Return to Transcripts main page

Reliable Sources

Are Networks Exploiting Charlie Sheen?; Interview With Christiane Amanpour; Has Glenn Beck Gone Too Far?

Aired March 06, 2011 - 11:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: You may well be sick of hearing about Charlie Sheen. I overdosed after watching him on yet another morning show, getting in my car to drive to work, and there he was on Howard Stern. But this is one of those media moments well worth exploring. Not so much for what they are telling us about a former drug addict who happens to be television's highest paid star, as to what they tell us about the networks that are willing to exploit and merchandise one man's nutty behavior.

ABC's Andrea Canning, who spent a day interviewing Sheen, will join us.

The fighting has intensified in Libya, where Moammar Gadhafi is trying to cling to power. We'll talk to the only American journalist to interview the dictator, Christine Amanpour.

Plus, Glenn Beck is drawing sharp criticism these days from the right. Some conservative commentators speaking out against the Fox News star, saying he's hurting their cause, which raises the question, has Beck finally gone too far?

I'm Howard Kurtz. And this is RELIABLE SOURCES.

It was painful to watch, but not so painful that most of us could turn away. Charlie Sheen has been in and out of drug addiction, in and out of rehab, in and out of troubling incidents with women. But it wasn't until he was on a radio show and savaging the producer of his popular comedy, "Two and a Half Men," that CBS decided to pull the plug for the rest of the season.

The other networks quickly pounced. Sheen granted an interview to Andrea Canning for "20/20" and then shafted ABC by sitting down with NBC's "Today Show" before the primetime program aired, and then added to the insult by showing up on CNN's Piers Morgan show. That was the night before he called in to Howard Stern.

Sheen's behavior in all these interviews ranged from simply strange to utterly bizarre.


CHARLIE SHEEN, ACTOR: If I am on a drug, it's called Charlie Sheen. It's not available, because if you try it once you will die. Your face will melt off and your children will weep over your exploded body. Too much.

ANDREA CANNING, "20/20": When you look back at the last time you used drugs, are you disgusted with yourself, or do you think how I could I have done that?

SHEEN: No. I'm proud of what I've created. It was radical.

CANNING: You're proud of that party moment?

SHEEN: Of course. Why wouldn't I be?

CANNING: Of doing all those drugs? Why would you be?

SHEEN: Because I exposed people to magic.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you embarrassed that your children will read about this one day?

SHEEN: God no. Talk about an education. And they're like, this, and then that's the guy, and he's our dad, and we can get all the answers and the truth? Wow, winning. That's how you perceive it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you owe CBS an apology.

SHEEN: No. They owe me a big one, publicly, while licking my feet.



PIERS MORGAN, HOST, "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT": Do you feel guilty about the impact your particular situation has had on the rest of the crew?

SHEEN: Well, I feel guilty that the perception of it has been that I'm the guy to blame for all of it.


KURTZ: I spoke earlier with ABC's Andrea Canning from New York.


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: Andrea Canning, welcome.

CANNING: Hi, Howie. How are you?

KURTZ: Doing well.

So you're sitting there with Charlie Sheen, you're asking him about doing drugs and using hookers and hitting his porn star girlfriend, and he's talking about his tiger blood and acting really strange.

Did that throw you off?

CANNING: For some reason during the interview I didn't realize just how crazy it was going to come off. I don't know --

KURTZ: You didn't?

CANNING: No, it's weird. I don't know if I had gotten just really used to his sense of humor by that point. But I was almost, I think, in somewhat of a fog, too, because after the interview, I thought, well, that went pretty well.

I just -- it was weird. I didn't realize, like, the hot little thing I had in my hand --

KURTZ: You were a captive of the Sheen world.

CANNING: I guess I was.

KURTZ: Let me ask you a broader question, because here's what bothers me about this freak show. ABC, NBC, CNN all seem to be taking advantage of a guy who is clearly in an emotional tailspin, who seems out of control.

Do you have any hesitation about what you were doing?

CANNING: Not at all -- well, especially for us, because we were the first ones to sit down with him.

KURTZ: Right.

CANNING: So it hadn't exploded, you know, the way it had. I mean, just this week, he got over a million Twitter followers in 24 hours. So I don't know if you can really stop the train once people are this interested in it.

KURTZ: But you gave him a pretty good platform for that train. And some people are saying --

CANNING: Oh, absolutely.

KURTZ: -- you know, journalists are just kind of aiding his self-destruction. We're watching a guy melting down in public.

Did you feel sorry for him at any point?

CANNING: I feel sorry a little bit for the way that he looks, especially when we look back at the Charlie Sheen that everyone fell in love with. He's just thinner, he's a little pale. You know, he looks worn out, he looks beat down.

And I think that physical appearances can say a lot. Not just the mental side of it, but just seeing him was sort of indicative of the person that he's become. And that's what kind of made me sad. And I was also a little bit sad for the children, as well. KURTZ: Right.

Now, you spent the day there. You met the goddesses. These are his two live-in girlfriends; one a former porn star, one a former model. Did you feel like you had to be delicate in asking the question, is this any way to bring up two little boys?

