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Reliable Sources

Edwards Admits to Extramarital Affair; Favre's Return to NFL Examined

Aired August 10, 2008 - 10:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice over): Sex, lies and tabloid photos. John Edwards admits to an extramarital affair that "The National Enquirer" broke 10 months ago, but denies fathering the baby of his former aide Rielle Hunter.

Why did most of the mainstream media refuse touch this story while the former presidential candidate lied about it? Was it because of condescension toward a supermarket tabloid, bias toward a Democrat, or sympathy for Elizabeth Edwards?

ABC's Brian Ross, who helped break the story, and Enquirer David Perel join our discussion.

Gaga in Green Bay. Sportswriters fall in love with Brett Favre and his soap opera divorce from the Green Bay Packers.

Plus, why I can't seem to escape Paris.



KURTZ: All right, admit it. You knew the story that John Edwards was having an affair before a word was spoken on CNN, before a sentence was printed in "The Washington Post," before the mainstream media finally swung into action on Friday afternoon, when the former presidential candidate admitted he had been lying all along.

You saw the pictures of the girlfriend, Rielle Hunter. You knew "The National Enquirer" had run a photo of Edwards at a Beverly Hills hotel holding a 5-month-old baby, a baby that he continues to deny is his.

You saw it on Slate, on "The Huffington Post," on "National Review" on your favorite blog. You heard it on talk radio, saw Jay Leno joking about it. And admit it, you wondered why the national news organizations weren't saying anything, whether they were ignoring this, whether they were somehow protecting John Edwards or Elizabeth Edwards. But once the former senator acknowledged the affair to ABC News, the story didn't just pop, it exploded.

Bob Woodruff asked Edwards about his wife Elizabeth.


BOB WOODRUFF, ABC NEWS: She's had enormous sympathy because she's also gone through cancer.


WOODRUFF: How could you have done this?


KURTZ: Edwards cited his meteoric rise in national politics.


EDWARDS: All of which fed a self-focus, an egotism, a narcissism that leads you to believe that you can do whatever you want, you're invincible, and there will be no consequences.

WOODRUFF: Why did you continue to deny it and not tell the truth?

EDWARDS: Because I did not want the public to know what I had done, very simple.

WOODRUFF: I need to ask about probably the most controversial allegation, which is that a report has been published that the baby of Ms. Hunter is your baby. True?

EDWARDS: Not true. Not true. Published in a supermarket tabloid, but, no, that is absolutely not true.


KURTZ: Joining me now from New York, Brian Ross, ABC's chief investigative correspondent.

Brian Ross, you were working this story pretty hard. How were you and ABC to convince Edwards to do this interview on "Nightline," when he repeatedly had denied the affair and was blowing off reporters left and right?

BRIAN ROSS, CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT, ABC NEWS: Well, at ABC, my producer, Rhonda Schwartz, and our investigative team had been pushing hard following the money trail, who paid for her fancy home in California, was she paid with campaign money to work for the Edwards campaign to further the affair. At the same time, my colleague Bob Woodruff was pushing hard to get the interview, and the two aspects of ABC News' efforts came together on Friday.

KURTZ: Could you have gone with the story without Edwards admitting that he had lied?

ROSS: We were very close to having a story, I believe, that would have gone this week about the money aspect. We were able to prove, I think with satisfaction to our bosses, that there was money being paid to Rielle Hunter. We tracked her down. We found that she had no job and was living in a $3 million, $4 million house in California with its own horse stables, driving somebody's BMW, all of which was provided for her. This began to be for us an aspect of something we could report some hard facts.

KURTZ: But would you have been uncomfortable at all backing into a story about an alleged affair, which you could not prove without Edwards admitting that he was in fact carrying on an affair, or at least did so in 2006, just to talk about the money? In other words, it's kind of an indirect route into the story about the sexual affair.

ROSS: Well, we had set the standard at ABC we were not going to report the affair based on anonymous sources. We wanted to have somebody on the record, ideally either Edwards or the woman, and we thought we were getting close to that.

KURTZ: So if no one had gone on the record, even though you had this money trail, as you describe it, this odd situation where a former campaign aide to John Edwards' presidential effort is somehow living in a $3 million Santa Barbara home, you would not have gone with that without some confirming source on the record?

ROSS: Well, I think we would have gone with the fact the questions raise about the money trail, and I think that would have led to this being cracked.

KURTZ: What about the argument, Brian, that John Edwards no longer running for president, no longer a senator, should he be left alone, why are the media harassing him?

ROSS: I think because he lied as a presidential candidate. He may have used political money to further the affair.

He certainly used his staff to try to cover it up. He lied to his own campaign manager about the affair. This was a man who went into the campaign living a lie, and that's something I thought was important to report.

KURTZ: And do you feel there's still questions that we haven't gotten the answer to? Obviously, there's still the dispute about the paternity of the baby.

ROSS: I think there are many questions that were raised in his interview with Bob Woodruff. Bob really pinned him down in a number of areas where we now he's firmly on the record wish use that others tell us may or may not be true.

KURTZ: You are the reporter who broke the story a couple years ago about then-Congressman Mark Foley sending these extraordinary sexually explicit messages to teenage House pages. These seamy sex stories, does working on them make you uncomfortable?

