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Bashing Beck; Cashing In on Sex Scandals
Aired February 07, 2010 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice-over): Bashing Beck. Arianna Huffington takes on Roger Ailes over the Fox News host's inflammatory rhetoric. But what about liberal commentators who use intemperate language? Arianna is here.
Cashing in. Why do people involved in political sex scandals wait until after the fact to spill the beans? And should the media keep giving them a platform to peddle their books?
Street beat. Is the big city newspaper columnist going the way of the dodo bird? We'll ask Steve Lopez of the "L.A. Times."
Plus, late-night laughs. Jon Stewart is asked what he really thinks of Barack Obama and me.
KURTZ: We are in Los Angeles for today's program, at new time, 11:00 a.m. Eastern and 8:00 out here. And that barely enabled me to escape what the folks on Twitter are calling the "snowpocalypse" back in Washington.
Thanks to my staff, who are working through a difficult weekend.
Roger Ailes' network takes plenty of flack in the seemingly endless cable wars. And this past week, the Fox News chairman got a chance to return fire.
Ailes made a rare television appearance on ABC's "This Week" with Barbara Walters in the host chair. And Arianna Huffington took the opportunity to give him an earful. The subject? Glenn Beck, who in just a year has emerged as the channel's biggest lightning rod.
Here is how the exchange went.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, HUFFINGTONPOST.COM: Aren't you concerned about the language that Glenn Beck is using, which is, after all, inciting the American people? There's a lot of suffering out there, as you know. And when he talks about people being slaughtered, about who is going to be the next... ROGER AILES, FOX NEWS PRESIDENT: Well, he was talking about Hitler and Stalin slaughtering people, so I think he was probably accurate. Also...
HUFFINGTON: No, no. He was talking about this administration.
AILES: I think as we start going around as the word police in this business it will be...
HUFFINGTON: It's not about the word police. It's about something deeper. It's about the fact that there's a tradition, as the historian Richard Hofstadter said, in American politics of the paranoid style.
AILES: I agree with you. I read something on your blog that said I looked like J. Edgar Hoover, I had a face like a fist, and I was essentially a malignant tumor.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So, is this a case of holding Fox News accountable or just another squabble between the left and the right?
Joining us now here in L.A. is Arianna Huffington, the co-founder and editor of "The Huffington Post," and Hugh Hewitt, nationally syndicated radio talk show host and executive editor of TownHall.com.
Arianna, you went after Roger Ailes about Glenn Beck, as we just saw. Is Beck the only loudmouth on TV saying irresponsible things?
HUFFINGTON: No, but what's happening with Glenn Beck is he takes these apocalyptic statements that basically fuel people's fear and anxiety and has made them his stock and trade. Literally, practically no show is done without some kind of form of inciting fear in the American people. And I think that is dangerous, especially at a time like this.
KURTZ: Hugh Hewitt, do you find Arianna's outrage to be somewhat selective?
HUGH HEWITT, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: No, I don't. I think she's always been focused on Fox. So it's just like a laser. This is what she does all the time, and it's increasingly silly.
I've known Arianna for years, but the idea that Glenn is inciting a dangerous element in the United States, I think that's silly. I think that Arianna knows no one watches takes notes and acts on what Glenn Beck says.
He did use the word "slaughter." You were right. Roger was wrong.
HUFFINGTON: But they denied it.
HUFFINGTON: He denied it, and Glenn Beck denied it the day after.
KURTZ: Let me clear that up by playing, first of all, what Glenn Beck said on his radio show about your appearance on ABC the next day, and then some sound from this program back in November on this semantic question.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
GLENN BECK, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I don't even know if I've ever used the word "slaughtered." And if I used the word "slaughtered," if it wasn't in the context of Mao, Stalin or Hitler, it was in the idea that the truth is being slaughtered by this administration. Not saying that this administration is going to slaughter anyone.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BECK: Find the exit closest to you and prepare for a crash landing, because this plane is coming down because the pilot is intentionally steering it into the trees. We will thrive as long as these people are not in control. They are taking you to a place to be slaughtered.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUFFINGTON: So it's unambiguous. And then, if it doesn't matter, why did Roger Ailes deny it falsely, and then why did Glenn Beck deny it for two days, even though the video was out there on "The Huffington Post" a day after the show?
KURTZ: But you seem to be saying that Glenn Beck perhaps says some intemperate things but people don't take it seriously?
HEWITT: Proportionally. I think Glenn does about 15 hours of media a week. He used this I think before Christmastime. I believe that that was before Christmastime.
Arianna goes on a show with Roger Ailes, brings up a single word from six weeks ago, expects Roger to understand it, declares that to be falsehood. That just doesn't hold up as logic.
What he was talking about in that exchange was Andy Stern's SEIU speech where Andy used the term "workers of the world unite." And if we applied the same standard to Andy Stern that Arianna is attempting to apply to Glenn Beck, you could put Andy Stern in a very, very deep, dark corner with a lot of radical people who have been communists over the years.
I don't think it's responsible. I think we need to focus on the overall content of arguments made in public with a fairness and an accuracy that encompasses the fact that if you say -- you talk for 30 hours a week, you're going to use the word "slaughter" and you're going to use it sometimes without even knowing it. And I don't think we ought to focus on those individual things. We ought to focus on Glenn Beck and why he is so popular.
Why do you think he's so popular, Arianna?
HUFFINGTON: Well, Glenn Beck -- first of all, let me just correct something. This is not an isolated word.
