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Tax Cut Deal?; Elizabeth Edwards Dies
Aired December 12, 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: President Obama knew his tax cut deal with the Republicans wouldn't be popular with his party, and on that point he was right. But Obama has also been hammered by the media as a spineless compromise who doesn't have the courage to fight for his principles. What accounts for this strikingly harsh indictment of a man who drew such favorable coverage during the campaign?
The sad passing of Elizabeth Edwards reminds us of all the scandal coverage involving her lying husband. Were the media too protective or too critical of this woman touched by tragedy?
Plus, its messages may be short and sweet, but can Twitter help save journalism? We'll ask co-founder Biz Stone about the growing partnership between the biggest news outlets and his small, but sizzling company.
I'm Howard Kurtz, and this is RELIABLE SOURCES.
It was a "Read my lips" moment in reverse. I must have heard Barack Obama say it 1,000 times during the campaign, "time to end the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans." He has vowed for two years to do just that, until this week, when Obama agreed to extend the tax breaks on families earning more than $250,000. In exchange, the White House got the continuation of middle class tax breaks, which just about everyone supported, a 13-month extension of unemployment benefits, and a cut in employee payroll taxes.
At a news conference, a number of reporters were strikingly skeptical.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BEN FELLER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: So what I'm wondering is, when you take a stand like you had, why should the American people believe that you're going to stick with it? Why should the American people believe you're not going to flip-flop?
CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS : Mr. President, what do you say to Democrats who say you're rewarding Republican obstruction here?
JONATHAN WEISMAN, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": Some on the left have questioned this deal and questioned what your core values are, what specifically you will go to the mat on.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: With respect to the bottom line in terms of what my core principles are, yes --
WEISMAN: What your lines in the sand are.
OBAMA: Well, look, I've got a whole bunch of lines in the sand. Not making tax cuts for the wealthy permanent, that was a line in the sand. Making sure that the things that most impact middle class families and low-income families, that those were preserved, that was a line in the sand.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Most conservative commentators liked the deal, but liberal pundits, for the most part, ranged from angry to apoplectic.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC: Mr. President, for these meager crumbs, you have given up costly, insulting, divisive, destructive tax cuts for the rich, and you have given in to Republican blackmail, which will be followed by more Republican blackmail.
LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC: He is wrong. This is worse than when he dropped the public option from his health care bill.
ROGER HODGE, FMR. EDITOR, "HARPER'S MAGAZINE": I don't believe that Barack Obama has any principles at all, and I think that this particular controversy is a demonstration of that fact that he has no principles.
ED SCHULTZ, MSNBC: If President Obama can't draw a line in the sand with the Republicans, congressional Democrats need to step up for him and get it done.
ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: But it seems as if President Obama is the only person who actually believes in bipartisanship.
PAUL BEGALA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think he's got a very tough sell from his own party, and I think he's -- Democrats since that he's caving.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: But "apoplectic" was the word I was looking for. So, has the coverage of Obama and the tax cut deal been fueled by a sense of betrayal?
Joining us now, John Aravosis, founder and editor of americablog.com; Julie Mason, White House correspondent for "The Washington Examiner"; and Matt Lewis, blogger and political analyst for politicsdaily.com.
John Aravosis, you and other liberal commentators have been just hammering, pounding Obama over this tax cut compromise. It sounds like you feel personally betrayed.
JOHN ARAVOSIS, FOUNDER & EDITOR, AMERICABLOG.COM: I don't know about personally betrayed. I think the problem is that lot of liberals, a lot of Democrats obviously fought for this president. You know, I supported him early on in the primaries, even. So, to some degree, yes, there is a sense of betrayal, because you feel like he really doesn't fight for anything, and the tax cut was only the latest example.
KURTZ: Do you feel like he attacked you and those who are for him very strongly and talked about sanctimonious liberals being purists?
ARAVOSIS: Well, of course he did, yes. You know, he got into sort of the hostage-takers, and how I guess we're the ones responsible for killing the hostages, or I don't know what. But there was a very personal element to it with regard to the blogosphere, liberals in general. But also, he went after "The New York Times." It's sort of a very thinned-skin moment for the president, I think.
KURTZ: Matt Lewis, are you impressed by the intellectual honesty of your liberal friends, or appalled by their disloyalty?
MATT LEWIS, POLITICSDAILY.COM: I hope they keep it up, actually. I think President Obama has finally gotten things right.
The 2010 election was a reputation of liberal ideology. Republicans ran on doing a lot of things, including extending the Bush tax cuts. In fact, making them permanent, which this compromise does not do.
President Obama wants to be re-elected. He is doing the smart thing. And what I would advise him to do is to ignore the left, the base, and also the journalists, the reporters out there, who, by the way, said the same thing about Bill Clinton before he was re-elected.
KURTZ: I'm not going to allow somebody to say that journalists should be ignored on this program, but I'll give you your two cents.
Julie Mason, even in the straight news coverage, we saw Obama got rolled, he caved. What will he fight for? Does he stand for anything?
Pretty negative reaction.
JULIE MASON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER": It's true. The White House was so unhappy about this element of -- such a strong element of the story being the inter-party squabble. They pushed back on that so hard like we've never seen before at the White House with just a barrage of e-mails, trying to show that there was unity on this issue, just rolling out this number.
KURTZ: Well, I don't think even they would claim that there was unanimous support in the Democratic Party.
