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Reliable Sources

Interview With Lisa and Laura Ling

Aired May 23, 2010 - 11:00   ET



HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice-over): The journalist arrested in North Korea. She was a television star using the media to try to win her sister's release. A conversation with Lisa and Laura Ling.

War, sex and politics. "The New York Times" wounds Richard Blumenthal's Connecticut Senate campaign by disproving his claim that he served in Vietnam. But did former wrestling executive Linda McMahon help slam the paper slam her opponent?

Congressman Mark Souder resigns over an affair with an aide. Did the press pile on after discovering this video?

And are news organizations exaggerating the impact of this week's primaries?

Plus, how YouTube changed the media world.


KURTZ: The media drew all kinds of lessons from this week's political contests, but one conclusion is inescapable. In the ephemeral age of blogging and twittering, one well-reported newspaper story can still blow a hole in a campaign. But there's also the question in this case of "The New York Times" accepting help from a rival candidate in the form of oppo research.

Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal had been going around the state talking about his military service, as we see here.


RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: We have learned something important since the days that I served in Vietnam. And you exemplify it.


KURTZ: But as The Times reported, Blumenthal never did serve in Vietnam. He was in the Marine Corps Reserves.

The Democratic Senate candidate acknowledged that, but went on the offensive.


BLUMENTHAL: On a few occasions I have misspoken about my service, and I regret that. And I take full responsibility. But I will not allow --


I will not allow anyone to take a few misplaced words and impugn my record of service to our country.


KURTZ: Meanwhile, Fox News broke the story of Congressman Mark Souder, who preached the importance of abstinence while having an affair with an aide on his House payroll. And even as the Indiana Republican said he would resign, it didn't take long for media organizations to find a videotape featuring the mistress, Linda Jackson, interviewing him about the importance of teenagers refraining from sex.


REP. MARK SOUDER (R), INDIANA: First off, from the topic, how has abstinence education failed? Rather than --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So you knew you were going to be fighting from the get-go?

SOUDER: How hard is it to get kids to abstain from sex regardless what program you give them?


KURTZ: So, what impact is the press having on these midterm elections? And are journalists exaggerating the impact just a bit on a handful of races this week?

Joining us now, Dana Milbank who writes "The Washington Sketch" column for "The Washington Post"; Margaret Carlson, chief political columnist for Bloomberg News and Washington editor of "The Week" magazine; and Chris Stirewalt, political editor at "The Washington Examiner."

Dana Milbank, if you're a "New York Times" reporter writing about Richard Blumenthal, and you get some help from his Republican opponent, and a negative piece, do you have some obligation to tell readers about that?

DANA MILBANK, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, I don't think so. I mean, you get the information and then you go and verify it yourself. I mean, as reporters, often we are always our best sources on Republicans, or often Democrats, and vice versa. I think if The Times made any mistake in there, it's that they didn't give full context to saying, well, there were times when he characterized his service properly. So that --

KURTZ: The article did say that.

MILBANK: Well, he didn't include the entire fuel context of the video in one instance.

KURTZ: Right.

MILBANK: I think they probably regret that mistake. But overall, no, of course, there's nothing wrong with where you get your information from, as long as it's accurate information and you verify it.

KURTZ: On the other hand, Linda McMahon, who is now the Republican nominee in Connecticut against Blumenthal -- and she's a former World Wrestling Entertainment founder, co-founder, so we'll show you that video in a moment -- she didn't do anything to hide her role once this story came out.

Let's watch.


SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: And you had no role whatsoever in "The New York Times" breaking this story?

LINDA MCMAHON (R), CONNECTICUT SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: They had initiated this story. We contributed some research to the story for "The New York Times," but they initiated, they did the research, they did all the verification for it.


KURTZ: So, Margaret Carlson, Linda McMahon not exactly an off- the-record source here. So why is "The New York Times" protecting her?

MARGARET CARLSON, CHIEF POLITICAL COLUMNIST, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Well, you know, it's -- that's just what you would expect from a candidate of the Hulk Hogan school. Listen, she couldn't resist taking the credit, which, in most of these circumstances, where Dana Milbank says, you get your information at least to start from the opposite side from an opponent.

She wanted to take all that credit. It's a rookie mistake. And she did it.

And what The Times didn't do, I think, is these were needles in a haystack. There are hundreds and hundreds of speeches that Richard Blumenthal has given. No newspaper I know -- maybe you can dispute this with "The Washington Post" -- has the staff to go through hours and hours and hours. She did that, and what I think The Times didn't know is that in that same speech on the video, he speaks totally candidly about his time in the service.

KURTZ: Well, I wouldn't quarrel with "totally candidly," but let me just mention that a Times spokesman told me that -- didn't dispute the fact that Linda McMahon had some role, but said the paper had multiple sources, and obviously did a lot of its own research.

