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Mean-Spirited Attacks on the Media; Afghanistan War Documents Leaked
Aired August 01, 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: We have been called everything from patsies to pinheads, blamed for bias, skewered for sensationalism, ripped for recklessness. The atmosphere is just plain ugly.
What accounts for these mean-spirited attacks on the media, and in many cases perpetuated by the media? Why are journalists being called not just wrong, but dishonest, racist, corrupt?
This morning, an in-depth look at the press and the poison.
A stunning leak from the shadowy group known as WikiLeaks, more than 90,000 secret military documents involving the war in Afghanistan. But WikiLeaks had help from three of the world's top newspapers. We'll ask "New York Times" editor Bill Keller why his paper published the material that drew denunciations of the White House.
Plus, an anchor known mainly for her overseas exploits joins the Sunday morning lineup. Our report on Christiane Amanpour making her debut at ABC's "This Week."
I'm Howard Kurtz, and this is RELIABLE SOURCES.
It's not that the criticism is not legitimate. The media did perform badly, by and large, in the sacking of Shirley Sherrod. Liberal journalists did say some awful things about conservatives on that off-the-record discussion group. Conservative commentators did accuse the mainstream media of shilling for Obama by not getting exercised about that New Black Panther Party controversy. There are serious questions about what Rolling Stone's Michael Hastings did with General McChrystal.
But never in my professional lifetime has the media bashing been so deafening, so personal, and so much of it carried out by some pundits against other pundits.
Here's just a brief sample.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: For weeks, Fox News and its friends have been whipping up white hysteria over allegations that members of the New Black Panther Party intimidated voters in Philadelphia two years ago. HOWARD DEAN, FMR. DNC CHAIRMAN: I think Fox News did something that was absolutely racist. They took a -- they had an obligation to find out what was really in the clip. They have been pushing a theme of black racism with this phony Black Panther crap and this business, and Sotomayor and all this other stuff.
CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: I know facts are inconvenient things, but let's try to deal with the facts. The fact is that the Obama administration fired -- or forced Shirley Sherrod to quit before her name had ever been mentioned on Fox News Channel.
Did you know that, sir?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The minute I challenge you, you tell me I don't know what I'm talking about?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because you don't.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You just want people to come on and just agree with you?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. I want --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any comments on Israel? We're asking everybody today. Any comments on Israel?
HELEN THOMAS, FMR. WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine.
GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS: This president, I think, has exposed himself as a guy over and over and over again who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture.
LOU DOBBS, FMR. CNN ANCHOR: Well, let me tell you what, you're not going to define --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's no room for hate.
DOBBS: You're not --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's no room for further distortion.
DOBBS: There's no room for further distortion.
KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC: What you see on Fox News, what you read on right-wing Web sites, is the utter and complete perversion of journalism, and it can have no place in a civilized society. It is words crashed together, never to inform, only to inflame. It is a political guillotine.
BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: This guy couldn't have been --
GERALDO RIVERA, FOX NEWS: It has nothing to do with illegal aliens. It has to do with drunk driving. Don't obscure tragedy to make a cheap political point.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So how did the media come to this juncture, and what is it eroding what remains of our credibility?
Joining us now to talk about this, David Zurawik, television and media critic for "The Baltimore Sun"; Frank Sesno, former CNN executive who now directs the School of Media and Public Affairs at The George Washington University; Lauren Ashburn, president of Ashburn Media Company and a former managing editor of "USA Today"; and Chip Reid, chief White House correspondent for CBS News.
And Chip Reid, has the hyperpartisanship of politics now somehow morphed into a nasty media atmosphere for journalists?
CHIP REID, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, CBS NEWS: Well, I think it has. I consider myself fortunate, though. I work on this little island of sanity called the "CBS Evening News," which is in many ways the same as it was 10 or 20 years ago.
My job every day is to do a story informing people about what's going on in the world. But at the same time, I've got all this swirling around me. And I used to be at MSNBC and right in the middle of all that. So I certainly am well aware of it, but there still are some pretty big islands of sanity among all this rage.
KURTZ: I'm glad those islands exist.
Lauren Ashburn, what is the cumulative impact on our business when people are constantly hearing this notion that journalists are either incompetent or biased or racist?
LAUREN ASHBURN, PRESIDENT ASHBURN MEDIA COMPANY: I think that we've been hearing that for a long time. And I think your point at the beginning is that it's just getting worse. And so the impact is to put us with lawyers at the bottom of the pack of professions or professionals to hate.
KURTZ: But is it something that, therefore, we are doing to ourselves, cumulatively speaking, Chip Reid excepted?
ASHBURN: And I happen to agree with him about that, about nightly news and the bastion of sort of paternalism almost in the reporting. But you know, I think that, yes, we are hurting each other. And we're hurting our ability to remain or to be seen as objective. There aren't a lot of people right now who see the media as objective.
KURTZ: Frank Sesno, I'm all in favor of tough media criticism. This is what I do. This is what you have done. But it has moved somehow from you're wrong about that story, to you're wrong and you're an Obama lackey, you're a Republican stooge, you're peddling propaganda. It goes to motivation.
