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Reliable Sources

Uprising in Egypt; Mubarak Shuts Down Al Jazeera

Aired January 30, 2011 - 11:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: There is breaking news this morning, as Egyptian authorities have shut down the offices of Al Jazeera. We'll ask a top executive why the Mubarak government has retaliated against the Arab satellite channel.

The uprising in Egypt not only took the world by surprise, it strained the resources of a media establishment that has cut way back on national coverage in places like Tunisia and Egypt. We'll examine the challenges of keeping pace with this fast-moving story and how Cairo's authoritarian regime has tried to undermine the street protests by shutting down Facebook, Twitter and the Internet itself.

Plus, CNN takes some heat for airing Michele Bachmann's speech to a Tea Party group which was not the official Republican response to the State of the Union. Did she deserve the air time?

And President Obama names Jay Carney, a career journalist, as his new spokesman. Can a former "TIME" magazine reporter tame the jackals of the press?

I'm Howard Kurtz, and this is RELIABLE SOURCES.

There are fewer Western journalists in the Middle East today than a decade or two ago, but that's not the only reason the political explosion in Egypt took just about everyone by surprise. Hosni Mubarak's regime has always been portrayed in the press as stable. The country never before seen as a simmering (INAUDIBLE) of tension.

But as tens of thousands poured into the Cairo streets, news organizations tried strenuously to cover and make sense of the fast- moving events. That challenge made considerably harder by the government shutting down Internet and, for a time, limiting satellite and cell phone service.

An Egyptian journalist for the BBC describes what happened to him.


ASSAD SAWEY, REPORTER, BBC ARABIC: They were targeting journalists deliberately. They took my camera. And when they arrested me, they started beating me up with steel bars, the ones used here for animals, for slaughtering animals.

And it's been really, really brutal. Police are very, very brutal. I'm going to hospital shortly.


KURTZ: NBC's Richard Engel had an unexpected visitor during a live shot.


RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: We have now reached the main square here in downtown Cairo. People are being injured. We've seen several collapses so far today like this man.


KURTZ: Joining us now to talk about the coverage of this breaking story and the role of the social media networks, here in Washington, Jeffrey Goldberg, national correspondent for "The Atlantic"; Laura Rozen, of Politico, who writes the blog on foreign policy. In Atlanta, Mohammed Jamjoom, international correspondent for CNN; and in Zurich, Jeff Jarvis, who runs the blog "Buzz Machine" and directs the Interactive Journalism Program at the SUNY University of New York.

Jeffrey Goldberg, as I said, this uprising in Egypt seems to have taken even veteran foreign correspondents by surprise, now trying to put together the pieces of something that almost no one saw coming.

JEFFREY GOLDBERG, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, "THE ATLANTIC": It's actually unbelievable, because long term, everyone knew that this regime wasn't viable, and yet --

KURTZ: But I didn't see that reflected in the coverage.

GOLDBERG: It's interesting, isn't it? I think part of it goes to your point about not having a -- the numbers of reporters that we used to have in the Arab world in the Arab world. And also, by the way, because of that, and partially because of that, you don't have the same amount of coverage on the nightly news, you don't have the same amount of coverage in newspapers anymore. So, I mean, most things are going to come to us as surprises these days.

KURTZ: Laura Rozen, you can't predict the unpredictable, of course, but with these cutbacks, especially at the networks, news organizations just have fewer boots on the ground in places like the Middle East.

LAURA ROZEN, "POLITICO": Right. And it's a vacuum that Al Jazeera English has totally stepped into, with many of us having it live-streaming from events in Cairo on our computers Thursday, Friday and Saturday, transfixed.

KURTZ: That addiction may end because of Egypt now trying to kick Al Jazeera out of the country. We'll talk to the Washington bureau chief in just a moment.

Let me go to Atlanta, Mohammed Jamjoom. This battle, of course, playing out in the streets. We've all been watching this, glued to our sets. But playing out on the Internet as well.

And when the Egyptian authorities crack down on the Internet -- and I have read estimates that 93 percent of Egyptians can no longer get online -- how effective has that ban been? How is it that some people, for example, are still managing to send Twitter messages?

MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Howard, it's been fascinating to see basically what the reaction was after the shutdown, because what you were seeing was not just people in the region, but people worldwide, online activism movements that were basically tweeting out and putting out social media messages for the Egyptian people on how they could circumvent the Internet blockage, because as you said, it's about 93 percent blocked, it has been since Thursday, in the overnight hours, and it doesn't look like it's getting better any time soon.

We were seeing people tweeting from places like Yemen, where there isn't a lot of Twitter activity, giving numbers for ISPs in France so that people could use dial-up modems to get back online. A lot of online activists have been putting out messages on other ways they can do it, maybe even using Ham radio technology so that people in Egypt could continue to get the message out via social media even though the Internet was blocked. So it's just been absolutely fascinating to see this -- Howard.

KURTZ: People can be very inventive when they need to be.

Jeff Jarvis, we've reached a point where Hillary Clinton urged Cairo not to shut down social media, and Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman, tweeting the other day, "Government must respect the rights of the Egyptian people and turn on social networking and the Internet."

So, is Internet access now a human right?

