Iraq and is the press calling him on it?
MEDVED: Well, the press isn't calling him on it enough. The one thing that struck me was, you remember how Richard Nixon used to say, "Let me make one thing perfectly clear." Barack Obama was saying just about that.
He said, "I want to be completely clear about this." And any time a politician is saying, "I'm going to be completely clear," what usually follows is obfuscation, not clarity.
Look, the point is he's a smart guy. He's going -- what's the point of his going to Iraq unless he is going to consider altering or shading or changing somehow his particular strategy?
So he's caught. He either doesn't go to Iraq, or he goes to Iraq and says, well, it doesn't matter the fact that I'm going to Iraq, because I'm not going to change anyway. So the guy really is stuck right now.
KURTZ: True or false, Clarence Page, Obama is moderating his position a bit, as candidates tend to do in general elections, and journalists smell a flip-flop?
PAGE: On the Iraq issue, Obama said in September, during a debate to Tim Russert that, yes, I'm willing to adjust to changes, changing realities on the ground. And we'd say he was crazy if he didn't say that, you know? No, the fact is he still says he wants to get all the troops out in 16 months, but he's also allowing that if that's not possible, or changing realities could change that timetable. That's still a big difference from John McCain, who has also begun to hint at a timetable, but he's saying 2013.
KURTZ: Well, I think in tone both John McCain and Barack Obama are emphasizing different parts of their position.
KURTZ: But let me play for you, Jessica Yellin, a comment from Senator Obama last week. And this kind of got lost over the July 4th holidays, where he appeared to put the blame at -- well, I'll let you watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: The press -- I mean, I'm not trying to dump on you guys, but I'm surprised at how finely calibrated every single word was measured. You know, I wasn't saying anything that I hadn't said before.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: He's saying it's all a creation of you knit-pickers in the press.
YELLIN: Well, that's a little silly. This is a man who knows the power of words and has to understand what he says on the trail is going to be picked apart.
One of the things that's fascinating about the Obama campaign, if you report a story and you're sort of the only person, or you're the first person out there, they will call you up and say, you're alone on this, you're out of your mind, this isn't right. Then when you're reporting what everyone else is reporting it's just pact mentality, you're following the RNC. And that's what happened on this story.
They accused the press of just following the RNC. What Obama has done is he's shifted emphasis on this issue, and it's fair to report that, and it should be reported.
KURTZ: And Michael Medved, Clarence Page makes the point that Obama, you know, would be silly to stick to a rigid 16-month pullout plan. And, in fact, he's gotten some favorable editorials for appearing to be more open-minded on exactly -- on the pace and timing of an American withdrawal from Iraq.
MEDVED: Well, of course he has. And by the way, I think Clarence is completely correct. Barack Obama is doing what any candidate has to do, is going to the center. McCain is doing the same thing.
You win your primary on the left if you're a Democrat, on the right if you're a Republican. And then you move to the center. And the fact that he's doing that is not extraordinary.
What's extraordinary is the fact that he's denying doing that. And part of that may be -- I mean, Cynthia McKinney just got nominated for the Green Party. She's claiming she's going to go for 5 percent of the vote and that will be a big success for the Green Party candidacy. Does Obama have some potential problems on his left? I think he does.
KURTZ: That's the former Georgia congresswoman.
But here's the point now. On McCain, I don't see the press making a big deal about the fact that he was at one point talking about, well, we could stay in Iraq for 100 years, meaning in the sense of maintaining a military base there. But now he is at least raising the possibility of withdrawal, and so is Prime Minister Maliki.
KURTZ: And this morning's paper report that the Bush administration is considering pulling out additional divisions and combat units from Iraq.
PAGE: You know, why aren't we talking more about all of this? I mean, this change is happening in the politics of Iraq right now, but there's also other changes happening, some of which we we'll get to, other stories going on that I think have just crowded it out.
KURTZ: But are you suggesting that the media hold Obama to a higher standard, or at least fly spec his words more carefully?
PAGE: Howard, he's a better story. He's a better -- he's a more attractive story. Oh, yes, he's got more of the spotlight, good and bad. I mean, McCain is really kind of fighting for attention here, and in some ways that benefits him. In other ways, though, it doesn't help him.
YELLIN: While we're honing in on their areas of weakness, I mean, John McCain does get a lot of heat for flip-flopping or inconsistency on issues of the economy. Barack Obama's getting it more on issues related to Iraq and national security.
KURTZ: All right. Let me get to the issue that you alluded to, Clarence Page, and that is Jesse Jackson, who was picked up on a microphone before an appearance on Fox News -- and this came out days afterwards. And what's fascinating here is, before these comments, which we'll show you in a second, were broadcast on "The O'Reilly Factor," Jesse Jackson phoned in to CNN and talked to Wolf Blitzer in a kind of a preemptive damage control.