FRANK SESNO, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: It goes to motivation. It goes to whether you're a patriot or not. I mean, it cuts to a very personal level.
I think we've seen this for a long time. I mean, it's just gathered steam, and what we've done now is we've taken the megaphone and put it on steroids, and plugged it directly into a nuclear plant. I mean, that's what's happening when you have the instant ones with all the Web sites, the aggregators, the bloggers that piles on to the cable universe. And so there's this multiplier effect.
I think we have to recognize we now live in a parallel universe where the Chip Reids and "The New York Times," albeit with -- you know, shaved down and less impact, are trying to work still by some set of more or less traditional rules, and the Breitbarts and the Becks and the others who live by no rules that we would recognize as journalists.
KURTZ: Has the partisan pounding that we see on cable news every night, David Zurawik, now spread across the business like a virus?
DAVID ZURAWIK, TELEVISION CRITIC, "THE BALTIMORE SUN": It's made a difference. Howie, and you know on this show we've denounced that kind of partisan -- those voices on the right and the left, MSNBC and Fox on one side and on the other. And you know what would happen? Even on this show, if we talk about it today -- and it will happen tomorrow -- they come back at us and say it's a partisan attack.
What they've tried to do is mute down the middle legitimate criticism by saying it's partisan. The politicians did it --
KURTZ: On that point, you've criticized CNN.
KURTZ: You've criticized MSNBC. And you've been Keith Olbermann's "Worst Person in the World."
ZURAWIK: Several times.
KURTZ: And when you criticize Fox News, you're a liberal pinhead.
ZURAWIK: Yes, absolutely. And that's the crazy thing, Howie, is that against all odds and against all reason and against doing a Google search and looking at somebody's record, somebody can say you're a liberal or you're a conservative or you're a racist, and it'll generate this flood of animosity just like it did with the Shirley Sherrod case, before it gets straightened out.
KURTZ: And look, legitimately speaking, I mean, almost everybody looked back in the Shirley Sherrod case -- the media, the White House, Andrew Breitbart, who posted that clip and had an agenda. But it unleashed this nuclear war in which everybody was denounced. In other words, it became less about her and more about the finger-pointing.
REID: It certainly did. But you know, again -- and I'm sorry if it sounds like I'm patting myself on the back -- the day that was all happening, I was doing a story on David Cameron coming to the White House. And I tell you, I didn't even know it was going on.
ZURAWIK: And yet --
REID: But the next day all the attention turned to the White House, ,and why isn't the president talking about this? And it generated a whole bunch of other serious news issues. Why is --
KURTZ: It completely overshadowed the president's signing of the financial regulation bill, which is a major issue for the last year. And we're all talking about Shirley Sherrod.
ZURAWIK: But, you know, Chip, I have to say this about -- and I don't disagree with you about your role in this. But CBS.com, CBSNews.com, had that Sherrod clip up Tuesday -- right away. And it was running. It was the Breitbart clip.
You're not insulated from it. You're not insulated. And they didn't contextualize it. They did not question that. They put it up.
ASHBURN: You have to in the Internet, where there is so much information. You have to, it seems, attack, and if you don't attack you're going to be heard.
ZURAWIK: But you can't separate the evening news from the online content.
SESNO: This is all about making noise. It's all about survival.
I mean, if we boil it down to the media marketplace that this is all in, you know, what happens if Tucker Carlson on "The Daily Caller" does a reasoned outtake on the financial reform bill? What happens on "The Daily Caller" if Tucker Carlson swings in for an attack? The traffic is completely different.
KURTZ: And since you mentioned "The Daily Caller," he swung in for an attack with all these liberal e-mails that were supposed to be off the record, this group Journolist. And so you had one liberal guy saying let's call Fred Barnes a racist to put him on the defensive. You had Dave Weigel, who lost his job as a "Washington Post" blogger, just picked up by Slate, saying Matt Drudge should set himself on fire.
The fact it was supposed to be off the record is irrelevant. It drove traffic.
SESNO: It drives traffic. And here's what -- this is what I said about these parallel universes -- there are no rules.
I can call you a racist. I can call you a pinhead or an idiot on my Web site or my blog. Nobody's going to stop me. If I had tried to do that, or if you tried to do that here at CNN, somebody would be on the phone with you saying, don't you do that again. Or, what are the rules, or how did you get there, or what's the source?
REID: You don't have any rules.
SESNO: You are accountable to no one.
ZURAWIK: Well, Frank, there's another cut to that, too, is that the legacy media that are online and know they have to be successful online, they have -- we have to operate by the old rules. We can't do that. And so there's that other cut in there which really complicates it for those of us who work for legacy media and are told, hey, get half a million page views on your blog --
SESNO: Because otherwise, you're irrelevant.
ZURAWIK: Yes. Yes.
ASHBURN: It comes down to money.