ROSS: You know, there are a lot of stories we do. I'm more interested, you know, in chasing after the money in politics, or what's happening with major drug store chains making errors on prescriptions, but this also is a story. It goes to what's happening in Washington and, you know, who is being held to account. And that's one of things that we try to do.

KURTZ: And as you note, Edwards, of course, did run for president fairly recently, and it's a tabloid world out there, and sometimes that affects the reporting as well.

Brian Ross, thanks very much for joining us.

ROSS: You bet, Howard.

KURTZ: And joining our discussion now about the coverage of this emerging scandal, David Perel, editor of "The National Enquirer," joins from us West Palm Beach, Florida. In New York, Kate Snow, ABC correspondent and weekend anchor of "Good Morning America." And David Carr, media columnist for "The New York Times" and author of the book "The Night of the Gun," which we'll talk about on a future program.

David Perel, you had a lot of mainstream reporters calling you, including me, in recent weeks. Did the mainstream media avoid this story because, frankly, they don't trust "The National Enquirer?"

DAVID PEREL, EDITOR, "THE NATIONAL ENQUIRER": I think there's some of that, Howard, but I think other reporters who know us and who have worked with us understand that we break a lot of big stories. So the reasons they ignored it varied from organization to organization.

KURTZ: But you were out there by yourself for 10 long months. You must be feeling a small measure of vindication.

PEREL: Oh, there's no question that we feel a big measure of vindication. We were out there, and when we broke the big story in December, revealing Rielle Hunter's name and the affair, and John Edwards went before the cameras, told the American public it was a lies, it was tabloid trash, we knew that was a sound bite that was going to come back to haunt him, but we didn't know how long it was going to take.

KURTZ: Right.

PEREL: And I can tell you, you know, there were other media chasing this, and chasing it hard.

KURTZ: Let me turn to Kate Snow. I'll come back to you, David.

You were anchoring "World News" on Friday when this broke. You were the only news organization that had an interview with John Edwards. But you didn't lead with the story.

Why was that?

KATE SNOW, ABC CORRESPONDENT: It was a big debate in the newsroom, actually, about what is most important to the American public on a Friday afternoon, on the day the Olympics are about to start, on the day that you had economic news. There were a lot of stories in contention for that first slot in the broadcast, and we just came to a decision that the economy and Wall Street and what was happening with oil prices was more important.

We did say at the top of the broadcast, "We'll get to our interview with John Edwards in just a moment."

KURTZ: Right.

SNOW: But given that he's no longer a standing senator, he's no longer running for office, we felt like we would put it in second slot instead of first slot.

KURTZ: Got to make sure people stay tuned. Interestingly, "CBS Evening News" did lead with it after Bob Schieffer got both John and Elizabeth Edwards on the phone, but no camera interview.

David Carr, your newspaper, my newspaper, other organizations, you know, made an effort to confirm the story, but I would say it was a full court press. Your executive editor at The Times, Bill Keller, said there was a hold-your-nose quality about The Enquirer, but "The National Enquirer" nailed this story, didn't it?

DAVID CARR, MEDIA COLUMNIST, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": All a tribute to David and his reporters. I think they did a wonderful job in what is really a very difficult story. After all, this activity that took place behind closed doors, which makes it very difficult to confirm.

I do think that organizations like yours, like mine, tend to pick up stories from "The National Enquirer" with tongs, just because they have been very right about some things -- O.J. they got right, Jesse Jackson's child they got right. But there's been some misses, too, so it's a little scary to follow on those stories, and it's also a little scary for big outfits to step up on a story like this.

KURTZ: Right.

CARR: Sex may sell, but it can really hurt your relationship with readers as well.

KURTZ: David Perel, it seems to me that part of the condescension toward your newspaper is that you pay sources for information, as you did in this Edwards case, correct?

PEREL: Always a controversial point, but I think the thing to remember is, we only pay for information once it's verified and accurate. So, if somebody tells us that John Edwards is going to show up at the Beverly Hilton to meet Rielle Hunter, and he does, well, that information is verified. The same way that police pay informants for reliable tips.

KURTZ: Well, I still think it raises questions, but obviously your point is that you check it out, you're not just putting something into print because somebody has told you for a fee, for a paycheck.

Kate Snow, was -- you know, look, everybody in journalism has known about this story for a long time. We've debate it in our newsrooms. Was there a reluctance, do you think, out of sympathy for Elizabeth Edwards, who as the whole world knows, is battling an incurable form of cancer?

SNOW: Look, there's a lot of sympathy for Elizabeth Edwards, especially right now, absolutely. But was -- did that drive us away from this story? I don't think so.

I mean, you heard Brian Ross, my colleague, saying ABC News has been working on this story for months and months. And when the story first broke in "The National Enquirer," I can remember getting an e- mail containing that "National Enquirer" story and, you know, asking people about it. I can remember making phone calls.

I wasn't covering the Edwards campaign. I was covering a different campaign. But I talked to a lot of people.

I mean, we at ABC were working on this story, and if we had had any proof and any verifiable facts, we certainly would have gone with the story. I don't think there was a reluctance there. I think it was just a matter of, we're not going to put something on the air until we know that it's true.