Let's watch that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: If you could right now speak to Senator Obama from your heart, what would you say to him? REV. JESSE JACKSON, RAINBOW PUSH COALITION: That any hurt or harm caused his campaign, I apologize, because I have such high regard for him. And this is part redemptive moment, and I'm a part of it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: And it was about four hours later that the O'Reilly show actually showed the tape, some of what Obama -- excuse me, what Jesse Jackson had been caught saying. Let's watch that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JACKSON: See, Barack's been talking down to black people on this faith based. I want to cut his (EXPLETIVE DELETED) off. Barack, he's talking down to black people.
BILL O'REILLY, "THE O'REILLY FACTOR": We're not out to get Jesse Jackson. We're not out to embarrass him and we're not out to make him look bad. If we were, we would have used what we have, which is more damaging than what you've heard.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Now Clarence, you talked...
PAGE: Who's that...
KURTZ: Yes, I saw that guy.
PAGE: The one that he was talking to.
KURTZ: Moonlighting on other networks.
You talked to Jesse soon after.
PAGE: He called me.
KURTZ: He called you.
PAGE: He called me before I could call him. I mean, you know -- and...
KURTZ: Did he call you because he thought he would get a sympathetic hearing? Another Chicago guy who's known him a long time?
PAGE: Well, you know, he didn't have any guarantees. He thanked me after the O'Reilly show for not being tougher on him. But, no, he was very concerned about his image, very concerned about this whole flap, because the story hadn't even broke yet, and here he was sending out statements.
And you could see the confusion at CNN. You know, what's he talking about here?
But this was very damaging for Jesse Jackson. It exposed a side of Jackson that he has not wanted exposed out there.
He was trying to start his own little whisper campaign, or keep it going in regard to Obama. I think because he wasn't getting his phone calls returned from the Obama campaign. I think this is both ideological and personal mixed up here.
KURTZ: Well, if you're going to have a whisper campaign, don't whisper in front of a microphone.
PAGE: Thank you.
KURTZ: Michael Medved, are the media going rather easy on Jackson here? By which I mean, it's being treated like he just let a curse word slip, when, in fact, he made a racial attack on a man who he professes to support for president.
MEDVED: Yes. I think there's much too much attention on this, because, look, the truth of the matter is that Jesse Jackson isn't a significant part of the Obama campaign. As a matter of fact, remember, Bill Clinton got in a world of trouble when he tried to compare the Obama campaign to the Jackson campaign.
In some sense, I think that people say that, well, this is -- people are going very hard on Jesse Jackson. This may be something that Reverend Jackson actually relishes, because who even was paying attention to him until he used some extremely rude language? And by the way, if he had said the same thing but said it more politely, I don't think we would be talking about it this morning or it would have gotten national attention at all.
KURTZ: But you know, Jessica, Jesse Jackson may not be part of the Obama campaign, and clearly there's a testy relationship there, but somewhere along the line the media decided that Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are the two black leaders that we would turn to, that we would call in any crisis. Whether they actually are black leaders or have a significant following, as opposed to a media platform, is another question.
Now I wonder if Jackson kind of feels eclipsed by Barack Obama's candidacy.
YELLIN: Well, Barack Obama just told reporters that he hasn't spoken with Jesse Jackson since this happened, and Jackson has made it clear that he called the campaign. So certainly this seems to be at least in part related to a generational change. The torch is being passed, but maybe not so willingly.
KURTZ: Now, here's the interesting -- you know, there was no obscenity in there. I use the word "nuts" all the time. I mean, "nuts" obviously here was a synonym for something else.
The "L.A. Times" and "The Chicago Tribune" used the exact quote. "The New York Times" said it was a "vulgar reference." "The Washington Post" talked about "crude language." And in your column, Clarence Page, "Twin objects of male anatomy."
Why all this tiptoeing around it?
PAGE: Because I'm an old prude, Howard.
PAGE: No, I -- you know something? I agonized over this, you know/ And it's become a story in itself in media circles, because you're right, the word itself is not obscene, but context makes a difference. But, you know, now there's this product called Obama's Chocolate Nuts, which has had a surge in popularity now -- I mean, from Seattle or something.
KURTZ: I had missed that.
PAGE: Well, that was a nice plug for the product there, and indeed they are getting it. But, you know, we're all kind of caught between this -- the rails of understanding it.
KURTZ: The last question to Michael Medved.
Clarence said a little earlier that Obama maybe got more attention on Iraq because he's a better story than McCain. There was a flap involving John McCain with Phil Gramm, former senator, former presidential candidate, very -- a co-chairman of his campaign, saying that the recession in this country is mental, and that the Americans have become a bunch of whiners. That got some coverage, but nothing like this Jesse crack.