JEFFREY JARVIS, "BUZZ MACHINE": I think it's exactly that, Howard. And it's somewhat ironic in the fact that the U.S. government has been trying to shut down WikiLeaks.

I think that the right to connect now becomes a fundamental human right, and the problem here, as we see, that government is the single point of failure for the Internet, whether that's the kill switch, as Egypt has used it, or whether that's the fact that they control the structure for the Internet.

And so our future, the means by which we're going to build the next society, is vulnerable here, and that worries me. At the same time, I celebrate the fact that our people in a nation can use these tools to take charge.

GOLDBERG: But Howard, there's something very interesting going on here, which is I think the moment that the Egyptian government lost its international credibility was when it shut down social media. I mean, I think this is --

KURTZ: The Twitter factor, is that important?

GOLDBERG: I think the Twitter factor is actually important in people's understanding around the world. In other words, trying to suppress this revolution by shutting down Twitter, they completely undermined whatever legitimacy they had internationally. I think it was a turning point.

KURTZ: You are certainly familiar with the region. You've been to Egypt. In fact, I'm told 11 years ago, you witnessed some violence in Egypt while you were there.

GOLDBERG: No, no, no. I got caught up in a riot 11 years ago during the Arab League summit. And it's not a fun place to be, during an Egyptian riot, because the police, not the army, but the police are quite brutal, and they are very, very quick with tear gas.

There were a lot of reporters tear-gassed the day I was there. I escaped into a Kentucky Fried Chicken which was then looted. That was the only reason I stayed out of the tear gas at that moment.

KURTZ: It sounds like a harrowing moment.

I want to ask you, Laura Rozen, about now that this has become the story dominating television and everywhere else, we have people with shows who maybe are not Middle East experts talking about what they think.

Let me play a clip from "The O'Reilly Factor" from the other night on Fox.


LT. COL. RALPH PETERS, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Mubarak has conned us. He's done stuff for us, but we've done a lot more for him. We've helped him stay in power. And he's going. Whether or not he survives this immediate crisis --

BILL O'REILLY, "THE O'REILLY FACTOR": No, he's going. I agree.

PETERS: -- he's a dead man walking.

O'REILLY: Right. He's out.


KURTZ: Now, I don't know what's going to happen in Egypt. Should pundits be speculating like it was some presidential primary about whether Mubarak is going to be toppled or not?

ROZEN: Well, it has been striking how this has become -- this international story has become the major domestic political story of the past four days. And you've seen, you know, normal punditry talking about domestic politics and the State of the Union, turning their attention to the political dynamics of Cairo, which they may not know as much about as some of the experts you've had on. So it has been striking.

KURTZ: Let me go back to Mohammed Jamjoom and ask you this question.

You know, it is easier for those of us who are not there, for those of us who are sitting at computers, to follow some of this story on places like Twitter and Facebook, despite the crackdown, despite the reduced traffic. I wonder if that maybe leads us to overestimate the role that these social networks play in what's going on there. For example, it's not a representative sample of the country. People on Twitter are probably younger, more activists, perhaps more anti- government.

JAMJOOM: Oh, that's right, Howard. And that's a debate that has been going on for days now.

And it started with what went on in Tunisia. A lot of people have been asking in the region and outside the region, does social media really play an integral factor in this?

What we can say is that in the case of Egypt, it really played a critical factor in getting out the word on how to organize, on how to meet up. People were using Twitter and sites like Facebook to organize.

There was one group in Egypt that was one of the key groups getting people out in the streets. Last week, in a matter of days, they went from 20,000 fans of that page to 80,000 fans. That's just in one day, the traffic increased that much.

Now, we can see these sites were used in order to get the word out how to bypass checkpoints, how to get across bridges, how to get to places where people wanted to demonstrate. So it was a critical tool in getting people out into the streets, getting supporters of the movement out there.

But as you see, even after the Internet shutdown, people are still out there en masse. It's growing day by day.

Clearly, a popular uprising, a lot of anger. And the fact that the Internet was shut down added fuel to the fire. But people are angry with the regime there, they are getting out. So we can't say yet that it's the whole reason that this is happening, but obviously it played a big role in getting people out there, getting the message across.

ROZEN: Similarly, Al Jazeera was reporting on Friday that 60 percent of its traffic was come from the United States on Friday, people watching the Cairo uprising. And you could see -- sorry.

GOLDBERG: No, go ahead.

The only point I would make in response to that is we've had revolutions before Twitter --

KURTZ: I was about to ask that. GOLDBERG: -- and Facebook. The Iranian Revolution, 1979. The American and French revolutions, by the way, no technology whatsoever.

KURTZ: No Twitter then, no Facebook.

GOLDBERG: No Twitter in 1789 or 1776. So --

JARVIS: Howie, can I jump in there?

KURTZ: Let me get Jeff Jarvis in there.

Go ahead.

JARVIS: Well, you know, I'm researching my next book called "Public Parts," and I'm finding this debate about the chicken and egg question of Twitter and revolutions is not unlike that around Gutenberg's press and the Reformation. It's really a rather meaningless debate.

The point is, if the Internet didn't matter, the Egyptian government wouldn't have been fueled necessarily to shut it down. China would not have today blocked Twitter-like searches for the word "Egypt." It's not as if -- as a blogger said in Egypt on Al Jazeera, "Twitter didn't attack the police, the people did."

