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Reliable Sources

Bain Battle Seizes Spotlight; New Orleans' Latest Loss; Interview with Bravo's Andy Cohen; Interview with David Westin

Aired May 27, 2012 - 11:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: It began with a Democratic mayor's moment of candor on "Meet the Press," morphing into such a big media story about Mitt Romney's record as a venture capitalist, that President Obama had to respond.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it's important to recognize that this issue is not a, quote, "distraction." This is part of the debate that we're going to be having in this election campaign.


KURTZ: But are news organizations capturing the complexity of the Bain Capital controversy or just trumpeting dueling sound bites and sob stories.

He's the man who gave the world the real housewives and other reality shows. Here's what happened the other day when we met up with Andy Cohen.


KURTZ: I'll let you wave to the fans and we'll go inside.

ANDY COHEN: Hey, guys. You here to get your book signed later? OK. Thank you. Thanks for coming.

Side pony, cute. Thank you.


KURTZ: How did he become such a pop icon? A conversation with the brains behind Bravo.

While Diane, Charlie, Barbara, Ted, Robin, and George were in front of the camera, David Westin was running ABC News. We'll have a candid chat about the way he dealt with major mistakes, political pressure and painful layoffs.

And New Orleans is becoming the largest American city without a daily newspaper. And as the "Times Picayune" cuts down to three times a week, is this a death spiral for the daily paper? I'm Howard Kurtz, and this is RELIABLE SOURCES.


KURTZ: It looked like this was a garden variety political flap over Cory Booker. The New York mayor was saying on television that he didn't like the Obama campaign's ad against Romney's tenure at Bain Capital or a conservative PAC's aborted plan to rip the former president's pastor.


MAYOR CORY BOOKER (D), NEWARK, NJ: The last point I'll make is this kind of stuff is nauseating to me on both sides. It's nauseating to the American public. Enough is enough. Stop attacking private equity. Stop attacking Jeremiah Wright.


KURTZ: Within hours, Booker released what Joe Scarborough said looked like a hostage video.


BOOKER: Let me be clear. Mitt Romney has made his business record a centerpiece of his campaign.


KURTZ: But the liberals went off on Booker, especially at MSNBC, especially Chris Matthews.


CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: I want you to just hold while we watch the president now do this very intricate response to what the mayor of Newark said yesterday, which I think was an act of sabotage. Whatever the intention was, he was trashing the entire Obama campaign of the summer in one appearance on "Meet the Press."


KURTZ: Are the media bringing more heat than light to the debate over Romney's business record?

Joining us here in Washington, Anne Kornblut, deputy national political editor of "The Washington Post", and Roger Simon, political columnist for "Politico".

Roger Simon, why do liberal commentators complain when a politician like Cory Booker actually says something interesting as opposed to toeing the party line?

ROGER SIMON, POLITICO: Because it's off message.

KURTZ: How is it our job to enforce politicians being on message?

SIMON: It's the exact opposite of our job, but whenever we see a politician actually getting off message, we say, oh, my gosh, that campaign has screwed up. He is making a mistake. And, of course, the White House didn't help things by publicly taking Cory Booker to the woodshed, which it's done a number of times in this campaign, and forcing Cory Booker to humiliate himself on national media and Twitter.

KURTZ: Anne Kornblut, we in the press, it seems to me, often complain that politicians stick to the talking points. They're so predictable. They don't deviate from the script. Then we take their heads of when they don't?

ANNE KORNBLUT, WASHINGTON POST: Do we that I their heads off or relish in it? I think there were other liberals and other Democrats who were the ones who took his head off after the fact. Not to mention the White House, as Roger said.

KURTZ: Chris Matthews said it was sabotage on Mayor Booker's part.

KORNBLUT: Well, that's a certain perspective. I think what we all revealed in was the fact that it was dissent among the ranks. We haven't seen that very much on either side frankly. But after a long season where the Republicans were all disagreeing with each other, to see a little bit of daylight, which at the end it was just a little built of daylight between a few handful of Democrats and the administration, and not much, I have to say, over private equity and how it should be treated. We got pretty excited about that.

KURTZ: You have gotten to the broader point, which is after the initial flap over Cory Booker and Ed Rendell and the Democrats who didn't like the Obama campaign advertising attack, we kind of waddled into a broader debate about private equity, which is a fancy way of saying corporate takeover artists, that's what we used to call them, but TV, it seems to me in particular, seems to be more interested in the sound byte warfare.