But Chris Stirewalt, we're talking about a video of one speech that The Times posted on its Web site, didn't play the beginning where Blumenthal says he served during Vietnam, did play a later reference where he said he served in Vietnam. But saying you served during Vietnam doesn't contradict the notion that you were saying you were there in the combat zone.

CHRIS STIREWALT, POLITICAL EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER": Well, unfortunately for Attorney General Blumenthal, there have subsequently come out other videos in which he is -- he goes beyond being oblique about the time of his service and goes straight into sounding like he was victimized by antiwar protesters and other things when he comes home. So, sort of the best case for Blumenthal in his spin was that he was intentionally oblique. The worst case is that he was misleading.

Neither of them is good. And when you look at what's happened to him, in the estimation of voters in Connecticut, it's obvious that this is sort of a character issue that they're not satisfied with.

KURTZ: And other newspaper articles have come out -- for example, "The Stanford Advocate" -- quoting Blumenthal as having said, "I wore the uniform in Vietnam." Now, Blumenthal says, well, he's not responsible for what every paper writes. But he has a press staff that could have easily corrected this.

Let me move on to Mark Souder.

You wrote about it this week, the congressman -- the former congressman -- this week, Dana Milbank.

Let's play a little bit about the congressman's -- the former congressman's, excuse me -- reaction to the story when he to acknowledge that he had an affair with an aide. This, of course, coming from the champion of abstinence.


SOUDER: I sinned against God, my wife and my family by having a mutual relationship with a part-time member of my staff. In the poisonous environment of Washington, D.C., any personal failings is seized upon, twisted for political gain.


KURTZ: How much did the press relish this situation, people like you twisting it for political gain or journalistic --

MILBANK: Journalistic gain is a different thing. I mean, I think that was an irresponsibility statement. The reason, basically, he's saying is it's all about the press, and he's resigning because he doesn't want to be embarrassed, well, if you don't want to have to resign, then don't have an affair with a woman on your payroll that you made abstinence videos with. I mean, that was his problem, and not the press. But he is correct that it would become even more of a football had he decided to stay in office. Same thing with Eric Massa. That's just what we do.

KURTZ: Right. I mean, part of my reaction is, another congressional affair, ho hum. But, of course, it had this extra element. It reminds me of the former congressman Mark Foley, who was the co-chairman of the Missing and Exploited Children's Caucus, when he was sending sexually-explicit IMs to House pages.

So, how much does hypocrisy boost the news value of a story like this?

CARLSON: Well, there are so many sex scandals, that I think that you do have sex-plus. There has to be something else. And when you have --

KURTZ: Or else what? Or else it's not much of a story?

CARLSON: Well, because there's so much of it. I mean, I just think --

KURTZ: You think it's become so routine, that we're practically yawning about it?

CARLSON: Yes. Well, I don't think we cover every congressman who has an affair until it ratchets up. And this was ratcheted up.

I mean, video -- when you have video like that, that's not just hypocrisy, it's on tape. I mean, how bold of him to do that.

MILBANK: And if it were any other workplace other than the United States Congress, there could be a sexual harassment issue.

CARLSON: Yes. Yes.

KURTZ: But is the press easier on Democratic politicians who get caught doing this sort of thing? Because there isn't this -- what Margaret calls sex-plus. There isn't -- it's family values Republican, therefore it's really outrageous.

Do you see any bit of a double standard here?

STIREWALT: Well, let's be clear. I mean, first of all, Congressman Souder should get some credit for, as a strange an individual that he seems to be, that he has found not one, but two women in the course of his life who will have constituent relationship with him. So I think that's something he deserves credit for.

But, yes, sure, people who are more or less going to get zapped when they run afoul of their own morality, that's fair.

MILBANK: It's not just morality, though. It's hypocrisy. And this is related to the Blumenthal story. I think he was vulnerable to this because he was Mr. Clean and Mr. Pure.

KURTZ: Absolutely.

MILBANK: And people said, ha-ha, we got you there.

KURTZ: And who's a prosecutor who goes after other people who break the law.


MILBANK: Right. So if Mark Souder had been a free love guy, he would have been in trouble, but it wouldn't have been the same thing.

CARLSON: But, I mean, at the same time, we want public figures to aspire to monogamy and faithfulness to their vows. So let's not over-punish them. But in this case, I think we did have this incredibly remarkable video of the two of them. That's --

MILBANK: On his Web site.

CARLSON: Yes. And he offered it up to us.

KURTZ: It did not take long for the media to find that videotape.

Speaking of videotape, I want to go down to what I thought was a remarkable interview this week on MSNBC. Rachel Maddow, an unabashed liberal host on that network, interviewing Rand Paul a day after he won the Republican nomination. He's, of course, a Tea Party champion, a Republican nomination to run for the Senate in Kentucky. She spent 20 minutes talking to him about the issue of civil rights and whether he had supported or would support or has reservations about the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Let's show you just a little bit of that.


RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC: Let's say there's a town right now, and the owner of the town swimming club says we're not going to allow black kids at our school. How about desegregating lunch counters principally because the government got involved?


RAND PAUL (R), U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE: Right. Well, what it gets into is that, then if you decide that restaurants are publicly owned and not privately owned, then do you say that you should have the right to bring your gun into a restaurant?

MADDOW: And should Woolworth lunch counter should have been allowed to stay segregated? Sir, just yes or no.

PAUL: What I think what happened -- what I'm saying is, is that I don't believe in any discrimination.


KURTZ: Margaret Carlson, was that a fair interview?

CARLSON: It seemed to me to be fair. I didn't see all the 20 minutes, and I've only seen the outtakes. But what I saw, you know, she seemed to give him some rope, but, you know, he wanted to, you know, explain his philosophy.

He deeply believes this, that private businesses should be able to do whatever they want, if that includes discrimination, and the marketplace will fix it. That these establishments will somehow lose their customers. However, if Colin Powell walks in -- do you want to walk into a restaurant if you're a black family and perhaps be turned down for service?

KURTZ: Let me come back to Maddow's role, because one of the reasons I thought it was fair is that she gave him many opportunities to explain, expand, describe the nuances of his position. The next day, Rand Paul said, well, he's being trashed up and down one network. And MSNBC did run this every 10 minutes for the whole day.

But, still, was it a fair interview?

STIREWALT: I think the interview itself was fair. I think the fault here lies with the Rand Paul campaign, that says not only are we going to have these abstruse discussions about past legislation and the constitutionality thereof, but, also, that we're going to do it at an obviously hostile outlet.

We saw from Blumenthal, we saw from Souder, we saw from the Paul campaign blaming the press. But to a certain extent, we have to remember, you're picking your battles. It's not like he had to go on Rachel Maddow or NPR.

KURTZ: And I give him credit for going on.

CARLSON: Well, we applaud this. This is a good thing.

KURTZ: I give him credit for going. And he, of course, then put out a statement backing off on somewhat on his position. But he essentially said the same thing to "The Louisville Courier-Journal" at the end of April.

Why wasn't this in the national press before NPR and Rachel Maddow interviewed him?

MILBANK: Well, I think it's because the race did get some attention in the national press. But the issues were debated at the local level. And I think now we're going to find out that Rand Paul is the gift that keeps on giving, because he does hold many principled positions that strike the majority of Americans as pretty zany.

Every time he's opened his mouth, he's gone on other interviews and said things that have nothing to do with race that are also zany. In fact, he has now had to stop opening his mouth in public because the national audience is worried about just what might come out.

KURTZ: I think you're being a little generous to the national press corps, which devote a lot of column interest and air time to this race, and might have made a little bit more before the primary election about his views on civil rights.

When we come back, this week's primaries registered pretty high on the media Richter scale, but was the impact really that great?

And later, my sit-down with a journalist who was sentenced to 12 years hard labor in North Korea and her TV star sister, Lisa Ling and Laura Ling, ahead.


KURTZ: Some of the pundits dubbed it "Super Tuesday." The American people, they declared, we're sending a message in this week's primaries. The problem is, they couldn't seem to agree on just what that message was.


CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS: This anti-incumbent anger may translate into more Republican victories than Democratic ones this November.

CHIP REID, CBS NEWS: The spin from the White House is that this was a good day.

DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS: Well, it's certainly a blow against the establishment.

BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: The importance of the vote yesterday is that President Obama is no longer a force in electoral politics.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: Also, Democrats are smiling a bit today because they think last night may have given them a roadmap to avoid the killing fields this fall.

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think it's a harbinger of things to come when Republicans take back the Congress.


KURTZ: Margaret Carlson, what does it tell you, there were 50 different interpretations of this week's primary?

CARLSON: Well, it was "Minor Tuesday." There were only a few races, but when you only have a few, then you are going to blow them up a bit to talk about them. And they were incredibly interesting races.

I mean, Arlen Specter goes down after 30 years in public life. The Democrats win in Murtha's old district in Pennsylvania. So, the press, of course is going to take this. I mean, the political press, this is what they cover.

And it's what you have to predict. Up until now, the press line has been, oh, terrible time for Obama, going to lose 50 or more seats in November. Well, now there's some actual information to base this on.

KURTZ: Actual information is helpful.

But my problem, Chris, with a lot of the national implications is, you take a guy like Arlen Specter, he's 80 years old. He's a cancer survivor. He switched parties.

How much does it really tell us that he lost that race in Pennsylvania as a Democrat?