CANNING: I did. And what's interesting is I actually never got to that question because Charlie almost shut the interview down because I asked him about porn stars and why he loves porn stars so much.

So we had this conversation. We were fixing something. He had ash in his hair. He was smoking during the interview, and the audio guy came over and said, "I need to fix your microphone."

And it gave Charlie this moment to stop and think. And all of a sudden, he got really, really upset and said that I had disrespected his girlfriend by talking about porn stars in front of her. And he said, you know, "This interview should be over." And he said, "I'm not going to do that, I'm going to continue, but you've got to back off."

So, you know, we stopped that line of questioning. So I never actually got to ask him, is this appropriate, to have your children around these people?

But I did get to ask when I interviewed the goddesses. I did sort of get around it by saying, "Are you two a good influence on them?" And one -- the former nanny/model said she would take a bullet for the kids. They said that, you know, it's unconventional -- "It's an unconventional family, but we love these children very much."

KURTZ: Well, interesting that he threatened to walk. I mean, obviously, that can be a way of putting pressure on you.

Now, you must have asked this -- some version of this question 12 times, "Some are saying you're bipolar." What you were really trying to get at is, are you off your rocker?

CANNING: He said -- well, you know, the catch phrase now is, "I'm not bipolar, I'm b-winning."


CANNING: I think just about all of America has heard that at this point.

Do I -- I don't know if he's bipolar, I'm not a doctor. A lot of people have been speculating on he might be bipolar.

KURTZ: No, I don't know whether he is either or not. But it's kind of a -- you know, it's kind of a unique situation to be sitting there with a guy who is a famous television star, making all this money, even though CBS has now taken his show off the air for the season, and finding different ways to ask him whether he has taken leave of his senses.

CANNING: Well, you know, one thing I've heard is -- since all this unfolded -- is some of the different symptoms of someone who is bipolar. And I've got to say, he definitely has some of those symptoms.

Now, whether he is or not, I don't know. But it was kind of -- it was a little bit scary when I started to hear what a bipolar person -- you know, how they act.

KURTZ: Right.

CANNING: And part of the problem with Charlie is that some of it is his sense of humor. He is really quick-witted. He has this -- he's hilarious, and he has all of these one-liners. So you don't really know what part of it -- you know, is he off his rocker --

KURTZ: How much of it is just putting on for the show?

CANNING: Exactly. Exactly.

KURTZ: I mean, obviously he's been feeding off all of these interviews.


KURTZ: Now, as you mentioned, Andrea, you were the first to sit down with him, and he was giving ABC and "20/20" an exclusive. And then he went on "The Today Show" before "20/20" aired, and then he went on "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT."

Did that tick you off?

CANNING: A little bit. I mean, he did promise us.

We also had him on "Good Morning America," before "The Today Show." We had him right at the top of the show at 7:00. So we were technically the first to get him on the air --

KURTZ: Well, when you say you had him, you didn't have him in the studio. You played an excerpt of the "20/20" interview.

CANNING: Yes, we played our story from our "20/20" interview on "Good Morning America." So, technically, we were the first ones to put his story on the air.

But, yes, you know, it's the TV wars. And Charlie Sheen is a volatile guy.

And, you know, he always told me, "I'm a man of my word," but he went back on it. He made a promise, and there's nothing we can do about it.

All we can say is that we did some great TV. I think we absolutely had the best interview. It was the longest interview. It was 90 minutes. We had unprecedented access to the world he's living in.

KURTZ: Right. But in terms of his view of the interview, this is interesting, because Sheen called NBC's Jeff Rossen, who did "The Today Show" interview -- he called him a rock star --


KURTZ: -- he clearly liked him. He called him back to do a second interview --


KURTZ: -- when they were sitting out there at 4:30 in the morning California time, after California authorities had taken his kids into custody, away from him and the girlfriend. And he said at some point that he felt that your interview was slanted.

Did that bother you?

CANNING: Well, first of all, let me just say, I don't want to be called a rock star by Charlie Sheen. I don't think that's a compliment.

Was my interview slanted? Absolutely not. It was a fair interview. We just asked him the questions.

You know, we let Charlie talk, and Charlie, after the interview, said, "That was great. I loved that interview." And then after Monday's pieces aired, he said it was slanted.

And the thing that I don't understand is how something can be slanted when the second piece was all uncut. There wasn't one line of voiceover narration in the piece. It was all Charlie talking.

The first piece I believe had three lines of narration. So, I don't know honestly, how is that slanted? That's basically his own words, you know?

KURTZ: If Charlie Sheen called you today and said you're not a rock star, Andrea, but I'd like to come back and do another interview with you, would you do it? Or has he had enough air time?

CANNING: Absolutely. Why not?

KURTZ: Hasn't he had enough air time at this point?

CANNING: You know, I still think he has some things to say. And I feel now, given the news of it all, the kids and the restraining order, it's become more of a news story at this point. Given --

KURTZ: It's also a story that got -- that drew nine million viewers for "20/20," the highest ratings in two years. So can you separate the fact that he is box office, that we're all watching this train wreck, and it's fascinating and revolting at the same time, from whatever you see as the news value? Can you separate those two?