SIMON: Well, TV is adapted for sound byte warfare, and it's really difficult to explain exactly what a private equity firm is versus, let's say, a venture capital firm on TV, which needs good pictures and snappy sound bytes, but often conquers that.

What it did lead to after the initial mishmash, it led to a number of serious stories, however, on what I think is the central point -- one of the central points of the campaign. Did Romney devote himself to creating jobs, becoming the job creator in chief, as he said, at Bain, or was he devoted to maximizing profits?

And, as President Obama retorted, that is not the way to be a good president. It's not about maximizing profits.

So, I think the media used this flap to get into some more serious questions and did it quite well. KURTZ: Well, I would say that was true of newspapers. I think some papers, including the Washington Post, have done a good job of running piece that is explain that it was not Romney's job to create jobs. It was his job to maximize profits for himself and his partners, and explaining there were some successes and failures, looking at the whole question of what these Wall Street companies do.

But the media in general, I guess I'm indicting television here, maybe it's something that's too complicated for 1:45 piece on the evening news.

KORNBLUT: Well, it's complicated. In that it's not unlike the stimulus debate or the debt ceiling talk. I mean, money, numbers -- this is not what good television is made of, but it is the crux of it, and that is to great frustration to both campaigns really where they've wanted to try and have the substantive conversation and they have felt like little things, what they would say are little things like Cory Booker's one remark getting blown widely out of proportion.

But I think on the other hand, it does lead to what -- it has to inevitably become a more situation conversation. It doesn't stay silly the whole time and on both sides. I mean, that conversation led for a conversation about whether Democrats have had their own issues of private equity and themselves been funded by.

KURTZ: They like the money from Wall Street firms.

KORNBLUT: They like getting the money, too. That's a real conversation, and I think it's good we're having it.

SIMON: But what this has led to what has been increasingly evident is if one looks at social media, is that people want the media not to do he said/she said, not to do Romney's point of view, Obama's point of view. They want us to say this guy is lying, this guy is telling the truth. They say that is the media's job.

KURTZ: Well, somebody in the media is not getting the memo, and I would quibble with your suggestion that campaigns want to have substantive conversation. You look at the advertising right now of both Obama and Romney, you have sob stories, individual people interviewed who -- it's heart-rending. People have lost their jobs either because of the last three years, which, of course, the Romney campaign blames on the president, or because of the last -- of Romney's tenure at Bain Capital and Obama campaign jumping on the companies that went bankrupt.

As far as Mitt Romney himself, he did an interview with the "TIME's" Mark Halperin just the other day. There's video of that.

Romney was asked three or four straight questions about Bain Capital. He managed to dance around and duck every one. Let's take a brief look.


MARK HALPERIN, TIME: What specific skills or policies did you learn at Bain that would help you create an environment where jobs would be created?

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That's a bit of a question like saying what have you learned in life that would help you lead? My whole life has been learning to lead from my parents to my education, to the experience I had in the private sector, to helping run the Olympics, and then, of course, helping guide a state.


KURTZ: So if you asked Romney what about Bain, and he gives that general answer, what specifically about your time at Bain, and he basically doesn't answer, how do you report that?

KORNBLUT: It's tricky. Another answer he gave at another point in this interview was to say I'm not here to talk about this. Let's talk about the president's record for the last three years, which is fair, of course.

KURTZ: Is it fair to say that Romney repeatedly ducked when asked to explain and defend his record as a private businessman?

KORNBLUT: Well, there's no question there. Now, the campaign at other points in time has, in fact, engaged on the Bain question and talked about specifics of what the deals were -- specifically on the ones that they liked. They like talking a great deal about Staples, for example, which is a company that did gain jobs over time under Bain's stewardship. So, we have talked especially about the success story, and they do engage.

I think for Romney sitting down in an interview that's going to have limited time, that's not what he wants to be getting into the leads on something like that. I think he wants to produce a happier sounding and better sounding sound byte, ultimately one that's about President Obama.

KURTZ: Well, I guess the good news is he is starting to do more interviews with the dreaded mainstream media, also talk to "Wall Street Journal" columnist Peggy Noonan. Still he hasn't been on a Sunday shows, other than the one on FOX News.