MEDVED: Well, again, neither one really deserve the kind of coverage that it received. Phil Gramm, when he spoke to "The Washington Times," if you read the entire interview, you can disagree with it, and that's fine, but it's not an outrageous gaffe.
And there's a great deal of this on the economy that I think is terribly unfair. When people say, well, the economy is not John McCain's strong suit, John McCain was chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. And the idea that somehow he needs Phil Gramm to speak for him on the economy, and that Phil Gramm is the guy, again...
KURTZ: I've got to go, but Phil Gramm did speak for him on the economy in an interview with "The Wall Street Journal" editorial board.
KURTZ: All right. Michael Medved, Jessica Yellin, Clarence Page, thanks very much for joining us this morning.
When we come back, Barack Obama's kids get a star turn before the cameras. We'll talk with Access Hollywood's Maria Menounos about her interview with the presidential candidate's daughters.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KURTZ: I've always kind of admired Barack Obama for trying to protect his young daughters from the glare of the presidential campaign. I knew there's be some family photos out there once he won the nomination, but at least a 10-year-old and a 7-year-old wouldn't have to be pestered by reporters, right?
Well, Obama has now trotted them out for "Access Hollywood," which is owned by NBC, which means the family sit-down with Maria Menounos also aired on "NBC Nightly News" and MSNBC. So much for privacy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARIA MENOUNOS, "ACCESS HOLLYWOOD": What could you guys do that mommy and daddy would get really mad at?
MALIA OBAMA, BARACK OBAMA'S DAUGHTER: Whining.
SASHA OBAMA, BARACK OBAMA'S DAUGHTER: Whining.
MENOUNOS: Yes? Whining is bad.
M. OBAMA: And arguing I think is the worst thing, because then they sit us down and say, you know, you guys are the best that you have in your life, and you know that -- you know, we're never going to get something out of (INAUDIBLE) each other. You know, I think that's -- I think that's the worst thing.
This is what you do, daddy.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Uh-oh.
M. OBAMA: You -- when you -- it's not that bad.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: And joining us now from New York is "Access Hollywood" special correspondent Maria Menounos.
And I've got to say, I found your interview with these kids charming, entertaining, and I also wanted to cringe. Did part of you feel like you were exploiting them just a little bit?
MENOUNOS: I did not think that at all. I feel like the environment really lended itself to what happened.
I mean, it wasn't an intended interview. I was supposed to sit down with the senator and his wife. And the girls just were fans of the Jonas Brothers, and they knew that they had been featured on Access Hollywood often, and they wanted to be a part of it.
And I thought it was a really nice family portrait. I don't think they exploited them at all. That's just my personal opinion.
KURTZ: But you had asked -- you had put in a request. You had asked the campaign previously if you could interview the daughters. MENOUNOS: Absolutely. I had done a series on "Nightly News" called "The Candidates' Kids," and we had interviewed all of the other candidates' kids throughout the year, and the Obama kids were off limits because they were too young.
Well, it happened to be the Fourth of July. It happened to be Malia's 10th birthday. We were in Butte, Montana. It was just a set of circumstances that, you know, just lended itself to this.
KURTZ: Now, you may not have expected this, Maria, but I'm not buying that it was accidental. Every moment in a presidential campaign is planned.
Barack Obama didn't used to allow cameras when he played basketball until he decided it might be useful, and every other day you saw him driving to the hoop. So clearly the campaign wants to, and perhaps you were part of that plan, wants to portray him as a terrific family man.
MENOUNOS: Well, why wouldn't they? I mean, they were a picture- perfect family. And, you know, I think that it's always really nice for voters to get to see who they are electing or potentially electing into the presidency.
I know my parents want to see who they are as a family, who they are as people. And as a one-time thing, I think it's actually helpful. But that was up to them.
And I do know that before the interview actually took place, they did say that the girls were fans and that they may join at the end and maybe mention something about the Jonas Brothers. But it definitely caught all of us by surprise.
And I know that even the campaign, everyone around kind of huddled, and they were so shocked to hear the girls be so outspoken. And they, of course, took over the entire interview and were so charming and adorable.
I had, you know, a completely different interview in mind. I had, you know, planned a certain agenda and a certain, you know, amount of questions that I wanted to, you know, discuss with the senator and his wife. And that just got thrown out the window.
KURTZ: So you knew there was at least the chance that there would be a brief cameo by these young girls.
MENOUNOS: Just before the interview, yes.
KURTZ: I see. OK.
Now, as you know, Senator Obama talked about this after the interview was done. Let's take a brief listen as to what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) B. OBAMA: I think that we got carried away in the moment. We were having a birthday party, and everybody was laughing. And suddenly this thing cropped up, and I didn't catch it quickly enough, and I was surprised by the attention it received.
