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Aired November 29, 2009 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HOWARD KURTZ, CNN ANCHOR: I've been trying to put my finger on what changed for President Obama this week, why the media coverage turned sharply negative.
High unemployment has been around for awhile. The Afghanistan dilemma has been building for months. And the health care bill remains a cliffhanger even after the Democrats mustered 60 votes to send it to the Senate floor.
Could it maybe, just possibly, be a Gallup poll that had Obama dropping to 49 percent for the first time? Whatever it is this Thanksgiving week, the media are suddenly treating the Obama presidency like a turkey.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS: Tonight, the president under pressure. His job approval ratings slide as he wrestles with everything from job creation to the future of Afghanistan.
CHIP REID, CBS NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The president is getting battered on every from health care to the economy, to foreign policy. Some polls show Americans are increasingly questioning his credibility.
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC NEWS: With the president's approval rating dipping below 50 percent in some polls, it's clear the health care debate is taking a toll.
CHARLES GIBSON, ABC NEWS: When you look at this, he faces the Afghanistan problem, the health care problem, the deficit problem. And yet none of those actually get at or help him in his central problem, which is still creating jobs.
(END VIDEO CLIP) KURTZ: So, why do so many journalists seem to be souring on Obama, and are these verdicts on his tenure premature?
Joining us now in New York, Chrystia Freeland, U.S. managing editor of the "Financial Times." In Philadelphia, Jim Geraghty, contributing editor at "National Review." And here in Washington, Bill Press, host of "The Bill Press Show" on Sirius Satellite Radio.
Chrystia Freeland, unemployment, as I mentioned, has been rising all year, broke 10 percent weeks ago. Why are we suddenly seeing this spate of reports saying that President Obama is blowing it on the economy?
FREELAND: Well, Howard, I think that your analysis is right and I think that Gallup poll was a tipping point. There was a number of factors that were building up -- the very, very long time spent deciding about Afghanistan, the very, very long health care debate and its big cloud of the economy -- and I think when that poll came out, that was a moment for people to say, you know what? Now it's time to do the big story.
But I do think that it's premature to say, this is the end of Obama. If he gets that health care reform through -- and I think he probably will -- that is a historic achievement.
KURTZ: I'm going to agree with you. It's premature to say this is the end of Obama, 10 months into his term.
Bill Press, but the president did talk about jobs this week, so the topic is certainly fair and game. But the coverage, I think, is really headed south.
PRESS: By the way, we haven't even gotten to the second term yet. You know what I mean?
I do think the coverage is a little exaggerated in terms of how much trouble Obama is in, but I think, Howie, what's happening is people see that he is no longer -- doesn't really walk on water. He's got polls that look like -- they're better than Bush's polls, but still, they ain't great.
KURTZ: Doesn't walk on water the way the press made him look during the campaign?
PRESS: Exactly, right.
PRESS: And the other thing is I think that at some point, you know, the reservoir of good will runs out and reality sets in and you get down to delivery. And I have to tell you, 11 months in, what has the Obama presidency delivered, as opposed to talk about? Not much yet. I think it's fair game.
KURTZ: Well, government and bureaucracy moves slowly.
Jim Geraghty, in fairness, Obama did inherit a lousy economy from George Bush. But did the press give him an easy pass up until now and maybe now are charging him for going down this road?
GERAGHTY: Yes, yes, yes.
GERAGHTY: I did like that question, Howard. Kudos to you on that one, for picking up on that obscure, ancient mystery.
I would note that the Gallup poll indicator probably was a key psychological barrier. He won with more than 50 percent of the vote, a pretty healthy six percent margin, very big sweep in the Electoral College. And he started with, you know, really high approval ratings up in the 70s. Some polls even had it up to 80 percent. Everybody went in, or many people came in to his presidency wanting to like the guy, wanting to give him the benefit of the doubt.
We're now nine months since the stimulus passed. It's been about a year and change since he got elected. You know, 10, 11 months on the job. People are starting to realize, this is not where we thought we would be at this point when we went in and entered with such great fanfare and hope and change and la-di-da.
PRESS: I think largely because the expectations were really unrealistic.
KURTZ: And who inflated the expectations, Bill Press?
PRESS: We did.
KURTZ: OK, I just wanted to plead guilty on that.
FREELAND: Well, so did Obama. Obama also inflated the expectations.
KURTZ: Of course.
FREELAND: And if I could borrow an idea from Tom Friedman, part of what I think is going on here is actually, surprisingly, Obama failing to frame the debate. It's a failure of oratory, in part, and I think during the campaign, he was great at giving everyone a storyline. And I think since taking office, he has really failed to put all this stuff together to tell us why health care is connected to the economy.
KURTZ: OK, but let's look at another possible failure, Chrystia. Is it possible that with the 10,000 stories that have been written in broadcast about health care, the public option, the trigger, opting in, opting out, all that, that the press missed the boat on the story that most Americans really care about, and that's jobs?
FREELAND: Well, I work for "The Financial Times," so we write about jobs and the economy constantly.
KURTZ: Right. But look at the broad media landscape.
FREELAND: I think the press has really focused on jobs, and I think, actually, it would be a mistake for us to be short-termist in how we look at the health care debate.
Now, as I was saying, if the health care debate -- if health care reform actually happens, that is huge. What I do think the White House has failed to do is say to someone who feels their job is at risk right now, why health care reform is central to that. And it is. You could make the sale.