I mean, I hear rumors about sexual affairs, frankly, about politicians almost every day. And we're not going to put them on TV until we know that it's true.

KURTZ: David Carr, what about the sympathy point? I mean, journalists are human beings, and a lot of us who cover politics have met Elizabeth Edwards and like her. I still believe it was a factor.

CARR: I think it was in there. I think there is also a thing with John Edwards where people didn't really want t believe that about him, didn't want to believe the circumstances, and stayed away from it.

It was when the money stuff that Brian was talking about and you wrote about today reared into view that mainstream media takes an interest, because money and politics is a way in for us. And the other thing is, it started to influence who was going to speak and not speak in Denver, and that ends up being not a sidebar story, but a main bar story for all of us.

KURTZ: Yes, I believe the fact that the Obama campaign did not want John Edwards, who is now seen as radioactive to speak at a Democratic convention, was a story that needed to be published, but which a lot of organizations had a hard time getting published.

David Perel, let me turn to you.

In that "Nightline" interview on Friday night, John Edwards was asked about the famous photo published by The Enquirer showing him holding a baby. Let's take a look at his response. We'll get your answer on the other side.


WOODRUFF: And that picture is absolutely you, and you are holding that baby? EDWARDS: The picture in the tabloid?


EDWARDS: I have no idea what that picture is.

WOODRUFF: But you've seen that picture, right?

EDWARDS: I did see it, and I cannot make any sense out of it.


KURTZ: Edwards went on to say that he was wearing a long-sleeved shirt. In the picture, he's wearing a T-shirt. So he is challenging the authenticity of the photo.

What's your response.

PEREL: I don't think John Edwards had a lot of credibility left on this story, and I felt the same way when I heard that as I did when he denied the affair story and said that it was tabloid trash and lies, lies. I'll tell you one other thing. There are several lies he told during that interview that we're going to be able to refute in coming weeks...

KURTZ: Name one.

PEREL: ... including the fact -- OK. I'll tell you.

He said that meeting with Rielle July 21st at the Hilton is because, oh, he was worried she would, you know, go public. Well, I'm going to tell you that in a future issue, you're going to see he also met with her late June at the same place, and there was another meeting earlier in the year, and both of those meetings he hid from his wife.

KURTZ: But you are absolutely convinced -- how can you be so convinced that that is an authentic picture -- it wasn't taken by one of your photographers, obviously. There's something -- you have a source that is so close to Rielle Hunter that makes you confident that you're right and Edwards is wrong?

PEREL: Oh, there's no question. The same investigation, the same sources we've developed that allowed us to expose this affair, which was so difficult to expose with him lying not only to America, but also to his own aides, has enabled us to develop this photo, and also time and place of other meetings. John Edwards will always deny until he's backed into a corner.

KURTZ: Speaking of Senator Edwards, he did deny this repeatedly, and then he went into a stonewall mode. He wouldn't talk to reporters at all.

Let's take a look at Edwards asked this question at a public event a few weeks ago.


QUESTION: When you were running for president, you flat-out denied having a relationship with Rielle Hunter. Did you give me a truthful answer? Were you telling the truth then?


QUESTION: Has you or your campaign provided any financial support to Rielle Hunter or Andrew Young? Has you or anyone affiliated with your presidential campaign provided any financial help to Rielle Hunter or Andrew Young?

EDWARDS: I have no idea who you're asking about. I've responded to -- consistently to these tabloid allegations by saying I don't respond to these lies.


KURTZ: Kate Snow, did that -- did those denials sort of freeze the media? Because it's awfully hard to charge someone with having an affair when he says he didn't and the woman in question says it's not Edwards' baby?

SNOW: I think that's part of the problem, yes. I mean, unless you have outside sources that are absolutely dependable -- and you heard Brian Ross, my colleague, say that we weren't going to go with anonymous sources. So, you know, until he called -- and it's on the record that he called us on Friday and said I want to talk, you know, that was -- that's what broke the story. He was willing to admit that he had been lying.

KURTZ: Right. Well, here's my two cents.

I mean, news organizations were clinging to a very important standard: Don't run allegations that you can't prove. But it became a ludicrous situation.

It was all over the North Carolina press in the past week, over the Internet, radio, FOX News. And there was the politics that we just talked about, the question about Edwards speaking at the Democratic convention. It almost became a conspiracy of silence by the media.

And Edwards, meanwhile, would not give interviews. He was not acting like a man who didn't have something to hide.

I think at that point we should have earlier than we did told readers, told viewers what we knew and what we didn't know.

We will have more on this story in just a moment, including a look at some of the unanswered questions that remain about Rielle Hunter, the former campaign aide who Edwards now says he had an affair with.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KURTZ: Rielle Hunter is the former Edwards campaign aide. She was a rookie filmmaker, was paid $114,000 by the campaign to make videos of John Edwards. Here's an interview she did with the program "Extra" a couple years ago.


RIELLE HUNTER, FMR. EDWARDS CAMPAIGN WORKER: The whole experience was life-altering for me. One of the great things about John Edwards is that he's so open and willing to try new things and do things in new ways.


KURTZ: David Perel, my colleague Lois Romano and I report in this morning's "Washington Post" that she now says she will not take any kind of DNA test to establish paternity of the baby. John Edwards, of course, had offered to do so in the "Nightline" interview.