REID: And I do believe in this debate over whether anybody's going to really learn anything and change in the Sherrod case, I don't believe the Breitbarts of the world and Tucker Carlson and the people on the left and the right out there are going to change. But I do believe places like CBS.com and the other places that seized on that story and basically consider themselves mainstream journalism, are going to say wait a minute, we have to have to have a big gulf here between us and them, and look into it before we put it on our --
KURTZ: I'm sorry. I didn't mean to cut you off there. I don't want to get you mad.
REID: I'm enraged, Howie.
KURTZ: Lauren, is Frank right when he says it's all about getting attention? Because we used -- the people at this table who went into journalism used to think it was about informing the public, digging out inconvenient facts. And now, is it all about getting hits on your blog, getting your cable ratings up, getting your circulation to stop declining if you're in this business? Is that what it's about?
ASHBURN: You know, I think what I was trying to say before is it really comes down to money. I mean, there is no money on the Internet. There is no money right now in corporations, in major news organizations. Budgets are being cut.
How many people did CBS cut? Three hundred out of its news force, 400, something like that?
There is no money. And if there's no money, you need to -- I think the bar is higher to do things that will gather that traffic and get circulation.
SESNO: And the problem is that this is happening at a time, let's just say, it of gigantic national challenge and crisis, when we're going to need more of a bipartisan conversation if we're going to solve problems. You want to overcome the debt? You want to deal with the border? You want to deal with climate change?
These are issues that don't know borders and don't know ideologies. Forget it. There's no room for that kind of discussion.
REID: Well, it's also at a time of extreme rage between the parties, and which I actually think it's less the media causing that rage in politics. It's the politics that allows this to --
KURTZ: We can talk about that in the next segment.
I do have to say, when we talk about old rules, look, a lot of people think that the old rules, when media had more of a control of the agenda, was not such a healthy thing because a lot of views didn't get aired and then it was kind of a one-way conversation.
But let me turn to you. Fox News -- a lot of this revolves around Fox News in the sense that the left sees Fox News as a right- wing attack machine. Fox loves to wage war against the MSM, the mainstream media, and compare itself -- you know, present itself as a truth teller against, you know, these liberal bozos.
ZURAWIK: It's so -- Howie, the fascinating thing about this was the way people tried to make this case -- people on the left who had a partisan force driving them, tried to make this about Fox. And as you and I both wrote, Fox did not say anything on Fox News on air until after Sherrod had resigned.
KURTZ: But how about in the broader sense?
ZURAWIK: In the broader --
KURTZ: Is this a cultural war going on in the media now?
ZURAWIK: Oh, there's absolutely a culture war. And Fox brought this on itself in that sense, because they started to -- it was tribal. Roger Ailes could rally the troops by saying it's us against them. And it worked for them.
ASHBURN: But you have these personalities that are larger than life, that are driving the national conversation. You have Bill O'Reilly, who is fighting on television, and then you also have him off camera yelling at interns and talking just horribly to people. And that sets -- excuse me. That sets the tone of dialogue in this country.
SESNO: And then you have Breitbart, right, who's got his Web site? And then is a featured speaker at the Tea Parties. Right?
So, any sense of barriers -- you're an editorial writer, an op-ed writer, you're an activist -- I mean, I think it's great that people have opinions. It's great that they are getting --
REID: Not to be a Pollyanna again, I do believe that we can and probably are overstating this, though, because if you did not have Fox News, you could not have made that clip you just made. The average American doesn't watch Fox News. Yes, they make money in the world of cable TV --
KURTZ: Many viewers watch Fox News --
SESNO: When CNN first went on the air, the average American didn't watch CNN. But CNN had a disproportionate impact even in those early days because it was on where it was on and it influenced the influences.
REID: We repeat it and repeat it in the media echo chamber here in Washington, D.C.
KURTZ: I've got to get a break, but a quick response to your point. If there is a blurring of the lines between activist, politicians, political operatives, and journalists, it's because so many networks have brought ex-politicians on as featured players and guests -- Karl Rove, Sarah Palin --
SESNO: But you don't need a network to do it anymore. You can have your own and call it a Web site.
KURTZ: -- Eliot Spitzer.
All right. Let me get a break.
KURTZ: When we come back, one congressman's rant goes viral, and the media just jump on it, as we're discussing right here.
Back in a moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D), NEW YORK: I will not yield to the gentleman! And the gentleman will observe regular order! The gentleman will observe regular order!
The gentleman thinks if he gets up and yells, he's going to intimidate people into believing he's right. He is wrong! The gentleman is wrong! The gentleman is providing cover for his colleagues rather than doing the right thing!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: New York Congressman Anthony Weiner exploding on the House floor on Thursday about a bill to provide aid to 9/11 first responders.
And Frank Sesno, don't the media, especially cable -- I mean, I've seen that 20 times now -- encourage shrillness and attacks by rewarding politicians who yell the loudest?
SESNO: Yes. Actually, I'm afraid they do. And this may all -- I actually might kind of shock you by blaming C-SPAN for this, because maybe the best, maybe the worst --
KURTZ: It's all Brian Lamb's fault.
SESNO: It's all -- Brian, where are you?
