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Pressing Romney on Religion; Santorum Slams Media; Media Matters Vs. FOX News
Aired February 19, 2012 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: We've reached a point in the campaign with no primaries or debates for the moment, where the media seemed determine to set the agenda. Some liberal commentators saying Mitt Romney should talk more about being Mormon. Really? Where does the press get off telling a candidate to open up about his religion?
And journalists keep pressing Rick Santorum about his stand on birth control and he is pushing back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When you quote a supporter of mine who tells a bad off-color joke and somehow I'm responsible for that, that's gotcha.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Is the press trying to paint Santorum as intolerant?
Tucker Carlson's conservative Web site launches an attack on Media Matters, charging that the liberal advocacy group gives marching orders to MSNBC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TUCKER CARLSON, DAILY CALLER: The line that we had from someone who worked at Media Matters for a long time was and I'm quoting, "We basically write their primetime."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Based on what? A couple of anonymous sources?
But there's a troubling memo about investigating the personal lives of folks at FOX. We'll have a report.
Plus, Buzz Bissinger on Jeremy Lin hype, will call foul on the Asian-American stereotyping.
Why do journalists keep tweeting their way into trouble? A conversation with "New York Times" columnist David Carr.
And meet Washington television reporter Andrea McCarren whose story about underage drinking sparked a huge reaction. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DEREK MCGINTY, WUSA: Andrea says she's been stunned and heartbroken to find herself subjected to online name-calling too foul to spell out on TV.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: A harassment campaign against her and her teenage kids.
I'm Howard Kurtz, and this is RELIABLE SOURCES.
KURTZ: Now that Mitt Romney has lost his front-runner status, at least according to the fleeting snapshot provided by national polls, some pundits in their infinite wisdom are giving him advice, and the media microscope increasingly focusing on his faith.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS: As Mitt Romney continues to battle for the Republican nomination, the question of faith continues to be in focus -- whether Americans are becoming more accepting of his religion, Mormonism.
HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Because he's been afraid for the last several years to talk about his Mormonism in -- because of some questions some people have especially in the Bible Belt, probably the area where he could most touch hearts and most testified to his humanity, he's kind of blocked off from doing because he never wants to talk about it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: "New York Times" columnist Frank Bruni says that's precisely why the Mormon question is fair game. "There are valid reasons," he writes, "for the rest of us to hone in on Romney's religion, not in terms of its historical eccentricities but in terms of its cultural, psychological, and emotional imprint on him. His aloofness, guardedness, and sporadic defensiveness: are these entwined with the experience of belonging to a minority tribe that has often been maligned and has operated in secret?"
But should the media be setting those boundaries?
Joining us now in New York is Frank Bruni of "The Times"; and here in Washington, Jennifer Rubin, who writes "The Right Turn" blog for "The Washington Post"; and Scott Conroy, national political reporter for "Real Clear Politics" and CBS News.
Frank Bruni, start with you.
So why is Romney's faith or why should it be any of the media's business? FRANK BRUNI, NEW YORK TIMES: Well, I think when you're running for president, the public, the media -- we have a right to know as much as we can about you. I mean, we want to take your full measure as a human being.
And if a big part of your biography, if a big part of who you are is your religious faith, then I think that needs to be discussed. I think it's wise for the candidate himself to discuss it. And I think it's entirely fair game for us to ask questions about it.
We -- you're running for president of the United States, highest office there is. We need to know who you are, where you're coming from, what animates you, what's important to you.
KURTZ: But, Jennifer Rubin, and you've been very supportive of Mitt Romney in your columns, is it fair game for the press when a candidate, for whatever personal reason, doesn't want to talk that much about his religion?
JENNIFER RUBIN, WASHINGTON POST: It's perfectly acceptable. We don't grill Newt Gingrich on whether he believes on a virgin birth, or we don't grill Joe Lieberman on whether he believes slavery in the Old Testament is still acceptable.
There's a level at which in terms of doctrine that we don't think it's appropriate because we don't have religious tests in the United States. What is appropriate is to ask the question that's been asked many times in the debates and have been answered by these candidates -- and that is: how does your faith affect your judgment? How does your faith affect your politics?
KURTZ: Are you -- are you suggesting that the press is imposing some kind of religious test on Romney?
RUBIN: I'm suggesting that they have honed, first of all, uniquely on him as opposed to Catholics or other -- people of other faiths. And secondly, he has every right to talk about I don't particularly want to talk about this. I actually think it's a little bit out of context.
The real drumbeat has been from the right, who's been telling Romney to talk more about the economics and talk more about a specific agenda.
KURTZ: We get to Scott Conroy, should the press be in the position of criticizing Romney who would, of course, be the first Mormon president of the United States for not talking about something that's so personal?
SCOTT CONROY, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: I think pretty much every reporter likes to think they would be a great political operative if given the opportunity. So, I think that's what is at the heart of a lot of that.