What do you make of that? Did she not want this to be resolved?

PEREL: We know from our sources that she's still very much in love with him, she's still in contact with him, and that the money is still rolling in.

KURTZ: The money is not to be ignored. It's always follow the money in journalism.

Kate Snow, "The Huffington Post" got hold of a couple of e-mails that Rielle Hunter sent, presumably to her friend, in which she referred to John Edwards as "My love lips," and she talked about "... being in love with a (still somewhat dysfunctional) married man."

Now, I feel for any private person who's gotten caught up in this, but it doesn't seem to me she's going to be able to escape the media demanding that she talk more about what happened between her and John Edwards.

SNOW: Well, there's already been how many stories in the last, you know, 48 hours about this woman and who she is and the fact that she -- I mean, all I know is what I've read in the papers and in -- "Newsweek" had a big article about her past, the fact that she lived in New York, moved to L.A., sort of changed her life and became some kind of spiritual guru.

There are endless stories now about who this woman is. And yes, I think you're right, there's going to be bookers, as we call them, people trying to book her for interviews, knocking down her door.

KURTZ: Right. Her lawyer says she's a private person and she does not want to talk. Neither does the other former Edwards campaign aide who she says is the father, a guy by the name of Andrew Young.

David Carr, let's pull back the camera a little bit. I mean, this was a story that wasn't reported at all by the major media. Now it's all over cable and every place else. What does it say about the old media gatekeepers that this got out, that everybody found out about this, without our participation?

CARR: Well, I was taught when I was a young reporter that it's news when we say it is. I think that's still true, it's news when we say it is. It's just who "we" is has changed. Members of the public, people with modems, people with cell phones are now producers, editors. They can push and push and push on a story until it ends up being acknowledged by everyone.

KURTZ: Yes. In this case, it certainly took a while.

All right. David Carr and David Perel, "National Enquirer" editor, thanks for joining us.

Kate Snow, stick around, because when we come back, Bill Clinton steps up to the microphone and can't seem to find anything nice to say about Barack Obama. We'll ask Kate about the interview that touched a new round of questions on the Clintons' motives.


KURTZ: Hillary Clinton may have campaigned for Barack Obama in Las Vegas on Friday, but behind the scenes, reporters say she's been angling for a greater role at the Democratic convention. And Bill Clinton, well, look at what he said when ABC's Kate Snow asked about the man who defeated his wife.


KATE SNOW, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Do you think he's completely qualified to be president?


SNOW: Because in the campaign there were some things you said about, you know...

CLINTON: No. I never said he wasn't qualified.

SNOW: Is he ready?

CLINTON: The Constitution sets qualifications for the president, and then the people decide who they think would be the better president. I think we have two choices. I think he should win, and I think he will win.


KURTZ: Kate Snow, what was your reaction when the former president, asked about Obama's qualifications, started citing the Constitution?

SNOW: Well, and I asked a follow-up question where I said, "Is he ready?" And I thought, well, surely the former president will say, yes, he's ready, emphatically, and that's not what he said.

He said -- you know, he said some nice things, he was complimentary, but he didn't give a direct, "Yes, he is ready." So frankly, in my head, I was thinking, wow, that is not a very ringing endorsement. Again, he did say some positive things, but it wasn't -- if I'm on the Obama team, it wasn't what I would have wanted to hear.

KURTZ: Did you have the sense that Bill Clinton was really wound up, because at a later point in the interview you asked him a perfectly legitimate question, "Do you have any regrets about what you did while campaigning for your wife?" And he brings it up and says, "I am not a racist, I never made a racist comment, I didn't attack him personally."

SNOW: Yes. We were actually discussing this with his aides a couple days afterward. He brought us Jesse Jackson and the comment that he made in South Carolina during the primaries there. He brought up racism. I didn't even have to bring those things up.

I think he was -- I don't know if you say wound up, Howie. I think he was ready to unload. I think he was ready to talk about a lot of these issues, hadn't been asked about a lot of it on camera, hadn't done an interview since his wife dropped out of the race in June. And you know, I think he's got a lot of pent-up frustration, certainly with the media and with the way the public is perceiving him right now. He feels misunderstood and he wanted to get a lot of it off of his chest.

KURTZ: Yes. When Bill Clinton has pent-up frustration, it has a way of coming out, particularly to the TV camera there.

Now, Barack Obama, a couple of days later, was asked on his campaign plane about your interview. Let's listen to what he had to say.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I thought he showed extraordinary restraint in a fairly provocative interview. There hasn't been controversy other than what you guys are projecting right now.


KURTZ: A fairly provocative interview, Senator Obama says.

SNOW: You know, I hadn't heard that until right now, actually, because I was flying back from Africa to Mexico City.

KURTZ: Right.

SNOW: Well, I thank him for the compliment, I think. I think that's a compliment.

KURTZ: You asked him, is Barack Obama qualified to be -- excuse me. You asked him -- yes, you asked him if Obama qualified to be president.

SNOW: Yes, I asked if he was qualified, and then I followed up if he was ready as well.

KURTZ: Right. Is that -- you know, Obama is kind of saying, well, you know, the media are making too much of this, this is just a press-generated story.