Let me circle to something else on the Obama side. And that is that Press Secretary Jay Carney, who was reacting to a financial columnist who wrote that the rate of federal spending increase under Barack Obama has been lower, the rate has been lower at least than all the predecessors in the Oval Office since Dwight Eisenhower.

And Carney gave a lecture to the press corps saying do not buy into the B.S. that you hear. To the contrary, doing so is a sign of sloth and laziness."

Are you feeling particularly slothful?

SIMON: Not more than usual. I don't know what that level is.

Here again is what drives people crazy. They want the media to say, no, Jay Carney is wrong or, yes, Jay Carney is right. There are all sorts of things now like fact checking things from newspapers, like "The Washington Post" and others, who try to arrive at a truth.

KURTZ: And you are a columnist, and you can say whatever you want. If you are a straight reporter or editing reporter as you do now, is that the role of the press to say, this guy is lying.

KORNBLUT: Well, I think that the White House is asking for and Jay in that particular case was asking for not to not listen to the other side's point of view, which is never going to happen. And I think both sides -- and this happens increasingly in a very partisan city -- both sides discount the other side's point of view as being in any way credible.

So, they're demanding you only listen to them. That's obviously not going to happen. I think any story is going to have the perspective of both sides. But I still think even regular reporters are under some responsibility to try and figure out what the basic truth is. It may not be as easy when it comes to things like --

KURTZ: I agree with that totally, and you can't just play he- said/she-said. Our role is much more important than that. We shouldn't be biased, we shouldn't take sides, the fact checker column at "Washington Post." But we should call out politicians when they misrepresent the facts.

When we come back, some sobering news from New Orleans which will no longer have a daily newspaper.


KURTZ: "New Orleans Times Picayune" announced just the other day that it's cutting back to publishing only three times a week. Three other new house papers in Alabama, including Birmingham, also going back from three-day-a-week schedule.

And, Roger Simon, are you an old newspaper guy.


KURTZ: Particularly heartbreaking in the case of the "Times Picayune," which did such courageous and intrepid reporting during Katrina when some of the editors and reporters lost their own homes.

SIMON: It is heart breaking, and it may be a sign of more of the fact that New Orleans has not come back from the damage of Katrina more of a sign that newspapers are dead. I mean, there are parts of New Orleans that still don't have electricity. People aren't going to sit at their computers and read it, but if it is a national trend, it's a shame.

You know, there's something about reading a print product. You don't have to plug it in. You don't have to worry about the battery. You can put it in your pocket and swat flies with it.

KURTZ: You can take it on the subway. Maybe that's an older person because so many younger people just naturally go online, go on the iPad. And, Anne Kornblut, you worked at "The Boston Globe" and "New York Times" before you worked at "The Washington Post" -- I don't think it's unique to New Orleans. I don't think it's the last one we're going to see, and it's not good news for the newspaper business.

KORNBLUT: It may not be the last we see. I mean, news print is expensive -- and I mean, obviously, news gathering is expensive in general, but so is the actual act of putting out a hard copy that gets driven to your doorstep.

KURTZ: You need trucks, you need printing presses, you need ink.

KORNBLUT: People to do it, all of that stuff. But I mean, I agree that there is something special about holding on to it. I think what we're seeing now is certainly a generational divide, but also people who themselves look at both versions. You know, they look at what's online, and they look at the hard paper. It's two different experiences now. Whether both are sustainable is the question.

SIMON: This is not just nostalgia. It is much harder to make large amounts of money off the web than it is off of a print ad. A print ad makes you much, much more dough than online, and that is what media companies are trying to figure out. How do we make dough on both?

KURTZ: Well, "The New York Times", of course, has gone to the pay wall or at least the partial pay wall, "The Los Angeles Times" moving in the same direction. But you have hit on the crucial thing, which is the newspaper stops because a lot of people, I think, out there are 20 years saying so what, let the "Times Picayune" become a welcome back site.

There is a financial impact, and the paper also mounts severe job cuts, and as it continues a trend where there are fewer reporters at the statehouse, fewer reporters at city hall, nobody checking contractors -- it's one thing to do for a nationalist paper. The local community paper isn't reporting on what goes on in city government. The local TV stations aren't going to do it. Nobody is going to do it.