Of course. People (AUDIO GAP) tools of transparency and organization are unquestionably having a role.

KURTZ: Let me ask you, Jeffrey Goldberg, before we go to break, do you have a sense in this media coverage that journalists -- and it's subtle, but that journalists are kind of rooting for the protesters, there's not great sympathy for Hosni Mubarak, and perhaps not fully examining that, depending on how this goes, we could end up with an Islamic regime in Egypt that we might like less than Mubarak?

GOLDBERG: Well, we're completely in uncharted waters right now. I don't necessarily think that we're going to end up with the Muslim Brotherhood regime. They only have the support of a minority of Egyptians.

On the other hand, no one knows what's going to happen. You asked about punditry. It's very dangerous to punditize at this moment, because the Egyptians are in uncharted waters.

KURTZ: Right. It's a chaotic situation.

GOLDBERG: And yes, of course people are sympathetic to the underdog. I mean, that's -- look, let's not make believe that journalists don't axiomatically side intuitively or emotionally with the underdog. And these people on the streets seem like the underdog.

KURTZ: Right. And especially, they're going up against the guy who has forcibly held power for almost three decades.

GOLDBERG: For Americans, 30-year presidencies don't sit well with us. That's not a good American idea. KURTZ: All right. Let me get a break.

Coming up at noon Eastern, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will talk to Candy Crowley to give the administration's view of these fast-moving events.

We will be back to talk about just how much interest there is in this country in international events, at least when there aren't riots in the streets.

Stay with us.


KURTZ: We are continuing our coverage of the uprising in Egypt.

And Jeff Jarvis, in Zurich, when Tunisia's president was forced from office just about 10 days ago or so, it got a lot of newspaper coverage. I wouldn't say it was a huge television story.

And I'm wondering what you think about this. Do most television executives and producers believe that Americans don't care about international events unless there's riots in the streets or American troops are involved or American hostages are involved?

JARVIS: Well, Howie, I like what I just heard a moment ago, that it's hard to punditize in these uncharted waters. I think part of the problem in this story, or these stories, is that the normal structure we know isn't what's leading the story.

It's not a government media structure. It is an entirely new kind of power structure, quite uncharted, that comes out of the this ability of people to organize. And I think that story will become so compelling to people, and the debate around who's really in charge, that it will become more important.

KURTZ: Right.

JARVIS: Yes, I think it is a failing of national (AUDIO GAP) care about the world, we do.

KURTZ: Do you think, Jeffrey Goldberg, that Americans and journalists, Western journalists, do care more about Egypt not only because it's a big and important country, but because of the peace treaty with Israel and how that could be in play, depending on what happens here?

GOLDBERG: Look, Egypt is the center of the Arab world. It's the most populated country. It's a country we understand historically. We've been engaged there for a long time.

And yes, I think when people think about it for 10 seconds, they understand that the entire stability of the eastern Mediterranean is due, in fact, to the Israel/Egypt peace treaty, which was, of course, brokered by the United States. We know what happened -- you look at that area of the Middle East in the last 30 years, versus the Persian Gulf area, Iraq, Iran, and you can say, wow, the stability -- maybe artificial stability we've had -- has been hugely important to us, and now we're headed kind of off a cliff. We don't know where we're going.

KURTZ: Come back to your point earlier about -- you said it was pretty obvious that at some point, Mubarak would not be able to hold on to power. I'm not talking about this week. And yet, at the same time, I read all these stories, I watch television, and I have very rarely seen even hints of that.

Why is that? Is there a fear of going out on a limb?

GOLDBERG: It's a fear of going out on a limb. Also -- but this goes directly to your point about the lack of foreign coverage.

To me it's interesting, to you it's interesting, to Laura it's interesting to go out and interview jobless Egyptians, and look at the youth bulge in Egypt, and talk about how young men are so frustrated, they don't have enough money to get married. But that does not make compelling television, for one thing. That's a serious kind of long, investigative, almost, sort of story. That's not going to -- that kind of story doesn't sail too well anymore.

KURTZ: And it's a gray area. It's not heroes and villains. It's not a clear plot. I mean, except now, when you have --


GOLDBERG: Socioeconomically very complex.

KURTZ: How difficult has it been, Laura Rozen, as a reporter covering the story here in Washington, to find out what they are really saying and thinking and planning and strategizing at the State Department, at the White House, which seems to be reacting to events in the last 72 hours?

ROZEN: Very much. I mean, it's been quite interesting.

There actually have been a group of Middle East experts and foreign policy establishment figures who, for a year now, have been pushing the Obama administration to prepare for the post-Mubarak era, and senators who have been trying to push Egypt for reforms. And it's gotten stories, but it doesn't rise to the top of the agenda until you have a drama like this.

KURTZ: And when you're in a drama like this, how hard is it for you to -- do they want to push a message out? How hard is it for you to find out what officials are saying privately?

ROZEN: Their message is we're meeting on it. You know, Obama met for an hour yesterday. The national security principals met for two hours yesterday. We're on it. They've been trying to be neutral in an event where it's very hard for the United States to look neutral because they give so much -- you know, $1.5 billion a year to Mubarak.