You could say, look, if we had universal health care, then losing your job wouldn't be quite so traumatic. But they're not really saying that.
Let me come back to the commentary, Bill Press.
Arianna Huffington, on her liberal Web site, had a headline, a story, "Unemployment: Is It Obama's New Katrina?" Maureen Dowd the other day in the "New York Times" said, "Obama's a cold shower, whereas Bill Clinton was a warm bath."
There's a new twist here that the left wing pundits are coming at Obama very critically from that side of the spectrum.
PRESS: On several -- yes -- and on several issues. Health care, that the president has not been decisive enough or shown enough leadership or given enough direction to the Congress. He's sort of laid back and letting Congress decide. Like, he's just about stopped talking about the public plan option. That's one issue.
On global warming...
KURTZ: But you don't give me the substance of it. I want to know why.
PRESS: Got it.
KURTZ: Are they out of patience? Are they disappointed? Are they disillusioned? Why?
And this is supposed to be their guy, right?
PRESS: Right. They are frustrated on what they perceive as a lack of leadership on Obama's part on the key issues. And now you add health care and some others, and you add on top of that Afghanistan, and he's really got trouble. He's really got trouble on the left.
KURTZ: Jim Geraghty, is it more newsworthy when liberals criticize President Obama, such as similar to the rare events when conservative pundits revolted against Bush?
GERAGHTY: I don't think it's quite so rare. And I just want to preface by saying that Bill Clinton was a warm bath in a Jacuzzi compared to this presidency.
It is a bit rare. I think to a certain extent, it isn't just a matter of Barack Obama failing to meet liberal expectations. It's a matter of reality not comporting to the way liberals thought it would.
We talk about the jobs issue. This administration basically thought the jobs issue was going to be solved by the stimulus, that that was a checkmark on their to-do list.
KURTZ: And did -- I want to come back to the coverage here. Did the press buy into that? Did the press over promote that $787 billion bill? GERAGHTY: Oh, absolutely. Somehow we're in this bizarre situation in which we spent $787 billion but no one has any money. PRESS: I think the media lost track of the jobs issue, which is the number one issue. So did the administration. And now they're trying to get back on track.
KURTZ: In fairness, all the stimulus money hasn't been spent, but unemployment is much higher than the White House had projected.
I want to turn to the subject of leaks, and this fits in with the situation in Afghanistan, which the president is going to address on national television on Tuesday night.
During the Asia trip, he gave an interview to CBS's Chip Reid, and he expressed his frustration about how much was leaking out of the administration as the president conducted this long review with all of these national security meetings about whether to send more troops to Kabul.
Let's take a look at that interview.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REID: Are you that angry about these leaks? And do you think it does make you look uncertain?
OBAMA: I think I'm probably angrier than Bob Gates about it, partly because we have these deliberations in the Situation Room for a reason, because we are making decisions that are life and death, that affect how our troops are going to be able to operate in a theater of war. For people to be releasing information during the course of deliberations where we haven't made final decisions yet, I think is not appropriate.
REID: Is it a firing offense?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Well, Chrystia Freeland, I don't think anyone is going to get fired, because they're not going to know who does the leaking. But this week, before the president has made his announcement, we had reports on CNN and the other networks about 34,000 troops most likely to be sent to Afghanistan.
This situation with leaks seems to drive every president crazy. And, of course, journalists love to get the unauthorized disclosures.
FREELAND: But presidents also love to leak. I mean, I think as you pointed out in your column about this, I think this is a combination of hypocrisy and fantasy on the part of the White House.
The hypocrisy is they don't consider it a leak when they're behind it. That is called, I think, media management, or something like that. And the fantasy is there are always factions, there are always different points of view in government, in politics. And a great way to fight your fight can be in the court of the media, and we're always going to be eager recipients. So, I don't think the president is going to win this one and I don't think he really wants to.
KURTZ: You're certainly right that every administration does leak and people are pushing their agendas. Sometimes if they lost out in a policy debate, somehow that information turns up in the newspaper the next morning.
You know, a few weeks ago on this program, I talked about why I thought that CNN and MSNBC and other news outlets should have devoted more attention to something that Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson said. He called a lobbyist a "K Street whore."
FOX News went wild on this story. I thought it was underplayed elsewhere.
Now we have Glenn Beck using a similar term on FOX News. Let me play that for you and we'll come back on the other side.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS: Well, I'm sorry. So we know you're hooking, but you're just not cheap. It's $300 million...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: OK. He's talking there about Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, who did get a provision in order to get her support for breaking the filibuster on the health care bill, $300 million for Louisiana.
He said she was hooking. He basically called her a prostitute.
Let's go back a couple of weeks to what Sean Hannity and Michelle Malkin were saying on FOX News when the Alan Grayson "whore" comment was made.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: What would be the reaction if it was a Republican?
MICHELLE MALKIN, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you know, we would be strung up by our toes. Imagine if you had said something like this, Sean, about a lobbyist on Capitol Hill or any other Democratic public figure.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Bill Press, I didn't hear anyone else on FOX criticizing Glenn Beck for essentially calling Mary Landrieu a prostitute.
PRESS: Neither did I. I have to tell you, look, I'm a talk show host, I am totally for talk show hosts almost getting away with almost anything they say, on the radio particularly. But I'm amazed at how much FOX lets Glenn Beck get away with. I think he is a ticking time bomb, and one day he's going to explode in the face of Roger Ailes, and they're going to be sorry they gave him that television show.
