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Reliable Sources

Weiner Twitter Scandal; Sarah Palin's Bus Tour

Aired June 05, 2011 - 11:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: We in the news business have spent an awful lot of time this week on a lewd photo of a man in his underwear. But the truth is, we had no choice. Anthony Weiner shifting explanations of his little Twitter problem prompted anchors to ask some uncomfortable questions about the now-famous bulge. But are journalists enjoying this tangle tale just a little too much?

I figured that Sarah Palin's bus tour would be a nice little diversion for the media and we wouldn't have to spend too much time on it this morning. Boy, was I wrong. Palin mostly avoided reporters to the point of not giving out her schedule.

Why are we again chasing a woman who says she's not running for anything, at least not now?

Plus, for the first time in 160 years, "The New York Times" will have a woman running the show as executive editor. Jill Abramson will be here.

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

This is a story about a photo that may or may not be of Anthony Weiner, that may or may not have been sent by Anthony Weiner to a 21- year-old college student. The New York congressman insisting from the moment the picture appeared on Andrew Breitbart's Big Government Web site that someone had hacked into his Twitter account and he never sent it.

But as journalists, especially conservative commentators, kept raising questions, the Democratic lawmaker sounded increasingly defensive.


DANA BASH, CNN SR. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So why haven't you asked the Capitol Police or any law enforcement to investigate?

REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D), NEW YORK: Look, this was a prank that I've now been talking about a for a couple of days. I'm not going to allow it to decide what I talk about for the next week or the next two weeks.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KURTZ: Weiner eventually made the television rounds, prompting the somewhat ludicrous spectacle of anchors and correspondents asking these questions.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: You would know if this is your underpants, right? Have you ever taken a picture like this of yourself?

BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS: Is this a picture out there of you in your drawers that you are worried about?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can't tell me definitively that is a photo of you or it is not a photo of you?

NANCY CORDES, CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, CBS NEWS: I think any normal person could say with certainty whether a picture was a photo of them or not, whether they had taken a photo like that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But that's not a picture of you?

WEINER: You know, I can't say with certitude. My system was hacked. Pictures can be manipulated, pictures can be dropped in and inserted.


KURTZ: So have journalists been restrained or reckless in handling this rather salacious story?

Joining us now here in Washington, Nancy Cordes, congressional correspondent for CBS News; and in New York, Maureen O'Connor, writer for the Web site Gawker; and Jeff Jarvis, founder of "The Buzz Machine" blog and director of the Interactive Journalism Program at City College of New York.

Nancy Cordes, was it, shall I say, a tad awkward to be sitting there with Anthony Weiner asking him about this racy underwear photo?

CORDES: I can't think of anything more awkward. It was awful. I think nobody enjoyed it. And I don't think --

KURTZ: This is not why you went to journalism --

CORDES: Not at all. I don't think anyone says I would like to cover Capitol Hill because I think there will be a lot of sex scandals involving underpants. So, no, it wasn't any fun.

And I don't think when we went into those interviews that day that we expected that he was going to have this kind of an answer. It was very surprising when he said, well, I can't really say whether it's me or not. I think that really threw all of off guard. And that's why you saw all those interviewers say, wait, you're not sure if that's you?

KURTZ: So what was going through your mind at that moment? Did you feel like, well, I have to push back on this?

CORDES: Well, I think part of it -- really, the fact that it's him is not the story. I mean, if it is him, and he never meant to send it out, then we're allowed to have any picture we want. But if that is a picture of him, then it raises questions of, OK, so, it is a picture of you, but someone hacked into your system and knew your password and knew that you had a photo like that and sent it out? It makes the whole story a little stranger.

KURTZ: What about all the jokes about his last name?

CORDES: Well, as a former Weiner myself --

KURTZ: A former Weiner?

CORDES: Weiner is my maiden name. I definitely sympathize with him as far as that's concerned, yes.

KURTZ: All right.

Maureen O'Connor, does Gawker have a big advantage covering this story in a way the mainstream media can't, starting with the language that you can use?

MAUREEN O'CONNOR, WRITER, GAWKER: Well, I personally only cover Capitol Hill for the underwear scandals. This is what we do. And, you know, is this relevant to Anthony Weiner's career as a politician? Maybe. But it's an interesting story.

And from our perspective, this is what we do. We cover human interest stories. We cover the strange case of a person, a powerful person, ending up falling to the exact same ridiculously follies that everyone does, taking a picture of his (EXPLETIVE DELETED) and getting caught doing it.

KURTZ: OK. As I was saying, Gawker does have a different way of talking about these things. Not a word that I would use on the air.

Jeff Jarvis, I know you're not embarrassed to talk about these things. We've talked about your prostate operation on this program.

How did journalists do on this story, particularly on figuring out what happens with a Twitter account, whether it can be hacked and whether a photo can be sent without your knowledge?

JEFF JARVIS, FOUNDER, "BUZZ MACHINE": Well, Howie, I disagree with you when you say the media had no choice. Yes, there's a choice. It's a fine story for Gawker, absolutely. It's a fine story for Jon Stewart, who point out the bloggers actually did some reporting on this.