CANNING: Well, look, Charlie Sheen is a grown man. Charlie Sheen can do whatever he wants. He's in the news right now.

You know, he's got these family problems going on with his ex- wife. I feel like he's entitled to talk if he wants to talk. And people still care. And, you know, who are we to say, well, Charlie, you know, we shouldn't put you on the air anymore? Charlie, you shouldn't do this interview. I feel like that's his choice.

KURTZ: Charlie Sheen, if you're watching, Andrea's still available.

Andrea Canning, thanks very much --

CANNING: Hi, Charlie.

KURTZ: -- for joining us.

CANNING: Thank you, Howie.


KURTZ: Now, Charlie Sheen hasn't been on television for, what, two whole days? But over the weekend he put up a Web show online. The thing runs nearly an hour.

Take a look.


SHEEN: Welcome to Sheen's Corner. You're either in my corner or you're with the trolls.


KURTZ: Charlie Sheen, inescapable all the time. Small (ph) Sheen all the time.

When we come back, Darrell Issa fires his spokesman for learning that he leaked private e-mails from journalists to a "New York Times" reporter. Politico editor John Harris on why he blew the whistle on the congressman's aide.

And later, Christiane Amanpour on her strange sit-down with Moammar Gadhafi.


KURTZ: Journalists love to get their hands on anything that's been leaked, but the big stir inside the beltway this week was the discovery that Darrell Issa, the congressman who heads the House Investigations Committee, had investigated and then fired his own spokesman for leaking. That is, for sharing private e-mails he got from reporters with another reporter, Mark Leibovich, of "The New York Times," who is writing a book about the incestuous culture of Washington. He's got that part right.

Issa fired the spokesman, Kurt Bardella, shortly after getting a letter from Politico's editor complaining about the leaked e-mails. John Harris called the practice "egregiously unprofessional."

I spoke to him earlier from Politico's newsroom, across the river in Virginia.


KURTZ: John Harris, welcome.

JOHN HARRIS, POLITICO: Hi, Howard. How are you?

KURTZ: Good.

Why did you feel so strongly about these leaked e-mails that you wrote a letter of complaint to Congressman Issa which caused his spokesman his job?

HARRIS: I felt that this was the equivalent -- not the equivalent necessarily in the legal sense, but just in the practical sense of having somebody secretly listen in on phone calls. So I think just anybody, even somebody not in journalism, could understand the idea that it's offensive, that if you think you're on the line with one person, you're actually on the line with two. And that -- not only that third person who you don't know about is not just any other person, he's another journalist.

KURTZ: Right.

HARRIS: I felt there was just something sort of fundamentally improper about that and not hard to understand, really, for anybody. For people who are in journalism, there is a clear sort of professional understanding. The understanding is so strong, that it doesn't usually even need to be spoken. That people who represent politicians -- press secretaries, communications directors and the like -- they have access to what lots of news organizations are doing, and there's a pretty clear understanding --

KURTZ: But let me --

HARRIS: -- that you don't say, hey, "The New York Times" is working on this just so you know.


HARRIS: It's personally impossible to do business.

KURTZ: "Slate" columnist Jack Shafer, as you know, says you were massively overreacting. And here's the argument -- that journalists live off leaks, we love to get secret documents. And yet, here you are outraged when some of your guys are the victim.

HARRIS: I wasn't, Howard, making kind of an abstract argument or a philosophical argument about sort of the role of journalism and what gets in the public view versus what doesn't. I was making a very specific argument in very specific circumstances to Chairman Issa, which is if you expect us to have a professional and good-faith relationship with your office, you can't be doing something that's fundamentally in bad faith.

So I was -- my concern was for the integrity of Politico's relationships and Politico's reporting. I think Jack was making it a more abstract point.


HARRIS: So you can ask him about that. I was responding in my role as editor, responsible for a newsroom of 130 journalists, many of whom do their work up on Capitol Hill, for whom a relationship of trust and good faith with people who are speaking on behalf of members of Congress is very important.

KURTZ: Well, let me mention, I had my own run-in with Kurt Bardella. I had asked for an interview with Darrell Issa, and he called and impersonated the congressman. And I said, "Thanks for calling, Congressman." He didn't correct me. I wrote him a note saying, "Thanks for getting me the congressman." He didn't correct me.

HARRIS: Right.

KURTZ: And then I made a serious mistake for which I've apologized in waiting weeks to correct the record after this sort of bizarre situation. I've never been in a situation like that.

But coming back to the e-mails, the question that is kind of bouncing around the business right now is, do journalists suck up to aides like Kurt Bardella in an effort to get exclusive tidbits and interviews and access? And are you worried that your reporters might be embarrassed by some of these e-mails?

HARRIS: I'm not worried about that. I feel like our reporters conduct themselves in a professional way. Anyway, that's not particularly a concern of mine, no.

KURTZ: You're not losing sleep over that.

"The New York Times," as you know, John, wrote a story saying that Politico itself had filed a Freedom of Information request back in 2009 to a half-dozen cabinet departments, asking for copies of all correspondence with the networks --

HARRIS: Right.