STIREWALT: Well, for politics nerds like me, it tells me more because I look at things like voter intensity, who turned out, what kind of ads were effective, what kind of mood is the electoral overall in. The struggle, of course, for people in our business is finding that uniting narrative, the thing that can overarch, so when you lead into the story you say, X, Y and Z happened, as opposed to saying, well, you know, it's complicated. You know, it's different in Arkansas than it is in Pennsylvania.


STIREWALT: Right. It's complicated.

MILBANK: There's this huge amount of pent-up demand among reporters for political news. We don't -- so we give ridiculous weight to elections, governors elections in New Jersey, and in Virginia. Can you believe how much we are talking about the 12th district of Pennsylvania? Like, who cares?

KURTZ: Who wants to know about the 12th district of Pennsylvania?

CARLSON: But it's better than paying attention to polls. So --

KURTZ: So we're talking about three states, and each contest has its own local issues and local personality, Specter being a good example, the Murtha seat being a good example, where his former aide won. So, it sounds to me you would convict the press of perhaps taking a little bit and making a great deal out of it.

MILBANK: Yes. Although, in defense of the press, what else are they going to do? It's better than just sort of, you know, having the latest poll coming out. At least you actually have some hard evidence.

What's interesting is which ones we decide in advance are going to be important. Guess what? There was also an election in Hawaii this week. Nobody is talking about it. So there's sort of a determination in advance about which one we're going to talk about.

CARLSON: Well, we also knew what was going to happen there. And there was some drama associated. Specter was double digits ahead, and then he plummets with these ads. And it turns out, you know, we have this line, "Incumbency is poison." He was an incumbent in two parties, and he went down double hard.

KURTZ: All right. I think the verdict is you all can't help yourselves.

CARLSON: Yes. No. The answer is always no to the question, "Do we go too far?" Howie.

KURTZ: Chris Stirewalt, Dana Milbank, and Margaret Carlson, thanks for joining us.

Coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, Laura Ling on her captivity in North Korea, Lisa Ling on her effort to free her sister, and the role that CNN and other outlets played in this international standoff.

Plus, CNN's Campbell Brown calls it quits and blames her low ratings. Can straight news still compete on primetime cable?

And check this out. The British newspaper "News of the World" uses an undercover reporter to trap Sarah Ferguson in an incriminating sting.


KURTZ: It was nothing short of a heartrending drama. Laura Ling, a reporter for Al Gore's Current TV, taken into custody with a colleague in North Korea after briefly crossing into its territory from the Chinese border.

Lisa Ling, her well-known sister who has worked for "The View," "National Geographic," and "The Oprah Winfrey Show," trying to work the American media to lobby for Laura's release. The case dragged on until last summer, when Bill Clinton went to Korea and negotiated the correspondent's release.


LAURA LING, HELD CAPTIVE IN NORTH KOREA: We were shocked, but we knew instantly in our hearts that the nightmare of our lives was finally coming to an end. And now we stand here home and free.


KURTZ: But before that happy ending, there were months of agonizing strategizing both in a North Korean jail cell and here in the states. The women recount that struggle in the book "Somewhere Inside: One Sister's Captivity in North Korea and the Other's Fight to Bring Her Home."

I spoke to them earlier from Los Angeles.


KURTZ: Laura Ling, Lisa Ling, welcome.

LISA LING, JOURNALIST: Thank you. Thanks, Howard.

KURTZ: Lisa, after your sister's arrest, you called a couple of cable news presidents, some producers, some correspondents, and you asked them to limit the coverage of this story.


LISA LING: I did, because we did not know what exactly happened, whether Laura and Euna had actually crossed into North Korea or not. And we were really afraid, because North Korea is considered the most isolated, secretive country on earth. And its government is so unpredictable, that we didn't want to do anything that might jeopardize their situation anymore.

KURTZ: Did you feel awkward at all as a journalist asking other journalists to play down the story?

LISA LING: It's not something that I have ever done before, but it was just so crucial. And most of the organizations that I reached out to were very receptive and cooperative, because I think every journalism organization has faced situations where their correspondents have been in unpredictable situations.

KURTZ: Yes, arrested, held hostage or otherwise detained.

Laura Ling --

LISA LING: Absolutely.

KURTZ: -- when you first went to China for Current TV, you went to -- right up to the Korean border. You were interviewing North Korean defectors.

Did you feel at the time this was a pretty risky undertaking?

LAURA LING: Well, at the time, the biggest concern that we had was for the people who we were interviewing. So we were very careful about where we met our interview subjects and how we shot the interviews.

In terms of our physical safety, we were not -- that wasn't at the top of our concern because we never intended to really cross into North Korea that morning.

KURTZ: And when you were arrested, you initially lied, you and your colleague, Euna Lee. You said that you were students, not journalists.