But all in all, what's the real story here? You know, that a congressman has a penis? Let's stipulate that, there's no news in that.

That he wears underwear? Who cares. That he might have accidentally sent out the wrong photo on Twitter? OK, big deal.

We have to find some medium ground here behind the American Puritanism of, oh, my God, congresspeople are sexual, and the European view that, of course they're sexual. There's some middle ground. This is not a story, Howie. The amount of effort that was put into this was just pathetic.

KURTZ: Jeff, I take your point that perhaps we have overplayed it. But the reason I said we have no choice is because Congressman Weiner kept giving interviews in which he clearly could not answer basic questions, including the clips I just played about, well, I have no idea whether that guy and that picture of some guy in underwear is me.

JARVIS: OK, but carry it so the extreme. So what is the story?


JARVIS: If he had sexually harassed someone, then maybe there's a legitimate story. But if, at the most, he sent out a photo from his hard drive with his photo on it, what's the big deal? What's the news there? What's the impact on democracy and how we live our lives? Zippo.

KURTZ: I wonder, Nancy Cordes, whether the mystery aspect here -- I mean, little things like he had mentioned -- Congressman Weiner had mentioned when an interview he was doing would be on in Seattle. Seattle was where this college student received this photo of him.

Is that helping to drive the story, all these sort of unanswered questions?

CORDES: A little bit, although I took that tweet to be a joke. I mean, he said he was going to be on at 9:00, which is 5:45 in Seattle. Well, that's not 5:45 in Seattle. I think that that was a joke that got built up into something bigger than it was.

And no, I don't think it's a big deal and necessarily a news story if he has pictures like this. But if he's sending them to young women, I think that that's someone -- that's something someone would want to know about heir member of Congress.

KURTZ: He's a married congressman, right.

CORDES: Right.

KURTZ: So what about Jeff's point? Did this deserve air time on "The CBS Evening News" or not?

CORDES: Well, we actually didn't cover it on Saturday, on Sunday, on Monday, on Tuesday, because there were a lot of red flags to the story, as you have pointed out.

KURTZ: Maybe he was a victim. CORDES: Maybe he was a victim. He insisted from the very beginning he had nothing to do with this, it was a prank. The person who reported it, Andrew Breitbart, has a history of taking Democrats out of context and smearing people. The person who discovered this --

KURTZ: That was not the case here though.

CORDES: The person who discovered the tweet -- but that was a reason that people were going slow on this story.

KURTZ: Yes. So you were wary.

CORDES: We were wary.

KURTZ: And so what was the tipping point? Why did CBS cover it?

CORDES: The tipping point was on Wednesday, when he came out and did interviews about this. On Tuesday, he grew increasingly testy with the press, and that raised some alertness about, well, why is he so defensive?

And then, on Wednesday, he did interviews with us and we went in and did the interview. We were not necessarily intending to do the story on the "CBS Evening News," but it was in the mix. And when he did give that series of interviews where he couldn't answer that basic question, that became news.

KURTZ: So, in your view, he helped catapult it onto the news by not being able to answer the questions?

CORDES: Absolutely.

KURTZ: Maureen O'Connor, do you see a serious side of this, outside the world of Gawker, or is this story kind of sheer entertainment?

O'CONNOR: You know, one thing I do take issue with is, as Nancy mentioned, at first people didn't take this story seriously because it showed up on Andrew Breitbart's Web site. And they say he has a history of trying to smear people.

I think even if that's the case, it was very quickly that you could have looked into this story and verified it for yourself. It didn't take a lot of effort to realize that Anthony Weiner admitted, yes, this showed up in my Twitter feed. So it clearly wasn't some kind of, like, imaginary thing. He admitted, yes, this happened.

So, I think it makes sense that people did ask questions. And after that, once he answered questions, it was by the time he got to interview four, five. That's where it was in his power to make it stop if you wanted to.

But all of a sudden, we have this man who seems to want to give many, many interviews about his own genitals. So, I think on that hand, that's why in the beginning, it was a relevant story. And I think it is important for people, even if a story burbles up through untraditional non-mainstream media. If it seems like a real story, I think people do have an obligation to investigate it.

After that, once you've figured it out, it's sort of a little bit in Anthony Weiner's hands how he's going to handle the story from there on out.

KURTZ: Let me ask you this larger question, Jeff Jarvis. We had Chris Lee, the congressman who sent a shirtless photo of himself to a woman on Craigslist, and he resigned. Brett Favre sent a picture to a member of the New York Jets staff, without any underwear covering. That was exposed by the Gawker Web site.

What does it say about politics and the media culture that these public figures keep getting caught, or covered by the media doing these sort of dirty digital deeds?

JARVIS: I think it says the media are sophomoric and immature. You know, having had prostate surgery, and dealt with my own penis, and having to listen to Howard Stern for years, I'm kind of immune to the giggle factor of that word anymore, and I think that's pretty healthy.