KURTZ: -- "The New York Times," "The Washington Post," "L.A. Times," "The Huffington Post," NPR and others.

So what's the great distinction between you asking for that correspondence and a press secretary sharing your e-mails with a "New York Times" reporter?

HARRIS: There were a number of -- in the circumstances, a number of very specific differences. My view as an editor, Howard, is that one news organization needs a pretty good reason -- actually, I would say a very strong reason -- to try to insert itself in the newsgathering operations of another news organization. Maybe that's not an absolute principle, but I'd say there is a high threshold.

When we filed a Freedom of Information Act request, I wasn't initially aware of it. When I became aware of it, I was concerned that the request was too broad. And although this wasn't the intent of the request, it could be interpreted as saying that we were trying to go in a -- kind of an all purpose fishing expedition of the -- to find out what competitors were up to.

Because of that, I said, look, I don't want to do that. Let's sharpen this request to get what we're really getting to the bottom of. In that case, it wasn't trying to find out about the newsgathering practices of other journalists, it was a very specific issue of whether or not they were inviting high government officials to these off-the-record salons.

KURTZ: I see.

HARRIS: And so I think that's quite different than, hey, by the way, you can just -- I'll blind-copy you on --

KURTZ: On everything that somebody writes.

HARRIS: -- hundreds of e-mails that come from your colleagues and competitors, and without their knowledge.

KURTZ: Before we go, Kurt Bardella has said in an interview that he considers a lot of reporters lazy, people who prefer kind of prepackaged stories put together by people like him, who are trying to make their boss look good.

Is there something to that critique?

HARRIS: I don't know. I mean, that's -- because I don't know the specific circumstances that Bardella was talking about.

KURTZ: But you've been around journalism a long time.

HARRIS: You know, I do think that there -- I do think, as journalism becomes more competitive and there are sort of more and more outlets, and the time pressures become more and more stark, that there is that danger that journalists will just kind of take the prepackaged story and fall for whatever sort of some press aide is putting out, rather than do the more substantive and more independent stories.


KURTZ: Our thanks to Politico's John Harris for that conversation.

Coming up in the second part of RELIABLE SOURCES, ABC's Christiane Amanpour on questioning Gadhafi and the challenges of covering the war in Libya. Plus, Glenn Beck's latest critics are on the right. We'll look at whether Beck's popularity is waning.

And Fox News kicking two potential presidential candidates off its payroll.


KURTZ: Moammar Gadhafi has been the Libyan dictator for more than 40 years, and never has his hold on power been more tenuous than now, with armed rebels controlling a major portion of the country. As the war has intensifies, there are fresh reports this morning of violence in the cities around Tripoli.

Gadhafi granted a rare interview to ABC's Christiane Amanpour, and journalist for the BBC and "Times of London." Amanpour, who spent two decades as a CNN correspondent, asked the Libyan leader about the massive protests at toppling the regime and got this bizarre response.


MOAMMAR GADHAFI, LIBYAN LEADER: They love me. All my people with me. They love me, all.


GADHAFI: They will die to protect me, my people. No.

AMANPOUR: If you say they do love you, then why are they capturing Benghazi and they say they're against you there? Why are they in Zawiya?

GADHAFI: It's a guide (ph).

AMANPOUR: They say that they've done it because you have ordered force against your people, shooting of protesters.

GADHAFI (through translator): This is a lie, 100 percent.


KURTZ: What to make of that interview and the media coverage of Libya?

I spoke earlier to the host of ABC's "This Week" from New York.


KURTZ: Christiane Amanpour, welcome.

AMANPOUR: Nice to be with you, Howie.

KURTZ: So you're sitting there in Tripoli, and Gadhafi is absolutely denying reality that everybody can see with their own eyes.

How do you deal with that?

AMANPOUR: Well, Howie, let me tell you something. One of the things that I was worried about when I landed in Tripoli, amongst the first group of journalists to do so into the Gadhafi area, was I felt very afraid because I had been listening to the media reports coming out, and I honestly thought that I was going to be confronted with marauding bands of mercenaries machine-gunning whoever, you know, walked in front of them, aerial bombardments and the like.

And when I landed there, I quickly found that that was not the case. Yes, some protests had been met with live fire. Appalling. But the more hysterical reporting from there turned out not to have been corroborated.

So when he sat down and we talked to him, you know, it was -- it was obviously, you know, eccentric for him to say that there were no protests and there were no demonstrations.

KURTZ: Right.

AMANPOUR: But what he was saying was that there isn't the kind of aerial bombardments and the kind of things that we've been accused of.

KURTZ: But are you reluctant in that setting -- and it's difficult -- you're there with the other journalists, and he is the unquestioned dictator and leader of the country -- to say, Colonel, that's ridiculous, of course your forces are killing some protesters?

AMANPOUR: Well, we did say that. When he said that "There's nobody against me," when "All my people love me," when "They're going to die to protect me," I said, "But how can you say that when half the country, Colonel, has been taken by the opposition?" And then he gives his answer.