Was that smart, in retrospect?

LAURA LING: Well, we were trying to buy some time in hopes that perhaps while we were along that border area, they might release us back to China. And the reason why we felt this was because we were actually apprehended on Chinese soil and then dragged across the river back to North Korea. So we thought that they might just release us back to China and the Chinese authorities deal with us there.

KURTZ: Lisa, why did you break your initial silence about this harrowing case -- I mean, it must have been just an awful experience -- and decide to do some TV interviews?

LISA LING: After the first phone call that I received from Laura and just -- I just want to point out that calls from previous detainees in North Korea have never been allowed. This was unprecedented.

KURTZ: Right.

LISA LING: And Laura convinced her captors that, if you let me call my sister, we can try and -- try and figure something out. So during my first conversation with my sister, I said to her, "Things have been quiet. We've been keeping this very low profile."

And Laura said to me one phrase, which is, "I think it's been too quiet." And at that moment I knew that it was time to break our silence. And so my family --

KURTZ: Laura, were you sending a message --

LISA LING: Oh, sorry.

KURTZ: -- with that phrase?

LAURA LING: I was. I was being interrogated every day for hours and hours each day. And my interrogator had indicated to me that, really, there was no word coming out from the United States or from our families. And I got the sense that if our families could speak out in a respectful way, that might give the North Koreans something that they wanted.

KURTZ: Right. And your first big interview, Lisa, on this was with "The Today Show."

What did you say to Matt Lauer before the interview began?

LISA LING: Well, I just told him that this was ultra, ultra sensitive, and if he could -- and I've known Matt Lauer for a long time -- just be conscious of that. And my brother-in-law and I really crafted these very, very meticulous messages of apology and intended to be very deferential. I had asked or intimated that if we could keep the questions to my parents limited to how Laura may be doing or her health, that would be preferable.

I mean we were really -- we had to watch our Ps and Qs so, so carefully for this.

KURTZ: And why did you then decide to appear on CNN?

LISA LING: Well, CNN was vital. CNN, we believe, is the only American news channel that the North Koreans see. We've heard from someone who worked at CNN a long time ago that the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-il, has a direct feed and he watches CNN. So, doing an hour with Larry King and doing Anderson Cooper's show, which aired the morning of Laura's trial, was absolutely essential for us.

KURTZ: Let me play a little bit of that Larry King interview. He made a similar point.

Let's roll that.


LARRY KING, HOST: CNN is probably the best known Western outlet in North Korea. And so we'd like you to look into camera one. It's your opportunity to speak directly to North Korea.


We don't know the details of what happened on March 17th, but if at any point the girls went into North Korea, then we apologize on their behalf. They never intended to do so, and we are sorry. And we beg your government to allow my sister and Michael's wife and Hannah's (ph) mother to come home.


KURTZ: Given the stakes, Lisa, were you nervous?

LISA LING: I could still even hear my voice crackling. That was one of the most nervous experiences of my entire career. I mean this -- the message coming from us had to be precise because my sister's and Euna's lives depended on it.

KURTZ: Right.

And then you have been to North Korea once before. And Larry King asked you about that.

And I want to play a brief bit of that.


KING: Have you ever been to that area?

LISA LING: I have. I went with a medical delegation years ago. Yes.

KING: What was it like?

LISA LING: It's -- you know, it not really germane to this story.


KURTZ: What was your reaction when he asked that question? That was not something you wanted to talk about.

LISA LING: Right. I think in my haste I hadn't communicated to Larry that I'd like not to talk about my trip to North Korea. And I think he just recalled that I had been there years before.

It was certainly an uncomfortable moment, and I tried to deflect the conversation from that trip, because, as my sister can attest, they weren't very happy, the North Korean government, with the documentary that I produced with "National Geographic" in 2007. It was highly critical of the North Korean regime and their health care system.

KURTZ: And you asked "National Geographic" to pull that video once this began.

Laura Ling, did you know about these interviews as they were going on? Were you getting any news at all from the US?

LAURA LING: I was. After my family did the interviews with Larry King and Anderson Cooper, I was told that the authorities, the officials had seen these interviews.

KURTZ: And, Laura, when you and Euna Lee were tried, when you were convicted, when you were sentenced to 12 years hard labor, did you think it was over? Did you think you'd ever get out at that point?

LAURA LING: I, of course, maintained hope, but when the judge did say "No forgiveness, no appeal," that was -- that's what really struck me perhaps more so than the lengthy sentence, because I had always hoped that there might be a chance of an appeal. But I definitely spiraled into a depression after the sentence.

KURTZ: Completely understandable.

Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state, then issued a call for amnesty. She said, "I think everyone is very sorry that this happened."

Lisa Ling, after that, you called Jon Klein, the president of CNN.

What did you tell them?