If you go to Europe, and you go to a park in the middle of Munich or Berlin, you'll see people naked. What's the big deal? We all have them. It's all the same stuff. It's the puritanical childish nature I think that we have about sex in America that we see in media coming out that makes this an important story.

I love Gawker dearly, but for Gawker even to say this is an important story, come on. It's a chance for a lot of jokes. The person who usually produces these kind of stories best is Jon Stewart.

KURTZ: Who had a lot of fun with that this week as well.

On this question, you say the coverage was sophomoric. Let me play for you a few different commentators and journalist having a little bit of fun with it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The long and short of it is over the weekend, you discovered that a photo of a man's crotch was sent to one of your Twitter followers.

When did you first hear about this?

WEINER: You didn't just introduce that by saying the long and the short of it, did you, Earl (ph)?

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Is Weinergate really big enough to investigate? The Weinergate story to me seems like it's hard to swallow.

LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC: The longer you look at the picture, especially the unpixelated version, the more you begin to understand why Congressman Weiner might not want to deny that that is a picture of him. In fact, the longer I look at it, the more I don't want to deny that it might be a picture of me.


KURTZ: Nancy Weiner Cordes, let the record show that you laughed during those clips. But has the coverage been kind of sophomoric at times?

CORDES: I suppose, but there are a lot of different media outlets with a lot of different audiences and a lot of different agendas. So, you know, we tried to cover it as straightforwardly as possible. We did the story once on the "CBS Evening News," one on "the "Early Show," and we moved on. And I don't think we'll cover it again unless there's some new development.

KURTZ: New developments, as they say.

Maureen O'Connor, do you want to respond to what Mr. Jarvis said earlier about, can this be a serious story, even for Gawker?

O'CONNOR: You know, I don't think anybody is freaking out too much about a congressman tweeting his penis. It's sophomoric, yes. It's funny.

I do take issue with the idea that this is just puritanical Americans. For instance, if you look in Italy, everybody's freaking about Berlusconi's sex life. People have a prurient interest in what famous people do. And for better or for worse, our politicians are famous people. So we're curious about the way he leads his private life, what he does in these mediums that sort of put his private life and his public life right next to each other, like on Twitter.

So, I think that, sure, it's a little ridiculous to talk about this when we could be talking about any number of important issue. But one thing doesn't always preclude the other. We can be curious about this without, you know, giving up every other story in the news cycle.

KURTZ: And Jeff Jarvis, let me ask you about Gennette Cordova. She's the college student who received this picture of somebody in their underwear. She says she doesn't even know Anthony Weiner, and she says she was labeled his mistress, that her phone numbers were given out, that pictures of her were given out, that her relatives were contacted by some members of the press.

You know, are we kind of guilty, or at least some members in the media, of invading her privacy?

JARVIS: Well, that's the unfortunate thing of someone brought in accidentally. I believe we're living more public lives now, and generally I celebrate that and think there's great things about that if you choose to be public. But when you're pulled into the public eye against your own will, that's difficult. And yes, that's easier to do today.

KURTZ: I like this tweet that Gennette Cordova sent out, saying that she had turned down probably 1,000 interviews. She said, "I even turned down 'The Today Show,' and I freaking love Matt Lauer."

On that note, we will end it.

Jeff Jarvis, Maureen O'Connor, Nancy Cordes, thanks very much for joining us.

I do want to apologize for that one term that was used. I think "penis" is a much more adult term, at least for cable television.

When we come back, a groundbreaking change at "The New York Times," Jill Abramson on becoming the first woman to run the newsroom and how she'll change the paper.


KURTZ: Well, it took 160 years, but "The New York Times" is about to have a woman running the newsroom. As Bill Keller stunned his staff by announcing this week that he's stepping down as executive editor, the paper now says Jill Abramson will be taking over the top stop. Abramson is a former "Wall Street Journal" report who ran The Times' Washington bureau before becoming the number two editor eight years ago.

Jill Abramson joins me now from New York.

Good morning.


KURTZ: So you've been part of the time team running The Times with Bill Keller since 2003. Tell me one or two things you'll do a little differently that readers may notice.

ABRAMSON: Well, I think, you know, just the time period that I'm going to be leading the newsroom will mean an acceleration in what Bill and I have been working on, which is making sure that The Times is in the strongest position possible, kind of making the transition from a print-dominated world to a digitally-dominated world.

KURTZ: Since you are the first woman to get this job in a century and a half, do you think that you look at some stories a little differently than a bunch of white guys might? You know, just talk a little bit about the female perspective.

ABRAMSON: You know, I'm not sure it's a female perspective. I think I do look at some stories a little differently. But, you know, my background is as an investigative reporter, and everyone at The Times knows the kind of story that I love is a story behind the story. And I don't think that that's influenced by gender at all.