A lot of reporters look at someone like Romney who struggles a bit recently and they say, you know, this guy should be surging ahead of everyone in the poll. He should be the de facto nominee. He's struggling, why is that? So, that's the tendency whether right or wrong to analyze and psychoanalyze in that way, especially with Twitter and all the social media that just puts us all in the same boat together.
KURTZ: We are full of advice.
But, Frank Bruni, coming back to your point about, you know, if you're running for president, your whole life needs to be an open book and everything is fair game.
BRUNI: Most everything, not everything.
KURTZ: Well, sure, most everything. But is there a danger here that this media narrative veers off into the strangeness, as some people view it, of Mormonism?
BRUNI: Well, I actually think the media has been very responsible in that regard. And what I'm calling for what I was suggesting in that column isn't that we look at the most outrageous doctrines or tenets of Mormonism. I was actually in a sense saying that Mitt could help himself if he talked a little bit more about it because one of his big problems as a candidate and I think everybody agrees on this, is that he doesn't always come across as a full- fledged, rounded human being -- a certain warmth doesn't come across.
And I was wondering if that column and I think a lot of people do rightly wonder: is part of that because he's sectioning off himself, a part of himself, a very important part of his biography and not giving us access to it, not giving himself access to it on the stump and in interviews.
KURTZ: So, you say you're trying to help Romney? And at the same time, you're --
BRUNI: Well, I'm not in the interest of trying to help anyone. But I do think -- I do think what I was trying to say is I wasn't saying we need to look at every little byway of Mormonism and how it applies to him. I don't disagree in large measure with what Jennifer said earlier.
But I think when he edits that portion of his life out of his comments, out of his biography, I think he doesn't give himself full access to what he might be talking about and he hurts himself as a candidate and he closes himself off from us.
RUBIN: Well, I think two things. One, there have been some spreads that have been very favorable as Frank may have alluded to, about "The Washington Post" and "The New York Times" on his role as a lay leader in the Mormon Church. And that did show a very human side.
For the first, Romney, in very small increments in this campaign, he didn't do it at all last -- to give a speech on religious tolerance -- but he has talked a little bit about his role in mentoring people who have had problems. And I actually think without getting into religious doctrine, simply talking about his experiences with people in need, people in trouble, would be helpful to him.
KURTZ: One thing that's in the news lately -- go ahead, Frank.
BRUNI: Jennifer is exactly right. I mean, around the time a lot of us were talking about why aren't we hearing Mitt Romney talk a little bit more about his religion, he was getting hammered and hammered for being completely out of touch with anybody who didn't make, you know, over --
KURTZ: A million dollars.
BRUNI: -- a million a year.
BRUNI: And one of the points that a Mormon scholar made to me when I was talking to him with that, is that if you do a Mormon mission, as Mitt Romney did for two years in France, you're not living high on the hog. You're mostly trying to convert people who are at the lower rungs of the economic ladder. He has spent time with people other than gazillionaires, and he could talk more about that and let people know that if he was willing to access the Mormon dimensions of his biography.
KURTZ: You know, "Newsweek," where I work, recently revived a 5- year-old interview with Romney, when he was asked about this practice of Mormons baptizing dead people after they have passed, and he said I have but not recently. I don't know if that's fair game or not. He said it obviously, it's news. It's news now because of his position in the polls, but it does make me wonder a little bit about the tone of the coverage going forward.
I want to turn now to Rick Santorum.
On CBS this morning the other day, he got into it with Charlie Rose and had to do with a joke, a bad joke, that was told by a Santorum financial supporter, Foster Friess when Friess said, well, in my day, women practiced birth control by putting an aspirin between their knees. Here's how that exchange went.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SANTORUM: When you quote a supporter of mine who tells a bad, off color joke and somehow I'm responsible for that, that's gotcha.
CHARLIE ROSE, CBS NEWS: But nobody said you were responsible, Senator. Nobody said you were responsible. They said, how would you characterize it, and what have you said to him? Not that you were responsible.
SANTORUM: Look, this is what you guys do. I mean, I don't -- you don't do this -- you don't do this with President Obama. In fact, with President Obama, what you did was you went out and defended him against someone who he sat in a church for, for 20 years and defended him that, oh, he can't possibly believe what he listened to for 20 years. It's a double standard. This is what you're pulling off, and I'm going to call you on it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Scott Conroy, does Santorum have a legitimate beef that the media have a double standard for Republicans?
CONROY: Well, I think two points. First of all, he said Foster Friess was a supporter of his. He's much more than a supporter.
KURTZ: OK, fine.
CONROY: I mean, you can make the argument that he single- handedly keeping his campaign, you know, where it is today.
Second of all, he brought up the Jeremiah Wright situation with President Obama, candidate Obama in 2008. You have to remember it is the media that brought that out into the forefront. It was the McCain campaign who didn't want to talk about it.
KURTZ: ABC was one of the organizations.
But let me go back to Frank Bruni.
You know, Santorum does talk about religiously themed things. He talked about a couple years ago a speech about Satan corrupting the institutions of America. Just yesterday, he accused President Obama of having a phony theology.