KURTZ: Jim Geraghty, did Beck go too far in his language?
GERAGHTY: Well, it was a little bit crass, but nobody elected Glenn Beck to Congress -- yet.
KURTZ: All right, so you're saying there should be no standards for what people say on television?
GERAGHTY: I'm saying I think it's not unnatural to expect more from a member of Congress or elected official...
KURTZ: Oh, I see. So you're saying it's OK -- I mean, Grayson should be held accountable because he's an elected official, and Glenn Beck is in the (INAUDIBLE) business like many of us on television.
GERAGHTY: I think I expect more out of a member of Congress than the 5:00 p.m. hour of FOX News.
KURTZ: Before we go, Chrystia Freeland, I have been amazed at how much attention the Obama's first State Dinner got this week. I mean, it was everywhere, as if no president ever held a state dinner before.
Let's roll some tape from that. We see some of the media celebrities coming in. There's Katie Couric, Sanjay Gupta from CNN, Brian Williams and his wife Jane. Robin Roberts from ABC was there as well.
Why was this treated like some sort of political Super Bowl?
FREELAND: Well, maybe because of the whole celebrity air around the Obama presidency, or what used to be this celebrity mood until everyone decided this week that he was a loser.
But to tell you the truth, Howie, I was also really surprised at the focus and the sort of gamesmanship focus. It seemed to me that maybe more attention was paid to it than the politics around the (INAUDIBLE), and since "FT" is a deeply, geeky newspaper, we think that's more important.
KURTZ: So you think there's a little bit too attention to who is invited, who wasn't invited, where they were sitting. A lot of...
FREELAND: What they were wearing.
KURTZ: What they were wearing. Yes, I've never seen that before. A lot of media stars there.
PRESS: It's a State Dinner. It's Obama's first State Dinner. I mean, I don't think it was over done at all. People are interested in that.
KURTZ: Maybe you'll get to go to the next one with comments like that.
KURTZ: I hope so.
KURTZ: All right.
Bill Press, Jim Geraghty, Chrystia Freeland, thanks very much for joining us.
When we come back, bashing the banks. CNBC's Charlie Gasparino on the financial meltdown and whether journalists bear some of the blame for letting Wall Street run wild.
KURTZ: "Charlie Gasparino Takes No Prisoners." That's the headline on a "Financial Times" profile of the hard-charging CNBC correspondent who comes up with his share of scoops, but also manages to tick off folks on Wall Street and sometimes his own colleagues, as we see in this exchange with Dennis Kneale over the Citigroup CEO, Vikram Pandit.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DENNIS KNEALE, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: It's kind of interesting that you would be defending him, especially since I read a story on CNBC.com by Charlie Gasparino on Tuesday that said Pandit's in trouble.
CHARLES GASPARINO, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: Right. That doesn't mean I think he should go. That means, Dennis, I'm doing what maybe you should do, be a reporter.
KNEALE: You know what? It's really bad...
GASPARINO: All I'm doing is talking to people that are telling me this, Dennis.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: As the economy struggles to recover, does the press bear a share of the blame for the financial meltdown? And what, if anything, have journalists learned from that brush with depression?
Who better to ask than the author of "The Sellout: How Three Decades of Wall Street Greed and Government Mismanagement Destroyed the Global Financial System"?
Charlie Gasparino joins us from New York.
GASPARINO: Thanks for dredging that out of the dumpster.
KURTZ: There's a lot of clips where you're fighting with people on CNBC. What's up with that?
GASPARINO: Well, I think there is a degree of -- you know, listen, it's live TV, and sometimes you butt heads, and sometimes you have strong opinions both ways. And, you know, listen, I was an ex- fighter, so it comes easy to me. But one of the interesting things on CNBC, at least in my experience, after you do something like that, after you strongly disagree on the air, you kind of shake hands. It's like when I was boxing as a kid, it was almost the same thing. And I think people respond to that and like that.
I really think for all the chatter that CNBC and cable news is just too much controversy, too much yelling, I really do think that people want to see strong opinions. And I'm here to provide one end of the strong opinions.
KURTZ: We'll test your boxing skills in this segment.
Now, in your book, you blame Wall Street executives, mortgage lenders, government bureaucrats for the near collapse of the economy. What about journalists? Shouldn't the press have done a better job giving us warnings of this impending meltdown?
GASPARINO: You know, that's another old story of yours. Come on here.
KURTZ: It's relevant today.
GASPARINO: Well, do you remember the quote I gave you about a year ago?
KURTZ: You said, "We all failed."
GASPARINO: We all failed. Now, that is true. But remember the context I gave you.
And here's the problem. Here's my problem with blaming the press. Now, you know, if you look at a bubble, there's a degree of mass hysteria going on. And if you look at what was going on -- and this is the last 10, 20 years -- you know, there weren't very many people on the inside that thought something was wrong.
You know, think about major scandals, Watergate, for instance, right? There was somebody on the inside that saw something wrong.
What's interesting about this, this bubble, is that a lot of people on the inside didn't think anything was wrong.
KURTZ: But Charlie, there were all those risky loans, all those subprime loans. Those signals were there.
GASPARINO: But Howie, be precise in what you're asking me. Should we have known about the housing bubble blowing up, or should we have known about the banking crisis? What are you asking?