SESNO: One of the most remarkable things is the House one- minutes -- the House one-minutes. When you had the House one-minutes, we started doing, you opened the cameras up, and what congressional members found is, if they want to be picked up as sound bites back home on local television, they have to be angry or outraged.
REID: It's Jimmy Traficant's fault.
KURTZ: And even on your island of CBS News Saturday, you have to decide which sound bites to use, and you're going to pick the best zinger or an explanation of policy.
REID: I mean, I may be reporting on a serious story, but at the same time I need to get people attention and I need to hold their attention. And the way to do that is to get the sharpest -- I would use that, absolutely. I need a sound bite that's going to grab people's attention.
KURTZ: All right.
And look back to last year, Lauren Ashburn and Congressman Joe Wilson shouting, "You lie!" at the president during his speech. The media made him famous. He ends up raising money off it.
ASHBURN: I just want to back up a little. I'm not a historian, and I'm going to say that right now. But really, if you look back in history -- I mean, this isn't civil war -- you look at our founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson brought in Philip Freneau here to the Capitol, gave him a State Department job, but it really wasn't a State Department job. He brought him in to run a newspaper, a partisan newspaper that would fight the federalists.
And there was a guy who also hit another senator with a cane. You know, we don't have that kind of stuff.
SESNO: On the Senate floor.
ASHBURN: On the Senate floor, right.
KURTZ: And in those days they didn't have Facebook. So you couldn't have Sarah Palin saying she's going to refudiate (ph) what the media says.
KURTZ: And journalists love when she goes after us, because it gives you more ratings, more Web hits. And it's a both sides benefit.
ZURAWIK: Howie, I think part of this that's really dangerous is we have a really troubled, frightened country. People are scared. People are angry.
Then we have this level of politicians here who are playing to the anger. And now you have the media playing to that anger. And it's impossible to have a rational discussion about our problems and work our way out of them. It's like a hat trick. We've got the three of them, and we're in big trouble.
ASHBURN: Here's the reason -- is that not only are they attacking each other, but they're attacking each other within their own party. Anybody who is moderate in their own party is attacked by the right and the left in that party.
KURTZ: I've got 30 seconds.
SESNO: I would just like to say and a make an appeal for somebody who's got a smart sense of the market and -- there is a large niche of the American public that wants to have this reasoned conversation.
ASHBURN: They say.
SESNO: They say. OK. But look, just as Chip said, what are the numbers at Fox? What are the numbers at MSNBC? They are minuscule compared to "The CBS Evening News."
We have to be careful that we don't throw fuel on the fire by jumping to all these conclusions that the country has thrown overboard any sense, any desire for rational conversation. It has not.
KURTZ: Five seconds.
ZURAWIK: Frank, in fairness, the numbers at Fox are not minuscule compared to CBS News. I have to be honest. Just for the facts --
SESNO: What is your nightly news?
REID: Oh, I don't know.
REID: Although I think it's a wonderful corporation.
KURTZ: We're talking six or seven million for "CBS Evening News." And Bill O'Reilly gets three million.
And on that point -- SESNO: It's not minuscule. You're right.
KURTZ: -- we have to bring this fiery discussion to a close.
Lauren Ashburn, Chip Reid, Franks Sesno, David Zurawik, thanks very much for joining us.
Coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, an organization called WikiLeaks has pulled off the biggest military leak since "The Pentagon Papers" with the help of "The New York Times." Times editor Bill Keller on why he agreed to publish secret documents about the war in Afghanistan.
Plus, she once roamed the globe for CNN. We'll look at Christiane Amanpour's debut this morning as a Sunday talk show host.
And later, how did Whoopi, Barbara, Joy and Elisabeth and Sherri fare when the president came on "The View"?
KURTZ: It was by any measure a massive leak -- 91,000 pages of secret documents involving the Afghan War. And it came from an organization that didn't exist five years ago, WikiLeaks, based in Sweden, shrouded in mystery.
But WikiLeaks had help with this week's disclosures from three of the most prominent brands in journalism: "The New York Times," Britain's "Guardian," and Germany's "Der Spiegel." They coordinated in publishing what some are comparing to "The Pentagon Papers" back in the Nixon years, a move that drew a sharp blast of criticism from the Obama administration.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ADM. MIKE MULLEN, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Mr. Assange can say whatever he likes about the greater good he thinks he and his source are doing, but the truth is they might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: That was a reference to Julian Assange, the head of WikiLeaks. My question, should newspapers have teamed up with these shadowy groups in releasing this sensitive material?
I spoke earlier with Bill Keller, executive editor of "The New York Times," from his Manhattan newsroom.
KURTZ: Bill Keller, welcome.
BILL KELLER, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "NEW YORK TIMES": Thank you.
KURTZ: Any hesitation, any uneasiness about working with WikiLeaks, which so clearly has an agenda of being opposed to the war in Afghanistan?
KELLER: Yes. Well, you know, we don't get to choose our sources. And most of the sources we deal with have an agenda of some kind.