MATT LAUER, "THE TODAY SHOW": So if you had to do it over again?
B. OBAMA: We wouldn't do it again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So, did you have any second thoughts after hearing that Obama now thinks it was a mistake?
MENOUNOS: No. I think that it's pretty easy to realize that this is going to be big news. I mean, it's the Obama family.
No one has ever interviewed the children. So I think that we all knew when it was over with that it was going to be a pretty big deal. I had no idea it was going to be this big. I didn't think I'd be on your show right now talking about it, but I knew it was a, you know, pretty big get.
And, you know, I think it's unfortunate because it was, you know, a really nice story. I don't think it's something to regret.
I think that, for sure, the campaign is concerned that people will be knocking on their door constantly and really trying to push the envelope with the kids. But there's nothing more you need to see from them as a family unit. You know, the kids now need to kind of go off and avoid the spotlight, but I think it was really helpful to get to see them.
KURTZ: Well, easy for you to say. You've already had the world exclusive.
Now, is it unfair for some skeptics and critics to say, well, of course the Obama family chose "Access Hollywood" to sit down with the children because they thought it would be a fluffy interview?
MENOUNOS: Well, I mean, I think that's a little unfair, to be honest, because like I said, you know, it's not that "Access Hollywood" doesn't ask hard questions. You can talk to any celebrity and they will kind of attest to that.
But the reality is, we are an entertainment show. We're not supposed to be asking, you know, the senator if, you know, he's going to be able to pull troops out of Iraq.
We have a different audience that's looking for a different kind of interview, which is exactly what we gave them. This is the kind of interview that people want to see on "Access Hollywood," and, you know, it also aired on "The Today Show" first.
MENOUNOS: Then it aired on "Nightly News" first, and then "Access Hollywood." So...
KURTZ: And replayed on lots of other news channels.
I've got 20 seconds here. Did these very poised young women, these daughters, seem at all flustered by the presence of the cameras?
MENOUNOS: No. You know what? It was a really comfortable environment.
And I give credit to their parents, because it was a very comfortable, laid back atmosphere. They were enjoying the day with family and relatives. And, you know, I think that they came off really, really well, and they should be happy with it. That's just my opinion.
KURTZ: All right. I'm sure the campaign is happy with it.
Maria Menounos of "Access Hollywood," thanks very much for joining us this morning.
MENOUNOS: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
KURTZ: And coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, CBS' Lara Logan is making headlines again, this time for being pregnant. Did I contribute to the tabloid frenzy?
And what's the hottest media story of the week?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A-Rod.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A-Rod.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Christie Brinkley.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Christie Brinkley.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Why the media are insatiable when it comes to celebrity breakups.
And later, remembering Tony Snow, the former White House press secretary's life and times in journalism and politics.
KURTZ: I said on this program a couple weeks ago that I didn't see why it was news that Lara Logan, who's going through a divorce, was having an affair with a government contractor in Iraq who is also going through a divorce. But in our tabloid world, such things inevitably become news.
And there was more news when I got a chance to talk with CBS' chief foreign affairs correspondent. She's pregnant.
The blogs started buzzing about that, of course, and there were the inevitable headlines, as in New York's "Daily News': "CBS 'Home Wrecker' Carrying Love Child." But to me, the more interesting question involves the stresses and strains of being a war correspondent and what that puts on your life.
So how should the Lara Logan saga be reported, or should it be reported at all?
Joining us now in Los Angeles, Jane Velez-Mitchell, an author and investigative reporter. In New York, Lola Ogunnaike, entertainment correspondent for CNN's "AMERICAN MORNING." And here in Washington, David Zurawik, television critic for "The Baltimore Sun."
Jane Velez-Mitchell, when you're as high profile as Lara Logan and you're not yet divorced, and you have an affair with somebody in Baghdad who's not yet divorced, and you get pregnant, is there a way to avoid tabloid headlines?
JANE VELEZ-MITCHELL, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: I guess not, but I really think people should step off. This is a woman who has earned her journalistic credentials. She's gotten awards. And most important, she has risked her life repeatedly covering the war in Iraq.
Unfortunately, this is a very catty and competitive business that we're all in. I'm reading Barbara Walters' book right now, "Audition," and she talks about some of the nasty hazing rituals she endured. So this is par for the course.
If this were a man, obviously men don't get pregnant. So they can have affairs and they can do all these things, and sometimes they don't pay the same price. And sometimes women are women's worst enemies in these kinds of situations. A lot of competitiveness among female journalists, and I think that's where also some of the cattiness lies.
Now, David Zurawik, Lara Logan wanted to talk to me and explain the circumstances, and put the thing in the context of her career. Is that a legitimate story, or was I fanning the flames, too?