But he contends and his campaign contends that we in the press are trying to paint him one dimensionally as a candidate solely of social issues. Is there something to that?
BRUNI: You know, I actually don't think so. We shouldn't be one dimensional with him and I think he -- there's a little bit of truth to the fact that we pay more attention sometimes to those things than to other aspects of his platform.
But he is exuberantly and willingly wading into these waters. We're not labeling him a culture warrior from nowhere. I mean, he's putting on the armor, he's grabbing the lance. I mean, he believes this stuff. He wants to talk about it.
But then when it becomes, you know, the entire foreground of the conversation, he gets upset. I think he's not being entirely honest.
KURTZ: But his campaign tells me, Jennifer, that the media are minimizing his other positions on manufacturing, jobs and so forth because let's face, it birth control, abortion, gay marriage -- these are hot button issues that make good copy.
RUBIN: Well, two things. First of all, it's not fair game for him to say don't play gotcha with Foster Friess because he himself has made outrageous, outlandish statements, and that's what we are talking -- KURTZ: He's saying I shouldn't be held responsible for a bad joke -- for Friess apologized -- said by somebody else. I mean, can they talk (ph) in that position?
RUBIN: Yes, but it is very fair game to talk about his own statements and his own positions which are really far outside even the mainstream of the Republican Party.
KURTZ: And what about his double standard charge?
RUBIN: You know, that's for people like you and me to talk about. He's a candidate. He should stop whining about the media's double standards.
I think the candidates have gotten, particularly on the right, and I will talk to my friends on the right, have gotten obsessed with this.
Ronald Reagan won the presidency twice with no FOX News, with no talk radio, with no blogs. These candidates should grow up, get the message out. And you know what? There's lots of other media outlets for them to get their message out.
KURTZ: Well, you're saying we're not all that powerful, but at the same time, I do think we have to be careful about holding candidates of different parties to the same standard. On that point, we will leave it there.
Jennifer Rubin, Frank Bruni in New York, Scott Conroy, thanks for joining us.
When we come back, tweeting into trouble. David Carr of the "New York Times" on how far journalists can go in the Twitter world.
KURTZ: Tweeting can be dangerous to your journalistic health. If that wasn't clear before, it became even more obvious after CNN suspended Roland Martin for a couple Twitter groups during the Super Bowl that gay groups found to be homophobic.
But is the problem that pundits keep crossing an invisible line, or a media culture that thrives on political correctness?
I tackled that subject earlier with David Carr, "The New York Times" media columnist from New York.
KURTZ: David Carr, welcome.
DAVID CARR, NEW YORK TIMES: Nice to be with you, Howie.
KURTZ: Now, you and I both spend a lot of time on Twitter. In fact, you've tweeted nearly 17,000 times, which makes me feel like a slacker. Did what happened to Roland Martin make you think twice or three times about what you post?
CARR: Yes. You know, I should make clear, one, that I'm not proud of the fact that I have tweeted that much and I'm ashamed that you have mentioned that.
Two, that many, many of those are retweets. So all I'm doing is seeing something and pushing the button. So, it's not like I have actually written 17,000 tweets, although please don't do the math on how many I've actually done.
And, three, what happened to Roland -- yes, he's a cautionary tale, as are many, many others. It seems like a friction-free, easy little push of the button, we often do it on our little phones, right? It doesn't even seem like much of a big deal.
But if you have a significant following or even a following of certain folks, you can end up in a big, bad jam in a hurry.
KURTZ: Well, do you like having that direct and unfiltered connection to people who follow you? Is that part of the appeal or the seduction of Twitter?
CARR: Yes. I mean, I do a combination of sort of I guess what Jeff Jarvis has called mind casting, which is I might see something that you wrote or someone else wrote and write a Twitter and put the link in there and say, you know, people should look at that.
But then the other night, I tweeted out the fact that I went to the Betsey Johnson show with my 14-year-old just thinking, I don't know, that it was -- she's my kid. So, I'm proud of the fact that she wanted to go out to the show, and a friend of mine just sent me a note and said, really? You're really tweeting about going to a show --
KURTZ: I think people like getting on the inside into the personal lives of those of us who are in the media.
But let's come back to this question of how opinionated you can be. I mean, you're a "New York Times" guys, but this is your personal account. As long as you're not being abusive or inaccurate, why can't you say pretty much what you want?
CARR: Well, I can say pretty much what I want until it makes a problem for my ownership or for me. So I generally try to read my tweets with my boss' eye. That doesn't mean I haven't sent out a few that I don't regret. I have never gotten talked to at work about it, but I think if the general tenor of my Twitter stream made them uncomfortable, somebody would talk to me about it.
We don't really have a policy per se, but people at our shop have gotten in a little bit of a jam for like tweeting out private/business matters or we had one reporter that tweeted out personal matters that they didn't like. So, you know, I love having the ability not just to tweet out but to listen, and there's no risk in listening. You can look in and be a lurker on Twitter. KURTZ: Yes, it's a great two-way communication. I really like that.