Look, no, we were not afraid, and I was amongst just three other journalists. We got the exclusive with him. I got the only American interview, and he wanted to sit and talk for a long time.

We spoke for more than an hour. He would have spoken more.

Look, when people are in that position of power for 41 years, they develop a certain disconnect from reality because the courtiers, the people around them, tell them what they want to hear, and this is emblematic of all people who've been in power for too long in no matter what business, let me tell you. And he obviously demonstrated an extreme version of that, that he did not believe what was going on around him.

KURTZ: Now, Gadhafi earlier, had banned foreign journalists from coming into the country to cover the conflict and said they would be seen as al Qaeda collaborators if they did. And, of course, some journalists went anyway. But then he invited some journalists to Tripoli and granted you the interview.

Why do you think that he did that? AMANPOUR: Well, I think precisely because they realized -- even Gadhafi, in his lair, realized that they were losing the message. And look, that might sound a bit crass coming from a Gadhafi dictator, but they know too late that this is now a different reality. This is the world of mass communications, of instantaneous social media, and they could see the story being told by the opposition, and told very, very successfully.

So what they wanted to do, like so many do these days, put their own stamp on the story. So what we wanted to do, because we're journalists, is to get into that part which had been off limits.

And by the way, the reports that were coming out of there were not from journalists on the ground, they were from local residents and others who were calling Al Jazeera. And that's why I was really desperate to find out what really was going on, on the ground.

That's what we do. That's what we have to do. And corroborating information these days has become almost like a quaint exercise, and that stuns me because I operate in fact-based reality with objective facts. And I --

KURTZ: But obviously it is difficult to do that in a war situation where there's no troops protecting you. You used the phrase a moment ago --

AMANPOUR: No, Howie. No, it's not difficult. I've covered war all my career. You have to be there, and you have to be able to corroborate and confirm facts.

I'm not protected by troops or protected by anybody. We're journalists. We go there and we tell the story. And we have to find the facts, because otherwise the story is told by rumor, by activists, by social media, that's uncorroborated and unconfirmed.

KURTZ: But earlier you used the phrase "hysterical reporting." Do you think that there's been some overstating in the Western media of how dire the situation is, at least in and around Tripoli?

AMANPOUR: Well, I'm not so sure about the Western media. I actually think it was -- a lot was the Arab media to begin with, which then got picked up by the Western media.

Al Jazeera, for instance, is not in Tripoli. And therefore, what it was reporting from there was based on people calling in and uncorroborated facts. So, yes, as I say, when I landed in Tripoli, I expected a much, much worse, much more violent, much more sort of fluid situation than I found.

KURTZ: We were rocked a couple of weeks ago, Christiane, by the news that CBS's Lara Logan had been beaten and sexually assaulted by a mob in Cairo. As you just noted, you've covered many wars, many protests around the world. Do you feel more vulnerable, or have you, as a female journalist? AMANPOUR: No. And do you know what? I think it's appalling what happened to Lara. I'm looking forward to hearing all the facts when she's ready to talk about it.

I do think, however, that one of the unfortunate backlashes has been the media rushing to say that we journalists who are women shouldn't be taking those kinds of risks. And I stand here categorically to say that I reject that, that we have been doing this kind of work for decades.

What happened to her was appalling, but it's not emblematic of what we face in the field. I personally have never, ever confronted such a heinous situation against myself or against my female colleagues. And I would hate to think that this single terrible action would really sort of define what we female journalists have had to experience or define what we may or may not do.

KURTZ: I hope as well that is not the case.

Now, you talked about bringing more international focus to "This Week," when you succeeded George Stephanopoulos in this job. And some critics said, well, that's not going to work on that kind of Sunday morning program. And you've been out of the country for a decade anyway.

With Egypt, where you also went, and Libya, do you feel that your approach has been somewhat vindicated?

AMANPOUR: What can I say, Howard? You know, in the end, I've always said my work stands for itself. People can say what they want, but I strongly believe that my work stands for itself.

And, look, I'm learning, and it's a big learning curve for me. And really, I'm enjoying learning all the kind of domestic information and news that I haven't been covering.

But I have come to Washington and to the United States to cover it almost as an outsider, to use my curiosity, to use my reportorial experience, to get, you know, beneath the obvious politics of what happens, and to try to really do storytelling about what's going in the United States, whether it's in Washington, inside the beltway, or whether it's in Tucson, way outside the beltway, which I also did. But particularly in the international field, look, what you've got now is a massive, historic moment and movement going on in an area of the world that is of supreme and significant importance to the United States.

So I'm just pleased that I'm there and I'm able to use my experience to go into the field and to be able to do the kind of reporting that I hope, you know, explains and is able to put what's going on there in the kind of context that perhaps is helpful to our viewers.

KURTZ: Yes, what's going on in the Middle East obviously plays to your strengths and long experience.

We very much appreciate your coming by. Christiane Amanpour, thanks.

AMANPOUR: Thank you.


KURTZ: And after the break, some conservative commentators are calling him out as the ratings for his Fox News show keep sliding. Is there a backlash against Glenn Beck?