SIMON: Absolutely. And we're talking earlier about going behind the he said/she said and determining the truth.

Well, sometimes it takes several days of hardened work by experienced reporters who are getting good salaries, and that usually happens at newspapers more than it does as Web sites. Though not always.

KURTZ: at the same time the old newspaper model of trying to be a smorgasbord and be something to everybody is clearly broken because you can search online for sports, entertainment, and if everybody is -- you name it. That means places like the "Washington Post" and others, you worked at the "Baltimore Sun", and you worked at Chicago as well, have had to adapt on those specialties, because they can't pedal al their wears at least online. KORNBLUT: You would think that that would lead to local papers having a certain niche that they could thrive on, and we all thought for a long time that was going to be the case. But it hasn't proven to be that way. There's not enough eyeballs in certain cities or in the case of New Orleans, people willing to pay for it to keep them afloat.

You're right. The public accountability not just in New Orleans and the South as you describe, but all across the country has been suffering for more than a decade.

KURTZ: I can't be optimistic at this point, even though I love print, and I think that there is a place in our lives, at least some of our lives, for the newspaper that lands on your doorstep.

SIMON: I'm optimistic. We've had print since ancient times.

KURTZ: Right.

SIMON: And modern print since Gutenberg. And let's not forget, there are millions of Americans who don't have computers, who don't have an Internet connection.

KURTZ: But that's going to change over time.

SIMON: -- who don't have high speed --

KURTZ: But that's going to change over time.

SIMON: Yes, the buy-in is rather expensive to get a laptop. It's -- there is a niche for newspapers. Newspapers can figure out how to make it back.

KURTZ: Last point, even reporters and editors who work for newspapers, they're also feeding tidbits on Twitter and putting stuff on Facebook, breaking stories on-line, blogging. To what extent are we having to work harder? That's OK. Giving it away and, therefore, they're needing less reason for people to pay $1 for the local paper.

KORNBLUT: Yes, it's tough. I think all reporters have the instinct of wanting information to go to people. That's what we do for a living, right? Professional gossips in some ways.

But for everybody else, I mean, the job of the paper is to figure out how to make money of it. So, that's going to be the trick.

KURTZ: All right. Anne Kornblut and Roger Simon, thanks very much for stopping by.

Up next --


COHEN: So there was me, Dan Rather, and John Mayer doing a shotski at the end of the show. That's fun TV. You're not going to get that anywhere else. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Andy Cohen dishes on his wild and crazy life at Bravo.


KURTZ: Andy Cohen used to be a serious journalist. It's true. But since joining the Bravo Network, he has green-lighted all kinds of reality shows, from "The Real Housewives" series to "Top Chef," and become the star of his own gab fest "Watch What Happens Live."

Now, he is out with a book, "Most Talkative: Stories from Behind the Lines of Pop Culture."

I caught up with him when he was here for a book signing in Bethesda, Maryland.


KURTZ: Andy Cohen, welcome.

COHEN: How are you?

KURTZ: I'm already feeling overdressed.

COHEN: Let it loose. Let it go.

KURTZ: I'm trying to feel the energy here.


KURTZ: I don't want to blow your cover, but you were a legitimate news guy.

COHEN: I was.

KIURTZ: You were semi-legitimate.

COHEN: Semi-legitimate.

KURTZ: You were a CBS News producer.

COHEN: Yes. For 10 years.

KURTZ: Based on what you write in this book, I wouldn't say you were hungering after hard news.

COHEN: You know, it's interesting. I was all over the map, I would say. Sometimes I really loved it, and a lot of times I viewed it as an imposition on my life. So --

KURTZ: Yes. You were with Tammy Faye Baker in Palm Springs.


KURTZ: And got a call from the bosses, and there's a huge massive storm in northern California. We'd like you to go cover it. Your reaction?

COHEN: No. I'm with Tammy Faye. This is going to be a great interview. What are you talking about?

KURTZ: You can't say no, it's TV news.

COHEN: I know. But you know, that's the thing. It was like -- every time my beeper went off and it was the day of the beeper, I should say, just to date myself, it was from 1990 to 2000, every time my beeper went off, I just was like what? Where am I going? What's going to happen to me?

I just felt like it was an imposition on my person. Like, oh, my God. Oh, hello, you're booked on the next flight to New Orleans, hurricane Andrew is going to be hitting there late tonight.