MASON: No, but they were really trying to suppress that element of the story, and they wanted us to write about how he was being bipartisan like voters wanted. But between these two guys, Matt saying that the president was right, and John -- my head just exploded.
KURTZ: You have to consider that you may be hurting your side, weakening Obama for 2012.
Is that something you do or should think about as a commentator?
ARAVOSIS: I think as a partisan commentator, certainly it's something you think about, but then you think about the greater good for the party in general. And if you believe that by holding Democrats accountable, you will make them stronger in the end, then it's something you have to do. So, I think, yes, a lot of folks on the left think that we are losing core principles and we are losing core battles with Republicans, so that by attacking the president, in the end, hopefully we make him stronger next time.
KURTZ: But you are attacking a president who is also fighting for the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," which I assume as a gay journalist is something that's important to you.
ARAVOSIS: Right. And we've been beating him up on that, too, because he hadn't been strong --
MASON: He doesn't really fight for it.
ARAVOSIS: Well, no. Up until the last couple of days, the president finally got involved and finally started making phone calls, which is the same thing on the tax cut and every other issue. He waits until the end, then he jumps in. And I think that's why -- but I think that's why the media kind of got critical on him this week, because they're finally starting to see the pattern that a lot of folks on the left have seen, saying this guy doesn't really got involved until the end. What does he really fight for?
KURTZ: So you think others in the media are waking up to what you and some of your liberal colleagues have been pointing out for, what, the past year?
ARAVOSIS: I think so, because even watching the clips that you just showed, it was kind of surprising to me going, my God, finally they're agreeing with us.
KURTZ: You know, during the Bush administration, it seemed to me that most conservative commentators pretty much stayed in line with a couple of exceptions until kind of the final months, when the Bush presidency was kind of falling apart. And so I could suggest that there is sort of more of a sense of partisan loyalty on the right.
LEWIS: Well, and I would say the final years, not the final months. But you're right. I think conservatives went along, by and large -- conservatives went along with Bush too much, and I do think it's honorable that liberals and progressives call out Obama when they think he's wrong.
But there's a key distinction I would make, and that is that according to Gallup, about 40 percent of Americans identify themselves as conservative. This is a center-right country. The left, who's attacking Obama now, they only represent about 20 percent of the population. If Obama wants to be re-elected, he simply cannot appease his base.
KURTZ: But would you extend that to the liberals who are in the media who, some would say, are certainly more than 20 percent of the media industrial complex?
LEWIS: Oh, yes. But, I mean, the media, by far, skews to the left. And we've seen that time and time again. I mean, Pew --
KURTZ: But not giving this president an easy time right now or, I would say, in recent months.
LEWIS: Look, I think it's the progressives and the media should challenge. I mean, I think those questions at the press conference are fair and legitimate.
KURTZ: Even though your conservative friends didn't challenge Bush.
LEWIS: I'm advising Obama to ignore their criticism. And by the way, let me say this.
ARAVOSIS: Twenty-six percent of the American people agreed with the president and the Republicans that these tax cuts needed to be continued.
KURTZ: The tax cuts for the wealthy.
ARAVOSIS: You're just as small a minority as you're accusing everyone else of being. I think the president really went against the majority of the country, and that's why the media jumped on the issue.
KURTZ: Let me get Julie Mason in here.
White House officials argued to me and to many in the press that this was worth the economic tradeoffs. They got the extension of unemployment insurance, things like an earned income tax credit for the working poor, payroll tax cut.
Did that argument get a fair hearing in the press, or was it kind of overwhelmed by the politics of it?
MASON: Well, part of the problem was at first, they couldn't tell us how they were going to pay for it or how much it was going to cost.
KURTZ: That's an excellent point. Both sides have abandoned the deficit cutting in agreeing to this.
MASON: Right, exactly. And the White House just wanted to play up the job creation aspect of this, which nobody is really buying anymore. It's like, well, show me the results. So I think journalists weren't ready to give them credit for it until it showed some results.
KURTZ: And, of course, I think that this argument did eventually get some traction as they just hammered it and hammered it, but it's still a broken promise if you look back at the '08 campaign.
Let me play a little bit more of the president at the news conference, because you, John, talked about him appearing thin-skinned to media criticism. He has a long memory of (ph) things. And here are two different instances that we've melded together where he talks about the coverage.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: As I recall, with the Korea free trade agreement, that was deemed by conventional wisdom as an example of us not getting something done. I remember a story above the fold on that. Then when we got it done, with a better deal that has the endorsement of not only the U.S. auto companies, but also of labor, the story was sort of below the fold.
This is a big, diverse country. Not everybody agrees with us. I know that shocks people. "The New York Times" editorial page does not permeate across all of America. Neither does "The Wall Street Journal" editorial page.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Doesn't he have a point on that?
ARAVOSIS: Yes and no, except that --
KURTZ: Yes and no? Take a stand.
ARAVOSIS: Twenty-six percent of the American people agree with what the president did on the tax cuts. It's ridiculous to say that oh, not everybody agrees with me.
And one more point though. The problem the president has is that the left is too pure or naive. It's that people have the sense that he never fights for anything, and then he says, oh, the votes weren't there. Well, the votes are never there if you don't fight.
KURTZ: But he clearly feels stunned by the likes of The Times' editorial page.