KURTZ: Is this not calibrating a little more distance from the Mubarak regime than at the beginning?

ROZEN: Either giving -- you can see every day, similar to the Iran protests a year and a half ago, that the administration's getting pushed now to distance themselves from Mubarak.

KURTZ: And before we go, Mohammed Jamjoom, let me come back to the question of social media networks.

"The New York Times" had an interesting piece this weekend saying that just as Twitter or Facebook can be very effective as an organizing tool, it makes it easier for an authoritarian government to track down dissidents by following the electronic trail.

JAMJOOM: Oh, that's right, Howard. And that's one of the things that's key in trying to cover this, is trying to focus on if these people that have been tweeting out, or using Facebook, being online activists in the region, if they are being harassed -- I mean, we have seen many times in the course of the past few years groups like the Committee to Protect Journalists or Human Rights Watch really condemning authoritarian regimes in that region for their mistreatment, alleged abuses of bloggers, of social media users.

We've seen it repeatedly happen in Saudi Arabia. We've seen a lot of allegations of abuse in Egypt as well.

And so there's a real risk for these people that are out there. Even though they might be caught up in the moment, and even though a lot of the bloggers that are in Egypt that have been utilizing Twitter so much have been saying this is our moment and we need to go out into the streets as much as possible now, even though we're in danger, the fact of the matter is they could be in danger -- Howard.

KURTZ: All right. Thank you very much, Mohammed Jamjoom.

Jeff Jarvis, over in Zurich, Jeffrey Goldberg, Laura Rozen, thanks for joining us.

Ahead, we'll talk to the Washington bureau chief of Al Jazeera about the sudden ban by Egyptian authorities in that country. And we'll also talk some political coverage, State of the Union, Michele Bachmann.

It's all ahead on RELIABLE SOURCES.


KURTZ: Since the crisis in Egypt erupted, one network has provided more exhaustive coverage than anyone else. That would be the Arab satellite channel Al Jazeera. That may be about to change, getting word this morning that Egyptian authorities trying to basically kick Al Jazeera out of the country, close its offices, yank its accreditation.

Here's some of what Al Jazeera's coverage has looked like on the air.


DAN NOLAN, AL JAZEERA ENGLISH: Down here, on the grounds of this compound, you can see that every vehicle in sight here has been set alight by protesters. They stormed this compound last night, they didn't spare any vehicle. There must be 50 vehicles in total. All of them have been torched by protesters furious with President Mubarak.


KURTZ: That clip obviously from Al Jazeera English.

And joining us now to talk about these developments is the Washington bureau chief, Abderrahim Foukara.

Thank you very much for coming in.


KURTZ: Why was Al Jazeera singled out by Egyptian authorities? I mean, the BBC is there, CNN is there, there are other television operations there. And yet, they are trying to -- Egyptian authorities are trying to basically exclude you from any further coverage.

Well, Al Jazeera's coverage of these events is, as you said in your introduction, the most comprehensive in the region. We've seen a similar situation in Tunisia.

The coverage of recent events in Tunisia has really provided millions and millions of people around the region to see what was actually going on in Tunisia, and taking into consideration that what's going on in Egypt was actually, in some ways, sparked by what was going on -- what happened in Tunisia. And then you begin to get the picture of why the Egyptian government has done what it's done.

KURTZ: The state-run television in Egypt has said that Al Jazeera has been lying, exaggerating. The number of protesters, for example, that we're seeing this morning at Tahrir Square, they're saying there are really only hundreds there, though the CNN estimate was 10,000. So you're being attacked on journalistic grounds.

FOUKARA: Well, I mean, this is not a new situation with Al Jazeera. We've seen this in many different parts of the Arab world, where the governments of various countries go in one direction, but the viewers in that same country go in a different direction.

Al Jazeera has been accused of incitement, for example, in Iraq in 2004, and the U.S. offices were closed down. They continue to be closed down. Now we're seeing this in Egypt.

The fact of the situation remains that for Arabs, for more than any other viewership in the world, this is a crucial story. And for the Egyptian government, no matter what its grievances are with Al Jazeera, to shut down its operations in Egypt, it's something to seriously think about. KURTZ: You talk about incitement. Bill O'Reilly, on Fox News the other day, said that Al Jazeera is spurring on this revolt and encouraging uprisings all over the Muslim world.

Your response?

FOUKARA: Well, look, what's -- the coverage of Al Jazeera is being criticized by some governments, it's being criticized by people outside of the United States. But to the people who are actually demonstrating, whether in Tunis or in Cairo or in Yemen or in Jordan, is a source of reliable information not only if what goes on in their own countries, but what goes on in the neighborhood.

So we may differ with certain governments on the definition of what trustworthy coverage is. The fact of the situation is that the viewership, the people who are directly involved in these events, they come to Al Jazeera because that's where they feel with some trust they can air their grievances and their aspirations.

KURTZ: Ironically, one of the reasons that Al Jazeera is barely a presence on the airwaves in the United States is because of criticism that it's been pro-Arab and anti-American. I'm sure you would reject that, but, of course, the Arab position is not always uniform, as we're seeing in Egypt.

Is it fair to say your journalists are not only better connected with, say, those involved in this Egyptian protest, but are sympathetic to those who are trying to topple what has been an authoritarian regime for nearly three decades?