KURTZ: What I'm asking is, isn't it quite apparent, in retrospect -- and some people did the stories and they often ran on inside pages of the newspapers -- that journalists were not vigilant enough in looking at the degree of risk that was pumped into the economy by these Wall Street geniuses who you now properly, I think, blame for nearly blowing up the U.S. economy? GASPARINO: Right. Well, I blame the government, too. And you see, you have to look at it -- I think that's too simplistic of a question.
The problem is that all those bonds that blew up, they were AAA. OK? They were rated -- many of them were rated AAA. So, if you look at what was on the bank's balance sheets, the banks themselves believed because they were insured, because they were hedged, because of all the derivatives, they believed that those bonds were money good.
GASPARINO: Now, you have to ask yourself, why weren't there more whistleblowers on the inside telling people like me that, hey, Citigroup has got billions of dollars of bad debt on the balance sheet? And I can tell you, Howie, my opinion is the reason why is because they believe that they were money good.
And you have to ask yourself this -- there's going to be a lot of cases out there, right? There's a lot of investigations for essentially fraud, why Wall Street didn't disclose the problems earlier to investors. And I bet you there's not going to be many prosecutions, like the two Bear Stearns guys that just got off.
And the reason why is because there's a difference between intent and making a bad investment. And I'll tell you, what you're going to see here is that a lot of these guys, Dick Fuld...
KURTZ: OK, Charlie. You've got to let me interrupt you because I'm the host.
Do you think that CNBC itself was unfairly blaming you? Remember, of course, when Jon Stewart went after Jim Cramer?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW": Listen, you knew what the banks were doing and, yet, were touting it for months and months. The entire network was. And so, now to pretend that this was some sort of crazy, once-in-a-lifetime tsunami that nobody could have seen coming is disingenuous at best and criminal at worst.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Was that an unfair attack on CNBC's role in this?
GASPARINO: You know, I do, and I'll tell you why. I mean, if you listen to me, right, if you listen to my coverage of Bear Stearns, of Citigroup, I was warning about those two firms -- well, Citigroup in 2006 and Bear Stearns in early 2007. I mean, if you're going to look at CNBC, look at the whole product and look at the people that were very critical on Wall Street. And there was a lot of criticism. It was from people like me warning very early on. By the way, warning very early on and then going to bars where some of these Wall Street guys hang out and being harassed. I mean, there's a reason why I go to bars and people yell at me from Bear Stearns, from Lehman Brothers, from all these places, because they really feel that I was too critical about these firms.
KURTZ: Well, that's the thing. If you get out there before everyone else and you say there are problems, that the stock may be too high, that the ratings agencies may be in over their head, you take heat. But since you mentioned Bear Stearns, your book begins with your getting a phone call from Jimmy Coyne (sic), the CEO of Bear Stearns.
GASPARINO: Right, Jimmy Cayne.
KURTZ: Jimmy Cayne, excuse me. And he takes you to dinner and says this company is in trouble. Well, it turned out to be in a lot of trouble and obviously later collapsed.
You told the "Financial Times" that when it became harder to get access to Jimmy, you wrote -- you said that "Jimmy made himself easy to write about because he stopped talking to me. So what do I care?"
So, does that suggest that you reward sources who cooperate?
GASPARINO: No. It suggests the truism in journalism.
If you -- listen, right now, Goldman Sachs, there's a book being written about Goldman Sachs, right? The author is Bill Cohen. He wrote a book about Bear Stearns.
Goldman Sachs, from what I understand, is cooperating with him because they want to get their side of the story out. And this is true of any journalist.
If you basically deal with that journalist, you're going to get your side of the story. And I think that was the problem with Bear Stearns. They wouldn't deal with me, so it was essentially me reporting about them without their side fully played out.
KURTZ: So it's not that you were going easier on a company whose CEO is going out to dinner with you, but at least you're saying you're hearing the other side of the story.
GASPARINO: Yes. I mean, listen, I can only ask, right? Please talk to me, give me your side of the story. And if you do that, I will give you your side of the story.
Listen, what was it -- I can't remember -- I think it was Robert Novak -- "I have sources and I have targets," right? I mean, there's a degree of that, there's a reality to that.
If you don't talk to a journalist, your side will not get out there. That's why Goldman Sachs, which in the past has been one of the most tightly -- tight firms in the world with dealing with reporters, is now going out on a...
KURTZ: But the suggestion there is that if you don't talk to me, you're going to pay a price. GASPARINO: No, no. But it's not pay a price. It's you're not getting your side of the story out. And by doing that, you pay a price.
KURTZ: I want to get your side of the story on this. Andrew Ross Sorkin, the "New York Times" business columnist, quoted the CEO of Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blankfein, as saying that he turned off the TV because you, Charlie Gasparino, were rumor mongering.
You were not happy with that report.
GASPARINO: Yes. And have you read the subsequent press reports on that?
KURTZ: Well, go -- I'm giving you the floor.
GASPARINO: I don't know if he said it. I don't know if he said it. There was a couple of stories out there that suggested that he did not make those comments.
Listen, I could only tell you this -- you guys -- you know people criticize CNBC for not being aggressive. I was very aggressive. And if you're going to say I was a rumormonger, tell me what rumor.
GASPARINO: Was it that they had exposure to AIG? Was it that their stock was going from $170 to $50, that people that were giving them money, the people in their prime brokerage accounts, they were pulling them out?