But to the extent, David, that you are thinking about, OK, how is this going to look to the bosses at the office in Manhattan -- doesn't that tend to drain some of the personality from Twitter?
CARR: Yes, it's been a real problem for me. I have had trouble getting followers. I only have 350,000. So, I guess I'm -- there's something bloodless and sort of without -- no, I think I know and understand that Twitter, while at the same time understanding that whatever chip got implanted to me when I went to work in "The New York Times," it's very deep enough. So, I hopefully I won't screw up that often.
KURTZ: Well, if we got Carr unfiltered, you might have a million followers.
Now, what about the notion that journalists are kind of giving it away on Twitter. In other words, you know, your first impressions on a lot of breaking controversies, and I wrestle with this as well, you know, instead of posting it for "The New York Times" which actually takes a little time, you're doing the 140 characters off on Twitter.
Is that something you think about?
CARR: I try not to break news on Twitter. I do feel like "The New York Times" pays my salary and that if I'm going to break news, I should break news there.
In terms of annotating events that are in progress and giving my opinion about them, I think the value accrues to both my employer and to me. The -- we all go through the math of, do I break off what I'm doing in little bitty bits or do I save it all for the newspaper, for the web? And I do think that's math we all have to confront as journalists.
KURTZ: I think it's a dilemma for journalists, and at the same time you want to be part of the rolling conversation on Twitter. You don't want to click yourself off from that.
Now, somebody else says you've written -- who recently joined Twitter is Rupert Murdoch. He doesn't exactly censor himself for opinions. For example, he's written some nice things about Rick Santorum's presidential candidacy and took a shot at New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, calling him chicken Cuomo.
Does that raise questions about the news organization that Murdoch controls?
CARR: No. I think that's very congruent with what people expect him to do. I think it's been a good look into the inside of his head.
I mean, he's Rupert Murdoch. He lives a life beyond consequence, let's face it. He controls his board. He can pretty much do what he wants. And I think he oddly understands Twitter and what it can do, and it's been good. I mean, I don't think it's a bulletin to anybody who follows Rupert Murdoch or reads the news that he's somewhat conservative in thinks political views.
KURTZ: And not to put too fine a point on it, who is going to tell him not to.
All right. David Carr from "The New York Times," thanks very much for joining us.
CARR: Always a pleasure to talk with you, Howie.
KURTZ: Coming up in the second part of RELIABLE SOURCES: the conservative "Daily Caller" launches a scathing attack on Media Matters. Was this a hatchet job on David Brock's liberal advocacy group?
Plus, the backlash against a Washington television reporter after her story about underage drinking.
And later, "Vanity Fair's" Buzz Bissinger on why the media are making a huge hero of basketball's Jeremy Lin.
KURTZ: "The Daily Caller" is a conservative Web site run by Tucker Carlson, who doubles as a FOX News commentator.
Media Matters is a liberal advocacy group has openly targeted FOX for a right wing bias.
So, it's not much of a surprise that "The Caller" is denouncing Media Matters. But what was disturbing about the Web site is here was this memo from former Media Matters executive Karl Frisch. "We should hire private investigators to look into the personal lives of FOX News anchors, hosts, reporters, prominent contributors, senior network and corporate staff."
Private investigators? Personal lives? Anything happen as a result?
Joining us now to talk about the way these articles reported is Vince Coglianese, senior online editor for "The Daily Caller."
VINCE COGLIANESE, DAILY CALLER: Thank you.
KURTZ: What do you make of that memo talking about let's hire some private eyes to look into FOX News anchors?
COGLIANESE: It's pretty jarring. It's pretty jarring. This is a tax-exempt organization that's looking to use the -- essentially taxpayer-subsidized existence to hire private investigators to go after FOX News employees at all levels. We're not talking about anchors. We're talking about producers, staffers, who work inside the company, and to place yard signs on their lawns to buy advertising on billboards in their communities, targeting them personally.
So, this is some pretty shocking stuff.
KURTZ: But just to be clear, there is no evidence that any of this happened. This was a memo that suggested these things.
COGLIANESE: I'm sure the tracking mechanisms of Media Matters have existed. I mean, in terms of the extent to which private investigators have been involved, not that we're aware.
KURTZ: We asked the Media Matters to make somebody available. David Brock is not able to come on, the founder of the group, because he has a book coming out. Karl Frisch, the former executive who wrote the memo, he did not respond to our inquiries. And Tucker Carlson said he could not come on because he has a contract with FOX, just to make that clear.
Now, "The Caller's" articles go through a list of reporters, from "Washington Post," "Politico," and "New York Times" and basically accuses some of them of doing Media Matters bidding based on a couple of anonymous sources saying things like, oh, yes, he always took his stuff from Media Matters. That seemed pretty thin to me.
COGLIANESE: Well, these aren't people just leaving the building on like janitorial business, or interns who existed inside the company. I mean, these are serious people.