KURTZ: Glenn Beck has been a broadcasting phenomenon since he left HLN to join Fox News more than two years ago. But while liberal commentators have long denounced the television and radio star, the right has been mostly quiet, until now. Some conservative pundits have been raising their voices in challenging Beck.


JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC: I've been telling conservatives for about two years that this guy is bad for the movement. This guy is losing it before our eyes.

He's bad for the conservative movement. He's bad for the Republican Party. He's bad for Fox News. Even guys over at Fox News have to start thinking, this can't last. He's out of control.


KURTZ: "Weekly Standard" editor Bill Kristol says, "When Glenn Beck rants about the caliphate taking over the Middle East from Morocco to the Philippines, and lists (invents) the connections between caliphate promoters and the American left, he brings to mind no one so much as Robert Welch and the John Birch Society. He's marginalizing himself just as his predecessors did back in the early 1960s."

In commentary, Pete Wehner says, "Glenn Beck has become the most disturbing personality on cable television. One cannot watch him for any length of time without being struck by his affinity for conspiracies and for betraying himself as the great decoder of events."

So, at a time when Beck's ratings are dropping, is his own side starting to turn against him?

Joining us now, Jennifer Rubin, blogger for "The Washington Post," whose column is called "The Right Turn"; and David Frum, editor of and a former assistant to George W. Bush.

Jennifer Rubin, you've called what Glenn Beck has to say "a spasm of bile," and you write, "Conservatives should disassociate themselves from his brand of rhetoric."

Why? JENNIFER RUBIN, BLOGGER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Because I think, as some of your other commentators mentioned, he is bad for the Republican Party and for the conservative movement, more generally. He is not advancing arguments. He's advancing attacks, I think, ad hominem attacks, as he did against Bill Kristol.

I think he's advancing a kooky brand of conspiracy theory. And I think at a time when conservatives and Republicans, specifically, are making the argument that they should be taken seriously, that they are fit to govern, he's a bad image for the party, even though it's unfair in some regards to have him labeled as a representative for the face of the Republican Party.

KURTZ: Now, David Frum, you have been taking on Beck for some time now, but you haven't had much company on the right until there is recently. Why is that?

DAVID FRUM, EDITOR, FRUMFORUM.COM: Well, it's safer now, so -- but I welcome all the reinforcements. I'm glad to have them.

KURTZ: Why is it safer?

FRUM: Because he is on the downward slope, because he is losing his own audience, because the American public, in its good sense, is showing that they are prepared to listen to anything for six or seven months. But as Charlie Sheen will discover, every show gets old unless it's backed by some core of integrity.

The question -- here are a couple of questions though I would like to contemplate.

The first is, why was Glenn Beck successful in the first place? And the answer is he was at least, in his crazy way, offering an explanation of what had happened to the American economy and why this recession has been so powerful.

Now, you wrap that in all kinds of pretend information and paranoid theory, but it was an answer. And that is something that has been largely absent from a lot of the discussion, especially on the conservative side, where the whole question of what happened to the economy in October of 2008 is an uncomfortable one because there was a Republican president in October of 2008.

KURTZ: Let me jump in here and we'll come back to your questions, because I want to play a little bit for our viewers of what Beck has had to say recently and we'll talk about it on the other side.


GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS: You have a president who apparently loves instability and revolution.

There are three powers that you will see really emerge. One, a Muslim caliphate that controls the Mideast and parts of Europe. The real answer is, the Nazis were using early American progressive tactics. And that's not my opinion, that's historic fact.



BECK: Reformed rabbis are generally political in nature. It's almost like Islam, radicalized Islam, in a way to where it is just radicalized Islam is less about religion than it is about politics. When you look at the reform Judaism, it is more about politics.


KURTZ: Now, Beck did apologize for those last comments about reform Judaism. And I should mention that we reached out to a couple of conservatives we though might defend Glenn Beck, but they were not able to arrange an appearance.

Jennifer Rubin, if Beck were sitting here, he would say, I don't need the approval of the elite media, "The Washington Post," former White House guys. I'm talking to the people. I'm saying things they want to hear. When I have a rally on the Mall, 100,000 or more people show up.

How would you respond to that?

RUBIN: Well, I suppose he can create a career any way he likes, and he can carve out a niche. But as David pointed out, he is becoming less popular. I think once you set a bar for this sort of rhetoric, you have to keep overdoing it and overdoing it, because after a while, when you've done that last week, you have to be crazier the next week. And I think it does reach a point of diminishing returns for him.

I would also say, frankly, that, sure, he doesn't need our approval, and we're not giving him our approval. But to the extent to which he wants to influence events, which is presumably why he does it, other than the money, of course, that he should seek to be a part of the conversation as opposed to be a circus act, which is what he's become.

KURTZ: Let me just show people some numbers, and then you can say what you want.

But when we say less popular, I mean, his ratings for the Fox News show were down 39 percent this past January versus a year earlier. But he's still drawing 1.75 million viewers, which is phenomenal at 5:00 p.m. So somebody likes the guy.

FRUM: Somebody likes him. But it's worth remembering, when the biggest show on cable news has its biggest audience, there are 295 million Americans who are not watching.