You know, what you try to do is separate the material from the source, assess whether the material is newsworthy, whether it's valid, how you interpret it. And you know, where the source does have an agenda or a motivation, you try to communicate that to readers too.
KELLER: But it's not a marriage, you know. It's a source relationship.
KURTZ: Since Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, was perfectly capable of and, in fact, did post these 91,000 secret pages on his Web site, why did he come to your newspaper and "The Guardian" and "Der Spiegel"?
KELLER: I assume -- I mean, he hasn't explained to me personally why he did that, but I assume that he thought it would lend the venture some measure of credibility. I think he also thought that the audiences that those publications have would be the kind of people who are curious and intelligent and who would be interested.
I think he may have also recognized that we and "The Guardian" and "Der Spiegel" have resources that WikiLeaks does not -- you know, the ability, given some time, to really sort through these documents and appraise them and compare them with the experience of reporting in the field and other documents that we've seen.
KURTZ: Right. Assange is now somewhat unhappy with "The New York Times," particularly for not providing a link to his Web site.
Here's what he had to say. I want you to listen to it, an interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JULIAN ASSANGE, WIKILEAKS: If "The New York Times" for whatever reason wants to not link to WikiLeaks for defensive politics, then it can do that, and it's perfectly entitled to. But to deliberately say that that is being avoided smacks of unprofessional conduct to me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: And he also said it was pusillanimous. Your response?
KELLER: Well, what he calls pusillanimous I think I would just call prudent. We handled this material with extreme care. We wanted to be careful not to put anything in the paper or anything on our Web site that would put lives at risk. Now, as a rule, when we do a story that's based on some kind of a repository of data, we link to the data. So we owed our readers some explanation of why we hadn't do that in this case, and we didn't do it because we really had no such assurance about the risks posed by the raw material that he put up.
Obviously, in this day and age -- you know, obviously, that doesn't prevent, you know, a curious observer from seeking out the WikiLeaks site on their own. But it was, you know, at least symbolically, a way of establishing our independence and the importance, the premium that we put on handling this material very, very carefully.
KURTZ: Right. It takes about two seconds to Google it, obviously, in this age.
The Times was in the sort of unusual position, you have said and the paper has said, of carrying a message from the White House during the reporting process here to WikiLeaks.
What was that message, and did that make you feel like you were in an odd situation?
KELLER: Well, I mean, it's a little bit of an odd situation in the -- just the nature of the material and the fact that we were in this with two other news organizations. So a lot of things about this case were a little bit out of the ordinary.
When we told the White House both what WikiLeaks had and what they were planning to post on their Web site, and we told them also how we were planning to handle it, they asked us to communicate back to WikiLeaks a plea not to post any material that could put lives at risk -- names of informants and things like that. And we did communicate that. They asked us to do that because basically they didn't have a line of communications open to WikiLeaks.
KURTZ: As you know, "The Times of London" has reported that WikiLeaks posted hundreds of names of Afghan informants who were helping the U.S. and its allies, and this probably has put them at risk. Now, I know you've --
KELLER: We've reported that too.
KURTZ: Yes. And I know you've made it clear that "The New York Times" didn't do this, and I know you've made it clear that WikiLeaks made its own decisions. But to some observers, it kind of looks like you're a little bit pregnant here, that you were teaming up with this group that has now at least potentially endangered the lives of some Afghans.
KELLER: I don't see it as teaming up. We accepted access to the data. We looked at it and handled it responsibly.
The decision to post that information was out of our hands. I mean, believe me, WikiLeaks is, to put it mildly, an independent organization. It will do what it is going to do, not what we would have it do.
KURTZ: And on that point, a lot of people are saying boy, this really changes the media landscape, because you have WikiLeaks, which is basically a stateless organization, doesn't answer to anyone, doesn't answer to any government, isn't bound by the customs or traditions or laws, for example, of the United States.
Is that a new phenomenon now that all of us have to deal with, whether working directly with WikiLeaks or not?
KELLER: To some extent. I think that may have been just a little bit overstated.
I mean, it is clearly a new world that we're in because of the Internet. People who have information don't need "The New York Times" or "The Washington Post" or "The Guardian" to make it public. They can put it up and tweet it, and it will get a substantial following, or a substantial audience, you know, without the mainstream media being involved. And that's certainly new.
KURTZ: And you couldn't do that when Daniel Ellsberg, for example, was giving "The Pentagon Papers" to "The New York Times" in 1971.
Last point --
KELLER: That's right.
KURTZ: -- on the first day here you had James Jones, the national security adviser, Robert Gibbs talking about the irresponsible leak and people were being at risk. By the second day, Obama administration officials seemed to be saying, well, there's nothing new here and most of this was already known.
Was that spin? Do you agree with that assessment?
KELLER: Not entirely. No, I don't.
I mean, your newspaper, "The Washington Post," just published something like 13,000 words establishing that since 9/11, a large, officially subsidized secret bureaucracy has grown up. I think there are a lot of people who would say that's not exactly a new thought. But The Post's series puts some real flesh and bones, you know, on that storyline. You know, it helped you -- it provided a level of understanding.