LISA LING: I've known Jon for many years, since I was a teenager reporting for Channel 1 News. And I said, "Jon, if there's any way, because CNN is the only network the North Koreans get, or the leadership gets, could you play this call for amnesty on CNN and perhaps repeat it as often as you can?" And he graciously obliged. I mean, I just wanted to make sure that if the North Korean government had their television on, and had CNN on, that they would see that the secretary of state was apologizing on everyone's behalf and asking for amnesty for my sister and Euna.

KURTZ: And, Laura, I had the impression as an outsider that Bill Clinton just showed up one day, but you actually communicated to the U.S. that it would take a former president like Bill Clinton to negotiate your rescue.

LAURA LING: Right. The authorities in North Korea were -- I would have conversations with them. They would drop hints -- sometimes subtle, sometimes not so subtle. And it became clear that President Clinton was the person that they -- they wanted to come to secure our release.

KURTZ: Right. You know, much of the punditry here at the time was about whether Bill Clinton was overshadowing Hillary Clinton by taking on this frontal shooting role. It seems so trivial, in retrospect.

Laura, do you think, with all the benefit of hindsight, that taking on this assignment was a mistake, or do you feel like you were the victim of a repressive regime?

LAURA LING: Well, in terms of the assignment, which we were reporting for Current TV, I feel as passionate about that issue as ever -- the trafficking of North Koreans, primarily women, along that border is a humanitarian crisis that the world needs to know about. It was, you know, the morning of the -- March 17th, when we were apprehended, it -- the situation evolved. We followed a guide who led us across to the other side. At the end of the day, it was my decision. And I live with those consequences.

KURTZ: Right.

And Lisa Ling, before we go, clearly, with all your television experience, with all your media contacts, you had advantages that someone else in a similar situation might not have had.

LISA LING: Absolutely, Howard. I mean, we are so grateful. And I honestly felt so lucky that I had been working in this business for so long, because I did have resources in the government and in the media. And we'll never forget that. And to the extent that we can help be voices for other journalists who are being held unfairly by other governments, we really want to try to be available.

KURTZ: Well, having followed this so closely, it is nice to see both of you sitting next to each other and talking about this in the past tense.

Lisa Ling, Laura Ling, thanks very much for joining us.

LISA LING: Thank you.

LAURA LING: Thank you.


KURTZ: Up next, the Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson, caught on tape, apparently asking for 500,000 pounds from a British reporter posing as a businessman. Is it crooked for a newspaper to do that?


KURTZ: Got some breaking news out of London this morning. The British tabloid "News of the World" had a reporter pose as a businessman at a sting directed at Sarah Ferguson. The paper has put up some hidden camera video. That video allegedly showing the Duchess of York asking for money in an exchange for in introduction to her ex- husband, Prince Andrew, who the tabloid says knew nothing about any of this.

Let's roll a little bit of that tape. You can get a sense of what it looks like.

During this portion, Sarah Ferguson says -- I listened to it -- "Five hundred pounds when you can to me, open doors. We'll open doors." "Would that be Prince Andrew?" says the reporter. "Yes."

"Is that a deal?" "Yes, says Ferguson. I've got to give you $40,000 first?" "Yes."

Joining me now to talk about this is David Zurawik, television and media critic for "The Baltimore Sun."

And David, Buckingham Palace had no comment, but the AP reporting that a spokesman for Sarah Ferguson saying the tape is authentic, that she is devastated, that she regrets the embarrassment of what we seem to see here with our own eyes.

What do you make of a newspaper doing this? Because, obviously, the reporter pretending to be somebody else.

DAVID ZURAWIK, TELEVISION AND MEDIA CRITIC, "THE BALTIMORE SUN": Well, that's it. It's how you feel, A, about hidden cameras. And B, how you feel about misrepresenting yourself to get a story. It's pure deception.

On the other hand, when you see the end result of this you go, wow, I'm glad I know that. I'm glad I know she's influence-peddling. You know, "60 Minutes" is still doing it. You know, Don Hewitt --

KURTZ: Not as much as it used to.

ZURAWIK: Well, you know, that's interesting, because Don Hewitt said that. And he told me that before his death. Yes, in the last interview I did with him.

And then, about three weeks ago, they had a piece where they had a guy who was selling phony cancer cures for tens of thousands of dollars, reprehensible human being. You know? And it was hidden cameras.

And I called them up afterwards, and I said, "I thought Don said you guys weren't doing that." "No, Don said we're just doing when it's appropriate." And it was very powerful.

KURTZ: Let me jump in.

I talked to a spokesman this morning for "News of the World," and he said that these are highlights from the tapes. Look, there are lots of unanswered questions about this -- what does the whole videotape show? They posted about four minutes.