DAVID ZURAWIK, TELEVISION CRITIC, "BALTIMORE SUN": I think it's an absolutely legitimate story.
First of all, Howie, one thing. I think you talked about the stresses. I just finished reading all of the books written by correspondents covering the Iraq war, and I have a new -- I don't even think we can start to appreciate the stress they are under.
No one knows if lying in your bed at night, if it's going to -- the window is going to blow up with a suicide bomber.
KURTZ: Sure. ZURAWIK: So, first of all, anything we say we have to put in the context that she's been in that caldron for this long. But in terms particularly of your coverage of it -- and I read it -- I think you cannot be in the news business, particularly a network correspondent talking to millions of people, six million, I think, a night on "CBS Evening News," and not expect that you're a public figure and people are going to want to know things about your private life. Because we go and we talk about people's lives , and it affects their reputation.
KURTZ: We stick our nose into everything.
But Lola Ogunnaike, what about Jane's point that, you know, male foreign correspondents, you know, they may have lots of affairs, it never gets reported, that the focus is very different on a woman, particularly an attractive woman?
LOLA OGUNNAIKE, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, I have to say, Lara Logan, she's more than a reporter. She's a bit of a celebrity. And I think a lot of that has to do with her beauty.
We all know that she was a swimsuit model before. And we all know that -- I mean, look at her, she's gorgeous.
But this is really something ripped out of the pages of "US Weekly." You don't look at someone like Lara Logan and expect her to be involved in something so tawdry. And let's face it, this is pretty tawdry, and for tabloids and for gossip pages, this is prime rib right here.
Why would they not attack this story? They are going to devour something like this.
You've got a beautiful woman. You've got the war. You've got an affair happening. How could they leave this alone, and how could she expect for them to leave this alone? She's being naive if she thinks that they would ignore something hike this.
KURTZ: And then as I found out this week, you also have the pregnancy, which is a story I'm sure that won't go away. But to be fair, she was a swimsuit model back when she was a college student.
All right. Here's another story that is so important, that everyone seems to be talking about it. And let's roll it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
A.J. HAMMER, CO-HOST, "SHOWBIZ TONIGHT": The Alex Rodriguez divorce.
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS: A-Rod's wife Cynthia.
HAMMER: ... filing for divorce.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "Emotionally abandoned his wife and children."
BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: There's all kinds of tabloid reports that he's involved with Madonna.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: An affair of the heart.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Suggests Madonna used Kabbalah to lure A- Rod in.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is a sort of tabloid perfect storm.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we can get Barack Obama involved in this, it could be a really, really big story.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: All right. Jane Velez-Mitchell, we don't even know whether Alex Rodriguez, the multimillionaire, zillionaire, the Yankee ballplayer, had an affair with Madonna, but everybody is yacking about it.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Yes. This is a perfect storm, because it involves these ultra-fascinating people -- Madonna and the sports star. And, you know, I think it's actually quite possible that Madonna is orchestrating all of this.
TMZ reported that she and her hubby, Guy Ritchie, were actually sort of revving up this storm about are they getting divorced or aren't they, because she wants to create publicity for herself for her upcoming world tour, which is expected to generate something like $300 million. I'm not saying she generated the A-Rod controversy, but certainly she is a master at manipulating the media.
The one person who seems to be able to go to the media storm and actually direct traffic is Madonna. She's pushing 50. She has to do something to stay on the cutting edge of the pop culture and stay in the headlines, and she has done it with this.
KURTZ: But Lola, a number of women are now surfacing in media reports to say they also had affairs with Alex Rodriguez, including a stripper named Candace Hoolahan (ph), who I mentioned just so we can put up this picture. There she is on the front page of the "New York Daily News" with a Yankee cap on.
Should journalists believe them?
OGUNNAIKE: Should they believe them? I don't know.
KURTZ: Who knows if it's true?
OGUNNAIKE: Well, who knows if it's true? But you know what, Howard? Something happened here.
He's an athlete. And if you expect an athlete to be faithful, again, you're being naive and you're being ridiculous. The chances of them cheating are, I would say, about 99 percent.
KURTZ: Wait. Wait. There must be some faithful athletes out there. You're tarring this tabloid brush everybody who has ever played professional sports.
OGUNNAIKE: Oh, yes. You show me a faithful athlete and I'll show you some swampland in Florida that I have to sell you, Howard.
KURTZ: All right. Well, there will be a Cal Ripken exemption, Baltimore guy.
All right. Zurawik, here's my question for you. A-Rod's wife, Cynthia Rodriguez, who has been dubbed "C-Rod," she went off to Paris to visit rocker Lenny Kravitz. There are so many players in this.
She says A-Rod was a lousy father. He says she kept him away from the kids. You know, this is the typical kind of thing you get in a divorce dispute.