KURTZ: The classic example is you were with Paula Zahn at CBS, and you are trying to get an interview with Oprah.


KURTZ: By the way, in this book you describe yourself as a lying, weasel coward.

COHEN: In that case, I was a lying weasel coward.

KURTZ: You are not saying you are always --

COHEN: No, in that specific -- yes, yes.

KURTZ: And you get a call -- no, then you were at another Oprah show, I just thrown that in, and you get asked to go to Oklahoma City and apparently a bomb went off.

COHEN: This is embarrassing, but I am the butt of all of my jokes in the book, and I think that it's more fun to talk about your failures than your successes because you can learn from your failures and also you can laugh at them. I was in the audience of the Oprah Winfrey show. Oprah, my goddess. I'm in the audience. I'm in the womb of Oprah at Harpo Productions.

KURTZ: You worship Oprah?

COHEN: I worship Oprah. I get beeped. It is New York. What, I say. It's during a commercial break. This incident has happened in Oklahoma City.

Now, I'm not proud to say this, OK, but my first reaction was it doesn't sound like a big deal, OK?

KURTZ: We have cameras rolling.

COHEN: I'm telling you. And then Bill Owens, who now is a senior guy at "60 Minutes," said to me, Andy, I'm going to dial back. Take your Oprah blinders off. Here's what's happening. I was, like, all right. By the way, that experience at Oklahoma City -- I was there for two or three days, didn't sleep, crashed pieces the whole time.

KURTZ: Do your duty.

COHEN: I absolutely did, and it had a profound impact on me at that time and to this day. And so I think that the idea that I never, you know -- I just had to let it settle in. There's something happening and now I have to go to that place. Yes.

KURTZ: After that period of your life, you go to Bravo where you are this big executive, and people to come and want to get on the air, and I'm asking you to tell a story, because it's pretty salacious, and I need the ratings.

Cybill Shepherd pitches you the show. What does she do to catch your attention?

COHEN: OK. Cybill Shepherd pitches me a show, and the show is -- are you familiar with "Absolutely Fabulous"?

KURTZ: We don't care what the show is. Get to the punch line.

COHEN: The show is a docu-series about her and her best friend, and they're crazy and they do everything. Kind of like a reality "Absolutely Fabulous." She says it's very hot in this room, it's very hot in this room. I think we should take our shirts off.

I say that's interesting. All right. I'll take my shirt off. Like I was warm too. So now I'm there with across from me is a braless Cybill Shepherd -- I'm sorry. Across from me is a shirtless Cybill Shepherd and her best friend both wearing very pretty black bras, and there's a Mrs. Robinson thing happening, but it's -- I guess their gaydars weren't pinging at that moment.

KURTZ: They were not aware that you were not going to swoon over the --

COHEN: Exactly. But I mean, I did see that it was quite exciting what was happening. The next suggestion is we should take our pants off. And I -- am I continuing with this story?

KURTZ: How far does it go?

COHEN: Well, basically I -- this was -- I was in L.A. this day. I don't know why, but I was freeballing that day, OK? I don't know if you can use that term on CNN, but --

KURTZ: We'll find out.

COHEN: You'll cut around this if you need to.

So I was not comfortable taking my pants off ultimately. I didn't pick up the show, and --

KURTZ: I don't know if I would have had that strength of character. Now, of course, all of America is now jealous of this guy.

Let me move on. You are basically the father, the grandfather, the godfather of "The Real Housewives" series. The first one was "Real Housewives of Orange County".


KURTZ: And --

COHEN: Have you ever seen that show, Howard?

KURTZ: I have seen it, I confess. I haven't watched every week.

COHEN: Fine.

KURTZ: And you were sure that first episode that the woman involved would hate it?

COHEN: I was.

KURTZ: Your mother hated it?

COHEN: My mom didn't care for it either.

I was sure that when I saw the intro, the graphic intro to the show, the open, I said -- I was very concerned about what the women were going to say. It was the intro had one of the women said, you know, everyone in orange county has, you know, this size boobs, and someone else said, you know, I love Botox and beauty is skin deep. Whatever. On and on and on. I love money.

And I was, like, oh, no. This is -- what's going to happen when they see this?


COHEN: This is not going to be good.