On the same show, I talked about him saying -- asking his audience, who is going to be the next victim of a killing spree? I just have here a handful of quotes from him talking about what Al Gore is doing being equivalent to what Hitler did and leading to the final solution.
This is his stock and trade, talking about the fact that everything that the administration is doing is frightening, taking us to fascism, Marxism. I mean, all of that is completely paranoid.
KURTZ: But let me jump in here.
HUFFINGTON: And I think that there is a reason why there's an exception in the First Amendment to yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater. This is a crowded and anxious country, and he's just going on repeating the same...
KURTZ: But let me come back to this question of whether you apply the same standards.
Rahm Emanuel, White House chief of staff, said in a private meeting some months ago -- he used the word "retarded," talking about a Democratic idea. I think the exact quote was (blanking) "retarded."
KURTZ: He's now apologized. You were said about that on MSNBC. You said, "Oh, this is political correctness, let's not talk about it."
Why not apply the same standard to Rahm?
HUFFINGTON: First of all, saying a group of supposedly your supporters are expletive deleted, "retarded," is a very different category of then what we're discussing here. Personally, I think he should not have used it, but it's not the kind of firing offense that Sarah Palin made it out to be.
HEWITT: Well, once again, selective use of a particular standard.
I'd like to know what the standard is. I like the Brandenburg decision, which is you must have the intention to incite, you must have the present ability to incite. Otherwise, the First Amendment says let a thousand flowers bloom.
Arianna, we've just got to give this up. I think it's important that the ideas that Beck puts forward or O'Reilly puts forward, or Rush or Sean or me put forward, be debated. And the reason that the left is missing the boat, the reason they don't understand the Tea Parties, the reason they don't understand Sarah Palin, is they're focused on trying to score points, as opposed to understand what the American people are saying.
And you still haven't answered my question. Why is Fox so popular?
HUFFINGTON: I'm very happy to answer your question.
First of all, I actually have said that the Tea Party movement should be taken seriously, that a lot of what they're saying is based on legitimate grievances. I've said that and I've written about it.
In terms of why Fox is so popular, Roger Ailes is a great producer, Glenn Beck is a great showman. Any time you have two people's emotions at a time of fear and anxiety, you're going to do well, because people are looking for scapegoats.
HEWITT: They did well during any period of time, Arianna. They haven't ever done well.
KURTZ: All right. Let me turn to someone else.
I'm not putting him in the same category, but MSNBC's Keith Olbermann got a lot of flack for this comment that we're about to play. This was the day before the special election in Massachusetts, won by Scott Brown. Olbermann was, shall we say, not a fan of Scott Brown.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC: In short, in Scott Brown we have an irresponsible, homophobic, racist reactionary, ex-new model, tea- bagging supporter of violence against women and against politicians with whom he disagrees.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Do you have any problem with that? Did "Huffington Post" criticize that?
HUFFINGTON: Jon Stewart criticized him.
KURTZ: What about Arianna Huffington?
HUFFINGTON: And I don't know if you saw that after that, Keith Olbermann said that he had gone over the top.
KURTZ: Over the top, and he apologized.
HUFFINGTON: When was the last time Glenn Beck said he had ever gone over the top? And also, you can put out there thousands of emotional, passionate statements Keith Olbermann has made based on fact. This is a fundamental distinction -- passion and emotion based on fact, based on passion and emotion a la Glenn Beck based on fantasy and fabrication.
KURTZ: Hugh Hewitt?
HEWITT: I've only been "Worst Person in the World "twice. And so I'm going for the hat trick right now.
If I could, I would give Keith a 24/7 cable channel, because he's the greatest thing in the world for conservative values and Republicans other than Joe Biden, who I would like to give a 24/7 cable channel to.
He's a joke. He's recognized as a joke. His ratings have gone through the floor because he's a sportscaster who doesn't know anything.
KURTZ: Doesn't know anything?
HEWITT: He doesn't know anything. Come on. Get him engaged sometimes in a conversation. He falls on his face. He doesn't know a thing about politics.
He knows sports. He gets fed prompter copy, he reads great prompter copies like our president, in some respects.
KURTZ: I don't think that's fair.
HUFFINGTON: Hugh, I bet you have -- this is unbelievable. I bet you have never really watched the show. Maybe you read the transcripts...
HEWITT: No, I watch "Countdown" all the time.
KURTZ: And not just when he's the worst person.
I want to get to one more topic, because we could spend another hour and a half on this.
Sarah Palin was interviewed this morning on "Fox News Sunday," the first Sunday interview she's done. Of course, she is a Fox News contributor. Chris Wallace did the interview.
He did a pretty decent job. She filibustered a lot.
Let's play a little bit of that, when the subject turned to the president of the United States.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY": What do you think of Barack Obama's presidency so far?
SARAH PALIN (R), FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: He has some misguided decisions that he is making, that he is expecting us to just kind of sit down and shut up and accept. And many of us are not going to sit down and shut up. We're going to say no, we do not like this...
WALLACE: Where is he saying sit down and shut up?
PALIN: In a general -- just kind of his general persona.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HUFFINGTON: Well, that's a great moment in the interview, because obviously he has never said, "Sit down and shut up." And I'm glad that Chris Wallace called her on it.
And again, that's typical of the statements based on nothing. What she said, what Hugh just said about Keith Olbermann, without any backing. I mean, I have tons of stuff to back what I'm saying about Glenn Beck.
KURTZ: We can put it on your blog.
HUFFINGTON: I want you to say one thing that Keith Olbermann said that was completely based on nothing but his own fantasy. I would love you to say one thing.