The WikiLeaks material probably did not dramatically change anybody's thinking about the war. It was not full of scandals or revelations, but it was a window, and I think a fascinating and important window, into the war from the vantage point of the people who are fighting it.
KURTZ: An important window that is now being cited by both critics and supporters of the war. No surprise there.
Bill Keller, thanks very much for joining us. KELLER: You're welcome.
KURTZ: Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell tells me that WikiLeaks represents a frightening new development because he can't negotiate with it like American news outlets. The group, he says is beholden to nobody and has a "damn the consequences" approach to publishing. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has asked the FBI to investigate the leaks.
Up next, a real-time report on Christiane Amanpour taking George Stephanopoulos' old anchor chair at ABC's "This Week."
KURTZ: She was an international superstar at CNN, reporting from war zones, interviewing global leaders, and spending most of the last decade and a half in London and Paris. She was also a surprise choice to host ABC's "This Week" given her lack of experience in American politics.
Christiane Amanpour made her Sunday hosting debut this morning. And because we like to bring you news as it happens, we are on the case.
Here's Amanpour in her new anchor chair.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, ABC NEWS: I am thrilled to be here at the Newseum. After 20 years covering the world, the story in this country is turning into one of the most fascinating -- the struggle over politics and policy. I'm also eager to open a window on the world and cut through those complicated issues that we all confront.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: And joining us now to talk about the newest Sunday morning anchor, in New York, Lola Ogunnaike, a cultural commentator and former CNN contributor. And in Los Angeles, Aaron Barnhart, television critic for "The Kansas City Star," who blogs at TVBarn.com.
And Aaron Barnhart, the first guests were Nancy Pelosi, Robert Gates.
How did Christiane Amanpour do as an interview and as a host?
AARON BARNHART, TELEVISION CRITIC, "KANSAS CITY STAR": Well, I think she played to her strengths as a well-prepared researcher, someone who comes loaded for bear for her interviews. These were gets that were -- they were published on the Web ahead of time. We could watch much of the segments ahead of time.
So, that part is the known quantity about Christiane. The unknown quantity is the back half of the show, which is the roundtable, where she's expected to let her guests sort of hold forth and move the news agenda forward. And in that, she seemed a little less ready for the new environment she was thrown into there.
KURTZ: It's a real acquired skill.
And Lola Ogunnaike, interesting. The roundtable guests were George Will, Donna Brazile, Paul Krugman, and Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani journalist, who was appearing by satellite.
That certainly gave the show a more international flavor.
LOLA OGUNNAIKE, CULTURAL COMMENTATOR: And I think that's what Christiane's going for. I think she wants to open up the conversation and bring a real global perspective to her show. As you know, Washington can be a very insular place, a very --
KURTZ: I've heard that.
OGUNNAIKE: You've heard that. You've heard that a few times.
And that's why I think Christiane is an interesting choice. I think that she's going to invigorate the conversation. I think she is going to bring in new and fresh perspective. And I think she's committed to making sure that Americans, American viewers, really understand what's going on globally and how it affects us here at home, and why it's important to understand what's going on globally.
KURTZ: I did think that her interview with Nancy Pelosi was very strong. I wonder, though, about people getting used to the British accent on Sunday morning.
Does it make sense, Aaron Barnhart, to give a job that is so focused on American politics to someone who has spent most of her career overseas?
BARNHART: Well, and that's what made Amanpour's hiring controversial inside ABC News. In fact, it was that Jake Tapper -- here you have your Washington correspondent seemingly doing a perfectly competent job running "This Week," in absence of a host after George Stephanopoulos left, and he's passed over for somebody who everybody says is, you know, the foreign correspondent.
But, you know, clearly, Christiane wouldn't have taken this job if she didn't think she was up for the challenge. I'm just -- you know, right now, like any other viewer, I'm kind of wait and see. It feels like same cart, new driver right now.
She's been sort of airlifted into this existing format. You saw, she's still at the Newseum. They tweaked the music and they added a slideshow at the end.
BARNHART: Other than that, this is the same show that people have been watching for the last 10 years.
KURTZ: And Lola, this may be an incestuous town, as you so eloquently put it, but is a Washington show -- administration officials, members of Congress are usually the guests, and yet she's commuting from New York. I wonder if you have to kind of be here to smell the smells and hear the sounds of life in the beltway.
OGUNNAIKE: I think you'll see Christiane in D.C. more and more often. And she's only an Acela ride away. It's only an hour plane ride away. So she'll be able to parachute in when necessary.
KURTZ: But culturally, it's light years away. If you live here, you lose power when it rains, as I did for five days this week.
All right. Let me turn to President Obama going on "The View." That was an interesting decision by the White House.
Let's play some of that, beginning with a question from Joy Behar.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Ahmed (ph), what is your assessment --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: OK. We'll come back with that clip. Obviously, that was Christiane Amanpour and her Pakistani guest.