SNOW: And part of the question I asked, Howie, which I think was not in the clip that you just showed, but part of what I asked also was, you remember during the campaign, during the primaries, Bill Clinton would often cite 1988, when he was governor of Arkansas and decided not to run for president. And he would often say, I wasn't ready, I knew I couldn't be a great president even if I was a great politician at that point in my life.

KURTZ: Right.

SNOW: I couldn't be a great president. And he would make the analogy to Obama and say Obama's not ready to be a great president. And that's sort of where I was going with my line of questioning, is, "Do you feel now that he's ready to be a great president?"

KURTZ: Exactly. Well, it was an eye-catching interview. We've got to go.

ABC's Kate Snow.

Thanks very much for joining us this morning.

SNOW: Thanks.

KURTZ: When we come back, we'll dig deeper into the John Edwards story, the coverage of the scandal with CNN's Jessica Yellin, Amy Holmes, and Joan Walsh.

Also, Obama and the arrogance rap. Is it the voters or the journalists who can't just seem to get a handle on the senator from Illinois?

And later, the Brett Favre soap opera. Do we really need all this breathless coverage of the quarterback's messy divorce from the Green Bay Packers?


KURTZ: During the weeks and months when mainstream journalists knew about the allegations that John Edwards had an affair with a former campaign aide, the silence was downright deafening. But on Friday afternoon, when word hit that the former senator had confessed his sexual misconduct to ABC, the story went high decibel all over the airwaves, hour after hour.

Forget about the fact that Russian tanks were rolling into Georgia. The story was about John Edwards, Rielle Hunter and who was the baby's daddy. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE BARNICLE, MSNBC: I think the guy is a total fraud.

ROGER SMITH, THE POLITICO: I find nothing in his behavior in this affair to defend him about.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: You don't do this kind of stuff when you have a woman at home suffering from cancer.

KRISTEN POWERS, FOX NEWS: I tend to think that it is a private matter.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: If you cheat on your wife, are you going to be honest with your country?

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN: And I'm sorry, but people that run for president have sex, too.


KURTZ: Joining us now from San Francisco, Joan Walsh, editor-in- chief of In Miami, Amy Holmes, CNN contributor and political analyst. And here in Washington, CNN Correspondent Jessica Yellin.

Amy Holmes, were the media in some fashion protecting John Edwards in a way that wouldn't have been the case, as I've heard some conservatives say, if this had been a former Republican candidate?

AMY HOLMES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think that's absolutely the case. I think that there was tremendous sympathy for John Edwards and Elizabeth Edwards because of her battle with cancer and going out onto the campaign trail to campaign on behalf of her husband. And I think all we need to do is look at "The New York Times."

And they put it on their front page: innuendo, insinuation, anonymous sources that John McCain might have been having an improper relationship with a lobbyist. So you didn't see the same sort of reticence being applied to John McCain that has been applied to John Edwards.

KURTZ: Joan Walsh, there's a difference between having sympathy for, say, Elizabeth Edwards, and backing away from the story because you have political sympathy for a Democratic former candidate.

JOAN WALSH, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, SALON.COM: Those are different things, Howie, and I think Amy is a little bit off on this. I think the real difficulty people had with the John Edwards story was partly an "ick" factor, definitely. But there was also -- you know, there just wasn't as much in terms of even anonymous sources around Rielle Hunter.

You had both vehemently denying that the affair took place. And then, you know, The Enquirer definitely -- the reporting, you know, was borne out, and they were vindicated. But what they were reporting last year was really, you know, a friend was telling people that Rielle said she was carrying John Edwards' baby when everybody was denying it.

So, you know, we looked at the story. I have a staff of five people in politics. We don't -- you know, we had a lot to cover last year.

We looked into the story. People were denying it, you know, all around John Edwards. There was only so much you could do if you weren't willing to go with that one friend who was saying, oh, there's an affair going on.

KURTZ: Right.

Now, CNN, Jessica Yellin, worked this story. In fact, had a package all ready to go, a taped piece with The Enquirer reporter who broke the story, was part of that. But CNN held back and just about all national media organizations held back.

Why do you think that was?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there are two reasons. One is because of the evidence. You have to have your own solid sourcing to go with this.

And the other is that John Edwards was at no point a top contender for the presidency. I mean, before the campaign started this got a little bit of traction. As soon as it was clear that he really wasn't going to be in the running after Iowa, there's no real public interest of need to know here.

KURTZ: Wait a minute. I'm not buying that. So what?

The guy ran for president two times. He was the Democrats' vice presidential nominee four years ago. And suddenly, because he didn't win the Iowa caucuses and drops out, you're saying it doesn't matter?

YELLIN: Howie, I guarantee you, if we were in hot pursuit of the story and pushing it and putting it on the airwaves at that time, we would have gotten lambasted for ignoring a war, ignoring a tanking economy, and all these issues that matters to voters. Why are we chasing some lascivious sex scandal?

WALSH: I agree.

YELLIN: The media would have gotten lambasted.

HOLMES: Well, there's an answer to that, why journalists might be chasing this, because we saw back in 1992, again, it was "The National Enquirer: that broke the stories about Bill Clinton, and those same types of behaviors ended up really impacting his presidency with an impeachment. So there is a political reason, and we also had that John Edwards -- we had that John Edwards was lying.