HEWITT: The one thing he apologized for.
HUFFINGTON: Well, other than that.
HEWITT: No I gave you one. Now I want to talk about Sarah Palin.
HUFFINGTON: No, because you say that about Olbermann.
HEWITT: The reason you don't understand Sarah Palin is the reason that you and the left and MSNBC generally don't get Rush, don't get Sean. They speak pasture to America. They speak pasture to people who are endlessly upset with the elitist and the Manhattan beltway D.C. media that refuse to understand that they're insisting upon a change.
When Sarah Palin says the president says, the president says sit down and shut up, you want to apply it literally. That, of course, people in America say, what about when he told Eric Cantor, "I won't, you lost"? What about when he said, "I will call you out"? What about the gestures of the middle finger.
These are the attitudes that she's referring to.
KURTZ: Well, was she being interviewed there as a fellow Fox News contributor, as the person who made a speech to the Tea Party Convention last night, as somebody who may run for president in 2012? She seems to have a number of possible occupations there.
HEWITT: Sarah Palin is to the center-right, as Al Gore is to the center-left. She will remain a powerful figure in public opinion for many, many years to come because she represents and gives voice to a great swell of American...
(CROSSTALK) KURTZ: But you didn't answer my question. I mean, isn't Fox giving her a platform the same way that they would give to Mike Huckabee, the same way that CNN did for all those years for Pat Buchanan, between his presidential campaigns, when she's really more of a politician?
HEWITT: Look, when you look at George Stephanopoulos and James Carville, who will be on, I think, a little bit later, they talk frequently with Rahm Emanuel, or so reports are. So they channel through these platforms that they have, one with ABC, one with CNN, the views of a center-left, mainstream opinion.
There's nothing wrong with that. It's a great thing, in fact.
KURTZ: And Palin opened the door to a possible -- she didn't rule it out -- 2012 presidential campaign. But again, she's in the friendly confines of Fox News Channel.
HUFFINGTON: Well, and, obviously, if you listened to her speech last night, it's pretty clear that right now she's running for president. Whether she will in the end or not, we don't know.
But what is interesting is that Hugh is basically telling us that any time people like Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck say something completely unacceptable, we should not take it literally. So, that means, effectively, we shouldn't really take them seriously.
KURTZ: I've got time for a brief response.
HEWITT: Of course, I didn't say that. And I think people should hold that up of a perfect example of Arianna's work.
HUFFINGTON: You just said, "Don't take them literally." I'm quoting.
HEWITT: Number two...
KURTZ: I'm going to have both of you two take this outside.
Hugh Hewitt, Arianna Huffington, thanks very much for joining us in L.A. this morning.
When we come back, siding with the Saints. It's Super Bowl Sunday, as you may have noticed. And guess which team the media are cheerleading for?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC: I've got to tell you, I am not a partisan for the game myself. I'm a Patriots fan. But I'm psyched, we're psyched, and kind of the whole country is psyched for how psyched New Orleans is for its Saints.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: I'm psyched for this segment, why the press is in the tank for New Orleans.
KURTZ: The Super Bowl hype has been especially heavy leading up to today's big game. And it all seems to be surrounding one team. The media pushing the seductive storyline that the New Orleans Saints should win, if there is justice in the cosmos, to boost the spirits of a city devastated by Katrina. And the other team, the Indianapolis Colts, basically reduced to an afterthought.
So, let's turn to perhaps the least objective person on the planet, ragin' Cajun, CNN political contributor and co-host of "60/20 Sports" on Sirius XM Radio. James Carville joins us now from Plantation, Florida.
All right, Carville. You told "The Washington Post," and I quote, "If you're not from Indianapolis and you're rooting against the Saints, there's something wrong with you. You're a flawed human being."
How did this become a character test?
JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, because, look, we love an underdog. It's the greatest story.
It's not just Hurricane Katrina. It's been a 44-year existence of this franchise. It's our first Super Bowl we've been in.
We're unfortunate, where a New Orleans team is having to play against a New Orleans quarterback. But, you know, that's just the way it is when you live in the best city in the world. And sure, the press is pulling for us. They wouldn't be human if they didn't.
And, by the way, it's not like the press is pulling for a stock or a political candidate, they can have some affect on the outcome. These players don't get -- by the way, and the press is overwhelmingly picking Indianapolis to win the game. So there you go.
KURTZ: All right. So you're obviously emotional about this. You grew up in Louisiana. You've moved back to New Orleans.
But you don't have any problem with the press being in the tank for one team? You think the press should be in the tank for one team?
CARVILLE: What bothers me is, basically, football is a game of motivation, and resentment motivates people. So, I'm sure that the colts coach is going to be saying, you know what? All of the press, all of the leaks, all of the guys in the press box, they don't know -- you know, they're kind of, throw the pineapple, eat the football kind of people. You go out there and you show them. And they're going to be pulling for the Saints, but we're going to do this.
And then, you know, in the Saints locker room, Sean Payton is going to say, oh, the press experts, they're all picking Indianapolis to win the game. They all think that you're just a team that doesn't really deserve to be here. You've got to go out and show them, and play that smash mouth football that we're famous for down here in New Orleans.
All of that is fine, because the press -- football players, they're going to play the game. They don't care who the columnist for "The New York Times" is for or who the writer for "Sports Illustrated," or ESPN commentator or CNN. They're going to go play the game.
And that's what it's going to be about. It's what makes this game so great and such a great story.