Do we need to cover all this ugliness?
ZURAWIK: Howie, in a way we don't need to cover it, and a lot of the press doesn't cover it. But, you know, last night I was watching a ball game and there was a Boys Club and Girls Club of America PSA put out by Major League Baseball that featured A-Rod as a role model. So, you know it's hypocrisy to say if they are going to promote him that way to the American public, questions about what kind of father or what kind of parent he is are reasonable. And when you file for divorce, we get access to that kind of information that we rarely have, and it's going to find its way into the press.
KURTZ: If there's one thing that competed with the A-Rod/Madonna craziness as a story, it was the Christie Brinkley divorce trial, which, of course, ended in a settlement late this week. She gets, you know, 50 houses and the kids. Peter Cook, the soon-to-be ex-husband, gets a lousy $2 million of her fortune.
Jane Velez-Mitchell, is there really any question that Christie Brinkley wanted this trial to be open so that people like us could cover it every day to use the publicity as a weapon against her husband?
VELEZ-MITCHELL: It certainly seems like that, and it seems as if she has emerged victorious. He has been completely destroyed in this. He only got $2.1 million, some of which I presume has to go to the lawyers to pay for this divorce trial.
He didn't get the property. He didn't get custody. So he's the big loser. And he was humiliated, profoundly humiliated.
He had to sit there on the stand and talk about his -- I can't even discuss it right now on television -- what he did in front of a Web cam and his pornography habits. And so she asked for an open trial, she got it, but she didn't emerge smelling like a rose either.
The court-appointed psychiatrist says she needs to see a shrink and that she needs to delve into some deeper issues. Unfortunately, I think that as some have put it, it appears that she hated her husband more than she loved her kids to put all of this dirty laundry out on the front lawn when her kids are 10 and 13. Going through puberty is tough enough, much less having to deal with all of this. They're going to need therapy because of all of this.
KURTZ: I feel like I need therapy just reading all the stories.
Lola, let me come back to the coverage here, because, yes, Peter Cook, I mean, we had to hear about his affair with the 18-year-old girl who he later paid $300,000 to keep quiet. But journalists love this tawdriness. It's almost irresistible. But even as we do our jobs, as we define it, I Mean, doesn't it hurt young kids in this situation?
OGUNNAIKE: Absolutely, young kids are hurt in this situation. And I think Christie Brinkley should have been mindful about that. But she did put revenge over the emotional trauma that her kids would suffer as a result of all this information being out there.
I mean, can you imagine what these kids are going to have to deal with when they get back to school in the fall? Who wants to know about all of this information?
I mean, honestly, I think what she did was ridiculous. And I think the media actually dropped the ball. I think they could have been a little harder on Christie Brinkley.
They let her walk because she's beautiful, she's blonde, she's leggy, she's a former model. But, one, Peter Cook is your fourth husband. Why are you with this person on your fourth try?
This is a first husband, this is a second husband. This is not the fourth husband. Someone should have been more...
KURTZ: All right.
OGUNNAIKE: I think they should have given her more -- they should have questioned her more, and I think she got away. She got away with an easy pass, and the media was complicit.
KURTZ: Just briefly, you might say, well, this is just tabloid stuff, but it's on the network shows. Your newspaper, "The Baltimore Sun," did a piece on celebrity divorces.
ZURAWIK: Well, it was a special -- well, yes. And it was a context piece, but -- in The Sun.
But the morning shows are particularly big about this. You know, they say, our family, your family, we love your family, we're a family. And they are the ones that are discussing this when children are watching in the morning. And on broadcast television, that's really hard to keep that out of the home.
I think they behaved inappropriately on this, but morning television, you know how competitive it is. They are not going to miss a story like this.
KURTZ: All right. I just want to say one more thing on a related subject, and that is the cover of the British magazine "OK!" if we can put it up. Jamie Lynn Spears posing with her new baby.
She's 17 years old, I just want to say -- and this is going to mark me as hopelessly old-fashioned -- where's the embarrassment? Why is this being celebrated?
I mean, she supposedly got a $1 million deal in order to do this, pose for the magazine. And it just seems our media culture -- go ahead.
ZURAWIK: Howie, it goes beyond this. If you start with the movie "Juno," and now the ABC Disney series, "The Secret Life of an American Teenager," it really says to kids, have a baby and you'll be the center of the universe. It's really a destructive message.
KURTZ: Not only that it's OK...
VELEZ-MITCHELL: I want to -- Howard, this is a swing of the pendulum. Remember, decades ago, illegitimacy was a cause for shame. They sent the teenager away. Often she had to give up her baby, never knew what happened to it. A lot of tragedy there.
This is the other extreme. Our society needs to find some kind of balance.
KURTZ: All right.