FOUKARA: Well, the viewership, but certainly the protesters -- look, Al Jazeera has invested in gaining the trust of its viewers around the Middle East for over a decade.

KURTZ: You're there all the time, not just --


FOUKARA: We're there all the time. In times of crisis, I mean, even in Egypt, you would see that local television stations can compete and have been able to compete with Al Jazeera in normal times. But in times of crisis, whether it's the situation in Tunisia, or in Gaza, or in Iraq, most of them flock to Al Jazeera.

KURTZ: What about my question about whether your journalists are sympathetic to people who are trying to gain some measure of freedom?

FOUKARA: Well, the message of Al Jazeera has been that we are actually going to provide a platform for people who want to air their grievances and their aspirations right across the spectrum. Al Jazeera would tell you -- and the coverage shows, too, whatever extent you want to determine it -- that they also give a platform to people who want to criticize it; namely, governments in the region.

KURTZ: And these are people who often don't have a platform, which is why folks like the authorities in Egypt seem angry at Al Jazeera.

FOUKARA: Absolutely. I mean, it's just a question of who do you trust? Obviously, governments do not trust Al Jazeera much. But the people, the viewership, and now, especially, the protesters, they certainly do see in it a way of getting the message across not to their fellow citizens -- not just to their fellow citizens, but to Arabs elsewhere in the region.

KURTZ: I'm coming up on a break. But I've got to ask you, to what extent will Al Jazeera be able to continue to cover this crisis in Egypt if the offices are closed, the phone lines are cut, if the satellite privileges are denied?

FOUKARA: It is a problem, but it's -- as I said earlier, it's a problem that Al Jazeera has experienced in the past, and it learned to adapt to it. Al Jazeera will continue to cover events in Egypt either by inviting people from outside of Egypt to come and give their opinions on what's going on, but it's also through its network of contacts inside Egypt who may not necessarily provide information on air, but they will provide it off air.

KURTZ: Abderrahim Foukara, thank you very much for coming in this morning. We appreciate it.

Coming up in the second part of RELIABLE SOURCES, we'll look at former "TIME" correspondent Jay Carney taking on the job of White House spokesman.

Plus, Michele Bachmann gets almost as much attention after the State of the Union as President Obama. And CNN is getting flak for airing her response.

Later, we'll take a break from protests and politics with this story -- why did sportswriters rough up a Chicago Bears quarterback who insisted he was hurt?


KURTZ: When it comes to cable news, all members of Congress aren't created equal. On the left, Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson, who just lost his seat, got plenty of exposure on MSNBC for saying such things as the Republican health plan for sick people is "die quickly." On the right, Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann became a Fox News star -- she occasionally pops up on other channels as well -- for saying such things as Barack Obama may have anti-American views.

But more incendiary is why the bookers go after them. So when a brainy, budget-cutting hawk, Paul Ryan, delivered the official GOP response to the president's State of the Union, it was Bachmann who made news by making a video appearance for the Tea Party Express thanks, in part, to this network.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I just want to remind our viewers, the only place they'll see on television that speech live, Michele Bachmann's Tea Party speech, will be right here on CNN.



REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: After the 7$700 billion bailout, the trillion-dollar stimulus, and the massive budget bill with over 9,000 earmarks, many of you implored Washington to please stop spending money that we don't have.



RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC: But tonight, inexplicably, a national news network decided that they would give Michele Bachmann a job that her own party never did. CNN ran it live on their network. They aired it on national TV. A remarkable act of journalistic intervention to elevate, in effect, at group with which they are cosponsoring a presidential debate, to elevate that group to the level of the major parties in this country.


KURTZ: So what did the good folks at MSNBC spend the next day talking about? I'll give you a hint. It wasn't Paul Ryan.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everybody in this room has probably looked at the wrong camera.

LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC: You know, I've got a room full of cameras here, and I feel like this could happen to me at any moment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Michele Bachmann is out there, she's a wildcard.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: Did she skip the entire financial crisis of 2008 and 2009?


KURTZ: So did CNN make a mistake in airing Bachmann's speech?

Joining us now to talk about that, and the way most pundits handled the president's State of the Union, Margaret Carlson, columnist for Bloomberg News and Washington editor of "The Week" magazine; Michael Shear of "The New York Times," the lead writer for "The Caucus" blog; and Jim Geraghty, contributing editor at "National Review."

So, Margaret, did CNN elevate Bachmann unfairly, as Rachel Maddow says?

MARGARET CARLSON, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Well, Bachmann makes herself news. I mean, she's -- the Republicans create people like Michael Steele and Sarah Palin and Bachmann. She belongs to the Bachmann party. She is on her own.

She goes out. She always makes news. She's always colorful. She's always incendiary. And we cover news, and she's always willing to make it.

KURTZ: Jim Geraghty, if journalists are going to talk about Bachmann all the time, then what's the big deal for CNN to give her five minutes for that video so that people could see what it is they would then be debating?

JIM GERAGHTY, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, "NATIONAL REVIEW": Well, I think it's worth noting, this is really the first year -- maybe you could argue last year -- that any type of Tea Party response would be justified. Before then, there just wasn't this kind of social movement. I think if nothing else, novelty justified putting it on the air and just seeing how people responded to it.