ARAVOSIS: Oh, my God does he. Absolutely. No, no. I think he made clear in that press conference that there was a thin skin that was definitely pierced.
KURTZ: And Julie Mason, in terms of him remembering about what story was on the front page, and where it was, above the fold, below the fold, does this president worry a little bit too much, perhaps, about his press coverage? MASON: They are very, very sensitive about the coverage. They try to be very blase about it and blow it off and say it doesn't matter, but it really does. And just the fact that he mentioned it, to dismiss it, showed that it may not permeate American, but it certainly permeates the West Wing.
KURTZ: And he brought up the public option, which, of course, was the health care fight of much earlier this year.
LEWIS: He does have a thin skin. I mean, look, I would disagree with you in this sense, that I think this, from Obama's standpoint, is smart politics if he wants to be re-elected.
Having said that, you're not going to get an argument. I mean, the guy does have a thin skin. The fact that he remembered it and cites it shows the defensiveness.
KURTZ: Let me see if I can get an argument out of you on this one.
We had outgoing Democratic Alan Grayson, outgoing because he lost his race, standing up on the floor of the House and talking about conservative pundits. He put up a picture of Rush Limbaugh, of Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity -- are backing this pay cut because of their self- interests.
Let's play that clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ALAN GRAYSON (D), FLORIDA: Instead of placating these people and letting them spew out on to the airwaves, their lies about the Bush tax cut, without ever revealing the fact that they stand to gain millions, millions of dollars each year, from their selfish desire to take advantage of the rest of America, let's do this -- let's take that money and create jobs.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Selfish desire?
LEWIS: Well, let's put it to you this way, Howie -- I have no personal stake in millionaires. The estate tax isn't going to benefit me, and I still believe in it. And it goes to a matter of philosophy. I think that there's a liberal philosophy which I respect, but conservative philosophy basically would argue that if you raise taxes on the people who provide jobs, that's bad for the economy.
KURTZ: OK, but I wanted you to talk about the pundits. I mean, he puts up this figure, Rush Limbaugh made an estimated $58 million last year, would save $2.7 million under the tax cut. I don't think that's a reason that Rush is going to change the position he's always had.
Meanwhile, I'm wondering, Julie Mason, what you thought about -- do you think the press preferred the 42nd president, Bill Clinton, who took over the briefing room this week from Obama?
MASON: It really was a blast from the past. It kind of perked everyone up. It really did. Not just to see Bill Clinton, but always to see the dynamic between Obama and Clinton, which is very mysterious.
KURTZ: Which was Obama leaving, walking off to go to a Christmas party.
LEWIS: By the way, I have a holiday party to attend, so I'm going to check out.
KURTZ: All right. We'll give John Aravosis your time.
One more thing I wanted to touch on, and that is Sarah Palin going to Haiti yesterday, which I thought was a smart thing for her to do. But she was accompanied -- or interviewed by, obviously -- Fox's Greta Van Susteren. I have an AP story here that says that the Reverend Franklin Graham, who set this up, wouldn't give the rest of the press Palin's itinerary, and asked Haitian and American reporters to leave the compound.
So, was this a Fox News production, Palin's visit to Haiti?
ARAVOSIS: Well, it's even worse than that. I mean, Greta Van Susteren has had some kind of a -- she's got a conflict of interest with regards to Palin because her husband worked on the campaign and all this kind of thing.
KURTZ: Well, that's not fair. First of all --
ARAVOSIS: That's not fair? What do you mean it's not fair?
KURTZ: Her husband has been an informal adviser to Palin. He's also been an informal adviser to Hillary.
KURTZ: And are you going to exclude every journalist who has a spouse that does something else?
ARAVOSIS: I think you've got a serious question if you're a journalist with a spouse who's advising the candidate you're interviewing. And when you're going to Fox anyway with soft coverage. But that's beyond the point.
KURTZ: But I'm more interested in the fact that other journalists couldn't have essentially covered this close up.
ARAVOSIS: Well, of course. Yes.
MASON: I think this is more about Sarah Palin than about Fox. She loves to lock out the media. She's been doing it on her book tour. She did it when she came here for the Glenn Beck rally. I mean, that's her MO. That's what she does.
ARAVOSIS: -- fake media, basically, which is -- yes.
MASON: She can't run for president if she's not going to talk to the media.
KURTZ: Although, in fairness, I should point out that --
LEWIS: Well, she ran for VP without talking to the media. Unsuccessfully, but yes.
KURTZ: And they're still going. It doesn't matter. I'm trying to get the camera back.
KURTZ: In fairness, I should point out that Palin was on the cover of "TIME magazine this week and did answer some of the reporters' questions by e-mail.
When we come back, the founder of WikiLeaks now in jail, while hackers attack the Web sites of his critics. Is the latest media attention helping to make Julian Assange a martyr for his cause?
KURTZ: The WikiLeaks melodrama kicked into high gear this week with serious consequences for the founder, Julian Assange, and for major Web sites that were deemed to be enemies of this shadowy group.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MEREDITH VIEIRA, NBC NEWS: Breaking news. Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, arrested in London this morning on suspicious of sex crimes in Sweden.
ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, while the media was swarming outside of the courthouse, inside the courtroom, Julian Assange kept very calm and collected, showing very little emotion.