KURTZ: Well, I was going to say, your new managing editor, Dean Baquet, a former editor of the "Los Angeles Times," you know, may also look at things slightly differently because he's an African-American. But do you think this whole gender question surrounding your appointment, has been a bit overblown then? ABRAMSON: I don't think it's been overblown. And, you know, I was very conscience on the day that Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. announced that I would be getting this amazing job, that I stand on the shoulders of so many other women who have been in our newsroom going back two centuries. And the ones who came, you know, in the late -- very late 1800s, were only two women reporters at that time, through the 20th century, through now.

They went from, you know, really having to beat their way into the newsroom in a journalist's job to, you know, rising up through the editing ranks from the period I joined the paper to now. And, you know, I'm honored to be the first woman to serve as executive editor. And it's a wonderful piece of history that I'm very proud of.

KURTZ: On that point, you told me on the phone this week that about 10 years ago, you almost quit the paper. Tell me a little bit about that and why -- who helped persuade you not to.

ABRAMSON: I was having a rough patch. I was Washington bureau chief and I was clashing a lot with the top editors in New York at that time.

And I had a very attractive offer from another very distinguished news organization. And my phone rang, and it was Janet Robinson, the CEO of The Times. And I had a conversation with her. And I remember she said in, you know, in a very commanding voice, "You will quit over my dead body." And that was pretty influential in my decision to stay right where I was and just battle on.

KURTZ: Right.

In the first online story about your appointment in The Times, there was this quote from you: "In my house growing up, The Times substituted for religion." That rubbed some people the wrong way, felt that maybe you weren't in touch with religion. Do you regret saying that?

ABRAMSON: It did. I was saying it really in jest. And, you know, my comment was my comment.


You know, "The Huffington Post," in recent months, has hired a number of top people from "The New York Times." Is Arianna's operation and Politico and maybe The Daily Beast, where I work, and all these other Web sites, now part of your competition?

ABRAMSON: They are definitely part of my competition. I read all the sites that you just mentioned pretty avidly. I'd certainly throw Bloomberg in there, too. And it's true that now that business has picked up for a lot of our competitors, one of my biggest challenges going forward is going to be to retain the amazing talent that we have in our newsroom.

KURTZ: Some years ago the first ombudsman at "The New York Times," Dan Okrent, wrote a piece saying that on social and cultural issues like gay marriage, he pointed out, the news coverage -- not the editorial page -- the news coverage leans to the left.

Do you agree with that, or do you think it's at least a perception problem for your paper?

ABRAMSON: I think it is a perception problem. I disagree with that.

And Howie, I think you recall I spent 10 years in the newsroom of "The Wall Street Journal," a newspaper that everybody viewed as conservative. And, you know, I saw first hand there that the newsroom always played it straight. And I feel the same way about The Times, which, like "The Wall Street Journal," because of its editorial page, is seen as liberal. But I think our reporters all try to be fair and second-guess their own views when they may be influencing coverage.

KURTZ: I'm sure that's an issue, along with many others, that you'll be grappling with. Good luck in the new job, and we hope you'll come back on the program.

ABRAMSON: I sure will. And thank you so much, Howie.

KURTZ: Jill Abramson, thank you.

And coming up in the second part of RELIABLE SOURCES, are media outlets dumbing down news by lavishing so much attention on these tabloid tragedies? A candid conversation with Lisa Bloom.

But first, Sarah Palin's press parade. Why did hordes of journalists chase her elusive bus tour even though, as she keeps telling us, she's not a presidential candidate?


KURTZ: Sarah Palin had been keeping a low profile for months, but she didn't have to do much to revive the media's obsession with her. All it took was a little bus tour with her family, ostensibly to visit historic sites.

This sent small armies of reporters chasing after Palin.


SARAH PALIN (R), FMR. VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, I don't know if I'm going to be running yet. And I'm sorry that I give you guys the same old boring answer on that one, but nothing's changed. You know, I'll decide when the time is right.


KURTZ: The former Alaska governor seemed to delight in not putting out her schedule and faking out the press. Take that, lamestream media.


GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS: You've obviously driven the media nuts. I don't know if you've noticed that.

PALIN: I'm like, A, I don't think I owe anything to the mainstream media. Tell them to come along and then we'll orchestrate this, we'll script this, and we'll basically write a story for you, media, about what we're doing every day. No. I want them to have to do a little bit of work on a tour like this, and that would include not necessarily telling them beforehand where every stop's going to be.


KURTZ: So, have the media, well, been taken for a ride by the woman from Wasilla?

Joining us now, Lynn Sweet, Washington bureau chief for "The Chicago Sun-Times"; Margaret Carlson, columnist for Bloomberg News and Washington editor of "The Week" magazine; and Matt Lewis, senior contributor to "The Daily Caller" and author the upcoming book "The Quotable Rogue: The Ideals of Sarah Palin in Her Own Words."

Lynn Sweet, what possibly explains all of these reporters driving up and down the East Coast trying to find the Palin bus and all of the attention that this tour got?

LYNN SWEET, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "THE CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": OK. Here are a few reasons why. She's a mesmerizing political figure. She is great for hits on everyone's Web site and broadcast --

KURTZ: Ratings.