And we're asking our readers to first of all --
KURTZ: Serious people who you're not able to name.
COGLIANESE: That's absolutely right. But we have -- but our goal is the truth, Howard. We have -- our goal is to tell the truth about this organization and we're doing that and we have to do it via anonymous sources. Do we want anonymous sources? Absolutely not.
Our goal in this is to get on the record sources, but in order to tell our story --
KURTZ: How would you feel if I wrote a story saying anonymous sources say that Vince Coglianese is doing the business of -- is doing the bidding of Foster Friess, who, of course, has given millions of dollars to the "Daily Caller"? He's a conservative financier also financing, or helping to bankroll a Rick Santorum super PAC. You would say that's not true and I would say well, I've got some sources say it's true.
COGLIANESE: I would say it wasn't true, that's right. But it's something Media Matters hasn't done. They haven't offered a refutation of our story.
So, you're suggesting that if I were to tell me, or to report something, using anonymous sources that I did, or accuse me of something, first I would do is come out and say that's not the truth, and I would tell what the truth is. And I'd offer evidence in order to prove it wasn't the truth.
So what you're suggesting is exactly what Media Matters hasn't done.
KURTZ: But we're going to give them that opportunity perhaps next week.
KURTZ: Now, I get lots of maims from Media Matters. I also get e-mails from Media Research Center which is Brent Bozell's conservative media watchdog group, and sometimes if they've got interesting video or transcripts, as oppose to their own interpretation, I use that.
So you seem to paint as sinister anybody who uses anything dug up by such a group. And I don't see why that's the case.
COGLIANESE: Well, sinister would be an interpretation of how you read our story. What we do have is anonymous sources saying that they were capable of getting their -- getting this material into the hands of people that we know, people across the board, Ben Smith, formerly of "Politico," MSNBC -- they claim they wrote their entire primetime lineup.
KURTZ: Well, first of all, I mean, anybody who's read Ben Smith's stuff over the year sees that he's a fair reporter. You can criticize him on particular stories. But what you didn't have was, OK, here is a litany of things that so-and-so wrote and this matches the Media Matters talking points and they didn't tell the other side.
You just had again these sources saying that these folks in effect were in the tank.
COGLIANESE: And these are source that are unimpeachable.
KURTZ: But what's not -- what's very impeachable is the notion you didn't connect the dots by demonstrating how these reporters were unfair.
COGLIANESE: Well, you can say - unfair to whom? The idea is this - the idea is this, that Media Matters employees, former and current, claim that these people will run their content.
Now, where do we go from there? You're right. It says, yes, you have to look and see to the extent to which these people have done it.
Remember, in our coverage, you will see something inside our story where we talk about a Media Matters source who claims that they have something called fingerprint coverage where they like to get this content into people's hands without their names being cited.
KURTZ: OK. Same thing with MSNBC - COGLIANESE: That's absolutely right.
KURTZ: Which is accused of taking (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Now, it's no secret that Tucker Carlson was let go by MSNBC.
COGLIANESE: That's right.
KURTZ: But leaving that aside, maybe the people on MSNBC, the liberal hosts, believe some of the same things that Media Matters believes. Again, you didn't connect the dots and show that MSNBC was somehow doing the bidding of this advocacy group.
COGLIANESE: Right. But you're making the leap to the idea that Media Matters - first of all, remember, we had a source that said they were practically writing their primetime lineup.
Remember, you're making some sort of leap that because we publish this, that we're making this claim that they only use Media Matters content to do their bidding.
We have Media Matters internal sources. And remember, people inside of any corporation are going to say they use our stuff and they will probably proclaim it. And that's what we have had happen.
KURTZ: David Brock, the head of Media Matters, is portrayed without a single-named source as being paranoid, erratic, a bit unhinged, and a user of illegal drugs. Now, one-named source - isn't that irresponsible?
COGLIANESE: No, David Brock has told this story before. He's talked about his illegal drug use in the past.
KURTZ: In the past?
COGLIANESE: And we have sources that are claiming. And remember, these are not right-wingers. These are not conservatives that are coming out saying these things.
These are all dedicated leftist progressive who want to ensure their place in the movement. They want to continued insurance in the movement. So they offer these contents - these comments in this way to us.
KURTZ: Let me close by having your respond to something that Jack Shafer wrote on Reuters -
KURTZ: "The media critic, 'The Daily Caller' is attacking Media Matters with bad journalism and lame propaganda. As a great fan of the political hatchet job, all I can say that David Brock's organization deserves better." Brief response. COGLIANESE: We're very proud of this story. We think we did excellent reporting. We put a bunch of great reporters on this piece, including myself. Tucker was a part of this process. And we really enjoyed what we presented and we think we have a phenomenal story.
KURTZ: Well, I appreciate your coming out to answer these questions. Vince Coglianese, thanks for joining us.
Up next, television reporter, Andrea McCarren on the harassment campaign that erupted after her investigative reports on underage drinking here in Washington.