KURTZ: Sure.

FRUM: So this is inherently an elite game. The five million people who watch cable news are the political nation, the people who really care.

KURTZ: But, of course, there's also talk radio, although some stations have been dropping --

FRUM: And it's the same -- by the way, it's the same five million people. It's a total stunt for people in that top five million to say we represent the great and good American majority, the 295 million people who don't watch any of this. They don't. They're aberrant, too.

So, now, within the world of the political elite, which everyone who watches that show belongs, within that world it is important to have accurate information, not pretend information, to have real solutions, not fake solutions. And to have intelligent analysis, not phony, paranoid conspiracy --


KURTZ: What about Jennifer's point about having to be more outrageous each week to maintain your following? I mean, here we have a guy who once said President Obama had a deep-seated hatred of white people. I did not hear people on the right denouncing that. He eventually said he regretted it.

But lately, he's been talking about the Middle East caliphate and reform Judaism and George Soros, at the age of 14, helping Jews to death camps. I mean, the guy was a teenager and not able to control what he's doing. Is that where he's undermining himself?

FRUM: Also -- it is certainly true that this medium has to become more and more outrageous because of the economic pressures on talk radio, the aging of the audience, because you can't make the audience bigger. You have to get people to listen longer.

But this is where Beck is not atypical of talk and Fox. He is typical. The economic dilemma he finds himself is the same is that which led Rush Limbaugh, who, remember, endorsed the Dubai Ports deal back in 2005 to now spin evermore wildly since 2005, and especially since 2009, that affects Mark Levin and other broadcasters. They, too, are caught up in this need to be evermore -- I mean, it's not just Glenn Beck who calls the president a Marxist.

KURTZ: Is there a concern, Jennifer, that if you take on a Glenn Beck, if you're somewhere on that spectrum -- you know, it's easy for liberals to take potshots at Beck because it just plays to the base. If you take on Rush Limbaugh, that they will come after you, that they have a very big megaphone and they can really target you.

RUBIN: Well, I don't know what targeting means. Every click on the Internet is a click regardless of whether it's a friendly click or not.

KURTZ: They can say really nasty things about him.


KURTZ: And I'm not saying they have or would, but they have a big megaphone, as I said.

RUBIN: Well, frankly, if you aren't willing to listen to bad things being said about you, you probably need another profession.

I disagree though very strongly with something that David said. And that is that there are other people whoa re doing the same thing as Beck. And I think we have to be careful not to overgeneralize and put Glenn Beck in the same category as Laura Ingraham and in the same category as Sean Hannity. These are all individuals, and I think they have to be assessed on their --


KURTZ: You see them as responsible conservatives.

RUBIN: I do.

KURTZ: You might agree with every single thing they say.

RUBIN: Correct. Exactly. But they don't engage in this sort of thing. A the telltale sign is you don't see this outcry either on the left or the right directed at them, because, although people may disagree with their views, they're not so outlandish and insulting and beyond the pale.

KURTZ: Roger Ailes, the Fox News chairman, told me an interview a couple of months ago that he had said to Beck, as the targets piled up, "What the hell are you doing, man? You're trashing everyone."

Should Fox rein in Glenn Beck?

FRUM: Fox has now created something, or has leased something, I guess -- he's not their creation -- and they will live with it. And this story will follow a familiar arc. And I think it was arc that was very predictable from the very start.

The great thing about -- this is a country of tremendous political stability. It has a great appetite for entertainment. It has a great appetite for the outrageous.

But in the end, people want responsible solutions. And the challenge for people in the conservative thought business is to say, as the country suffers through this terrible recession, what do we have to offer as a way of making things better? And maybe if Beck does continue on his decline, it's a challenge to all of us to say, all right, now can we come up with some true explanation of what's happened and some useful ideas for how to make things better?

KURTZ: It's easier for partisans on both sides to tear down, to denounce, to needle, than it is to offer constructive solutions, because that's the hard part, right, whether it's the economy or anything else?

RUBIN: Exactly. But I think it's wrong to say that conservatives haven't offered an explanation. David may not agree with the explanation, of course, but there have been everyone from the Wall Street (sic) editorial board to --

KURTZ: "Wall Street Journal."

RUBIN: Oh, excuse me, "Wall Street Journal," to my former colleagues at Commentary (ph), to the folks at "The Washington Post" offering all sorts of explanation and solutions.

KURTZ: And among the people offering explanations, solutions, are those who want to be president, which leads me to my tease.

Up next, Fox suspends its contracts with Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, but keeps Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee on the payroll.

Where do you draw the line when the politicians are pundits?


KURTZ: Fox News this week suspended its contracts with Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum for 60 days while they decide whether they're actually going to run for president. Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee, also on the Fox payroll. No action there. Fox decided that they had not taken any overt steps toward a White House run.

David Frum, did Fox do the right thing?

FRUM: They've got a sticky situation. It actually feels sort of right. I don't know about Santorum, but it certainly does feel right about Newt Gingrich.