And, you know, one of the things that, you know, Howie, we talk a lot about on this show is how the media decides for itself whether or not a politician is worthy of this type of coverage. John -- as you pointed out, John Edwards, he had run for president twice, he was a vice presidential nominee back in 2004. This is someone who -- he's a young man.

He has a big future ahead of him. He could have been a vice presidential contender or possible attorney general.

YELLIN: Amy, he no longer holds public office. He no longer holds public office. Bill Clinton was a real contender.

HOLMES: But this was a person who -- this a person whose endorsement was being sought by Barack Obama, and he's going into the convention with his own delegates. You can't say that he's still -- that he's a small player in Democratic politics.

WALSH: We are putting...

KURTZ: Let me get Joan Walsh in.

WALSH: We are putting too much ideology into this. It really was for all the news organizations I know about a question of sourcing until the end of last week, when things started to fall into place. And also, you know, I would say the money issue, who paid her and why, is of huge -- huge might be an exaggeration in a time of war.

KURTZ: Well, it's significant. It's important.

HOLMES: But it could be illegal.

WALSH: It's significant. It could be illegal, Amy.

So those things came into play, and suddenly people were really on it. But I agree with Jessica. Had people chased this with the kind of, you know, not good sourcing that we all had back, you know, in the snows of Iowa, we would have been -- I think we would have done a disservice. Once the sourcing was more solid, people went with it.

KURTZ: Let me bring Jessica back in.

If what you're saying is right, that, OK, there's somehow a different standard for a guy who's going nowhere, not running for president anymore, even if he was going to play a small role at the convention, then how do you justify the fact that this was all over every cable network on Friday night? Once Edwards says -- now it's newsworthy?

YELLIN: I think that's because he lied to the media, I think that's because he lied to the public.


YELLIN: I think that's because when he was a contender and he had this come out, if he were the candidate two, three weeks before the convention, then there's a public interest in this. But if we continue to pursue this for weeks and weeks and weeks, then it's questionable. KURTZ: Short story, it's not the sex, it's the cover-up. And it's often the cover-up, and it seemed like he was lying.

All right. I want to turn now to Barack Obama, who is running for president, although he's taking this week off.

There has been this theme emerging in the media coverage, it seems to me, and particularly in the last few weeks, about whether Obama is difficult to know, whether he's aloof, whether he's arrogant. Let's just look at a couple of people on the airwaves who have been saying that very thing.


DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS: It's not so much weirdness, it's this issue of connection. Is he aloof, is he a little bit disconnected?

BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: When you hear over and over again this guy is arrogant, he's pretentious, he thinks there's entitlement in there, I think some of the folks are going to say, you know, I don't know much about him, he's still a mystery to me.


KURTZ: Joan Walsh, what do make of this new media narrative about Obama?

WALSH: I think it's really nasty and it's really negative and it's really not true. You know, the man has written two books. He's an open slate. He talks openly about his family. He talks openly about his father leaving.

He's -- you know, I just don't get it. I think we know an enormous amount about Barack Obama.

What really bothers me is this notion that he's really different from us, and so we can't quite apprehend him. And, you know, I'm not going to call that racist. I think that's an ugly and loaded word. But there's some kind of exoticising of him that's going on, and there's some kind of attempt to say that he's really not one of us, that I find extremely disturbing.

KURTZ: Amy Holmes, do you think there is any racial element to this?

HOLMES: No, I don't agree with that. And I've talked to journalists who cover Barack Obama who have said just those things, that sort of strangely conversely, where John McCain seems like he's the grumpy old man, in fact, it's Barack Obama who is a lot more difficult to sort of know and get to, you know, on the campaign trail.

I think a lot of these questions are being raised right now to try to answer why it is Barack Obama isn't connecting with the American people. He had that big tour in Europe where he got, you know, wall-to-wall coverage, and yet he's not further ahead of John McCain. So I think this is just sort of summertime media speculation as to why that's happening.

KURTZ: Summertime media speculation, I am shocked.

Well, you know, Obama himself says, look, some of these questions are understandable, I'm new to the national scene.

But Jessica Yellin, I want to put up a Pew poll about the media's coverage of Barack Obama. Here's the first question: Have you been hearing too much -- or "How much have you been hearing about Barack Obama?" Too much, 48 percent. Too little, 10 percent.

If we can move that along, we get the party breakdown. Sixty- seven percent of Republicans say hearing too much about Obama; 34 percent of Democrats. Conversely, "How much have you been hearing about John McCain?" Too much, 26 percent; too little, 38 percent.

So, could Obama be suffering from overexposure?

YELLIN: A little overexposure right now. It is, you know, the dog days of summer. And he -- because he's new, he's getting a lot more attention and focus because people want to know more about him for the very reasons you were discussing. I think this will change. I'm sure it will change.

KURTZ: You know, he does get this celebrity coverage. In fact, he's now on the cover I think with his wife of "Ladies' Home Journal," the latest magazine to lionize him.

Amy Holmes, are the sympathetic media smothering Barack Obama with all this love?

HOLMES: Well, you know, I did actually have to wonder during that European coverage if this was overexposure, if it was over too much Obama mania. But also, remember, this is being driven by the Barack Obama campaign. Of course they want to be covered, of course they want his name out there. They pitched themselves to "US Weekly," of all places, to put Michelle Obama on the cover to try to make her more relatable to the American voter. But, you know, that decision will be made at the polls.