He said, "The video speaks for itself." The "News of the World" spokesman also saying that this is in the legitimate public interest. In other words, the story was justified because it was important, to your point, and that it is common practice in the U.K.

But if I can push back a little bit, it still involves lying.

ZURAWIK: It does, Howie.

KURTZ: You're getting a story, an important story, a potentially very embarrassing story for Sarah Ferguson, international repercussions, drags Prince Andrew into it, but the reporter lied. You're saying you're OK with that sometimes?

ZURAWIK: No, I'm not OK with it. I'm saying we're kind of hypocritical about it.

When we talk the high road talk -- you know, when I teach this in ethics class, I say a mainstream news organization never misrepresents itself, never uses deception. Bad, bad, bad. And then "60 Minutes" comes on and does it, and it's a great story, and nobody says, bad, bad, bad. Great story.

KURTZ: OK. So Professor Zurawik says this is against the ethical rules, but television critic Zurawik says, hey, that's a great story.

ZURAWIK: No. We're using it, and we ought to get our act together about how we really feel about it in the mainstream press. That's really what I feel.

We're kind of hypocritical about it. When we see something like this, also, Howie, as a viewer, when you see this, you go, this is great, I'm glad they got it. You know?

KURTZ: Right. Well, we debated even whether to show the videotape this morning. When I saw the statement from Sarah Ferguson's spokeswoman saying that this was authentic, she was not disputing this, there's a lot more to come out about this.

Let me now shift gears and talk about CNN.

This week, Campbell Brown, the CNN anchor whose program airs at 8:00 p.m. Eastern -- she,, of course, goes up every night against Bill O'Reilly on Fox, Keith Olbermann on MSNBC. She announced that she would be leaving CNN soon, as soon as a replacement is chosen.

And she had an interesting statement that I want to read, if we could put it up on the screen.

She said, "I could have said that I'm stepping down to spend more time with my children."

How many times have we heard that, David?

"The simple fact is that not enough people want to watch my program, and I owe it to myself and to CNN to get out of the way so that CNN can try something else."

My first question, what do you think about the way she handled it?

ZURAWIK: I think she handled it very well. And I have a lot of respect for Campbell. I really do. So that's part of it. I think she handled it well, but there's another part of that, Howie.

You know, in the last year now -- this is just the first six months of 2009, the first six months, December to May of this year -- she lost about 38 percent of her audience, overall viewership. And about that much in terms of the key demographic of 25 to 54. That's a lot to lose.

Now, here, what CNN is doing in terms of trying to hold the line in terms of real journalism versus pure opinion, it's not just commendable, it's one of the most important stories I think you and I are covering right now in the history of TV news.

KURTZ: But, look, in recent years CNN has tried Connie Chung, Paula Zahn, Campbell Brown in that 8:00 p.m. Eastern slot, has not been winning the ratings war. Does CNN need stronger personalities? Is it a viable business strategy, when the other guys on the left and right are full of opinion and entertaining to watch, to try to stay in the middle?

ZURAWIK: You know, Jim Walton, the president of CNN International, says what's missing when folks report this story is context. And while I often disagree with news executives, I totally agree with him.

CNN -- and, Howie, this isn't just from them. I've checked this out with lots of different media economists who have told me the same thing.

CNN has a different business model. It's CNN International. Only 10 percent of their revenue comes from primetime U.S. programming. OK? They can afford not to have great ratings. Fox can't. Fox needs the big ratings they're having.

KURTZ: Fifteen seconds.

It may be a viable business strategy, but a lot of media attention on prime time. And you don't want to be getting shellacked in prime time.

ZURAWIK: That's absolutely true, but their opponents are helping to create that. Every time the ratings come out for prime time, the competition is sending critics things saying, look at how bad, this is a crisis, CNN has to act. I don't think CNN has to act.

KURTZ: Got to go. David Zurawik, thanks for doing double duty this morning.

When we come back, Rand Paul, the Kentucky Senate nominee, making lots of news. Some of it disconcerting to the Republican Party.

Candy Crowley joins me to break out "THE SOUND OF SUNDAY" in a moment. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Rand Paul, the Republican Senate nominee in Kentucky, was supposed to be on "Meet the Press" this morning. He canceled late Friday.

Here to talk about the political reverberations from Paul's victory is Candy Crowley.

CANDY CROWLEY, HOST, "STATE OF THE UNION": He can cancel, but a lot of people were still talking about him.

As you know, Howie, he got tangled up in the whole idea of how he felt about the Civil Rights Act of 1965. But probably more important to the Republican Party is he put a lot of Republicans in a jam, as people said, well, ,what do you think about what he said? They were still tap dancing as of this morning.


MICHAEL STEELE, CHAIRMAN, RNC: I can't condemn a person's view. That's like, you know, you believe something and I'm going to say -- I'm going to condemn your view of it. the people of Kentucky will judge whether or not that's a view that they would like to send to the Senate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you comfortable with that?