But let me ask you, Aaron Barnhart -- there was this, I don't know, controversy about why should a president of the United States go on daytime television? I don't understand why it would be seen as undignified in an era when presidents go on Leno and Letterman and "The Daily Show" if you're a candidate.
BARNHART: You almost wonder if it's a little bit of a double standard by gender, because after all, the late-night talk show hosts are men.
You know, we're in this funny setting where news and entertainment just constantly shake hands with each other. Jon Stewart puts serious authors on his show in his interview segments. And you have the president going on an entertainment daytime program to discuss his domestic policy.
This is, by the way, the world that Christiane Amanpour finds herself in now, and she's going to find herself altered by it as well.
KURTZ: All right. We now have the clip from the president appearing on "The View." I'll play that, set it up for you, Lola.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOY BEHAR, "THE VIEW": I could go on and on about your accomplishments. And yet, the right wing, through Fox News and other outlets, they seem to be hijacking the narrative.
Where on your side is the narrative? Where is your attack dog to come out and tell the American people, listen, this is what we did?
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Joy, that's your job.
BEHAR: Should Snooki run as mayor of Wasilla?
OBAMA: I've got to admit, I don't know who Snooki is.
BEHAR: You don't?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: The Snooki moment.
So, Lola, how did Whoopi and Joy and Barbara Walters and the rest do with the president?
OGUNNAIKE: You know, it's easy to write "The View" off as this frivolous show that, a bunch of women just sitting around chatting, but these women really took him to task and they asked him some tough questions. They asked about BP. They asked about Shirley Sherrod. They asked about why he doesn't identify as biracial and why he only identifies as African-American. And they asked about the economy.
KURTZ: Let me just stop you there. That was Barbara Walters' question that elicited a very interesting answer. And it's the kind of question you wouldn't have heard on "Meet the Press."
OGUNNAIKE: Exactly. I completely agree with you. And I think that you had an interesting mix.
You had everything from Mel Gibson to President Obama talking about the stimulus package. And I do think "The View" provides that type of forum, where the conversation has breadth and it's allowed to range.
KURTZ: All right. I've got one minute left. I want to -- go ahead, Aaron.
BARNHART: Well, you nailed it, howie. This is why I'm kind of looking to see what happens at "This Week."
The standard Sunday morning newsmaker format was reinvented 30 years ago by this program, "This Week," for David Brinkley, and it really hasn't changed since then. And now it's having its lunch eaten by other shows like "The View," which are ostensibly for entertainment but are doing a better job covering the news.
KURTZ: But have their serious side. I've got half a minute.
Lola, you may have noticed that Chelsea Clinton got married yesterday.
KURTZ: There's been an avalanche of coverage. She just wanted to have a private wedding.
Why have the media gone so crazy over this?
OGUNNAIKE: Because it's Chelsea Clinton. It's glamorous, it's beautiful. Everyone wants to know about the dress.
She's a beloved girl. We've watched her grow up. So people feel really invested in her.
And she's a good girl. She's a strong girl. And she's managed to turn out just fine. And I think people are also just really also into the idea that there's this lovely beautiful family, and people enjoyed the wedding.
KURTZ: All right. But for the record --
OGUNNAIKE: And people love a wedding, Howie. People love a wedding.
KURTZ: Yes, but front page of "The New York Times," not for the first time, but when Jenna Bush got married in 2008, while her father was president, page 23 of "The New York Times." It was not this kind of media interest.
All right. Lola Ogunnaike, Aaron Barnhart, thanks very much for stopping by this morning.
Up next, the war in Afghanistan dominating the Sunday talk shows. Robert Gates, Nancy Pelosi, and a lot of other guests. We'll bring you that in just a moment.
KURTZ: In the wake of those WikiLeaks disclosures, the war in Afghanistan at the top of the Sunday morning agenda. The defense secretary out there among the guests.
And here to talk about it is Candy Crowley.
CANDY CROWLEY, HOST, "STATE OF THE UNION": War was certainly the issue today across the board on Sunday, partially because Gates was out and Mullen was out, and so -- and a lot of the Democrats were asked about it. We just had a vote where 70 Democrats who had supported funding for the war last year switched and no longer do.
KURTZ: It flipped?
CROWLEY: Yes, and it flipped.
So, what you had out there is not a difference in opinion so much on the war effort, but what people expect to see by July, which is when the president said he wanted to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. How many? That was the big question.
Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I think that my personal opinion is that drawdowns early on will be fairly limited numbers. As we are successful, we'll probably accelerate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: I know it's not going to be, turn out the lights and let's all go home on one day, but I do think the American people expect it to be somewhere between that and a few thousand troops.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), MICHIGAN: I think it would be impossible to determine what the pace of the reductions should be, so I think it's proper for the vice president to say that we just don't know the pace.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Quite a balancing act there.
CROWLEY: Yes. So somewhere between a thousand and a whole lot more than that.
KURTZ: Yes. I mean, talk about not getting pinned down on a question.
Now, generally, the Republican Party has been more staunch in supporting the war in Afghanistan, but we see even a little slippage among some of its members.