But it's an example of how these payrolls do distort the race. I mean, the thing you have to worry about, Mike Huckabee ought to be in the race. He got the second most delegates last time, he has a powerful message, he speaks for an important constituency in the party.

Is he being delayed from entering because of his fear of losing his contract? And is Fox hurting the possibility of a Huckabee run?

KURTZ: Huckabee told me just last week that he is taking his time, won't decide until the summer, that he likes getting a Fox paycheck and having a Fox show. So there's an impact there. On the other hand, Fox executives say that neither Huckabee nor Palin -- no one knows what she's going to do -- is moving toward an exploratory committee.

So they're drawing a legal line in making this distinction. Is that a reasonable line to draw?

RUBIN: I think it is, to some degree. I think, actually, Huckabee is much closer to that line than Sarah Palin. Sarah Palin, for all the hullabaloo, has not been talking lately about running for president.

KURTZ: Nor has she ruled it out.

RUBIN: Nor has she ruled it out. But Huckabee has been doing many more overt things, in part because he has a book out that he is hawking as well.

I don't think Fox is preventing him from doing anything. I think he is enjoying, as he candidly put, the good life now that he is making a small fortune.

KURTZ: But isn't this the kind of game that CNN played with Pat Buchanan in the 1990s, where he would run for president, come back as the host of "CROSSFIRE," and then as soon as he took that legal step of an exploratory -- and aren't they giving -- and other networks have done this, too -- giving these politicians a great platform, if in fact they do decide to run?

FRUM: But CNN and companies like that and Fox also have to worry -- and this is another distortion that is introduced by the law -- about being accused of giving illegal campaign contributions. And I'm -- when you think -- why shouldn't Fox, if it wants to employ a presidential candidate, why not? Or MSNBC or ABC?

Why not? What's wrong with that? And the answer is, at some point you break the law.

So you say, why does the law have to be that way? How is it that we have created this crazy financial system in the first place?

KURTZ: And just briefly, while these candidates are -- potential candidates are on the Fox payroll, they can't go on other networks. So you only get the questioning they get within the confines of the Fox family.

RUBIN: That is correct. And as David points out, this is a familiar problem. Fred Thompson, in 2007, got to the 2008 race, remained on the air not in a news capacity, but in an entertainment capacity.

KURTZ: "Law & Order."

RUBIN: Exactly.

KURTZ: But then he did run. And his candidacy didn't last very long.

Jennifer Rubin, David Frum, thanks very much for stopping by this morning.

Still to come, the media's fixation with the government shutdown that wasn't; knocking down a bogus rumor about Roger Ailes; and Chris Matthews practically calls Newt Gingrich a terrorist.

Our "Media Monitor," straight ahead.


KURTZ: Time now for our "Media Monitor," a weekly look at the hits and errors in the news business.

If you picked up a newspaper or watched television in the last couple of weeks, you saw plenty of this --


LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC: In tonight's "Spotlight," the Congress is on a collision course with a government shutdown exactly two weeks from right now.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: A government shutdown. The possibility is not only real, but could be just days away.

ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR: And next on "AMERICAN MORNING,:" the clock is ticking with a government shutdown still looming.


KURTZ: But this was basically a storyline invented by the media. There never was going to be a government shutdown. Both sides said they wanted to avoid closing the government's doors, which is why they approved a two-week stopgap measure before the deadline on Friday.

Budget negotiations are so mind-numbingly dull, that journalists seizes on the theoretical chance of a shutdown and turned them into a melodrama that really was mostly fiction. We'll see if that changes when the next deadline approaches.

Here's what I liked -- the way Salon knocked down a completely unsubstantiated story involving Roger Ailes. A business blogger and TV commentator named Barry Ritholtz cited an unnamed source last Sunday as predicting the Fox News chairman would be indicted. That's it, one anonymous yo-yo. And Ritholtz is talking about criminal charges.

This, in the matter involving former News Corp executive Judith Regan alleging in a lawsuit that Ailes told her to cover up an affair with an associate of Rudy Giuliani, which Ailes has denied. And the indictment story just ricocheted around the Web.

But Salon Justin Elliott blew the whistle on this bogus tail. Ritholtz said he had run into a man, a New York Democrat, at the airport in Barbados who said that Ailes had canceled a speaking engagement. And when he asked why, the man said he had been told because Ailes was about to be indicted.

That's it. That's all he had. Ritholtz defended himself as "passing along what an informed person had said," but we're talking about a third-hand source at best.

Good for Salon for knocking down this unfounded rumor.

Here's something I really didn't like.

Now, Chris Matthews is a colorful guy, and sometimes we laugh when his tongue gets him into trouble. But look what he said this week about the former House Speaker who is exploring a run for president, Newt Gingrich.


CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: He looks like a car bomber. He looks like a car bomber.

Clarence, he looks like a car bomber. He has got that Mephistophelean grin of his. He looks like he loves torturing -- look at the guy. I mean, this is not the face of a president.


KURTZ: Car bomber? Loves torturing? I'm sorry, that's just unacceptable.

Go after Newt's record if you don't like him. Talk about his three wives. But, Chris, don't accuse him of looking like a terrorist.

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.

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