One more thing for you, Lola, and that is the huge news, of course, overnight, Angelina Jolie, she had the twins. Let's go back a few weeks ago and look at what "Entertainment Tonight" reported well before this birth.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARY HART, "ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT": Did Angelina Jolie just give birth? What a source just told us today.
(voice over): It's a story making headlines around the world tonight. Outlets from France to Hollywood reporting that Angelina's twin girls are here. Just this morning, a source who says she was inside the delivery room tells us, yes, the babies were born, and, yes, mother and babies are fine.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Now, Lola, they even got the names of the babies wrong, "Entertainment Tonight" has never apologized for that report.
What do you make of going out with this news a month before she actually gives birth?
OGUNNAIKE: "Entertainment" -- they're going to have to eat crow. "Entertainment Tonight" is going to have to eat crow. And if they think that they are not going to have to, they are being ridiculous.
This clearly -- someone gave them the wrong information, and they are going to have to accept that as true. I suspect that they are going to put out an announcement in a few days apologizing for the report.
KURTZ: Well, they should wait a few days. On the Web site this morning, they report the birth without any reference to the previous story. "Entertainment Tonight" blames this on information on someone impersonating Jolie's assistant.
All right. Jane Velez-Mitchell, Lola Ogunnaike and David Zurawik, thanks for joining us this morning.
If you've missed any of today's show, you can download our video podcast. That's available at iTunes or cnn.com/podcast.
Just ahead, the passing of Tony Snow. We'll talk about his impact on politics and journalism.
KURTZ: Tony Snow made his name as a conservative commentator, a newspaper columnist, radio talker, and the first host of "Fox News Sunday." He had two forays into the political world. The first as a White House speechwriter for the elder George Bush, and the second, of course, as press secretary to the current President George Bush. The most high-profile journalist ever to take that job.
I talked to him about his approach to the job a year and a half ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Is the White House getting a fair shake from the press corps?
TONY SNOW, FMR. WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: You know, I don't know.
KURTZ: That means you're thinking it's not, and you don't want to say so?
SNOW: No. What it means is it's not my business to be picking fights with the press corps. See, you've got to expect from time to time people are going to push, and sometimes I'll push back. But I don't -- I actually don't see that as contentious.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Snow had signed on as a CNN commentator after leaving the White House, but sadly didn't get a chance to appear much before succumbing yesterday to the cancer he had been battling for years.
CNN White House Correspondent Ed Henry joins me now for a look back at Snow's life and career.
You know, you guys would really go at it in the briefing room, and then I'd interview reporters and they'd say, "What do you mean? Tony Snow is a great guy."
ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Because I think he was, more than anything, genuine as a human being, not just as a press secretary. And that came across in that interview with you.
I remember that interview at the time. And there were very contentious times.
The war in Iraq was not going well at the time that you interviewed him, and so there was a lot of people, not just me, pushing Tony Snow very hard. But I think he was genuine in that interview in saying that he really didn't think it was that contentious, because I remember one incident in particular where I ran into him after a very contentious briefing, out on the White House lawn, and we were pretty close to each other, and one of his loyal assistants, Ed Buckley (ph), saw us near each other and jokingly said, "You guys are about to come to blows. I'm going to buy you guys boxing gloves sooner or later, given all these briefings." He used the phrase "boxing gloves."
And Tony Snow looked at him and said, "No, no. This is never personal, what happens in that briefing room." You know, and I really believe Tony Snow understood we each had a job to do.
KURTZ: But with the cameras turned on, just to remind people of the tensions of those days, when as you say, the war was not going well, let's take a look at a typical exchange he had. This one with NBC's David Gregory.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS: Can this report be seen as anything other than a rejection of this president's handling of the war?
SNOW: You need to understand that trying to frame it in a partisan way is actually at odds with what the group itself says it wanted to do. And so you may try to do whatever you want in terms of rejection, that's not the way they view it.
GREGORY: I just want to be clear. Are you suggesting that I'm trying to frame this in a partisan way?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Snow later apologized for that. But did he sometimes go too far in challenging reporters' motivations and slapping them down? HENRY: He did a little bit. That was one exchange, and he apologized to David Gregory. Another time he told me to "Zip it" because he didn't like me pressing him on the war on Iraq. And he also apologized to me.
KURTZ: He just said, "Zip it"?
HENRY: He said, "Zip it," because I was -- a device I was using was to interrupt him, because a lot of times he would go off on what he wanted to do, even if -- you would ask him one question, and he would give you an answer to another question because he didn't want to answer it. That was one of his tactics.
So one of my tactics was to try to interrupt him. And he got frustrated with me interrupting him and he said, "Zip it." But I never thought it was that contentious. I thought it was actually sort of funny, and we laughed about it later.