KURTZ: The press doesn't seem to catch very much that Mitch Landrieu was elected mayor yesterday, the first white mayor of New Orleans in 30 years -- his father 30 years ago -- because that's gotten totally overwhelmed by this Super Bowl hype.
So isn't that putting -- isn't this whole press conception that the Saints have to win because the civic spirit of New Orleans depends on it, isn't that putting a lot of weight on the shoulders of one team?
CARVILLE: Well, first of all, full disclosure, I was -- my wife and I were both enthusiastic financial supporters, strategic supporters and emotional supporters of Mitch Landrieu. So we're just ecstatic, as is everybody down there. He won with, like, 66 percent of the vote across racial lines, which pretty much demolished the sort of national narrative that we're a city that was hopelessly mired in racial discontent down there.
So, that's a huge story. And I'm glad that you brought that up.
But look, we're going to have a parade Tuesday night for the Saints. I think we're going to actually win the football game. I just think this is our time. But if not, we've dealt with bigger things than the loss of a Super Bowl, and we'll be able to deal with this.
But people are really excited, really in love with this football team. And they just see great things happening in their city.
This is just a grand time for New Orleans, Howie. It really is. I just couldn't be prouder of my city than I am. And I'm going to proud of our guys, win or lose, but I sure to hell hope we win.
KURTZ: I saw one online story by NBC saying five years ago, New Orleans and Drew Brees, the quarterback, were broken. New Orleans, because of Katrina; Brees, because he had a shoulder injury and he played for another team. So I thought that was a stretch. But Even Obama now saying he likes Drew Brees, he's rooting for the Saints as an underdog.
So, ,is the president scrambling on this bandwagon?
CARVILLE: Well, he's a politician. I mean -- and I think he probably is.
And if you know anything about Drew Brees, he is so committed to that city. He and his wife, they've built football field ins the schools down there. They visit the hospitals. I mean, they live there. They're part of the real fabric of New Orleans.
And you just can't -- yes, he's a great athlete, by the way, a tremendous athlete. But he, like Peyton Manning's father, Archie Manning -- I think the two best citizens we have in many ways in our city are Drew Brees and Archie Manning.
We're lucky. Chris Paul, our all-star basketball player, the same way. We're very fortunate in our community that our premier athletes really participate in the community.
KURTZ: All right. I've got to go. But let me ask you, as you head off to the big game, does your agenda today include the consumption of alcohol beverages?
CARVILLE: It most certainly does. Absolutely.
KURTZ: I would like to have you on afterwards then. All right.
KURTZ: Thanks very much.
CARVILLE: A good mood. Thank you.
KURTZ: James Carville joining us from Florida.
And coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, I'll have a few things to say about Jon Stewart.
Plus, selling scandal. Andrew Young and Jenny Sanford hit the talk circuit to peddle their tell-all books. Are the media giving these authors a platform for revenge?
And later, pounding the pavement. Steve Lopez of the "L.A. Times" on whether the tough-talking newspaper columnist is a dying breed.
CROWLEY (voice-over): Six government officials, politicians and analysts have had their say on this morning's talk shows, ,but only the best make it to STATE OF THE UNION: SOUND OF SUNDAY.
CROWLEY: I'm Candy Crowley in Washington.
After one year in the Obama administration, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in an exclusive interview with STATE OF THE UNION, says al Qaeda remains a potent threat.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: More creative, more flexible, more agile. They evolve. They are, unfortunately, a very committed, clever, diabolical group of terrorists who are always looking for weaknesses and openings, and we just have to stay alert.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: President Obama's top homeland security adviser says the administration is committed to prosecuting 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in a civilian court.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN BRENNAN, ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT FOR HOMELAND SECURITY: I have no doubt that the American justice system will prevail, despite the claims and criticisms of a lot of folks, including in Congress, that our judicial system is unable to handle these terrorists. I believe that our system of justice here is strong. And I'm not going to give al Qaeda the victory of being able to overturn our system of jurisprudence here that is anchored in our Constitution and reflects our values as a people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: On the domestic front, reassurance from Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner about the possibility of the economy experiencing a second turndown.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TIMOTHY GEITHNER, TREASURY SECRETARY: I think we have much, much lower risk of that today than at any time over the last 12 months or so. Again, just think about where we are. We have an economy that was growing at the rate of almost six percent of GDP in the fourth quarter of last year, the most rapid rate in six years. So we are beginning the process of healing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: After wowing to National Tea Party's first political convention, Sarah Palin followed up on her criticism of the Obama administration with a prediction that the president may not get a second term.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PALIN: I think if the election were today, I do not think Obama would be re-elected. But three years from now, things could change if -- on the national security front.
WALLACE: But you're not suggesting that he would cynically play the war card?
PALIN: I'm not suggesting that. I'm saying if he did, things would dramatically change if he decided to toughen up and do all that he can to secure our nation and our allies. I think people would perhaps shift their thinking a little bit and decide, well, maybe he's tougher than we think -- than he is today, and there wouldn't be as much passion to make sure that he doesn't serve another four years.
But today, if the election -- he wouldn't win.
WALLACE: Assuming that he continues on the path that he's going on, and we don't have that rally around...
PALIN: Then he's not going to win.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: And now back to Howard Kurtz and RELIABLE SOURCES.
KURTZ: Candy, congratulations on launching your tenure on STATE OF THE UNION. I'm sorry I couldn't be there in person to trudge through the snow to get to the Washington studio.
CROWLEY: Yes. I hear all that sympathy. Thanks so much. I appreciate it.