KURTZ: Joan Walsh, I've got 20 seconds for you.

WALSH: Thanks, Howie.

You know, I think some of the poll numbers about too little about John McCain, especially when Democrats say that, is that they feel like there's not enough attention being given to his economic policies, to his war policies, that he's treated as this known quantity who has, in fact, flip-flopped and really changed from the John McCain of 2000. So, some of it really is the media not doing its job in terms of delving into the McCain story.

KURTZ: Maybe we can get to that when we get done with the John Edwards affair.

WALSH: Yes. KURTZ: Which will probably be a while.

Joan Walsh and Amy Holmes, Jessica Yellin, thanks very much for joining us.

After the break, Brett Favre leaves the Packers for the New York Jets. Have journalists become cheerleaders for this self-absorbed football star?


KURTZ: It was a bit of a media soap opera five months ago, when Brett Favre announced he was retiring from the Green Bay Packers. In fact, you would have thought the quarterback was oversharing on "Oprah."


BRETT FAVRE, FOOTBALL PLAYER: I truly appreciate the opportunity. And as they say, all good things must come to an end.


KURTZ: But the retirement came to an end a few weeks ago when the 38-year-old Favre decided to unretire. Team executives tried to talk him out of. He insisted, the Packers let him come to training camp, and the press had a heartwarming story: the comeback of a superstar.

And things fell apart this week. Favre was traded to the New York Jets and the coverage really turned breathless.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Breaking news coming to us from Morristown, New Jersey, where a charter plane has apparently just arrived at this New Jersey airport, and on board, the man on whom now Super Bowl hopes will be pinned, Brett Favre.


KURTZ: Joining us now to analyze why one aging quarterback gets so much ink and air time, in New York, Will Leitch, contributing editor for "New York Magazine." And in Minneapolis, Gregg Doyel, columnist for

Will Leitch, other aging athletes have left their original team. There was Joe Namath, there was Joe Montana.

Why is the press going so haywire over Brett Favre?

WILL LEITCH, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, "NEW YORK MAGAZINE": Well, the thing about Favre is that, like, obviously, the media has loved him for a long time. And I think it's because the thing with the NFL is that it's hard to understand, it's hard to explain. You have coaches that are putting 20 hours in the film room, that are doing all these complicated plays, all these different things that go on to make a football team go. It's hard for reporters to understand that and to get that across to readers. But Brett Favre, the gunslinger, the guy -- the grizzled vet that comes out and plays like he's playing in the backyard out with his buddies, and plays it for the love of the game, because nobody else loves playing the game except for Brett Favre, that I think that's part of the reason.

KURTZ: Let me get Gregg in.

I mean, he looked like he was going to break down when he announced his retirement. I mean, this is a guy paid millions of dollars. So is there just something of a melodrama here?

GREGG DOYEL, COLUMNIST, CBSSPORTSLINE.COM: Oh, you think just a little bit? Brett Favre is a very unintelligent guy. Go back and look at his Wonderlic score.

He left in a great way, the whole world loved him. He was on top of the world from a PR standpoint. And in five months, he's urinated all that away and now we all hate him. And I'm at the top of that list.

KURTZ: Well, Stephen Smith of ESPN doesn't think you all hate him. Let's take a look at what he had to say the other day.

I think we've got that? We haven't got that.

So, anyway, what he said was -- I've actually got it here.

"I think it's sickening. I think it's a complete waste of time, and I'm really getting sick and tired of this love affair between Brett Favre and, dare I say, the media."

Now, why isn't he covered, for example, as kind of a spoiled athlete, petulant child, with all these histrionics?

LEITCH: Well, you know, I think Favre -- Favre may not have done well on his Wonderlic score, but he certainly knows how to play the media. And there's this myth every year that -- I mean, this is like the fourth year that he may retire or he may not retire. Now he's back. And he loves to perpetuate this myth that, oh, I love playing football, but I would just as soon be out in my tractor in Mississippi.

And to the point there were actually stories about rural areas in the New York -- rural places in the New York area where he can find a place to, I don't know, have a farm or something, like it's gotten so over the top, the idea. I think he's smart about that, and this is the one way he knows how to foster information and foster good relationships with the media. It's certainly helped in this coverage, clearly.

KURTZ: Gregg, hasn't there been an undercurrent in the coverage of, how dare the Green Bay Packers not do everything this living legend wants?

DOYEL: There's been some of that. And by the way, I'm sick of the love affair between Stephen A. Smith and his vocal cords. But yes, there's been a lot of that going on.

A lot of people think that people like Joe Paterno at Penn State and Bobby Bowden at Florida State and Brett Favre at Green Bay have earned the right to do whatever it is they want to do, and everybody else has to yield to their demands. And the Green Bay Packers were next on the list, which is absolutely ludicrous. The Green Bay Packers have the right to try and win 12 games this year and next year and next year, and they've got the right to not be played like a puppet by Brett Favre and his low IQ.

KURTZ: Well, some of the reporting here has gone out of bounds. For example, "The Tampa Tribune" reporting that Favre was going to be traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This was 24 hours before he went to the Jets.