And I think, again, that's the point. I think yesterday, former President Bush said in an interview in CNN that he felt that Tony Snow brought a certain civility to a very contentious job. I think that sums it up.
KURTZ: It's definitely a contentious job.
Now, "Fox News Sunday," which he hosted for a decade, aired a tribute to him earlier this morning. Vice President Cheney was among the guests, Rush Limbaugh also called in. Even when he was a conservative columnist, conservative radio host, talk show host, he had very strongly-held views, but he wasn't disagreeable.
HENRY: Yes. And I also think that he was not just a doctrinaire conservative. He actually, before he came to the White House, wrote a lot of columns that were searing about this president, and was taking him on for runaway government spending and questioning whether the administration was really conservative on issues like that. And we actually -- a lot of reporters made a lot of that in his first couple of briefings.
But I think, you know, he walked a very fine line there between doing the talking points, but also going out on his own sometimes and, you know, going a little further than I think the White House wanted. He was not a Texas insider in this administration.
KURTZ: Not at all. And sometimes got in trouble.
And in fact, Tony Snow was a very different model of a press secretary than Ari Fleischer or Scott McClellan had been. He was glib, he was high profile. And he was a bit of a showman.
HENRY: He was. He would wave his arms. I mean, he knew the broadcast business.
He'd be at that podium, he'd roll his eyes at us, which would convey to -- I mean, I heard Vice President Cheney this morning saying that he used to watched the closed-circuit feed of the daily White House briefing and he enjoyed the jousting. Well, Tony Snow wasn't just rolling his eyes at me or David Gregory or someone. He was rolling his eyes for the effect of Vice President Cheney and others, signaling to them, I'm not going to take it from the press corps. And that was important to people like the vice president and the president, because Scott McClellan was seen as someone right before that who did not do a good enough job of really pushing back.
KURTZ: There was one other thing that Tony Snow did that was really striking, and he talked about this all the time. He didn't shy away from talking about his battle with cancer. He didn't just wear the yellow bracelet. He talked openly and emotionally about this struggle that ultimately consumed his life.
HENRY: I'll never forget two moments. The first one was his very first briefing when he talked about his previous battle with cancer. And he and we all thought that he was now cancer-free and he was fine, and then obviously, tragically, you know, months later he started getting it back. But in that very first briefing, he teared up and got very emotional talking about his battle and how it taught him so much about life.
The other moment, as a bookend, was at the very end, his last day on the job. He walked out and was pumping his fist because there were about 300 or 400 White House staffers waiting around his car to see him off. And he just felt like people were lifting him up.
I mean, he told people, many people, that what cancer showed him was that he thought it was beautiful in one sense, awful in many others, but that it lifted him up because of all these friends supporting him. And that was incredible.
KURTZ: Tony Snow was 53.
Ed Henry, thanks for helping us remember him.
Still to come, a Rupert Murdoch refugee takes over "The Washington post." A former Chicago TV anchor goes to court over some bathing suit footage. And a high-profile Democrat signing on with Fox News?
That's all ahead.
KURTZ: Time now for the latest in the news business in our "Media Minute."
We begin with what can only be described as a comeback story.
KURTZ (voice over): Three months ago, Marcus Brauchli fell from one of the loftiest perches in journalism. A year after taking over as editor of "The Wall Street Journal," the veteran foreign correspondent found himself pushed out by the new owner, Rupert Murdoch, despite promises that Brauchli's independence would be protected.
This week, in a remarkable turnaround, Brauchli was named to succeed Len Downie as "The Washington Post" top editor, and also put in charge of its Web site. Brauchli, who has never lived inside the beltway, admits that he faces a learning curve at hyper speed.
The Democrats once disdained Fox News. You may recall that their presidential candidates refused to hold a single debate on the channel. But some of Hillary Clinton's top aides felt that their campaign was treated fairly, particularly in contrast to MSNBC, which they viewed as excessively enamored of Obama.
This week, former Hillary spokesman Howard Wolfson signed on as a Fox contributor shortly after Lanny Davis joined the network as well. But will either one get as much air time as Karl Rove?
Amy Jacobson lost her job as a year ago as an anchor at Chicago's NBC station after footage surfaced of her visiting the home of a controversial figure, a man whose wife had recently disappeared and is still missing, wearing a bikini. Now Jacobson, who wound up losing her home, as well as her job, is suing the city's CBS station for airing that bathing suit video. She is asking for more than $1 million in damages, saying that WBBM exposed her to "... enormous public humiliation and disgrace..." by portraying her as an adulteress and disreputable reporter.
KURTZ: WBBM says the suit has no merit and that the station stands by its reporting.
Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.
I'm Howard Kurtz.
Join us again next Sunday morning at 10:00 a.m. Eastern for another critical look at the media.