I mean, these are sort of things that are true. And, you know, he didn't like it, but I'm not sure if he actually said that quote. I think there's a debate about the quote.
KURTZ: OK. Hold on, Charlie. We need aggressive coverage now, I think, more than ever with Wall Street making big money again, big bonuses and all that.
But I want to close by playing a clip of you calling into your network. Let's roll that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GASPARINO: By the way, I have a massive hangover. I was out at -- what is that Frankie Sapp's (ph) place? It's called Gaetano's (ph).
That's the best Italian restaurant in the city. They make great martinis. I drank about eight of them. (END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Is that full disclosure? You just let it all hang out there.
GASPARINO: I'm an honest guy. I mean, listen, you know me for how long?
KURTZ: A long time.
GASPARINO: I don't mince words. I'm honest. I don't rumor monger, but I'm tough with these guys. They don't like it when I'm tough, and I shoot from the hip. And they asked me how I was felling, and I told them.
KURTZ: All right.
Charlie Gasparino, hope you're feeling good today. Thanks very much for joining us.
GASPARINO: I am. Thank you, Howie.
KURTZ: Coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, the throwback. Harold Evans on running British newspapers in the heyday of ink-stained wretches (ph) and why he thinks so little of television news.
Plus, "Times" trouble. A management shake-up at "The Washington Times" leads to charges of a staffer being forced to attend a mass wedding conducted by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon. Former editorial page editor Rich Miniter on why he's suing his former paper.
KING: I'm John King and this is STATE OF THE UNION. Here are stories breaking this Sunday morning.
Lawmakers are already weighing in on President Obama's new plan for Afghanistan which he'll announce Tuesday night. Speaking on this program a bit earlier this morning, Republican Senator Richard Lugar said the president needs to clearly outline the U.S. objective in Afghanistan. Democratic Senator Jack Reed says the president must also include a strategy to show the American people troops will eventually be brought home.
Investigators in Florida are hoping to interview Tiger Woods and his wife today about the golfer's mysterious car accident. Two previous attempts to meet with them have failed. Woods was treated for minor injuries when he crashed his SUV into a fire hydrant and then a tree outside his Orlando-area home early Friday morning.
KING: And a relatively solid start to the holiday shopping season. Retailers raked in about $10.66 billion on Black Friday. That's according to ShopperTrak, which keeps an eye on sales. That's about a half-percent increase over last year's shopping.
Those are your top stories here on STATE OF THE UNION.
KURTZ: Harold Evans has had one of the storied careers in journalism. He rose from the hardscrabble British city of Manchester to become editor of "The Sunday Times," and, under Rupert Murdoch, "The Times of London."
On this side of the Atlantic, he was the founding editor of "Conde Nast Traveler" and has worked with "The Atlantic," "US News" and "The Week" magazine. Evans is something of a throwback to the rough and tumble days of newspapering, an era he recounts in a new memoir, "My Paper Chase: True Stories of Vanished Times."
KURTZ: Harold Evans, welcome.
EVANS: Thank you. Thank you.
KURTZ: This is a tough time for the newspaper business. I don't have to tell you that. I have the impression that British papers are feistier and maybe more competitive than their American counterparts.
EVANS: Well, first of all, there's not so many monopoly positions. There's I think 12 or 13 dailies in Britain.
KURTZ: And they're all fighting for an audience.
EVANS: Yes. And there's provincial papers too. So the competition is intense. And, of course, I have to say this -- the writing and the design in the British press, though sometimes put to nefarious uses, is extremely good.
So they're getting by. The circulations have shrunk. Revenues have shrunk, as it has around the world.
KURTZ: Of course.
EVANS: But there isn't the constant beating of the doomsday drum in London that you get in the United States.
KURTZ: Right. You write in this book about the era of hot tie ben (ph), newsrooms filled with colorful characters.
KURTZ: You know, who like to keep some booze in their drawer.
Do you miss those days? We're in a totally different era now.
EVANS: Well, I was kind of a puritan myself. I didn't sort of go -- booze. I had a family.
When I got the big (INAUDIBLE) at "The Sunday Times," it was 1.5 million circulation with foreign correspondents from around the world. I'm the bit of a sober side, actually. And I really -- what I really miss -- I don't miss the hot metal (ph) very much, although I write about. They're a lot of fun.
What I really miss is the capacity to ask a question -- a very complicated question -- and have it answered by the best journalist I've ever come across. When I say, "Why did Philby get away with spying on..."
KURTZ: Kim Philby?
EVANS: ... on -- Kim Philby get away with spying all these years? We didn't even know that he was a spy when I asked the question. Why did Kim Philby defect and go to Moscow? We didn't know the greatest spy of this century -- of last century.
KURTZ: But there is a sense that journalists -- and I'm all in favor of journalists being well compensated for their talents -- but that they've become, you know, wine-sipping members of the upper middle class elite and out of touch with -- you know, reporters used to be kind of lovable rogues. They'd go down to the corner bar.
Haven't you seen that cultural shift in the newspaper business?
EVANS: Well it's true. And I mean, many of the public, particularly in the United States, where newspapers, by comparison with Britain, were much over-staffed. I think the drinking level was higher in Britain. I think the America drinking level is lower, surprisingly. But the number of people drawing big salaries has been much higher in America than Britain.
You know, this quite -- I quite like the lovable rogue picture. "Lunch time o'booze," we called it. Lunch -- you know? A private eye has the best question. When it's expenses (ph) of a question, he said, "Surely there's some mistake." You know, kind of drunken answer.