SWEET: -- ratings. And she has a message. She's an asymmetrical political candidate, and everyone finds that fascinating, because if you were just looking at the schedule, so Huntsman, and Pawlenty and Mitt Romney, you would find it at this money being very predictable. Iowa, New Hampshire, a speech --

KURTZ: Nobody has said that Sarah Palin is predictable.

Margaret Carlson, there was an incident in Gettysburg where she actually used the bus as a decoy when she went out of a different entrance to the hotel to avoid reporters.

Didn't the press look ridiculous here?

MARGARET CARLSON, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Well, I mean, other than -- yes, they do. But also, I mean, she's giving line to her sort of passive, not informing the press, to actually trying to, you know, make them chase her around like rabbits with their heads cut off. So it's not a neutral thing that Sarah Palin is doing. She really wants to get at us.

The one thing I would add is, you know, Sarah Palin comes in second to Mitt Romney in the polls, so she immediately, by just, you know, coming out of her front door, kind of ratchets this up. I mean, this could be a bizarre family vacation or a way of upping her speaking fees, but she still rates in the polls second to somebody who's been campaigning solidly for a year.

But with all of us as fodder, Matt Lewis, it seems to me she gets to have it both ways. She says, I want reporters to work, I'm not going to tell them where I'm going to be to come chase me, but she wants the coverage. She's pleased that she made such a big splash, and she gets to kind of ridicule us in the process.

MATT LEWIS, SR. CONTRIBUTOR, "THE DAILY CALLER": Yes. Look, I think that everything that you guys said is entirely true.

KURTZ: No, no. You have to disagree with them. That's why you're here.

LEWIS: You're guys are totally wrong.


LEWIS: Let me say this, though -- and I think you're right, she benefits from the publicity. And I think if nobody followed her, then there might be some complaining about, nobody is following me.

But, look, you know, I don't blame her for being a bit hostile toward the media. And there's no law that says she has to sort of inform them where she's going at all times.

But even more interestingly, Peter Hamby from CNN wrote that, despite the media narrative about Palin -- and often they're wrong, by the way -- but despite the media narrative that says Palin ignored the media, according to Peter Hamby at CNN, she held 17 press ops in four days. Pretty unprecedented. And I think he's the only person to actually bring that up.

KURTZ: I think that's a good observation. She did talk more to reporters than probably she ever has in unscripted settings.

But at the same time, she made it difficult -- I mean, she not only made it difficult for us to know where she was, but, of course, the people who love her and wanted to turn out, since there was no schedule, couldn't do that at either.

SWEET: But because she's a master of social media --


SWEET: -- if you follow her between her Twitter feed and her Facebook, you would be able -- and local networks, she is master at being able to get you know, crowds out in short notice. She doesn't need this.

KURTZ: But you say because she's high in the polls --

SWEET: Margaret said that.


KURTZ: You know, obviously, she has high negatives, too, but she does have a passionate following among conservative Republicans. That, therefore, essentially anything she does is news. But if she ends up not running, she's still a Fox News commentator. She certainly hasn't given notice to Roger Ailes.

I wonder if we'll all look back and just say we were kind of taken.

SWEET: I don't think so because she's a political phenomenon in the United States, Howie, and isn't dependent -- the only justification for following her is not whether or not she runs for president. She has a lot of views that people do want to hear about. She is closely watched. You know, she made a mistake in Boston about, you know, when talk about Paul Revere --

KURTZ: The ride of Paul Revere.

SWEET: Yes, who Paul Revere is for.

CARLSON: "One if by land, two if by sea" for the British.

SWEET: Right. And that actually started the hysterical run from "The Daily Show" that had a hashtag, according to Palin --

KURTZ: Since you brought that up, let me break in, because we taped it this morning. Governor Palin was on "Fox News Sunday" with Chris Wallace. This came up. Here's what she had to say.

We'll here what she had to say as soon as we re-queue the tape. So let me move on to another question for you, Margaret Carlson.

Mitt Romney declared his candidacy for president of the United States in New Hampshire on Thursday. He was on page three of "The Manchester Union-Leader." She was on page one.

She's not running, at least not now. He's been running for a long time. He made it official.

It seems like something's screwed up here.

CARLSON: Listen, we are always go going to follow the shiny object, so let's just give that up. Donald Trump was not a serious presidential candidate.

KURTZ: And got plenty of coverage.

CARLSON: And got plenty of coverage.

KURTZ: And got more coverage when he had pizza with Sarah Palin this week, which was this great New York photo-op.

CARLSON: Oh, right, the two phenoms coming together. But, you know, of all the states in the lower 48, she picked New Hampshire. It's not an accident. She wanted to crash his party, and she did, and she can.

So, throughout this campaign, have you to feel sorry for Republicans who are serious about it. She can come in at any moment and upset their apple carts. That's just who she is and how much coverage she can get.

KURTZ: Jeff, do we not have that Paul Revere sound bite?

OK. So I will have to tell our viewers that when asked by Chris Wallace, she actually said -- she defended what she said about Paul Revere was also warning the British, not just warning the Americans the British was coming. But she said it was a shouted-out "gotcha" question after making that remark in New Hampshire.