KURTZ: It was a classic example of aggressive local reporting. Andrea McCarren of a CBS affiliate here in Washington found that high school students have easy access to liquor and found a D.C. source selling booze to kids as young as 14.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDREA MCCARREN, TELEVISION REPORTER: Watch what happens when 19-year-old Jen attempts to buy alcohol at this Gaithersburg beer and wine store.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was too easy. It was just way too easy.
MCCARREN: She bought a bottle of wine, no questions asked. We are with Channel 9 News. We've been watching your store for weeks and weeks and you've been selling to underage children. It is illegal to sell under 21.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. No ID, no sale.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: The reaction, a campaign of abuse aimed at McCarren, one so vitriolic she decided to take herself off the air for a week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DEREK MCGINTY, WUSA: Andrea says she's been stunned and heartbroken to find herself subjected to online name-calling too foul to spell out on TV and threats that the cops took so seriously they posted a police car in front of her home all weekend long.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So how does a journalist cope with this kind of backlash? Andrea McCarren of WUSA joins me now here in the studio. Welcome.
Let's start at the beginning. Why did you feel so strongly about doing this series of stories?
MCCARREN: Well, it's so interesting, Howie. This basically started as a series of reports on underage drinking and drug use. And what we ended up uncovering was a disease of affluence and an epidemic of entitlement.
It feels like teenagers feel they have the right to have cell phones, have laptop computers, and, in this case, that they have the right to break the law and drink illegally.
And as you have and so many journalists, we are on these crash sites, preventable accidents when kids get behind the wheel and die. And I just could not interview another set of grieving parents and not try to do something to expose the problem.
KURTZ: And yet, it was parents, some of them at least, in an affluent area of suburban Maryland when you reported on a party where there was a lot of liquor and the police broke it up and issued citations, who didn't like your reporting.
MCCARREN: We were absolutely stunned. We covered a party that, like a lot of these, started as a small gathering, got on social media, Facebook and Twitter, spiraled out of control.
Ultimately, there were 80 high school students at this party. We were with police when it was busted. They fled. They were jumping off balconies, out of windows fleeing in all directions.
And then the parents came to pick them up. One father at another party said to his son right in front of police, "Why didn't you run?" Other parents threatened to sue us. They threatened to sue police.
And only one mother actually said to her child, "You cannot do what the other children do." And she made this young man apologize to every police officer on the scene.
KURTZ: And what happened to that D.C. liquor store owner who - that we saw on tape a moment ago?
MCCARREN: Just a few hours ago, in fact, he was arrested and taken into police custody for selling alcohol to a minor on a sting that went down last night, and we were along for that.
What I found astonishing is that even after our series of reports, even after we exposed him as a long-time supplier of alcohol to teenagers as young as 14, as you noted, he was still selling.
KURTZ: He didn't change his practices.
MCCARREN: Not at all.
KURTZ: Tell me about this backlash and how bad has it been for you.
MCCARREN: It's been horrible, particularly for my teenage children. It has been what I believe is an orchestrated campaign of hate and venom and name-calling and threats, things that I can't even say on the air.
KURTZ: And this has been mostly in E-mails. This has been on Facebook - MCCARREN: Everywhere - every possible place that it could be posted. You know, like a lot of journalists, I've covered stories from parts of the world that are considered very, very dangerous.
Yet the only time I have ever genuinely been in fear for my family is after covering the illegal behavior of suburban, mostly white teenagers.
KURTZ: To the point where, as your fellow anchor noted, you had to have police protection at your house.
KURTZ: How did you feel, to ask a very obvious question, when your high school age kids were being insulted and harassed as a result of your stories?
MCCARREN: Like you, we've known each other a long time, family comes first. And I am very proud of the reporting we've done, but when it became very clear that this series of reports was taking a very tough toll on my family, I spoke with my boss, Fred D'Ambrosi.
And we both agreed, while this fever pitch of hate was so high, it was time just to settle down, back down. I was very fortunate to have a colleague like Derek McGinty pick up where I left off, stayed off the air. Things calmed down for about a week.
KURTZ: Doesn't that give the impression you allowed yourself to be intimidated though?
MCCARREN: No, because I promptly got back on the air. And you will see a continued series of reports. It began as a week-long series, quickly became a month-long series. And now, we plan to have a station commitment exposing some of these things over the course of a year.
KURTZ: You sound, Andrea, not just hurt by what happened, but disappointed that people in affluent communities around the Washington area blame the media instead of worrying about their kids' behavior.
MCCARREN: And I got a really good glimpse of law enforcement and what they go through on these party scenes. The other thing that really has struck me is how enabling some of these parents are.
They're not allowing law enforcement in when there's a party bust that's going down. Right in front of us, a father said, "Well, did you see my daughter drinking?" You know, they never - they lash out at everyone but their own child with the exception of that one parent.