CROWLEY: We do. However, you're perfectly right, the Republicans are kind of the backbone of the support the president's having right now, as the Democrats are having trouble holding it together.
How much, how far does the Republican support go? Lindsey Graham, big supporter of the war, Republican, South Carolina, I asked him, "Can you foresee any circumstance under which more troops might be needed?"
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: We may need more troops to keep them on the run. But I'll say this: if by December we're not showing some progress, we're in trouble.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Setting a timetable now.
So, there was also an appearance by the man we all used to call "The Oracle." When he spoke, Wall Street listened, and that's Alan Greenspan.
CROWLEY: Yes. And generally, he has been upbeat, one would have to say. He was asked whether or not he thinks a double-dip recession is possible.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALAN GREENSPAN, FMR. FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIRMAN: It is possible if home prices go down. Home prices, as best we can judge, have really flattened out in the last year.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CROWLEY: He also said that we're in a pause and a modest recovery which feels like a recession.
KURTZ: If there's a double-dip recession, that is going to dominate the news on all these Sunday shows for a long time to come.
Candy Crowley, thanks.
KURTZ: Still to come, Dana Perino, Chris Matthews and Andrew Cohen, who shared a little too much information about the sweetheart who got away.
Our "Media Monitor" straight ahead.
KURTZ: Time now for our "Media Monitor."
In the thumbs down category, Fox News contributor Dana Perino trying to blame the Obama White House in part for the Scottish decision to release the infamous Lockerbie bomber, Abdel al-Megrahi. He was let out a year ago on grounds that he had terminal cancer, but he's still very much alive.
Here's what the former Bush White House spokeswoman had to say.
DANA PERINO, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: I thought what was the most interesting development over the weekend was the report that the White House actually supported the release for the terrorist into Scotland on compassionate grounds. They just didn't want him to go to Libya.
KURTZ (voice-over): This absurdity got started when Matt Drudge put up a headline, "White House Backed Release of Lockerbie Bomber," linking to an article in the newspaper "The Australian." That piece cited a letter to Scottish authorities from U.S. diplomat Richard LeBaron.
Here's what the letter actually said: "The United States is not prepared to support Megrahi's release on compassionate release or bail. The United States maintains its view that in light of the scope of Megrahi's crime, its heinous nature, and its continued and devastating impact on the victims and their families, it would be most appropriate for Megrahi to remain in prison for the entirety of his sentence."
Then there was this: "If Scottish authorities come to the conclusion that Megrahi must be released from Scottish custody, the U.S. position is that conditional release on compassionate grounds would be a far preferable alternative to prisoner transfer, which we strongly oppose," as in sending the murder back to Libya.
KURTZ: That's very different from what Dana Perino said. And she has enough experience at the White House to have been more careful.
On "Hardball" this week, MSNBC's Chris Matthews insisted again and again that the infamous video snippet that Andrew Breitbart posted about Shirley Sherrod had not been edited to make her look like a racist.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DEAN: He cut off the tape. He didn't show the whole story.
MATTHEWS: He didn't? What did he cut out?
DEAN: No. He cut off the stuff about the redemption part.
MATTHEWS: I thought that was in there.
DEAN: No, not in the tape that was aired on Fox News.
MATTHEWS: Yes it is.
DEAN: Not on the Fox News stuff. It was not on what Fox News reported on their blog. He cut the tape off.
MATTHEWS: It was in there, yes. He didn't edit it. Not that I know about it.
JOAN WALSH, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, SALON.COM: No, no. Chris, he did.
DEAN: He did. He absolutely edited it.
WALSH: He didn't edit it. He said he received --
MATTHEWS: Well, he didn't edit it. There's no evidence he edited it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Although there are two different versions of the excerpt, Matthews was wrong to say the tape hadn't been edited. And to his credit, when the "Hardball" rerun aired two hours later, he redid the segment live to remove his mistake.
Of course, viewers who saw only that second edition have no way of knowing the host had been wrong earlier except that the Web site Mediaite helpfully posted both versions.
Breitbart, by the way, still refuses to apologize, but he did tell "Newsweek," "If I could do it all over again, I should have waited for the full video to get to me."
And Ladies, how would you like to get this on your wedding day? CBS legal analyst Andrew Cohen pouring out his heart on AOL's "Politics Daily."
"The great love of my life marries today and I am not the groom. I had my chance a few years ago, but did not realize until too late how fleeting my moment with her was meant to be. I want to thank her for being so delightful with my son who talks about her still. Until almost literally his dying day, my dad would ask me about her. Near the end, almost exactly two years ago, I did not have the heart to tell him that we had broken up."
"I want to thank her for making me laugh and her at myself, for making me swoon whenever she walked into a room."
Andrew, Andrew, Andrew, this sounds like it's a lot more about you than your unnamed ex. I'm going to have to side with Amanda Hess from "Washington City Paper," who said, "This could be the creepiest wedding gift in human history."
Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.
I'm Howard Kurtz.
Join us again next Sunday morning, 11:00 a.m. Eastern, for another critical look at the media.
"STATE OF THE UNION" with Candy Crowley begins right now.