CARLSON: That's like a newspaper question. These are not "gotcha" question.

KURTZ: By which you mean Katie Couric asking, "What newspapers do you read?"-

CARLSON: Katie Couric, yes.

LEWIS: Well, look, I agree. I don't think it was a "gotcha" question.

KURTZ: No, but you said earlier that -- and I can't dispute this -- that a lot of the coverage of Sarah Palin is hostile or at least mocking, I would say. Not all, by any means.

But it seems to me that she also makes a point of being hypersensitive so that legitimate questions get turned into "gotcha" questions in the way that she views the world.

LEWIS: Well, look, I think part of it, honestly, is the way that the media went after her initially. I think what happened --

KURTZ: That was a long time ago. Get over it.

LEWIS: Yes. Well, I mean, when you're questioning whether or not, you know, Trig is actually her child, it's an emotional issue.

KURTZ: But how many people in the mainstream media did that?

LEWIS: I think it might have actually kind of set her on this path where she's sort of uber skeptical and critical of the media. But look, some of the time the things that are asked of politicians I think are ridiculous.

I think asking her this question is certainly legitimate. I will say this though in defense of her -- when, you know -- I'm on TV here. I know that I'm going to be interviewed. I prepped for this. We're both in suits and we're miked up.

When you're a politician and you have got 10 or 15 cameras around you, throwing random questions at you, then the selection -- this is where bias comes in. It's what videos they select.

When I put together my book, what I noticed is the things I actually read that Sarah Palin said were much more eloquent than I knew. Why is it that we're seeing the one video of Palin talking about Paul Revere? I'm sure there's a lot of other video where she gets it right.

KURTZ: Fair enough.

We're short on time, but if you're going to be out there in the public eye, whether you run for president or not -- she's a former governor -- it's called hitting major league pitching.

CARLSON: Well, it is. I mean, every politician knows how to do this. This is part of the game. I mean, do you know more than a fifth grader? The Paul Revere thing is not a hard question.

SWEET: But I want to be charitable, but for the grace of anyone, we can make a mistake. You're rattled, you're under pressure, whatever. I think the "gotcha" excuse isn't -- you could just say, oh, I made an oops. Everyone knows it's the British are coming. And that ends it.

KURTZ: Right. That's the easiest way to deal with it.

SWEET: Everyone knows that I just got rattled.

KURTZ: I've got to move because we've got to get a break. But when we come back, the John Edwards' indictment, obviously big news. But would journalists really care at this point if there wasn't a mistress and a love child involved?



HARRY SMITH, CBS NEWS: As political dramas go, the John Edwards saga of self-destruction has moved to a predictable place -- court.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: No one ever dreamed he would be the "Edwards" in a case called the "United States Versus Edwards." It's been a spectacular fall for a public man.


KURTZ: Matt Lewis, John Edwards, indicted on Friday for legal contributions and lying.

How much would the media care if it wasn't for Rielle Hunter and this out-of-wedlock child?

LEWIS: If this were the Teapot Dome scandal, we wouldn't be talking about it nearly as much. I think sex sells, and that's a big component to the media.

It's still a story. I mean, the guy was a presidential candidate, he could have been president.

And I think part of it, too, is the fact that he had created this image of being, you know, such a JFK meets Jesus sort of guy, and we all knew his wife on TV as well. But look, you're right, sex sells, and that's the driver of this.

KURTZ: You mentioned Elizabeth Edwards.

Margaret Carlson, haven't journalists sort of enthusiastically embraced this story, this fall from grace, which it undoubtedly is, because they think Edwards is a lowlife who betrayed his wife?

CARLSON: Yes. And, you know, the --

KURTZ: And brought his daughter to the court proceeding on Friday.

CARLSON: You know, to see her standing behind him the way Elizabeth Edwards did, who would do that to their child? It just reinforces the notion that he's a lowlife.

And there's the human condition. We want the guy to be punished. We want a ritual humiliation. And so we're going along with the case --

KURTZ: And is that influencing the tone of the coverage?

CARLSON: Yes. And with a case I think that is very weak.

I don't think the campaign finance laws envisioned this. So I don't think the case is going to hold up. But as a way for all of us to say, you know, some things are beneath contempt, this is why it's getting covered.

KURTZ: You know, the mainstream media didn't get the story. You have to credit "The National Enquirer," although I still see people saying, well, we went easy on him because he's a Democrat. We just didn't have the goods. It's hard to prove that two people are conducting themselves the way he did.

But this was a case where a supermarket tabloid really nailed the guy.

SWEET: They did. And they -- I give them their due, but I think Margaret has a good point, that the legal case here is very thin.

KURTZ: And I don't see -- I mean, Politico led with that. I don't see that much about it, because there's been so much focus on this cliche, the fall from grace, because he was --

SWEET: Which actually is the old story.