EVANS: But actually, I must say my guys -- I mean, I lost three correspondents, killed in action. They would work all hours to get to the bottom of a story, like when we did the thalidomide campaign. How is it that the world's biggest drug disaster -- a most appalling situation with children being born without arms and legs -- how did it happen?
KURTZ: Well, you were at the Sunday -- you were editing "The Sunday Times of London," and you went on a crusade on that. I don't...
KURTZ: ... see newspapers mounting crusades today. Maybe it's not considered the in thing to do.
But let me ask you this. I came to this one page in your book, and I just stopped. And you wrote that you were, "... troubled by the media intruding into the private lives of people without the slightest justification." You're a member of the British press. And look what you folks have done to the royal family.
EVANS: Oh, I know. Listen, here's...
KURTZ: Is rooting into the private lives -- does that really bother you?
EVANS: The British press is divided into good guys and sort of not so good guys. And the not so good guys would put on a doctor's uniform and go into a hospital to photograph a sick footballer. I mean, totally appalling.
And the number of speeches I made against that kind of thing -- but you have occasionally to intrude on what's called "privacy" when a financial embezzler is swindling millions and millions. He says, "You can't ask those questions. That's my private life."
No, it's not. You're actually stealing. And I had to ask those questions when I was trying to find out why one of my correspondents was murdered in Cairo, assassinated -- terrorists maybe. But to find out what happened, you had to go into his private life too.
KURTZ: What about all the private gossip that is constantly being regurgitated by Fleet Street about Princess Di when she was alive, and Prince Harry, and Prince Charles, and who's fooling around with who? I mean, that seems to be a staple of British journalism.
EVANS: Well it is. It has been. Not only has that been a staple of British journalism, but also there's been a great amount of what I call "political fabrication," where very vivid imaginations work on presenting a picture of the opposition which they happen to be -- dislike, rather than the truth.
But bear in mind, that isn't the best -- that isn't the most -- that isn't the serious press. And also, some of that is harmless froth. And bear this in mind -- the public seems to love it. Why do they keep on buying this stuff? I mean, look at television. Your own business is -- runs away from news now. If it can get somebody on whose made a faux pas, or failed to answer a question of Larry King -- beautiful woman that she was -- that becomes more important than a whole week in Afghanistan. That's television for you.
KURTZ: Yes. Yes. The power of dealing with a former beauty queen, or...
KURTZ: ... the balloon boy that turned out to be...
EVANS: Look, the balloon boy was absolutely ridiculous. How many nights did the balloon boy lead the news? A total nonsense story worth that much.
KURTZ: Or a "non-balloon boy," as I call it.
When you were editor of "The Times of London," Rupert Murdoch had bought the paper. He made all kinds of promises of independence to you. And now you say in this book that he told you to "fix the news," by which you mean.?
EVANS: Fix the...
KURTZ: Fix the news?
KURTZ: Fiddle with it?
EVANS: Well his managing director, an absolutely brilliant man, but misguided, thought that the purpose of the paper was to support Margaret Thatcher, come what may. We supported her a lot, but we couldn't support her come what may.
So, occasionally, we would say, for instance, that when the government would say the recession has ended, it hasn't. Although pointing this out was regarded as laissez majeste and difficulties. But I don't want to spend too much time talking about...
KURTZ: No. But the reason I bring up Murdoch, of course, just for viewers who don't know, that within the year you were out of there -- you were fired...
KURTZ: ... despite those guarantees of independence.
EVANS: That's right.
KURTZ: Murdoch -- there was a great debate in America when Murdoch bought "The Wall Street Journal." Was he going to tart it up? Was he going to ruin it? Was he going to make it politically biased?
I haven't seen that happen. What do you think?
EVANS: I think not. I think, in fact, "The Wall Street Journal," under Murdoch and Robert Thomson, and Les Hinton -- those three characters -- it's a vastly improved newspaper. There's more space than news.
I see no bias in it. I have...
KURTZ: Are you surprised that...
EVANS: No, I'm not actually.
KURTZ: ... the mogul who couldn't tolerate Harry Evans at "The Times of London," has actually improved, in your view, "The Wall Street Journal?"
EVANS: Yes. Well don't forget, he had a debt to Margaret Thatcher because she enabled him to avoid monopolist legislation and get control of the paper.
I understand that. But the point about Murdoch is that he's not easy. He's too easy to portray as a caricature.
What he did in Britain after I'd been fired to tackle the print unions which were sabotaging the entire production of "The Sunday Times" -- in fact, killed "The Sunday Times" -- he sorted them out. And without Murdoch, there would be no variety in the British press today, because until he came along, our computers were shrouded under linen on the third floor, there for nearly 10 years that we couldn't use them.
So I have a -- I think that what he did there, as he himself put it, "It was a carnivore liberating the herbivores."
KURTZ: At the height of your career in London, you met and later married, after your divorce, Tina Brown. In addition to the impact on your personal life, has she changed her thinking about journalism?
EVANS: Well she has, actually, because she started off as a brilliant columnist. And she's come up with some phrases which are very perceptive, I think.
Too long to be important has not made attractive enough in the reading. She's a first class editor of "The New Yorker" magazine. And the way she presented some of those longer stories made me think again about some of the things we did.
And secondly, of course, what I learned from her most of all was, when I founded "Conde Nast Traveler" magazine, I was kind of a child in this world of the glosses.