ROBIN ROBERTS, ABC NEWS: Plus, WikiLeaks supporters are going on the attack themselves, crippling the Web sites of MasterCard and Visa. It's a group of computer hackers launching what they call Operation Payback, taking revenge on organizations and people they see as enemies of WikiLeaks.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Those journalists showing plenty of emotions. Julie Mason, now that hundreds of hackers are involved in these attacks, these cyberattacks against the WikiLeaks opponents, MasterCard, Amazon, Sarah Palin's Web site, has that changed or started to change the tenor of the coverage?
MASON: It certain has. It's certainly made Julian Assange less sympathetic. Now, he's distanced himself from those hackers and said that he's not.
What bothers me about him is that he calls himself a journalist, but he doesn't want to be responsible. And I think when you call yourself a journalist, you have to behave responsibly.
KURTZ: Why do you think he can't call himself a journalist?
MASON: Because he's just a document dumper. He doesn't do anything with the information he has except put it out there and let the chips fall where they may, and that's not what we do.
KURTZ: Now, most of the coverage early on was about Julian Assange damaging U.S. national security, and it seems, in fact, that's what he wants to do. But since he was jailed in London on these Swedish sex charges, I've seen more commentators calling him a martyr.
LEWIS: Well, and it's unclear what these sex charges are. Is he a rapist, or is he a guy who had a condom slip off?
I mean, what is he? Is he a victim? And did the United States government pressure another government to go after him on these bogus claims? I mean, we don't know, and I think that's sort of the sideshow.
KURTZ: Since you brought that up, I have been waiting to read in the American press some sort of good detail what was behind or not behind these sex charges. I read a very good story in London's "Daily Mail" which made absolutely clear, I think, that both of the women who were pressing these charges engaged in consensual sex with Julian Assange, and then one even threw him a party after the sexual encounter, but later got ticked off about A, a broken condom, and B, his refusal to use a condom a second time.
That doesn't sound to me like rape.
LEWIS: Well, and there are some questions though as to whether or not a woman can be consensual and then decide that it's no longer consensual sex. And is that then rape?
KURTZ: Well, what about the -- I mean, there is this one question over whether or not he is in jail not because of these allegations, but because it's a way of getting back at him. But what about Julie Mason's point? I mean, what has Assange done that is different from what "The New York Times" and "The Guardian" have done in taking these leaked State Department cables and publishing them?
ARAVOSIS: What I think is interesting is I think over time, he has gradually become more like a real journalist in that, initially, he did a major document dump of these military documents with --
KURTZ: The Afghan war documents, yes.
ARAVOSIS: -- Afghanistan. What he did now with the latest document dump with the State Department cables was he took 250,000 documents, gave them to the media, but did not publish them. The media then took I think 1,200 or 1,300 documents, wrote about them, even put some of them publicly redacted.
He then gave those documents publicly, but still kept them redacted, in working with the media to decide what was and what wasn't safe. So, he, himself, has only released 1,300 documents publicly, and the media already approved them, vetted them, so to speak.
KURTZ: Well, vetted them after conversations with State Department officials who said if you publish these names, these people's lives will be in danger.
ARAVOSIS: Yes. Right. But he took that into account this time is what I'm saying. So I think you at least have seen a growth towards journalism in how he's acted. He didn't just dump these and say, to hell with it.
KURTZ: So you're more sympathetic to him, as a result?
ARAVOSIS: I think sympathetic, unsympathetic, I'm not sure. But I think he has muddied the waters into saying he is just this crazy guy dumping documents. They're clearly not now.
KURTZ: But at the same time, unlike, say, "The New York Times," which jumped on the news value of this and has gotten some criticism for publishing these secret cables, you know, Assange clearly has an agenda that I would not describe as journalistic.
LEWIS: I don't know, Howard. First of all, I don't think the guy's a good guy, don't get me wrong, but I'm very concerned about the notion that we could go after him legally, or even physically go after him, which some people have suggested.
KURTZ: In other words, the Justice Department is conducting an investigation. Were Assange to be prosecuted not on some Swedish sex charges, but on the substance of making these documents public, you would see perhaps a chilling effect for journalism?
LEWIS: I think it's dangerous. I mean, look, why not go after -- well, they have gone after James Risen, who's a Pulitzer Prize- winning "New York Times" reporter who wrote something completely different. He released some CIA information. I think --
KURTZ: When you say gone after -- (CROSSTALK)
LEWIS: They subpoenaed him.
KURTZ: And somebody violates the law if they work for the government and giving things to journalists.
KURTZ: That doesn't necessarily mean the journalist is (INAUDIBLE).
LEWIS: My opinion is you go after the leaker, not the leakee. Private Manning should go to jail for life if he's guilty.
KURTZ: Of supplying these documents to WikiLeaks.
KURTZ: All right. I guess we'll leave it there.
Julie Mason, and Matt Lewis, John Aravosis, thanks very much for joining us.
Coming up in the second part of RELIABLE SOURCES, we'll look at the media coverage of Elizabeth Edwards after the passing of a woman touched by tragedy and scandal.
And can Twitter really help save the news business? A conversation with co-founder Biz Stone about how major news organizations are teaming up with his online outfit.
KURTZ: I'd be willing to wager that a couple of years ago, most of you didn't know what a tweet was. Now it's a pretty common verb as in, "Hey, did you hear what Sarah Palin tweeted today?"