KURTZ: Right. The new story is the Justice Department is bringing charges that may or may not --


SWEET: And most people, many people, think are just very thin and tried to have -- take the campaign finance law into new areas. And that is a very rich topic of discussion, too. But, you know, the other story, which is old, is the one that trumped that. CARLSON: It gives us a reason to wallow in this story once again.

KURTZ: Well, maybe the legal case will get a little more coverage now that the shock value has worn off.

Lynn Sweet, Margaret Carlson, Matt Lewis, thanks very much for stopping by this morning.

Up next, are the tabloid media making us all kind of dumb? Lisa Bloom on why she's fed up with sensational stories and whether she's part of the problem.


KURTZ: The Casey Anthony trial, a sad affair in which a mother is accused of killing her 2-year-old daughter, has been getting plenty of cable news air time. It's another one of those tabloid tragedies that have no national importance but the television can't resist.

CBS News analyst Lisa Bloom, who is both a critic and a player in this culture, tackles these questions in her new book, "Think."

I spoke to her earlier here in the studio.


KURTZ: Lisa Bloom, welcome.


KURTZ: There's a line in your book that jumped out at me: "Tabloid media are making us stupid, narcissistic and self-loathing."


BLOOM: Well, there's no question about it that the more we read tabloid media, the more we start to think that the sex lives of celebrities cosmically matter, that what bag we purchase is extremely important. Psychological studies show that we become more narcissistic, that we become more self-loathing, we hate the way we look.

KURTZ: Why self-loathing?

BLOOM: Because we compare ourselves to this impossible ideal. And this is especially true for women.

You know, sitting here today with you, Howie, I just went through an hour of hair and makeup. That's the industry standard for women.

I don't actually look like this. Women that we see on television and the movies don't actually look like that. When you look at a magazine, it's taken about five steps further because they're airbrushed and Photoshopped. It's an impossible standard for women. KURTZ: I'm going to come back to your appearance because I want people to keep watching. But first, tabloid media are making us stupid. No one is forced to consume this stuff.

BLOOM: Well, making isn't the same thing as forcing. And of course, nobody is being forced.

But young American women purchase tabloid magazines 20 times more than real newspapers. And you've decried the downfall of serious journalism. If somebody --

KURTZ: No, because it bleeds into what we like to think of as the serious news business --

BLOOM: That's right.

KURTZ: -- whether it's a story about Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver or Newt Gingrich and his wife.

BLOOM: That's right.

KURTZ: But, on the other hand, somebody is making money by giving people what they want. That's the classic defense, right?

BLOOM: Well, not just somebody. It's giant corporations --

KURTZ: Right?

BLOOM: -- are making many hundreds of millions of dollars from tabloid media at the expense of our intelligence, and especially women's intelligence, because we're the primary consumers of tabloid media. And let me give you an example.

I've been surveying college students. Young, female college students can name more Kardashians than wars that we are in. And when I ask them these questions and get these answers, they stop and say, my God, something is wrong here. What am I doing wrong?

KURTZ: OK. The more girls and young women read celebrity magazines or watch TV, the more they hate their bodies.

Now, is that the media's fault or the culture's fault?

BLOOM: Well, and I ask that question in the book, and I think the answer is both. It's a cycle that we all perpetuate.

We in the media put these stories out there over and over. Right? We break into network news coverage with Tiger Woods schtooping bimbos, the kind of thing that used to be reserved for an assassination of a head of state, right? And now we cover it. Why? Because it makes money.

KURTZ: I mean, he is one of the most famous people on the planet.

BLOOM: Yes, but the breathless coverage month after month after month.

KURTZ: Squeezing out serious news, you would say.

BLOOM: Really any stories of international importance. Very rarely do we cover international stories.

And so, what is the fallout from this? Because we know that Americans are getting dumbed down. We know that we obsess too much about tabloid media and silly stories. And what I talk about in the book is the fallout, the run-up to the Iraq War, where the media didn't ask tough questions. And we all know now that that's the case, because the American public frankly didn't want to know.

We've been sleeping through some of the most important issues of our times -- genocide, climate change. Americans are more unaware of climate change than any other first world country because we're obsessed with tabloid media.

KURTZ: There's a lot of blame here for the news business, both the tabloid side and the so-called establishment side. But when you complain the lack of serious news -- and you write about missing pretty white women stories which can sort of hijack cable news for weeks at a time -- aren't you an active participant?

BLOOM: Absolutely.

KURTZ: You are a legal analyst for CBS. You have worked for CNN. You do "The Dr. Phil Show."


KURTZ: And you're asked to talk about this tabloid stuff all the time.

BLOOM: Right.

KURTZ: So you're not exactly a conscientious objector.

BLOOM: Well, that's right. And I talk about that in the book. Am I part of the problem?

For 10 years, I've been a full-time legal analyst on all the major networks, as you say. Ten years ago -- five years ago, I was covering serious stories like Supreme Court issues, voting rights. For many months, I covered Saddam Hussein's war crimes tribunal. But as time has gone by, I've basically become a celebrity reporter.

I would say 95 percent of the questions I'm asked are about celebrity stories. This week it's Arnold and Maria.