We did have troopers that did do that, however. So...
KURTZ: Well, we'll see you next week in person.
KURTZ: Every scandal seems to fit the pattern these days. First, the politician denies any wrongdoing -- he was hiking the Appalachian Trail, or his aide was the one who fathered the baby, or something. Then comes the exposure, the apology, the televised confession. And then the wronged party takes to the airwaves just when he or she happens to be peddling a tell-all book.
Jenny Sanford emerged this past week with a book about her marriage to the terrible, horrible, no-good governor she just dumped. She told ABC that Mark Sanford had asked her if he could visit his soul mate, Maria Belen Chapur, in Buenos Aires.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JENNY SANFORD, GOV. MARK SANFORD'S WIFE: I could never have imagined this. I mean, I could have never even made this up. It never occurred to me that this person I knew, who was actually a fairly grounded person, would be asking some things that are morally offensive.
He said, "Why can't you just give me permission?" I said, "Well, why would I give permission?" I mean, who gives their spouse permission to go see their lover?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Andrew Young also made the TV rounds this week, insisting that John Edwards did an awful thing in betraying his wife -- OK, he got that part right -- and wasn't it reprehensible that he asked Young to pose as the father of Rielle Hunter's baby, which, of course, Young was quick to do? He also talks about a video that he claims to have found in a box of trash.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: You describe it as a sex tape depicting a woman who looked like Rielle and John Edwards.
How can you be sure it's them?
ANDREW YOUNG, FMR. EDWARDS CAMPAIGN AIDE: I'm positive it's John Edwards. You can clearly see his face. I can't speak for the rest of the body parts. I've said repeatedly I think it's a shame that people are focusing on this. I could not have...
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, you wrote about it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So, should the media be shining a spotlight on those who purport to tell us the full story when they can turn a profit?
Joining us now here in L.A., Lisa Bloom, legal analyst for CNN.
All right. Let's start with Andrew Young, who we just saw. Should journalists regard him as a whistle-blower or a snake?
LISA BLOOM, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: My grandmother used to say, go to bed with dogs, wake up the fleas. I mean, Andrew Young lied, lied, lied, and now he says he's telling the truth. Right?
In a court of law, a witness is unreliable in one area of his testimony, he's not to be believed in other areas of his testimony. How can we believe anything he says in his book? I mean, that's the first question I have about him.
KURTZ: Well, of course, he was there. But this guy claimed to be the baby's father, and they carried on this cover-up, this cockamamie cover-up that nobody really believed. And he took money...
BLOOM: Well, worse than that -- yes. I was going to say, worse than that, he brings Rielle Hunter in with his family and she actually lives with his family. I wonder, what is he telling his kids, what is he telling his wife?
He's telling all of the world this is his baby when, in fact, it's not. And now he supposedly comes clean with a tell-all book and, by the way, has a mysterious sex tape that he says he just found and then pieced together. I mean, this guy has no credibility at all as far as I'm concerned.
KURTZ: And Andrew Young has now turned over a copy of that sex tape under a court order because Rielle Hunter does not want anybody to see that.
But it seems to me the media get to have it both ways. Chris Matthews had Young on, and called him a rat fink. So you get to talk about the sex tape and all the sleazy details, and then you get to beat up on him and everybody is happy.
BLOOM: Well, he gets to talk about it. I mean, he's done a perfectly legal activity. He's sold a book, he's making the money, it's perfectly legal. But the bigger question is, whatever happened to loyalty, I guess?
There used to be honor among thieves. And when we talk about Jenny Sanford, I think it's a more serious question about marriage, because she's got a book revealing all of the embarrassing peccadilloes of her husband over a 20-yeaer marriage.
I'm sure he has responses to some of the pillow talk, some of the phone conversations that they had. But he's not out there doing that.
Yes, he's a dog. But what about her honor in this relationship? I mean, do we really feel comfortable with somebody exposing all of the details of a long marriage?
KURTZ: Well, that's interesting.
Let me play a little more of that interview that Jenny Sanford did with Barbara Walters. Here she talks about that rambling press conference that you'll probably recall the South Carolina governor giving where he went on and on and on about his great love for his soul mate, which was the woman back in Argentina.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SANFORD: It was awful for me to watch my husband pine about his soul mate and days spent crying in Argentina. It was awful to watch the implosion of his career that really began right there at that press conference. It was awful on so many levels.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Now, I have more sympathy for her because she was humiliated. She didn't ask for this. But does this look like plain old revenge?
BLOOM: It absolutely does. And I do think that Jenny Sanford conducted herself with a lot of dignity as he was off supposedly on the Appalachian Trail and then he gave that press conference, utterly humiliating her. She didn't stand by him Stepford Wife-like, like we've seen other political wives do. So kudos to her for that.
But when she writes a book detailing everything of a 20-year marriage, consider that there are four sons here. They're going to grow up, presumably, and read the book, or at least the whole world is reading their book about their parents' marriage. What about their dignity? What about their rights to privacy?
It is their parents and, ultimately, their story as well.
KURTZ: And it turns out that she knew about this affair for months before it became public, as Elizabeth Edwards did in the case of Rielle Hunter.
So, does that cast Jenny Sanford in a somewhat different light?
BLOOM: Yes. And I would add to that, Howie, that she's also now said that before the wedding, her husband said to her, I don't want that vow of fidelity in there. And she said, well, OK.
So, arguably, he didn't even violate any of his marital promises to her. I mean, that's a really different kind of question, but she knew...
KURTZ: I didn't know you could take that out.