With more than 175 million members, Twitter is going through a period of explosive growth, and it's become increasingly important to the news business both as a way to follow breaking news and for journalists and just about anyone else to promote their own take on things.
Here's a brief look at CNN's coverage this past election night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We're using our friends to analyze thousands and thousands of tweets in the Twitterverse. And this is the view of the Tea Party. This might surprise you -- if the camera can come in a little bit closer -- because you see all this beige right here, the lighter yellow. This is anti-Tea Party tweets.
(END VIDEO CLIP) KURTZ: Now, is there a way to expand this alliance between media organizations and this relatively small Web company?
I spoke to the co-founder, Biz Stone, from San Francisco.
KURTZ: Biz Stone, welcome.
BIZ STONE, CO-FOUNDER, TWITTER: Thanks for having me.
KURTZ: Given the explosion in popularity, 95 million tweets a day, a remarkable figure, how is that some seasoned, very reputable journalists like Tom Brokaw and Brian Williams are still saying things like, "I don't get Twitter," "It's a waste of time," Who cares what somebody had, tuna fish sandwich for lunch?"
STONE: You know, I think that's just a gap in perception. You know, when we first started Twitter, no one was tweeting. So we kind of had to say, hey, why don't you tweet?
Nowadays, there are so many people tweeting, that's it's turned into more of a real-time information network that's used by, you know, millions of people around the world. And yet, there are still people who perceive it in that original format. And I think it's our job to kind of communicate the latter over the next few years
KURTZ: For me, it's very valuable as a news feed, and a little bit of gossip.
Now, on election night, you had -- this past month -- you had partnerships with "The New York Times," CNN -- we showed a little bit at the top -- also "The Washington Post" bought what are called promoted tweets, meaning if somebody searched for a certain term, like election night, they would get a link to various "Washington Post" stories.
KURTZ: Is that kind of like cooking the books to get a leg up on the competition?
STONE: Well, what they did actually was really cool. They bought a promoted trend. So that means something that was trending anyway, they promoted it. And when people clicked on that, they were able to see a lot of the coverage that The Post was featuring.
So I think, you know, it was very successful for them. They said that, oh, just a ton of people were checking out their coverage that otherwise wouldn't. So, you know, I just think it's --
KURTZ: So is there -- is this a harbinger of more cooperation, more working together with journalistic organizations? And are some journalists a little bit wary because Twitter, in a way, is now competition? People spending time there, they might not spend time on somebody else's Web site. STONE: It's definitely a harbinger of more cooperation with the news industry and journalists in general. We're just finding that relationship to be extremely complementary from a multitude of angles. You know, from journalists sourcing stories and getting information, shaping the stories using folks on Twitter, and all the way through to engagement with their readers. You know, following up on stories, that sort of thing.
So I just -- we view it as extremely complementary.
KURTZ: Can news organizations make money from these partnerships? As you know, this is a struggling time for the media business.
STONE: You know, I think we'll see. As we -- you know, as we begin to roll out our promoted products, we also begin to do more and more partnerships with news organizations. And so, that would be a hope, but, you know, we're just beginning with ours as well. So we have, I think, a lot of work to do there.
You know, the WikiLeaks controversy still going strong, and there's this group, Operation Payback, that has been attacking sites that are perceived as opponents of Julian Assange. Twitter, this week, deleted the account of Operation Payback.
Was that a difficult decision?
STONE: Well, we don't make -- we have a trust and safety team that deletes or removes accounts that violate our terms of service. So it really isn't a difficult decision, it's a terms of service and policy decision.
KURTZ: But doesn't this kind of thing, not necessarily this example, raise free speech questions, because it might be groups or individuals who use Twitter who are very unpopular or who are very controversial and you know, some people might wonder whether some of those folks might get kicked off as a result of political pressure?
STONE: Well, we err on the side of freedom of speech, that's something that we very much believe in. I mean, Twitter is kind of based on the premise that the open exchange of information can have a positive impact in the world, and that's kind of something that we get behind very firmly. And as I said, the only time we remove accounts is when they violate their terms of service that are published on our Web site.
KURTZ: So what would be the terms of service in this case that were violated?
STONE: Well, I don't get -- I don't usually get into the specifics of these cases. The trust and safety team is in charge of this sort of thing and they have very clear policies that they go by.
KURTZ: All right, I'd like to have a trust a safety team that would help protect my reputation.
KURTZ: Now there is this just sort of ocean now of 140-character messages. Although, I noticed that you don't tweet every 10 minutes. I would figure you'd be out there setting the example, but you're more judicious in your approach.
Is that hard to get a handle on? Is it hard to make sense of to know what to look for when there's so much out there on Twitter?
STONE: Yeah, that's one of the challenges for us going forward is relevance. How do we know for a fact that there's -- that there's information inside of Twitter for pretty much anyone in the world, and it's going to be our sort of challenge over the next few years to get better and better at delivering the right information at the right time to the right people so that they can, you know, sort of go about their lives and make better decisions.
And there is an ocean of tweets out there. The world kind of wasn't really -- a lot of the tools that are out there weren't really designed for a world of, you know, endless information.
So that's something that we're constantly working on, is how do we become an antidote information overload, as opposed to sort of yet another service that just bombards people with information? And we're getting better and better at relevance and delivering the right tweet to the right person at the right time.