And regardless of how we started out, we've all become celebrity reporters. That's the beef that we are all asked about. Whether you're a medical analyst, a legal analyst, a political analyst, these are the stories that captivate us.

KURTZ: Nobody has a gun to your head. BLOOM: No.

KURTZ: You can just say no.

BLOOM: And I do say no probably to 90 percent of them. That's why I chose to take the time to write the book instead of doing many, many television appearances.

But I want to make it clear that the reason I wrote this book is to appeal to consumers. It's up to us to make a difference, because the media is going to keep covering these stories as long as we click on those sites, as long as we buy those magazines, as long as watch those shows. And if we care, we've got to patronize and consume the more serious media or it will die out entirely.

KURTZ: So you do in part blame the consumers of this kind of stuff.

BLOOM: Absolutely. Absolutely.

KURTZ: And you feel like until they change their behavior -- this is a pretty gargantuan task you've set for yourself --

BLOOM: It's an ambitious book.

KURTZ: -- then the media will continue to cater to them, some would say pander to them. But answer your own question.

BLOOM: That's right.

KURTZ: Are you part of the problem?

BLOOM: Absolutely, I've been part of the problem. I've covered a lot of the celebrity stories, absolutely.

But I've also pitched -- and I talk about this in the book -- serious stories like the Khmer Rouge international war crimes tribunal, which I pitched to various different networks. Nobody wanted to cover it. And so most of us are ignorant and unaware of important genocide tribunals that are going on.

KURTZ: I said I would come back to your appearance. When you anchored "Court TV" for eight years, you write you would get there an hour earlier than the men had to.

BLOOM: Sure.

KURTZ: Then you say, "As a television personality, I spent a fair amount of time keeping up with all this nonsense, including hair coloring, manicures, dermatological visits, and I hate it."

BLOOM: Yes, I do.

KURTZ: Now, I thought you were born with that hair color, but --

BLOOM: I was born with it, but it changed over time. (LAUGHTER)

KURTZ: But you have to play this game. And yet, it kind of makes you angry?

BLOOM: Absolutely. I think for women who are on television -- I mean, look at Fox News, for example. There's a certain level of appearance that you have to hit if you want to be on TV over and over again.

KURTZ: And even if you're a really good journalist you can't be on TV?

BLOOM: I think --

KURTZ: It's harder to be on TV?

BLOOM: I think it's much more difficult, certainly. I mean, we expect women who are on TV to look a certain way.

I don't mind a little hair and makeup, right? I like to look nice. But the level that is required, I think, the bar has been set so high that, serious journalists who don't have a certain look just don't get on.

And by the way, I think it often skews white. It's much more difficult especially for dark-skinned, African-American women, many of whom I know who are very bright and very capable who just don't get the job.

I mean, the standards for women, not just on television, but in our culture, where we polled college students -- and I talk about this in the book -- they'd rather be hot than smart. Half of young women say they'd rather get hit by a truck than get fat. Twenty-five percent would rather win a reality show than the Nobel Peace Prize.

I mean, we've absorbed this message that our appearance is the most important thing. That has got to change.

KURTZ: A lot of that is the culture.

Before we go, I have to ask you, when you're taking on this tabloid culture that you both participate in and feel passionately about in a negative sense, are you optimistic or pessimistic that this is ever going to change?

BLOOM: Oh, I'm optimistic, because all of the women that I've talked to over the last two years when I've been researching or writing the book have told me, "I don't want to live the way. I want to have a more meaningful, substantive life. Tell me how." And I have a step-by-step guide in the book as to how to do that.

Look, we can look at the tabloids once in a while. I'm not saying we should never do it.

KURTZ: You wouldn't ban it? You wouldn't censor them? BLOOM: It's a question of balance. We have to have our vegetables before we eat dessert. We shouldn't have dessert shouldn't be breakfast, lunch and dinner.

KURTZ: Well, thanks for sharing your menu advice.

Lisa Bloom, thanks for joining us.

BLOOM: Thanks.


KURTZ: Still to come, some thoughts on what happens to a big- time television network when the lights go out.


KURTZ: Getting television shows on the air is no easy task, but it's a heck of a lot harder when you don't have electricity. Now, I'm used to long blackouts at home because our local power company, Pepco, is notoriously unreliable when it comes to keeping the lights on.

This week, the CNN bureau lost power for three frustrating days, along with 1,500 people and offices here on Capitol Hill. But somehow the troops here pulled off three hours a day of live programming with John King going to the Capitol and Wolf Blitzer standing outside in 90-degree heat while producers got by with backup generators. When the power first went off an hour before air time, staffers scrambled down the emergency fire exit with tubs filled with cameras and computers and water for the anchors.

It was a long week for my staff, as well. And the Capitol Hill newspaper "Roll Call" managed to publish with its editors and reporters holed up in a hotel conference room. And this wasn't exactly like publishing during Hurricane Katrina or a crippling blizzard, but we much prefer to have cameras and monitors and tape machines that go on when you flip the switch.

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

I'm Howard Kurtz.

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

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