Now, my fear is, you know, a year from now, the Coffee Party will want to have its response, the progressive -- everybody and their brother --


GERAGHTY: Exactly. Everybody and their brother will say, well, look, I represent a separate faction that my own party doesn't speak for me. Thus, I'm going to need my own separate five minutes. And before you know it, it will be a weeklong celebration of State of the Union responses.

KURTZ: Well, good luck with that.

CNN saying in a statement, "The Tea Party's become a major force in American politics," to your point, "and within the Republican Party. So, therefore, hearing the Tea Party's perspective on the State of the Union was something that would benefit viewers." And I don't disagree with that at all.

But what explains this media fixation with Michele Bachmann? She's not part of the leadership. She is colorful, to be sure.

MICHAEL SHEAR, "THE CAUCUS" BLOG: Look, I think, you know, I, as all journalists, love the fascination of waiting to see what she might say, and that it might be newsy and over the top. But I think there's a serious point here, too, which is that she represents what is a broader story about the divisions within the Republican Party. And there's serious divisions. It's going to be a story from now and throughout the 2010 campaign, and I think showing that helps readers, reviewer understand what that division might be.

KURTZ: And Paul Ryan, who actually has a serious and controversial deficit-cutting plan, nobody was talking about him for the next 48hours. He's probably not that happy.

Turning now to the State of the Union, I want to show you some of the pundit reaction. And I would have to describe it as tepid.


MADDOW: The mood of tonight's speech was somewhat subdued right from the start.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: It was like late Clintonian minimalism. This, I think, was one of his weakest speeches. He tried hard, but it was flat, I thought, uninspired.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Not one mention of the poor in this speech. Not even a mention of the middle class in this speech.


KURTZ: So, Margaret Carlson, the pundits, on balance, were pretty unenthusiastic, but the public loved it, 84-93 percent in a CNN and a CBS poll, giving positive marks to the president.

What accounts for that split?

CARLSON: This is a split you always get. Remember, during Clinton, every speech was a laundry list.

The public wants to know, oh, what's going to happen to my mortgage? Oh, what's going to happen to my -- they like specifics.

On this one, the same thing happened, although I didn't find this -- if you're judging this within State of the Union, it wasn't a bad speech. It had a beginning, a middle, and an end. The ending, I thought, was really quite good, where he talks about the small businessman who builds the drill, takes it to Chile, it rescues the miner, but the guy who did it left because he didn't want to take attention away from the miners.

And he used that to say we can do big things. And then he did that refrain. And it ended unlike Paul Ryan, on this upbeat note. I thought it was one of the best State of the Unions I ever heard.

KURTZ: Jim Geraghty probably not going to endorse that view.

But I'd like to know your thoughts on why it seems that people often like these speeches -- and this was true under Bush as well -- a lot more than the professional commentariat.

GERAGHTY: Sure. One of my old mentors who I nicknamed "Obi-Wan Kenobi" says Americans like to see the president being the president. Go out in the Rose Garden, go out and address whatever major issue of the day it is.

When you give the State of the Union, everyone's standing, they're applauding. They're reacting to you as if you're presidential leadership, even if the speech is flawed.

Now, even if you like it, I'm going to ask you whether anybody's going to really remember anything two weeks from now, or it will all be overtaken by what's going on in Egypt, because Candy Crowley got her power back on, or whatever crisis of the day. I think people --


KURTZ: Well, it was a crisis when I didn't have my power on this week after a five-inch snowstorm here in the capital.

But Michael Shear, you know, it seems to me you can't win. The pundits, before the speech, said these speeches are always a laundry list. We don't want a laundry list. Well, Obama didn't really do a laundry list. He did a more thematic speech, and the reaction in some corners, as well, was, too vague, he didn't have any specifics.

SHEAR: Yes. I mean, in some ways, it was the Obama administration's attempt to move to the middle not on the political spectrum, but on the spectrum of how these speeches are traditionally done. And so it was kind of a little bit of specifics, enough to satisfy the public, a little bit of thematic, enough to kind of step back a little bit and be above it all.

KURTZ: But maybe it was also a slight move to the middle politically, five-year spending freeze, talking about torte reform and medical cases, and maybe the liberal media didn't like it that much.

SHEAR: Well, although, interestingly enough, if you talk to the right, they don't see it as I'm sure --


KURTZ: OK. All right

GERAGHTY: You know, anybody can propose something.

CARLSON: Yes. Like Paul Ryan.

KURTZ: But it's different than in good times, when you stand up and you say, I say we go to the moon and we have lots of new expensive programs.

Well, the person who will be defending the president in just a couple of weeks is Jay Carney, former "TIME" magazine correspondent, now the communications director for Vice President Biden.

Here's what he had to say a while ago about the job he'll now be inheriting.


JIM CARNEY, INCOMING WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The best press secretaries were very deft at serving both their boss, the president, the White House, the administration, and the press, and not -- it's a tricky job. I'm sure I wouldn't be any good at it.



KURTZ: Margaret Carlson, you're a former colleague of Jay Carney's. You're a friend of his. Will he be any good at it?