KURTZ: Now, for people who are not familiar with this world, there was a report out the other day showing that eight percent of Americans who are already online are members of Twitter. How does it differ from Facebook in terms of connecting with, for example, David Gregory, Katie Couric --they're both pretty active on Twitter -- or celebrities, Kim Kardashian?
STONE: Well, I think Twitter is sort of fundamentally different from what you think of as a social network in terms of the fact that we never really created that friend model. You know, it was always about sources of information that are meaningful to you. It's a very recipient driven model. So you go out there and you find and you curate and you follow CNN, your buddy, your parents, you know --
KURTZ: People you've never met.
STONE: -- a bunch of different outlets. Maybe people you've never met. People you're interested in, people who -- the information you care about. And that's sort of -- that's sort of the fundamental difference between Twitter and a social network, which is sort of more aimed at keeping up with what your friends are up to and that sort of thing.
KURTZ: You know, I threw out Kim Kardashian, I wanted you to talk about celebrities. You didn't take the bait.
KURTZ: So, in a way has Twitter -- with all the press that Twitter gets, whether there's an earthquake in Haiti and people are sending information from there, or some of these political controversies, or the politicians who use it, has Twitter kind of stolen the title of "Cool Kid on the Block" from your friends at Facebook?
STONE: It doesn't feel like that for us, at least internally. I mean, I think breaking news is a very important aspect of Twitter. Just the real-time nature of the service is something that, you know, is unique to Twitter in many ways, and is something that we're constantly working on, you know, making it faster, making it more relevant.
You know, I don't feel like we're stealing anyone's thunder. I feel like we're adding to, you know, this sort of brave new world of information where we get what we need when we need it.
KURTZ: A diplomatic answer. Mark Zuckerberg can still be friends with him.
Up next, more of my sit-down with Biz Stone, why he's planting Twitter's corporate flag in Washington and how it feels to be an online rock star.
KURTZ: More now of my interview with Twitter co-founder Biz Stone.
KURTZ: Now, Twitter recently hired its first full-time official Washington, D.C., representative. What does that person do? And, you know, is this the first step toward you're doing more lobbying and things like that in the nation's capital?
STONE: It's not a step towards lobbying by any means. It's a step towards basically helping out.
I went to Washington in April. I met with a bunch of Congress, you know. And we just -- I just said, you know, we haven't visited before.
I introduced myself, I made them aware that Twitter was still a very small company. You know, hundreds of people, not thousands of people, and that we just wanted to kind of -- by hiring Adam Sharp, we're just kind of saying we're here to answer your questions and we're not ignoring you. And that's basically -- that's the step we're taking there.
KURTZ: Many, many members of Congress, perhaps a majority, are on Twitter, and somebody else who is on Twitter and who gets a lot of attention for every message is, of course, Sarah Palin.
Let me play for you a compilation of coverage of the former governor of Alaska, courtesy of "The Daily Show."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor Sarah Palin, she put out this tweet --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sarah Palin fired back in a tweet --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Governor Sarah Palin sent a tweet --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sarah Palin tweeting again.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sarah Palin fired back on her Twitter page.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN: Sarah Palin's most unusual weekend tweet.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sarah Palin sent out a tweet --
JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW": It's not going to make her like you. It just makes you look desperate.
KURTZ: So you know, Palin often going around the press by tweeting.
What do you make of the fact that it's become such a way for somebody like a Sarah Palin to communicate with the world?
STONE: Well, you know, we think it's great. I mean, the idea that a politician or especially a politician really, you know, somebody who is supposed to be representing the people can connect with the people in a meaningful way and can share their opinions and have them be heard.
That, for us, has always been something that we found to be a useful trait of Twitter. Some people are just really, really good at it and do it and get a lot of attention for it. And I think "The Daily Show" clip is a great example of that.
KURTZ: It is a good example.
Now, what's been the impact of all this on you personally? I mean, the company's four years old. I mean, here you are being interviewed, a lot of times by a major media organizations, and obviously, you've gotten pretty wealthy in the process. I mean, do people now stop you in restaurants?
STONE: No, no. I don't think, you know, Internet dorks are necessarily the kind of people that get stopped in restaurants.
KURTZ: But you have a million and a half followers, Biz. STONE: Yes, but they -- you know, that's on Twitter. They get me in little 140-character bursts of information.
KURTZ: They don't get you up close and personal.
Before we go, when you were in D.C. last time, we talked about how we get buried under waves and waves of e-mail, and you had one solution that I found pretty interesting. Why don't you briefly share that?
STONE: Well, every once in a while, I'll do what's called declaring e-mail bankruptcy. And that just means you've gotten under such a huge pile of e-mail, that you just archive it all or delete it all, and you just explain to everyone that you're starting from scratch. And you make your apologies and you move on. That's sort of a last-ditch effort, but people have been known to do it, especially when you get thousands of e-mails a day.
KURTZ: Just a virtual bonfire. So that's why you haven't been responding to my e-mail. All right. I feel better now.
Biz Stone, thanks very much for joining us from San Francisco.
STONE: Thank you so much, Howard.
KURTZ: E-mail bankruptcy.
After the break, Lisa Bloom on the passing of Elizabeth Edwards, who won praise after losing her long battle with cancer. But were journalists too critical of her response to scandal when she was alive?
Plus, should Barbara Walters have asked Oprah that question?