LEITCH: Yes. Actually, I feel kind of bad for ESPN. They had an army of reporters, to the point that, like, Rachel Nichols was about to get into this car. You expected John Clayton to, like, pop his head up from the back seat, and they still got beat by Jay Glazer at Fox Sports. So I think that can be frustrating.

And despite, like, the notion that, like, there was actually a point where you could follow Favre's plane before the MSNBC clip, you could actually follow it online. And I wonder how many ESPN reporters were actually on there. It was pretty intense across the board.

KURTZ: Yes. And now, you know, if he had gone to any other market -- I mean, obviously, it would still be a big story, he's a big name. But he goes New York and the tabloids go nuts.

Let's put up some of the tabloid headlines here. You can take a look here. "Jet Favre," "Ready, Brett, Go" and all of that.

So how is the New York media market -- either one of you can pick this up and run with it -- going to treat this guy, particularly maybe if the Jets get off to an 0-3 start?

DOYEL: Oh, please let me handle this. I know, Will, that you're up there, but from afar, the New York media market is kind of like my nightmare. I literally wake up in the middle of the night sometimes in a nightmare that I'm covering the Mets for "The New York Post."

I can't imagine working in that environment, and I can't -- but I can imagine Brett Favre in that environment. And what I imagine is a goldfish being dropped into the Amazon and having piranhas come and devour him. That's what I think is going to happen.

And if I'm ESPN, I want some payback. Brett Favre and his agent and the Packers made ESPN look really bad for the last week. If I'm ESPN, I want to exact a pound of flesh from Brett Favre. Of course, that won't happen, because if I'm ESPN, I'm kissing his rear end to much. KURTZ: But you can also get lionized by the New York media if you do well in the field, Will.

LEITCH: Yes, certainly. But, you know, it just switches so quickly.

And I think the problem is the expectations are so high. You almost can see -- he had his first practice yesterday, and he seemed almost bewildered that he ended up here, and realized that, for the Jets, who have been wanting something for so long, and clearly like, with the Giants winning the Super Bowl last year, this is their chance to have some sort of headline. They are asking a whole lot of a guy who is 38 years old, up until two years ago most people were wanting him to retire. He had a resurgence last year, but they were actually hoping -- the question was whether he lost it, and now he's got a lot of offense to learn. It's going to be rough for him.

KURTZ: Gregg, I've got 20 seconds. You say you now -- you love the story and now you hate the guy. Why?

DOYEL: Well, just because the way he acted like a puppet master, and the way he was a drama king and all that stuff. I mean, he left on his terms, and then basically lied about it and tried to come back and has been doing this for a while. I really get sick of people that behave like losers, and I think Favre has behaved like a loser for the last 18 months.

KURTZ: It sounds a little like politics.

Got to go. All right. Will Leitch, Gregg Doyel, thanks very much for joining us.

Still to come, the Paris proposal. Is it me, or is America's most famous empty-headed heiress starting to make sense? While Hilton is hot, next.


KURTZ: I got into this business to do serious reporting -- the great clash of ideas, the policy debates, the passion of presidential politics. And yet, it seems I can't escape...





KURTZ (voice over): A few short years ago, I thought Paris Hilton was probably a French hotel. Then her sex tape wound up on the Internet -- not that I've seen it, of course -- and she got a reality show and somehow became the new "it" girl. But she kept getting into trouble, and we started talking about her on this show. (on camera): Had enough of Paris Hilton by now? Well, the media are still salivating over the "celubutard," as "The New York Post" calls her.

(voice over): She was jailed for a driving infraction last year, and everyone with a microphone went crazy.

KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS: But Paris Hilton's very early release from jail has brought howls of protests and cries of a double standard.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: I mean, are we just so pathetic and so lonely that we have to live through people like Paris Hilton?

BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: This is simply unacceptable. The justice system is supposed to be the same for everyone. Obviously it is not.

KURTZ: She said she was going to use her celebrity for good causes after being sprung from the slammer. An then, um, didn't.

John McCain used her and fellow airhead Britney Spears in a campaign ad aimed at Barack Obama's celebrity, and the pundits could barely contain themselves.

Now, of course, Paris herself has joined the ad wars with a sly slap at McCain.

PARIS HILTON, SOCIALITE: So thanks for the endorsement, white- haired dude. And I want America to know that I'm, like, totally ready to lead.

KURTZ: And wasn't just about the skimpy bathing suit.

HILTON: And now I want to present my energy policy for America, just as soon as I finish reading this article on where I can fly to, to get the best tan.

KURTZ: Right. OK. Take your best shot, Paris.

HILTON: We can do limited offshore drilling with strict environmental oversight, while creating tax incentives to get Detroit making hybrid and electric cars.


KURTZ: Well, hmm, she actually makes sense. Have I been out in the sun too long?


HILTON: Now if you excuse me, I have to go pick out a vice president.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KURTZ: Yes, the ad was put together by Funny or Die, and yes, co-founder Adam McKay is a big Obama supporter and donor. But the spot was funny, and Paris exhibited, among other assets, a self- deprecating sense of humor.

So I guess after all the media ridicule she's taken, the joke is on us.

That's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.

I'm Howard Kurtz.

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