KURTZ: Sure. EVANS: And she taught me, as she'd been taught by the great Alexander Liberman, the importance of glory spreads in color magazines.
And the third thing which I really fell in love with her about originally, she has a fantastic sense of humor. And that's good, because if you're an editor, as I was when I met her, you certainly need a sense of humor somewhere...
KURTZ: Absolutely, to survive the ups and downs of the business.
I've got about half a minute.
You were knighted by the queen?
KURTZ: Is that an uncommon honor for a journalist?
EVANS: Actually I'm sorry to tell you, it's not all that uncommon for an editor at the top of the profession. And unfortunately, it was too often rewarded for the politically motivated. In my case, of course, it was rewarded for valiant service to the public.
KURTZ: And does it change you? Do you have to get a better tailor? Or what is it? I mean, I should call you "Sir Harold."
EVANS: Yes. I wish -- you can just call me "Sir Harry," or call me "Harry." I don't care.
You know why I accepted that? Because it reflected on what my colleagues had done, and the great things that they did when I was editor of "The Sunday Times." I just was the nominal recipient of the honor.
KURTZ: All right, Sir. Thank you very much for stopping by. We enjoyed it.
EVANS: Thank you.
KURTZ: After the break, firing fallout. Rich Miniter is out as "The Washington Times" opinion editor after just six months, and he's charging the company and its Unification Church owners with religious discrimination.
We'll talk with him next.
KURTZ: When "The Washington Times" named Richard Miniter as its editorial page editor last March, the paper called the conservative commentator's appointment the latest in a series of dramatic moves to boost the newspaper's global impact. But things soon fell apart at the paper founded by follows of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon.
Miniter says he was fired last month and has filed both a lawsuit and a discrimination complaint against the Times. The paper, meanwhile, is reeling from a management shakeup that included the resignation of its executive editor.
Rich Miniter joins us now to talk about just what is going on at "The Washington Times."
MINITER: Thanks, Howie. KURTZ: The Unification Church officials who control the company have replaced the publisher. John Solomon who was the editor who came over from "The Washington Post," has resigned without a public word of explanation.
A lot of fine journalists who work there, but is the place imploding? MINITER: Well, a lot of fine journalists do work there, and they're in the middle of a tragedy not of their own making. This is a fight within the Unification Church. And the three top executives who were fired were themselves Unification Church members to be replaced by other church members.
This also appears to be a fight between Preston Moon, one of the 13 children of Reverend Sun Myung Moon, and his other siblings over control of the North American empire.
KURTZ: And the paper has always lost money and has been subsidized by the church officials.
MINITER: Well, that's right. I mean, the fact that the paper has lost money for more than 27 straight years, and losing about $40 million a year. And the church actually doles the money out in weekly amounts in order to keep complete control over the paper.
KURTZ: Now, you say that after you were first hired, that you were coerced into attending a Unification Church weekend in New York. What happened during that weekend?
MINITER: Well, I was told that it would be very -- "very good for me to go" to this, what I was originally told was a peace festival, and it would be a business expense, a trip. Perhaps I had to cover it -- I wasn't quite sure of this assignment -- by Thomas McDevitt, who was the president and publisher at the time. And he was the guy who was largely going to decide whether or not I was made editorial page editor.
So, a lot of pressure was on me. I took it to mean that if I did not go, that my chances of being employed by "The Washington Times" would be roughly zero.
KURTZ: So you felt you didn't really have a choice?
MINITER: I felt I had no choice at all. And...
KURTZ: What happened during that weekend?
MINITER: Well, to my surprise at the New Yorker hotel in New York, that Reverend Moon appeared, that it was a largely religious service that lasted several hours, and that my boss' boss, Preston Moon, appeared on the stage alongside his father, was wearing a long flowing robe and kind of crown. And it -- clearly, for a lot of other Times employees who were in the room with me who were true believers, it was an ecstatic moment. They were very excited that "father" was coming, as they called him, to celebrate their 90th -- for his 90th birthday -- with them.
KURTZ: How did the whole thing make you feel?
MINITER: You know, I thought it was kind of creepy. I mean, why was I on a weekend, as a "business expense," forced to participate in someone else's religious service? I wasn't there covering it as a journalist. I wasn't there as an observer. But they were using my position at the paper...
MINITER: ... or the position I wanted to force me to be there and be an actor in their drama.
MINITER: Something far beyond my job description.
KURTZ: Now, "The Washington Times" declined our invitation to send a representative to this program, but I want to read a statement by the paper's acting president, Jonathon Slevin, if we can put that up on the screen.
"'The Washington Times' does not discriminate and does not tolerate discrimination. We operate within the law and require the same of employees. I am confident that once the charges raised by Mr. Miniter are investigated, the company will be fully vindicated."
MINITER: How many lawyers it took to write that?
KURTZ: A few months ago, you were asked to stay home -- to work from home -- while a personnel investigation was conducted. Clearly, your staff had some complaints about your management style.
MINITER: Well, not that I was aware of. None of those complaints were presented to me.
I asked for the reason. There were two compelling causes.
One is that I had made a joke about Reverend Moon to a co-worker, which was then subsequently passed on to the president and publisher himself, who was a believer in Reverend Moon. That didn't play well.
You know, newsrooms are often jokey places. And you know, that's the nature of us journalists. We make jokes about things.