KURTZ: Does that have legal standing?
BLOOM: Apparently. And you know what the cheaters always say? They always say, "I had an open relationship," and we all say, yes, yes, sure. Right. Well, ii this case, apparently, that was their agreement.
KURTZ: Between this story and Edwards and Tiger Woods, David Letterman, which we have talked about on this program, which has gotten so much media attention, do you think the press just spends too much time on these tawdry stories?
BLOOM: Absolutely, Howie. I mean, there's a war in the Congo where over six million people have lost their lives. There's over a million girls in the third world who are sex slaves. There are so many important stories that don't get covered because we're obsessed with sex stories, sex triangles.
Now, these stories are newsworthy because they're public figures who were lying, and both of them, arguably, had a dereliction of their duties as public figures in connection with these stories. Governor Sanford...
KURTZ: The governor disappears.
BLOOM: ... disappears. And John Edwards may have had some campaign finance irregularities. So, it is a story, but it's clearly not worth all of the time and ink that's being expended on it.
KURTZ: So why is so much time and ink expended on it?
BLOOM: Because we're obsessed with these stories. And ultimately, they're fascinating, they're tantalizing. They're shiny, bright, interesting stories.
Maybe we don't have enough seriousness of purpose as a culture to focus on these really important stories where people are out there suffering and dying and we could make a difference. I think the coverage of Haiti, by the way, has been a wonderful, different kind of story that we've been covering and really focusing on, and I hope we can expand that to more substantive coverage of other stories. KURTZ: Right. And I think Haiti was a rare include in the sense that the entire American media machine geared up, went down to the island, told the stories, and didn't just leave in three or four days.
BLOOM: That's right.
KURTZ: I've been impressed by the correspondents, or the new ones who came in, and stayed with that story.
BLOOM: That's right.
KURTZ: But that is rare. Of course, a disaster of that magnitude is rare as well.
BLOOM: Right. And it's our neighbor. It's a story that's close to us, it's a shocking, horrendous story. And there are many Haitis happening all over the world. As I said, Congo, for example, sex slavery of third-world girls. They get very little coverage.
Nick Kristof in "The New York Times" covers it. Very few other reporters cover this.
KURTZ: So often do you get invited on television to talk about the Congo, as opposed to Jenny Sanford, Tiger Woods, David Letterman?
BLOOM: Exactly never. Well, RELIABLE SOURCES. That's about it.
So, in other words, does any individual journalist -- well, you mentioned Nick Kristof -- have the power to change this, or does TV stick with these stories? I mean, look, they're human interest stories. These are well-known public figures, or they suddenly become well known.
I'm interested in them, but you think there's an imbalance here. But do you have the power to just say no?
BLOOM: Well, not only do I not have the power to say no, because I'm employed by certain news organizations, as you are -- and I think, again, these are worthy stories that we're talking about today. But there are other worthy stories not being covered.
Journalists like you and I often pitch these more serious stories. We can't get them on the air. I think many people think they are important, but it's hard to get them. And it's a chicken and egg question, Howie.
BLOOM: I mean, you tell me, as the journalists' journalist, I mean, if the public was clamoring for these stories, we would be providing them, right?
KURTZ: So, in that sense, we are simply feeding people what they say they want. But, of course, under that scenario you could have nude Jell-O wrestling and you would do a big number.
BLOOM: Right. Is it our job as journalists just to get ratings, or do we have a bigger responsibility to lead, to shine the light, to show stories like Haiti, to show stories about what's going on in the third world...
KURTZ: But if you're an executive producer, you say, boy, if I put on this serious story from the Congo, I am going to lose that quarter hour. And on the other hand, if I do this scandal story, more people are going to watch. I mean, your job is to get an audience.
BLOOM: Well, let me give you an example. "Oprah," which is the top-rated show in daytime, often covers these very serious stories. She covered "Half the Sky," the Nick Kristof book about women and girls in the third world. Not just once, but she did several shows on it.
She's talked about women in the Congo and women in the third world, for example. She gets terrific ratings.
So she, I think, is the proof that you can generate interest among the public. You can shine the light and get people to really focus on what's important, and get ratings as well.
KURTZ: I have one piece of videotape I want to play for you before we go. And that is the anchor of the "CBS Evening News." She did a photo shoot that appears in the upcoming issue of "Harper's" magazine, and here's some video from that shoot.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KATIE COURIC, "CBS EVENING NEWS": Hi everyone. I'm Katie Couric, and I'm on set of a Harper's Bazaar" photo shoot, if you can believe that. Anyway, these things are always so much fun because they get you so gussied up and you feel like such a glamour puss, even if you're not.
I always feel sexiest when I'm in a little black dress with a really, really great pair of shoes. High heels, of course.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Katie Couric clearly having fun there.
BLOOM: There's nothing wrong with having fun and there's nothing wrong with looking glamorous. And I think she looks great.
I think there's room for all of it. My beef is only that we focus so much on the fluff and the glamour stories and the sex triangles to the exclusion of worthy stories. And I think there's room for all of it.
KURTZ: But some people might say that's not the kind of image an anchor should be projecting.
BLOOM: Why not? Why shouldn't she be hot and sexy? Absolutely. I say more power to her.
And Katie Couric is a serious journalist. She covers important stories every night. If she wants to look good, I think most women say hats off to her.
KURTZ: Does this put more pressure on Diane Sawyer?
BLOOM: Probably. She always looks great, too.
KURTZ: All right. Lisa Bloom, thanks very much for joining us.