MCCARREN: And we have gotten - I've been very fortunate to get a groundswell of support from some parents. But I get the teenagers being angry that we've outed their activity and that we have cut off one of their major liquor suppliers.
MCCARREN: But I don't understand parents who condone this behavior and it seems that everybody is upset when some child dies.
KURTZ: A good look at the aftereffects of important reporting. Andrea McCarren, thanks very much for joining us.
After the break, we'll wade into whether the media are embarrassing themselves with the Linsanity over the NBA's newest star player.
Plus, former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell wants to buy Philadelphia's daily newspapers. Buzz Bissinger is in Philly to tell us why that's a terrible idea.
KURTZ: I've been a sports fan a long time and I have rarely seen the kind of hyperbole and hyperventilating that has surrounded the previously obscure New York Knicks basketball player, Jeremy Lin.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC: Jeremy Lin came out of nowhere. Now, he's suddenly dominant.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lincredible, they're saying.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Front page of "The New York Post." "Thrill- Lin." Check the back page of "The Daily News" - "Just Lin Time."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at the back page of the "New York Post" - "Amasian"?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Joining us now from Philadelphia to talk about this is "Vanity Fair's" Buzz Bissinger. And Buzz, you wrote about this for "The Daily Beast, the Jeremy Lin phenomenon.
And you said you made no bones about it. This is mainly because he's Asian-American. And if a black player had had a few good games and scored a bunch of points, it would have been no big deal.
BUZZ BISSINGER, "VANITY FAIR": Well, you know, I feel that very strongly and I know people don't like to hear it, but I think it's the truth, and it's not just me.
There were two Philadelphia 76-ers interviewed and in a very measured way, Andre Iguodala, who is an all-star this year. And Lou Williams said the same thing.
I think we have certain expectations for every racial class. And I think the expectation for African-Americans is that they're supposed to be good at sports. So even if a kid came out of nowhere, the sense would be, well, he had these natural gifts and he wasn't able to show it. And I just don't think there would be this type of outpouring.
I do think whites identify with Jeremy Lin. He's of a different nationality in a sense, but they like what he represents - hard work, hustle, et cetera.
KURTZ: Right. What about the media's coverage here? There was this incredible headline, as you know, on ESPN describing Jeremy Lin, "Chink in the Armor."
That was taken down. The network apologized. And I just got handed a piece of paper a few minutes ago, ESPN announcing that the employee who was responsible for that headline has been fired and the anchor who read it has been suspended for 30 days. But that was just one example of the media's play on words about Lin's heritage.
BISSINGER: Well, "Chink in the Armor" is definitely offensive. You know, I'm not going to say what the penalty should or should not be. It's definitely offensive. It's hard to believe that it got in.
But ESPN does this all the time. They do offensive things and then try to backtrack. I think some of the other stuff, frankly, is not that big a deal.
The fortune cookie thing didn't bother me. I made a spoof of it in one of the columns I wrote for "The Daily Beast." I said what I wrote was going to be offensive. It probably was.
It was about Michael Vick and Jeremy Lin opening a restaurant together. You know, this stuff is going to happen, and I think, you know, in a sense, we have to get over it.
It certainly hasn't hindered Jeremy Lin's popularity. And you know, I don't think - I don't think it rises to the level, frankly, of calling him a gook or a kike or something like that. You know, people are having fun with it.
KURTZ: Right. Fun is one thing. Offensive stereotyping is something else. I want to turn quickly to something you wrote in the "New York Times" op ed page this week about the Philadelphia papers, "The Enquirer" and "The Daily News," which were bankrupt, which were taken over by a couple hedge funds.
And now, they're up for sale and the guy who may buy them along with a bunch of investors is Ed Rendell, the former Pennsylvania governor, Philadelphia mayor, former Democratic national chairman. You think that's a terrible idea. Why?
BISSINGER: Well, it is a terrible idea. I mean the consortium he's heading up is they're all political insiders. They're very, very powerful. They cover the waterfront from big development to sports.
You name it, they cover it. And it's not their political slant. That doesn't matter. These guys are newsmakers. Ed Rendell is a huge newsmaker.
These guys are involved in a lot of things that affect the city. And I think it's going to have an incredibly chilling effect.
A hypothetical would be - as a hypothetical, what if information develops that when Ed Rendell was governor, he knew about the Paterno- Sandusky investigation. He either squelched it, didn't want to get into it, or didn't tell the attorney-general about it.
That is not out of the realm of possibility. Is that story going to run? I don't think so.
KURTZ: Well, it's an example of the dangers of corporate ownership. And look, a lot of good corporations own newspapers and do a fine job. And they roll off the editorial newsroom functions from the business side.
But the CEO of "The Enquirer" now - I think Philly papers now. Greg Osberg(ph) told the editors that they'd be fired if they ran anything about the impending sale without approval.
Now, Osberg told the "New York Times" that was not true. But the editor, Larry Platt, confirmed it. But Rendell responded to criticisms from the likes of you, Buzz, by saying just yesterday, "You think it's the first time some political person owns a newspaper. I tried to get into this to do something good."