CARLSON: Yes. Well, I know Robert Gibbs, and he's no Robert Gibbs. And he will be able to cross over a bit.

I mean, he will be able to straddle these two worlds, as he has shown he can do with Joe Biden. He's almost, like, too nice to be in journalism. And people do like him almost inordinately. I think he'll do it really well, just the way he did Biden.

KURTZ: But can a career journalist be partisan enough? Because people in the White House, undoubtedly, when there are leaks, will suspect him of being a media sympathizer.

GERAGHTY: Linda Douglass did it. There are plenty of former reporters who have ended up on this.

And I've got to say, you know, can he handle the pressure or the stresses of the job? I figure at some point, being Joe Biden's press secretary was going to show up on Mike Rowe's "Dirty Jobs." In other words, if you can handle cleaning up the messes or the inevitable PR explosions that occur when Joe Biden goes before the cameras, I imagine this is going to be the truest kind of step into a more relaxing role as White House press secretary.

KURTZ: But as White House press secretary, this is really the first working reporter since Ron Nessen was named by Gerald Ford in 1974. Tony Snow was a commentator. Usually, presidents like political PR professionals.

So this is going to be a different experience for the press?

SHEAR: Yes. I mean, from all we can tell, the White House specifically wanted a journalist. And Bill Daley, the new White House chief of staff, wanted a journalist.

And there have been a lot of grumblings in the White House, as there always are in the press corps, about relations with the White House press office. And so this is going to be a different approach.

And he's going to have to prove to the press corps that he's got the kind of access, that he knows what he's talking about. He's not really an Obama intimate, and so he's going to have to get into that mix and show that he can --


KURTZ: I want you all to call me when Carney starts yelling at you about your stories, and we'll know he's made the transition.

Jim Geraghty, Michael Shear, Margaret Carlson, thanks for joining us.

Coming up at noon Eastern, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will talk to Candy Crowley about the unfolding events in Egypt.

Coming up next on this program, roughing the passer. Sportswriters slammed Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler for taking himself out of a championship game. It turns out they were dead wrong. I'll throw the flag on this one.


KURTZ: Professional sports tends to be a macho world, especially pro football. And most especially with the Super Bowl on the line.

So when quarterback Jay Cutler took himself out of the Chicago Bears lineup in last Sunday's NFC championship game against the Green Bay Packers, the sportswriters and commentators practically booed him off the field for saying he was injured.

"The San Francisco Examiner": "Many Bears fans in the Windy City are giving Cutler the one-finger salute, and it ain't with a pinky."

Yahoo Sports: "He walked onto the field in the second half after he supposedly injured his knee. So was he hurt? Unless an MRI scheduled for this week says his ACL is torn to shreds, it's going to be hard for Bears fans to believe he was."

Well, the MRI exam showed that Cutler suffered a serious knee injury. What does that say about the sport's loudmouths?

Joining us now from Las Vegas, Jason Whitlock, national columnist for

And Jason, let me read from your column. You say, and I quote, "I apologize. I'm at guilty as anybody."

What are you pleading guilty to?

JASON WHITLOCK, FOXSPORTS.COM: Well, that column was about not lifting the conversation about Jay Cutler where it needed to be. I think that the initial criticism of Cutler was about toughness, and I think the kid had already proven his toughness.

The conversation needed to focus on his mental makeup and whether Jay Cutler has the right mental frame of mind to be a quarterback in the NFL. Because even with the injury that he had, other players, other quarterbacks have found a way to gut it out, give a better effort, and try to play in that game. And Jay Cutler seemed to appear to mentally check out of that game. And so I was apologizing for not taking the conversation to a higher level.

KURTZ: All right. You know, we talked earlier on the program in a much more serious context about the role of Facebook and Twitter in the Egyptian uprising. You bring up Facebook and Twitter in this same column. You say that "Cutler got overrun by a social media flash mob." In other words, he was getting savaged on these social media sites.

WHITLOCK: Yes. I think that's where we're at in the sports world. I think it happened to LeBron James after his off-season decision about going to the Miami Heat.

People take to Twitter. Athletes -- Jay Cutler's peers in the National Football League took to Twitter and savaged him over Twitter. And I think we need to be careful in the media in taking athletes or anyone at their exact word on Twitter.

It's only 140 characters. You can't express a full opinion. You can't really express half an opinion.

Twitter is easily misinterpreted. We have people that aren't seasoned communicators on Twitter saying inexact things, not really what they really mean, but all they can think to say at that time.

KURTZ: But you're on --

WHITLOCK: And so sometimes in the media we have to step back.

KURTZ: But you're on Twitter all the time. Are you expressing one quarter of opinions given the space limitations?

WHITLOCK: Absolutely. I tell people, you know, enjoy my Twitter feed, judge my columns. Because in my columns, I can say what I really think. Over Twitter, you really only have a chance to be sarcastic or snarky. It's not a place to express full opinions.

KURTZ: All right. Well, whether it's on Twitter, or in a column, or on television, the fact is the sportswriters here were wrong. People were piling on this guy, saying he wasn't really injured, and he was injured. And I haven't heard anybody apologize to him.