STEELE: I'm not comfortable with a lot of things, but it doesn't matter what I'm comfortable with or not comfortable with. I don't vote in that election.



SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: I just think every time you have a citizen who decides to run for political office who's not a professional politician, that occasionally they're going to stumble.



GOV. TIM PAWLENTY (R), MINNESOTA: His comments about the Civil Rights Act were unfortunate, and since then, he said he would have voted for that Civil Rights Act.

SARA PALIN (R), FMR. ALASKAN GOVERNOR: One thing that we can learn in this lesson that I have learned, and Rand Paul is learning now, is don't assume that you can engage in a hypothetical discussion about constitutional impacts with a reporter or a media personality who has an agenda.


KURTZ: The party chairman saying, I don't vote in that election. Talk about distancing.

So, how are Democrats spinning this week's primary results?

CROWLEY: What's interesting is they see a lot in these few results that give them some real hope for November.


TIM KAINE, CHAIRMAN, DNC: We're going to hold on to both houses. And I'll tell you what this Pennsylvania 12 says.

Republican leadership said they were going to win this race. They said it was exactly the kind of district that they had to win to get a majority in the House. We won it not just by a little, we won it by a lot.



GOV. ED RENDELL (D), PENNSYLVANIA: I think the Tea Party candidates are going to be more easy to beat in a general election. I think that's the case with Rand Paul.


KURTZ: Democrats feeling optimistic. I am shocked.

But, of course, the story that is bedeviling both parties in the country is this oil spill, which cannot get under control.

How's that playing this morning?

CROWLEY: Not to mention bedeviling BP.

Earlier this week, the CEO of BP seemed to sort of indicate, well, this is going to be a minimal impact on the environment. I mean, people were looking up and said, "Are you kidding me?" But I have to say that as of this morning -- and this was on "STATE OF THE UNION" -- BP seems to be in line with how the U.S. government is viewing it.


ADM. THAD ALLEN, COMMANDANT, U.S. COAST GUARD: We don't want to perpetuate any kind of notion at all, whether it's BP or the United States government, that this is anything less than potentially catastrophic for this country.



BOB DUDLEY, MANAGING DIRECTOR, BP: This is catastrophic for -- well, every employee of BP. It's catastrophic for the 24,000 people down there working on the spills. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: "Catastrophic" is now the word?

CROWLEY: "Catastrophic," yes. Yes, in case you didn't know that. But everybody is on board now that speaks about it publicly.

KURTZ: Why people were saying it was anything less than catastrophic is very hard for me to figure out.

Candy Crowley, thanks very much.

Still to come, the Web site that lets ordinary folks compete for eyeballs with media giants. The YouTube revolution turns five.


KURTZ: It hardly seems possible that until five years ago, there was no YouTube. It has become a verb, a fixation, a way of life, both silly and serious, a ticket to worldwide fame, or a dramatic career- ender. And it's fascinating how some media personalities chose to mark the anniversary.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC: Globally, YouTube now gets two billion views a day. If you sat down to watch all the video posted on YouTube, it would take close to two centuries.

MARTIN BASHIR, ABC: With one billion people watching videos daily, YouTube truly is woven into the fabric of our information flow.

MEREDITH VIEIRA, NBC: Whether you're looking for old commercials, outrageous stunts, or the downright bizarre, YouTube is the place to go.

KURTZ (voice-over): YouTube, now owned by Google, was at first known for crazy cats and dancing babies. But it soon became a political tool. When Virginia Senate candidate George Allen referred to an Indian-American as "Macaca," the videotape went viral.

YouTube even sponsored a presidential debate with CNN. And British singing contestant Susan Boyle became a global sensation with 120 million views on YouTube last year.

But when the anniversary arrived this past week, Bill O'Reilly was not exactly celebrating.

O'REILLY: In a moment, we will analyze whether watching too much YouTube and going on Facebook is dangerous -- actually dangerous for your health.

KURTZ: Chris Matthews marked the occasion by playing classic clips involving a certain high-decibel anchor.

MATTHEWS: You're a big Barack supporter, right, Senator? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am. Yes, I am.

MATTHEWS: Well, name some of his legislative accomplishments.


MATTHEWS: No, Senator. I want you to name some of Barack Obama's legislative accomplishments tonight if you can.

Well, here's another one where a guy as tongue-tied on our program.

Tell me what Chamberlain did wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Neville Chamberlain was an appeaser, Chris.

MATTHEWS: What did he do?


KURTZ: What's great about YouTube, it's a game that anyone with a camcorder can play. You don't have to have a big job or work for a television station. You, too, can become a broadcaster if you've got something to say -- or a really cute baby.


Candy Crowley and "STATE OF THE UNION" begins right now.