BLOOM: Thanks, Howie.
KURTZ: I want to mention something that I saw in "The New York Times" this morning just briefly.
The ombudsman column was about Ethan Bronner, who is the Jerusalem bureau chief for "The New York Times." There have been some calls for him to give up that job because his 20-year-old son is enlisted in the Israeli military.
Executive editor Bill Keller he sees absolutely no bias in Ethan Bronner's work, that he's a correspondent of terrific judgment and scruples, and that he's not going to bow to that pressure. But it does raise some questions about what you do when family members are involved, at least to some degree, in an enterprise that you, yourself are covering.
Up next, he may have sold Hollywood on the movie "The Soloist," but he's still writing for a bankrupt newspaper.
Steve Lopez of the "L.A. Times" is here.
KURTZ: He has written about a YouTube guitarist who wants to build five super-sized homes in Malibu, chatted up a nursing student who's been crusading for more trash cans here in Los Angeles, and spent time with the mayor -- that is, after Antonio Villaraigosa initially blew him off -- to tape an episode of "All My Children." He's also hung out with the homeless musician who wound up being featured in the movie "The Soloist."
And here to talk about whether newspaper column writing is a dying art is Steve Lopez of the "Los Angeles Times."
STEVE LOPEZ, "LOS ANGELES TIMES": Hey, good to see you again.
KURTZ: Same here, because last time we talked about the movie that you played a part in.
I'm kind of feeling that after the age of Mike Royko and Jimmy Breslin, that the street smart local news columnist is something of a dying breed.
Do you ever feel like a throwback?
LOPEZ: I do, and I feel good about that. I like what they used to do, and think that this is a great time to continue that tradition. I think that a two-fisted columnist who is -- you know, it's a tired cliche, but comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, that's what I do.
KURTZ: You write two or three times a week?
LOPEZ: I do.
KURTZ: It seems like in this age, it's almost like it's been overtaken by blogging and you have to have a new insight every 15 minutes.
LOPEZ: Well, I do a little bit of that, too. And I do a little bit of television. And so I'm trying to learn some new tricks. I'm not very good at them.
What I prefer to do and what I enjoy the most is just the old- fashioned column. And I think that now is the time for newspapers to, rather than de-emphasize that, go strong with that.
I mean, we have -- it's reporting-oriented. And I think that's what makes a difference. If you're doing an old-fashioned, city-style column, you've got to get away from your desk and get out on the streets.
KURTZ: Do you think too many reporters now sit behind a desk, report by e-mail, don't go out and smell the story?
LOPEZ: Well, I think that that is true of a lot people. It's true of reporters, it's true of a lot of columnists, it's true of a lot of bloggers. So what I like to do is to get out there and see what's going on.
KURTZ: And so how do you sniff out stories, whether it's about the trash pickup or the Malibu mansions? You know, that's a lot of ideas to come up with that you can columnize (ph), to make that a verb.
LOPEZ: I'm living in Los Angeles. I mean, it's shooting fish in a barrel.
You can go to Hollywood, you can go to City Hall, you can go anywhere in between. We have -- it's so rich.
I mean, when I lived in Philadelphia, I thought I would never see another news town like that. There's even more material here. So, if you just stay abreast -- if you just read your own newspaper, there are 10 ideas a day for a column.
KURTZ: But I think you also, as a columnist -- and this is good thing -- you personalize it. You don't just say I had an hour-long interview with Mayor Villaraigosa and here's what he had to say. You say, boy, he was ticked off at me, and he wouldn't talk to me for a year. And then he stood me up and I finally got to go to City Hall and chat him up.
LOPEZ: Well, I like to have some fun with it. And, you know, if the mayor's deputy for transportation is driving to work in a Hummer, in the most congested, traffic-choked, smoggy city of the world, that's a column for me. And I've been beating him up over that for the last couple years.
Finally, I came up with a plan to buy the Hummer from him, to take the pressure off the mayor. And that's the kind of fun you can have with a column.
KURTZ: Now, as I mentioned at the top, you actually discovered and befriended Nathaniel Ayers, the homeless guy, musician whose tale was made into "The Soloist." Robert Downy, Jr., portraying him. And you just wrote about him the other day. He was -- finally made a CD -- or is starting to make a CD. And you kind of prodded him there.
Did you ever think of quitting this racket and just writing for Hollywood?
LOPEZ: Oh, no, no, no, no, no. I had a lot of fun doing that.
I'm really pleased with the movie and the way that it turned out. But I'm happy doing what I do. And I just hope that I can do this -- I don't know that I'll be able to, but if I can do this for another 10 or 20 years, I'd be a pretty happy guy.
I don't know how long we're going hang on. And I had a conversation not long ago with David Carr, "New York Times" columnist, about, what do we do next? And David had a line that I have borrowed and used repeatedly.
And he said, "Look, we love this, we wouldn't be happy doing anything else. We keep shooting until we run out of bullets." And that's how I feel about it.
KURTZ: Your newspaper, the "L.A. Times," is bankrupt, part of the Tribune chain which was run into the ground by Sam Zell, financially speaking.
Is that depressing? I mean, you've lived your whole life around newspapers and magazines.
LOPEZ: You know, it's my seventh newspaper. I don't know how many of those still exist. And among those that do, how many are bankrupt.
KURTZ: Well, "The Philadelphia Inquirer" still exists. And "The Philadelphia Inquirer" is bankrupt.
LOPEZ: Right. It's not a great time. It's not a great time. But like David says, you keep shooting until you run out of bullets.