KURTZ: The sad death of Elizabeth Edwards this week reminds us that this was a woman triply touched by tragedy -- the loss of her son, the marriage to a presidential candidate who cheated on her, and the battle against cancer that ultimately claimed her life. But it was the scandal that brought the searing spotlight and some criticism after we learned that she had kept quiet during the campaign about John Edwards' affair with his campaign videographer, Rielle Hunter.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ELIZABETH EDWARDS, JOHN EDWARDS' WIFE: The hardest part, I think, was feeling like somebody who had been the person I had leaned on when I needed somebody, when Wade had died, when the cancer game. It just -- a lot of people -- I think that probably includes himself.
"I knew I could no longer be John's wife. It was a sad and terrifying decision. I've been trying to reinvent the role of wife for the last two years, trying to find a place where I could be happy and still be John's wife, despite his infidelity. Each day, it seemed another piece of my history chipped away."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So, were journalists fair to Elizabeth Edwards?
Joining us now from Los Angeles, Lisa Bloom, a former commentator for CBS and CNN, and now founder of "The Bloom Law Firm."
Lisa, Elizabeth Edwards, look, a very sympathetic figure. Reporters really liked her, but she also drew plenty of criticism for the way she handled the uproar over her husband's affair.
Was that too much?
LISA BLOOM, FOUNDER, THE BLOOM FIRM: Well, my criticism is that the media focused so much on Edwards as an infidelity victim and virtually ignored all of her accomplishments and ideas as a highly intelligent, successful woman in her own right. I mean, this is a woman, when I had dinner with her, just the two of us, last summer, who talked to me about campaign finance reform, who was very disturbed by the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, and wanted there to be an constitutional amendment to overcome it, something I heard nobody else talking about.
But all we heard about Elizabeth Edwards in the media was her husband cheated on her, there was a baby out of wedlock, did she forgive him, did she not forgive him, when there was so much more to this woman.
KURTZ: But as smart and talented as she was, didn't she -- before the affair became public, wasn't she basically using her husband's political fame to create this platform? Wasn't she on TV -- I mean, yesterday was the funeral. It was carried live on CNN and MSNBC because she was the wife of a presidential candidate and a one- time vice presidential nominee.
BLOOM: Well, she was that, but she used that platform to advocate for causes that she felt were righteous and just, like health care reform. And ultimately, health care reform did come around. That was something that the Edwards' campaign lobbied hard for.
I mean, this was a woman of ideas, of big ideas. And yes, her husband cheated on her. But how much do we have to talk about whether she forgave him or not, whether she turned a blind eye when she thought it was a one-night stand and decided to fight on with him? And how much do we ignore the ideas that really were her hallmark?
I mean, this was a woman who was an accomplished author. She had two books that were successful. She talked about grace and resilience. And my concern is, a lot of that gets lost in the discussion about Elizabeth Edwards' life.
KURTZ: Well, I'd be tempted to agree with you, except for this -- at a time when she was dying, she wrote a book which came out last year that described how she cried and threw up when John told her about what he said was a one-night stand. She later learned that wasn't true, and she called Rielle Hunter pathetic in that book. So she did not run away from this thing that, yes, of course the media went nuts over because it was such a soap opera.
BLOOM: Well, that's right. And here's the Elizabeth Edwards that I knew.
She was a very honest woman. She had nothing to hide.
You know, when I had dinner with her, she talked about the fact that she still loved John Edwards. And that's a three-dimensional person.
You have a long marriage, you have a family and history. And yes, the man did her wrong, but she still had a lot of love in her heart for him.
She talked to me about the fact that she couldn't fully divorce him because she would have lost her health insurance. I mean, imagine that. So, she had to remain separated until her death, not fully divorced, for that reason.
I mean, this is a woman who had nothing to hide. She talked openly and honestly about everything, but she wrote that book for the benefit of her children, to say, yes, life is going to throw a lot of curveballs at you, as they did at her, very cruelly. But the book was entitled "Resilience," and it was about getting back up the next day and facing life's challenges with grace and resilience. And I think that's what Elizabeth Edwards was all about.
KURTZ: So, when someone like Newsweek's Jonathan Altar, who was a cancer survivor himself and was a friend of Elizabeth's, writes, as he did this week, that it was selfish and unfair of her to enable John's presidential campaign after learning about the infidelity, and that this was a product of her fierce ambition as much as his own, you're not necessarily saying that's not true. You're saying that we, in the press, used a one-dimensional lens when she got caught up in this scandal, obviously through no fault of her own?
BLOOM: Yes, Howard, that's very well said. And to call her selfish, I mean, this was a woman who learned at that time that her husband had a one-night stand. That's what he told her, that's what she believed.
She also believed in the big ideas of that campaign. She thought it was better for America that her husband get elected president.
And my goodness, how many spouses out there do forgive their spouse when they find out there's been an affair, a one-night stand, or even a longer affair? I mean, who are we to judge her when she made that decision for herself and for her family? And what kind of people are we to paint her with that kind of a brush in just the days after her death? I mean, I find that distasteful.
KURTZ: A lot of people in the media sit in judgment on such things, and that certainly was true, particularly after "The National Enquirer" broke that story. I want to turn to this other question, a remarkable piece of videotape that I'm sure you've seen of Barbara Walters interviewing Oprah Winfrey on a special. And she asked -- she got this very emotional response when she asked Oprah about the nature of her relationship with her close personal friend, Gayle King.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OPRAH WINFREY, TALK SHOW HOST: I don't know a better person. I don't know a better person.