BISSINGER: He doesn't get it. It is not his politics. You know, Ed is a Democrat, a liberal Democrat. "The Enquirer" has been liberal and so has "The Daily News."
He is a newsmaker. The way they're going to cover news - and it's not just Rendell. It's his friends who - Ed knows more people in the state who will be constantly whispering in his ear, "I know the 'Enquirer' is up to something or 'The Daily News.' They shouldn't be doing that. Ed, can't you do something?"
He is a huge newsmaker. And I said William Randolph Hearst didn't have the pedigree that Ed has - governor, mayor, attorney general, 24 years in the public spotlight.
And the guys he's with are almost just as bad. They're blind to their power. They seek power and they hate the media.
KURTZ: Well, as he says, he wouldn't be not just the first political person but the first businessman to own a newspaper. Mort Zuckerman owns "The New York Daily News."
But if, in fact, the sale goes through and Rendell becomes the czar of the Philadelphia papers, we'll have you back to talk about the impact.
Buzz Bissinger, thanks very much for joining us on both these topics, and maybe on Jeremy Lin as well.
All right. Still to come, reflections on the late foreign correspondent, Anthony Shadid, who died in Syria. Also, are the media soft-peddling the death of Whitney Houston? And Pat Buchanan's bitter divorce from MSNBC. "The Media Monitor" straight ahead.
KURTZ: Time now for "The Media Monitor," our weekly look at the hits and errors in the news business.
It was fitting in some way that Anthony Shadid died in Syria, gathering information on the resistance to the Assad regime. The "New York Times" reporter who succumbed to an asthma attack was one of the most courageous journalists of his generation, and I don't use that word lightly.
We got to know him a bit when he worked for "The Washington Post." And he combined that bravery with a fierce dedication to telling the story of the troubled Middle East and brilliant writing that rose above this or that battle to weave gripping narratives.
Shadid won two Pulitzer prizes reporting in Iraq, telling me two years ago he returned there to answer these questions. What did America leave behind? What kind of society? What kind of government? What kind of landscape?
Shadid had a long history of close calls. He was shot a decade ago in the Israeli-occupied west bank. And last year, he was kidnapped in Libya and physically abused during his detention. None of that deterred him from the dangerous of war reporting. Anthony Shadid was 43.
Whitney Houston's memorial service yesterday drew live cable coverage on all the three cable news networks capping a week of tributes since her death.
Now, the focus has been more on the success of her early singing career than the later downward spiral of drug abuse and alcoholism, although her problems certainly haven't been ignored. But Bill O'Reilly, for one, is disgusted by the coverage.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL O'REILLY, HOST, "THE O'REILLY FACTOR": We the media look the other way on Whitney Houston. Everyone knew she was a drug addict for two decades.
MATT LAUER, CO-HOST, THE "TODAY" SHOW: Wait. You said this. You wrote this in your column, "The media has no bleeping clue how to cover the death of Whitney Houston."
O'REILLY: That's right.
LAUER: "That's because she was slowly dying for years and many in the press simply averted their eyes."
O'REILLY: They looked away.
LAUER: Bill, I have seen dozens of stories over the years detailing the addiction -
O'REILLY: But they were sensationalized stories.
LAUER: The erratic behavior, the denial of addiction on the part of Whitney Houston.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: O'Reilly has half a point. The media sometimes treats celebrity addiction more as an entertaining side show than a serious societal problem.
But he seems to want the press to crusade against drug abuse and that's the province of comments like O'Reilly.
Pat Buchanan has been forced out at MSNBC and he's not happy about it. The veteran conservative commentator and former Nixon aide and GOP presidential candidate seemed increasingly out of step at a network that has moved sharply left.
But Buchanan blames a vast left-wing conspiracy, what calls an incessant clamor from the left and the one-time co-host of CNN's "Crossfire" took his case to Sean Hannity at Fox News.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PAT BUCHANAN, FORMER MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: It is quite clear the people of Media Matters and the others are saying what Buchanan says doesn't deserve to be heard.
We don't want to challenge it. It simply should be purged from the air. And all of these groups, I think - I think they're engaged in a blacklist, Sean.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: But he has no evidence MSNBC caved to outside pressure. Now, it's true that liberal critics denounced his new book, "Suicide of a Superpower," for its inflammatory arguments on race and immigration which such topics as "The End of White America."
And MSNBC president Phil Griffin has said the book's arguments aren't appropriate for a national conversation. But Buchanan has been saying this sort of stuff for decades. He hasn't changed.
It's MSNBC that no longer felt comfortable with Buchanan. Through the channel's host, Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski said in a statement they strongly disagree with the decision to dump Buchanan and their differences should have been debated in public. I suspect we haven't heard the last of Pat Buchanan.
That's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz. Join us again next Sunday morning, 11:00 a.m. Eastern for another critical look at the media.
"STATE OF THE UNION WITH CANDY CROWLEY" begins right now.