WHITLOCK: Well, I don't think people were saying he wasn't really injured, because, trust me, in the National Football League, guys play hurt all the time. I think people -- there is a difference between being injured and being hurt, and I think people were saying maybe Jay Cutler was just hurt and he should have figured out a way to keep playing or give a better effort to try to keep playing.

Listen, guys in the National Football League, guys in NBA, guys in Major League Baseball play with hurt all the time. They play with slight MCL, ACL sprains all the time.

KURTZ: And on that point --

WHITLOCK: I think some of his --

KURTZ: On that point, before we go -- I didn't mean to cut you off there -- I mean, you played football at Ball State. And you were -- once played 11 games with a torn ACL.


KURTZ: Did that influence your view of the Jay Cutler situation with the Bears?

WHITLOCK: It influences my view in terms of I'm -- just because the Bears have come out and said he had a grade 2 MCL tear, I'm not going to just take them at their word. You know, team doctors -- any time you're playing sports for a lot of money, there is a lot of pressure on the guys to get back out on the field. There's a lot of pressure on the doctors to get players back out on the field.

And so my situation as a college football player makes me skeptical of anything that a doctor says. Always get a second, third, fourth opinion. I'm just not going to accept what a team tells me.

KURTZ: All right. Got to get you off the field now, but Jason Whitlock, we appreciate your getting up early to talk to us about this a week before the Super Bowl. Thanks again.

WHITLOCK: Thank you, Howard.

KURTZ: Still to come on RELIABLE SOURCES, Salon fesses up to an error, a long-ago error. And can everyone please just stop with the Nazi analogies? Bill O'Reilly versus Jon Stewart in our "Media Monitor."


KURTZ: Time now for the "Media Monitor," our weekly look at the hits and errors in the news business. Here is what I liked.

Salon stepping up to the plate and correcting an error, even if is five years late. The piece was by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., and it argued that a compound of vaccines was dangerous and linked, in his view, to autism in children.

Days later, the Web site ran five corrections, but now the liberal site has deleted the piece entirely. This, in response to a book by Seth Mnookin called "The Panic Virus."

"Rolling Stone," which published the same article in print, has also deleted it online.

Salon's new editor, Kerry Lauerman, made the decision, and former editor Joan Walsh was quoted as saying, "I regret we didn't move on this more quickly as evidence continued to emerge debunking the vaccines and autism link. But continued revelations of the flaws and even fraud tainting the science behind the connection make taking down the story the right thing to do."

I'm not sure that digitally erasing the story is the right move. Maybe people should be able to look up the discredited article. And I'm not taking a position here on the thorny autism debate. But I'm glad Salon didn't sweep this one under the proverbial rug.

Here's what I didn't like.

I thought media gave much of a pass last week to Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen when he used a most unfortunate historical analogy to describe the Republican attacks on Obamacare.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. STEVE COHEN (D), TENNESSEE: Just like Goebbels, you say it enough, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie, and eventually people believe it.


KURTZ: Yes, he went the Nazi route. But did you see a lot of reports on his inflammatory language? I didn't either.

CNN covered it. MSNBC, which is so interested in Republican incivility, didn't do much, although Ed Schultz interviewed the Tennessee congressman, who eventually apologized.

The network that really bashed Cohen by bringing up the Holocaust was Fox News. And I have no problem with that.

But Jon Stewart did, especially after Fox anchor Megyn Kelly challenged the guest, who said such analogies were hardly unusual on Rupert Murdoch's network.


MEGYN KELLY, FOX NEWS: I don't know if you sit and watch our programming every night, but I watch it every day, and you're wrong.



GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS: The real answer is the Nazis were using early American progressive tactics. And that's not my opinion. That's historic fact.



O'REILLY: If you look back at what happened in Germany, you cannot escape the similarities between what Hitler and his cut throats did back then and the hate-filled blogs, what they are doing now.



JON STEWART, "THE DAILY SHOW": Oh, Roger Ailes did it in a print interview, saying of the NPR executives who fired Juan Williams, "They are, of course, Nazis. They have a kind of Nazi attitude. They are the left wing of Nazism."


KURTZ: I remember that one since I did the interview.

O'Reilly responded that "The Daily Show" selectively edited the clip, failing to show that he was responding to an ugly remark about Nancy Reagan by some commenter on "The Huffington Post."


O'REILLY: If he were a journalist, I would pound him into pudding. But he's not. He's a comedian. And as such, has license to take things out of context for entertainment purposes.


KURTZ: And we'll give Jon Stewart the last word.


STEWART: Hey, why do you use the Nazi reference? It doesn't really matter in this. The segment was to show, contrary to Ms. Kelly's statement that it's not the type of rhetoric used on Fox News, that it actually does appear quite frequently. That's all it was.


KURTZ: I, for one, would be much happier if everyone, pundits and politicians, just would swore off these Nazi analogies.

By the way, MSNBC taking a step towards civility after Keith Olbermann's departure. The network is ending Ed Schultz' "Psycho Talk" segment in which the host accuses various conservatives of being kind of crazy.

This wasn't voluntary. Schultz says, "I work for somebody and I don't call the shots."

"Psycho Talk" is history.

Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.

I'm Howard Kurtz.

Join us against next Sunday morning, 11:00 a.m. Eastern, for another critical look at the media.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is on "STATE OF THE UNION" this morning. That begins right now.