BARBARA WALTERS, ABC: Why is it making you cry?
WINFREY : Shoot. I wasn't going to cry here.
WALTERS: So when those, to me, dumb rumors come up, that you --
WINFREY: Are gay?
WALTERS: -- are gay, what do you say?
WINFREY: Well, I have said we are not gay enough times. I am not lesbian. I'm not even kind of lesbian. And the reason why it irritates me is because it means that somebody must think I'm lying.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So, should Barbara Walters have asked about what she called dumb rumors? Why is Oprah's sexuality any of our business?
BLOOM: Well, I think in Oprah's case, her show is about very, very personal secrets of many people. And Oprah does share a great deal of herself on the show. And I think if she is gay, she should come out and say it. She has denied it many, many times.
Frankly, I believed her. Why is it so hard for us to believe that two women can have an intensely personal, loving bond and be heterosexual? I mean, that's the question that I have.
I have very close relationships with women who I'm not sexually involved with. Why do we have to relentlessly ask the question of Oprah?
KURTZ: But just briefly --
BLOOM: She's answered it over and over again. Why can't we just believe her?
KURTZ: But just briefly, you feel that it was an appropriate question because Oprah shares so much of herself, puts her life out there on her show?
BLOOM: That's the nature of what she does, yes.
KURTZ: So Barbara Walters kind of turning the tables there on Ms. Winfrey? All right. BLOOM: Well, that's right. I mean, look, Barbara Walters does the same thing on "The View." And you put yourself out there, and you're largely selling yourself and your story and your life. I think the question is fair game.
KURTZ: All right. Lisa Bloom, thanks so much for joining us from L.A.
Still to come, a Fox News memo that seemed to match Republican rhetoric; the MSNBC program and the steely grip of a sponsor; and a "New York Times" critic accused of unfairly bashing a ballerina.
Stay with us.
KURTZ: Time now for our "Media Monitor," a weekly look at the hits and errors in the news business.
Remember the hot and heavy health care debate over the public option? Just about everyone called that Obamacare provision the public option, including the folks at Fox News. But Republican pollster Frank Luntz, a one-time adviser to Newt Gingrich, had a better idea.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FRANK LUNTZ, REPUBLICAN POLLSTER: If you call it a public option, the American people are split. If you call it the government option, the public is overwhelmingly against it.
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: You know what? It's a great point.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Now, those are opinion guys, but the newsroom soon got its marching orders. Bill Sammon, Fox's vice president and Washington managing editor, issued a memo telling the troops, "Let's not slip back into calling it the 'public option.' Please use the term 'government-run health insurance,' or when brevity is a concern, 'government option,' whenever possible."
And the troops fell into line. When I asked Sammon about the memo obtained by the liberal advocacy group Media Matters, he said he didn't know what term the Republicans were pushing, but that "'public option' is a vague, bland, undescriptive phrase, while 'government-run plan,'" he said, "is a more neutral term that's been used by other journalists."
That's true, and it's largely accurate. But other news outlets haven't used the phrase under a management edict that banned the word "public option" unless they were preceded by "so-called." Now, maybe it's a coincidence that Sammon, a right-leaning commentator and author, was echoing the GOP talking points. But even some folks at Fox don't think so.
Here's what I didn't particularly love.
All television programs need sponsors, including this one. And MSNBC's "Dylan Ratigan Show" got a good one in the Nucor Steel Company, which will become part of the program's graphics and branding. But get this -- when the show goes on the road in a specially-outfitted bus beginning this week, it will be labeled the "Steel on Wheels Tour." And here's what Ratigan said in a statement.
"There no better partner for this than Nucor and their visionary CEO, Dan DiMicco, a man who is as dedicated to his own extraordinary employees as he is to helping get all of America working again."
Dylan, we get that you're grateful for the financial backing, but when it comes to Nucor's boss, let's leave the visionary talk to others.
Now, dance critics don't usually stir a whole lot of controversy, but Alastair Macaulay of "The New York Times" has gotten a flood of negative mail for his review of the New York City Ballet's "Nutcracker" for daring to write the following: "Jennifer Ringer, as the Sugar Plum Fairy, looked as if she'd eaten one sugar plum too many."
The Web site "Jezebel" suggested this was pretty mean, that Ringer's weight is barely noticeable, and not especially relevant. It turns out Ringer, who has talked about her struggles with anorexia and binge eating, was talked into returning to ballet by her dancing partner and future husband, and said, "It was a miracle that they could find a tutu that fit me!"
Macaulay points out that in the very same sentence about Ringer eating sugar plums, he said a male dancer, Jared Angle (ph), seems to have been sampling half the sweet realm. And, well, no one cared, nor did the complainers carp that he said both of them danced "without adult depth or complexity."
Macaulay calls the whole flap sexist, and adds, "If you want to make your appearance irrelevant to criticism, do not choose ballet as a career."
In my weighty opinion, the critic was within his journalistic rights. I'm sure it was painful to Jennifer Ringer, but she does put herself out there on the ballet stage. And Macaulay did confess that he has his own health issues and had to lose 20 pounds last year.
Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.
I'm Howard Kurtz.
Join us again next Sunday morning at 11:00 a.m. Eastern for another critical look at the media.
"STATE OF THE UNION" with Candy Crowley begins right now.