You know, we're trying to figure out how to do more with less, like so many people in this economy. We don't know what tomorrow will bring in a way that makes each column all the more enjoyable.
I want to embrace this. I want to hold on to it. I want to savor it.
I mean, I look at each column that way. Maybe it's the last one. Have some fun with it.
KURTZ: Is it hard to watch a great newspaper shrink? I mean, I've been around newspapers, too. It's very painful for me. And yet, I could get up on a soapbox right here and say we still perform a very valuable civic function, even though people now like to get their news for free on the Internet.
LOPEZ: It is sad. It's sad because we're part of an important public conversation.
In southern California, I don't think that there's a more important institution than the "L.A. Times." We start conversations and we keep them going. And when we have fewer people to make that happen, it's tough. But we're trying to do what we can.
And I'll tell you what, every day you open the "L.A. Times," and here we are bankrupt. And yes, there are some empty desks. There's good stuff in the paper every day. And it's still fun to work in that environment.
KURTZ: Local television is not in the same league, journalistically speaking?
LOPEZ: You know, it's sirens, fire engines, it's car chases, local television news. I'm now working with a public television station where it's almost like a mini "60 Minutes."
It's a half-hour of three seven-minute stories. So that's real local news. And I'm enjoying trying that out. But no, local TV news, network affiliates, there's nothing to look for there.
KURTZ: And so what you're saying is it may be broken. It may have shrunk. But a newspaper like the "Los Angeles Times" is still a really valuable institution.
LOPEZ: I'll tell you what, every day there are 200 e-mails.
KURTZ: So somebody is reading you.
LOPEZ: Somebody is reading it. And, of course, half of them tell you to -- when are you going to leave the country and when are you going to wise up? But there are a lot of great tips, there are a lot of people who appreciate what lands on their doorstep each day. KURTZ: I'm glad you didn't repeat the language in some of those e-mails.
Steve Lopez, thanks very much for stopping by.
After the break, turning the tables. Do you know what happens when you write about Jon Stewart? You become fodder for "The Daily Show." Trust me.
KURTZ: You may think I'm just the host of a little old weekly cable program, but let me set you straight. When I speak, Jon Stewart listens.
KURTZ (voice-over): I've interviewed the Comedy Central funnyman over the years. In fact, he was once on this program. And I've talked many times about how much fun he had ripping George Bush.
It's no accident that candidate Barack Obama graced "The Daily Show" days before the 2008 election. But as I wrote in "The Washington Post" this week, at a time when liberal commentators seem to be souring on the president, the left-leaning comedian is taking some humor shots, as well.
JON STEWART, "THE DAILY SHOW": You set up the presidential podium and a teleprompter in a sixth grade classroom? I'm not a political adviser, a campaign strategist. That's not a great photo-op in a middle school classroom!
Stewart has even questioned Obama's somewhat professorial style.
STEWART: You can win us over with an rational policy decisions and an even temperament. You still don't know what makes us tick, do you?
KURTZ: Well, let's just say that column got Mr. Stewart's attention.
STEWART: As you know, it's been a little bit of a rough ride for the Obama administration over the past few months. Unemployment remains high. They've suffered multiple special election losses.
And from what I understand, they've even lost Jon Stewart! Oh my God! Oh my God! They've lost Jon Stewart.
And as Stewart goes, so goes an incredibly small, yet for some reason, demographically valuable segment of our population.
You know how President Obama suffered when he lost Jon Stewart? I mean, that guy was run out of office after only eight years.
KURTZ: Next came an appearance on "The O'Reilly Factor," where the subjects included me.
BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: "The Washington Post," Howard Kurtz, says you're now being too tough on Barack Obama.
KURTZ: No, no, no. That's not what I wrote, Bill. I thought this was the no-spin zone. I simply said Stewart was telling more jokes about Barack Obama these days.
And the gentleman's reaction?
STEWART: Listen, I don't take any of that stuff seriously.
KURTZ: You don't? But I work so hard on it.
Listen, Jon, don't try to deny it. You're a powerful dude, a cultural barometer, a leading indicator, as it were. So it is my journalistic duty to keep deciphering that which you keep hidden by a comedic veil. I hope maybe I'll get some more free publicity out of it.
Still to come, after the arrest. The conservative activist busted for infiltrating a senator's office says he was acting in the tradition of "60 Minutes."
KURTZ: What exactly was James O'Keefe doing when he was arrested in Mary Landrieu's Senate office? The man who played the pimp in that undercover ACORN sting gave his answer this week to Fox's Sean Hannity -- he was being a reporter.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: Did you dress up as a telephone repairman or telephone repair people?
JAMES O'KEEFE, INDEPENDENT FILMMAKER: Yes. As far as that is concerned, I mean, investigative journalists have been using a lot of these tactics for years. I mean, NBC, "Dateline."
HANNITY: Yes, but -- all right, but did you dress up as a repair guy?
O'KEEFE: Yes, we did.
HANNITY: All right. You did.
O'KEEFE: You have "60 Minutes," you have "20/20." I mean, these are things investigative journalists have been doing for years.
(END VIDEO CLIP) KURTZ: Now, I've been critical of some of these programs that use hidden camera investigations, and I've said the ACORN sting was a legitimate story. But look, James O'Keefe is a conservative activist trying to embarrass liberal targets, and there's nothing wrong with that. It was monumentally dumb for him to infiltrate a Senate office under the cloak of false pretenses, but let's not cloak that in the mantle of reporting.
That's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES from here in Los Angeles.