But the idea that would lead to me going home -- in addition, I refused to sign a form saying that the vice president of human resources, that her son lived at my home. She wanted to send him to an elementary school in my state, not her home state of...
KURTZ: Using your address, which you wouldn't go along with.
KURTZ: Now you...
MINITER: Well, that's an illegal and illicit request, Howie. KURTZ: I'm not trying to minimize it.
MINITER: And who the heck does that?
KURTZ: You previously led a group of authors in a suit against Regnery Publishing.
KURTZ: A contract dispute. The suit was ultimately thrown out. So some people are saying, is this part of a pattern with you?
MINITER: Well, two things don't make a pattern, Howard, one. Two, you know, again, in both of these cases, I was forced into the courts, made numerous efforts to settle with Regnery. In fact, Regnery has just sent us a settlement offer. And we made -- and I spent from July up and through November trying to come up with some settlement with "The Washington Times."
KURTZ: You also say that you were asked -- you, the editorial page editor, the vice present of opinion, were asked to help attract advertisers to "The Washington Times." What were you supposed to do?
MINITER: Well, you tell me. I mean, they...
KURTZ: Meet with them?
MINITER: They wanted to -- they wanted me to recruit advertisers to use contacts and connections found in the course of newsgathering, and turn that over to -- you know, to the advertising department to work more closely with...
KURTZ: And your reaction to that request?
MINITER: Well, I think that's ridiculous.
KURTZ: Why? Explain why?
MINITER: Well, I mean, that's just not what I do. I mean, I've won awards as a journalist, as an investigative reporter. That's not what I do.
I mean, there are -- these are two different professions. You don't take the heart surgeon and have him argue your case in a court of law.
KURTZ: I've got about half a minute. I mean, now that this has gone into the courts, and the charges are flying, what do you want to happen? What do you want to see as the ultimate outcome here?
MINITER: Well, I'd like to see some resolution of the contractual -- the breaches of contract. They need to pay me the money that they owe me.
KURTZ: For the last couple months?
MINITER: For the last few months and under the contract.
But secondly, I think, you know, there needs to be some change in ownership of "The Washington Times." If this paper is going to survive, and the worthy journalists who work there are going to have a future, a real shot at a future, it needs to be outside of the confines of the Unification Church.
KURTZ: So you want the church to sell the paper to someone else?
MINITER: Why not?
KURTZ: All right.
Rich Miniter, thanks very much for joining us.
KURTZ: Up next, Lou Dobbs busy talking about his post-CNN life. And he seems to have ambitions that go beyond television.
KURTZ: When Lou Dobbs abruptly quit CNN, he was kind of cagey about what he'd do next. But this week he floated the possibility of taking another job, a pretty big job, in fact -- president of the United States.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As crazy as it may sound, there is talk of Lou Dobbs for president in 2012.
Is that crazy talk?
LOU DOBBS, FMR. HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": What's so crazy about that?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, that's what I'm asking you.
DOBBS: Well, golly. I mean...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, is it crazy talk or is it real?
DOBBS: Well, I'll tell you this much -- it's one of the discussions that we're having...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Really?
DOBBS: ... about politics. And, you know, I've got to -- for the first time, I'm actually listening to some people about politics.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
KURTZ: So, is it crazy? Mike Huckabee hosts a weekend show for Fox News, and he's ahead in some of the Republican polls for 2012.
Fred Thompson had a radio show before running for president last year, albeit badly.
Al Franken was an Air America radio personality before winning a Minnesota Senate seat after that endless recount.
And there was one other guy who used to co-host a talk show, run for president, and go back to the show. What was his name? Oh, right, Pat Buchanan on "CROSSFIRE."
Of course, it's possible that Dobbs is merely encouraging the White House speculation because, well, it gets everyone talking about him and boosts his stature.
I'll tell you this -- if Lou does run, I'm signing up to cover his campaign.
Still to come, the mayor of San Francisco walks out of a TV interview and takes an off-the-record shot at the reporter. Should that have been broadcast?
KURTZ: San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom had kind of disappeared after dropping out of the California governor's race a month ago. When he finally resurfaced, he sat down with Hank Plante, political editor at CBS affiliate KPIX, and the mayor got increasingly defensive and testy during the questioning.
Keep an eye on what Newsom does when the interview is over.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HANK PLANTE, KPIX: You know the criticism, that you have been dodging not just the press, but also the public, that you have been sulking after dropping out of the governor's race, that you're having a temper tantrum.
MAYOR GAVIN NEWSOM (D), SAN FRANCISCO: I don't read the press. It is comical, some of the things that have been written. I don't know where you come up with this. And it sort of misleads people and creates a sense of something that really doesn't exist.
Off the record, I'm amazingly disappointed. Amazingly. I just am personally. You know?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So, should the station have aired that off-the-record swipe? CNBC didn't use off-the-record footage of President Obama calling Kanye West a jackass, even though that quickly leaked out on Twitter.
I probably would have cut the mayor's parting shot. But here's the thing -- when a newsmaker wants something off the record, the journalist first has to agree. Newsom muttered that so quickly as he walked out of there, that there was no chance for the reporter to respond. And besides, the cameras were rolling. Every politician should see that as a flashing danger sign.
Well, that does it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.
We'll see you back here next Sunday, 10:00 a.m. Eastern.
Now let's turn things back over to John King for more "State of the Union."
KING: Thanks, Howie. Have a great Sunday.