COHEN: And an executive that I work with said -- I said can you find out if they've seen the open, what's happening, and she came to me a few minutes later and said they saw it and they loved it. And I said this is going to be great.

KURTZ: So it became this big franchise. And of course, you do "Real Housewives of D.C." And you have as one of your pairs, the Salahis, who have become famous or infamous when they tried to crash the White House party.


KURTZ: And everybody thinks this is a great Bravo publicity stunt and it was going to send the ratings soaring. But in fact, you were shocked at what happened. COHEN: I was absolutely shocked. I mean, we were all shocked. When I saw her on the cover of the "New York Post," I thought, wow, that looks like that woman that we cast on "The D.C. Housewives."


COHEN: And you know, there was so much speculation, most of it wrong, about our involvement in that and that they went there trying to get on "The Housewives." And the truth is, as it later came out, we had been shooting for months.

It was our last weekend of shooting, and I think, you know -- I really liked the "Housewives of D.C." But what happened is I think the show got derailed by that one incident and it kept a lot of people from entering the gates of the show.

KURTZ: And tragically, they're now divorcing. But now, you created --

COHEN: Tragically.

KURTZ: You've created these reality show stars. Do you feel at all responsible, even guilty perhaps, about giving rise to this genre of some really bad television?

COHEN: You know, I don't think what we do is bad television.

KURTZ: I'm not saying that necessarily you are doing it.


KURTZ: But you know, all the imitators and everybody wants to find the magic formula.

COHEN: Well, you know, I only feel responsible for what we have at Bravo. And I am really proud of what we have at Bravo, and "The Housewives" is part of it. We have "Top Chef," which beat "Amazing Race."

KURTZ: Which you thought was going to be a failure?

COHEN: I was worried when we were shooting "Top Chef." Look --

KURTZ: You can take credit for it.

COHEN: When you are in the field, shooting something, you worry. I mean, if you are a good producer, that's what you do. You worry.

You could feel great about it, but you still may not know whether it's going to catch on or not. You know, by the way, there are things I have been in the field about and felt great that have done poorly, so it's interesting --

KURTZ: It's an art, not a science.

COHEN: Right. Exactly. KURTZ: And then after, you know, being this behind-the-scenes impresario, you end up hosting your own show, "Watch What Happens Live."

COHEN: Yes. Yes.

KURTZ: You have an interesting mix of guests there, and you say, right -- you confess that the questions you ask are rude, invasive and divisive. I hope, by the way, I'm living up to that high standard.

COHEN: Occasionally, they are.

KURTZ: Why do you do that? It sounds kind of mean.

COHEN: No. You know what? The funny thing is it's a very positive show. And I would never want to embarrass a guest or make them feel like they didn't have a great time. But we try to go there and have fun with people. Absolutely.

KURTZ: One of your recent guests was Rachel Maddow.

COHEN: Yes. She was great.

KURTZ: You didn't exactly have an in depth discussion of the issues.

COHEN: I didn't, but we had a lot of fun, and I think that what people saw was a different side of Rachel Maddow. I mean -- and I think that there's value in that.

Dan Rather was just on, and with John Mayer, the singer, and it was a Wednesday night. Wednesday night, as I'm sure you know from watching my show very well, is Jimmy Fallon shotski night.

Jimmy Fallon made me this shotski, which is a ski with three shot glasses on it. So whoever the guests are on Wednesday night, we do a shotski.

So there was me, Dan Rather, and John Mayer doing a shotski at the end of the show. That's fun TV. You're not going to get that anywhere else.

KURTZ: Not going to argue with that one. So coming back to your role as a Bravo executive --

COHEN: Yes. Yes.

KURTZ: And falling short of somebody actually just disrobing to get your attention, what makes a good Bravo pitch and what are some of the worst pitches you've heard?

COHEN: I think what makes a great pitch is something that's on brand that's something that hasn't been done before and that is usually guided by a personality that is different from anyone that we've come in contact with. If you look at the people who make up the Bravo landscape from Jeff Lewis to Rachel Zoe and Padma Lakshmi and Tabitha Coffey and the "Millionaire Matchmaker," these are very strong personalities that people love to watch and that you can't -- that you don't see anywhere else.

And typically all of them are really good at something. And then, in the case of "The Housewives," I call the "Housewives" sociology of the rich.

I think it's just fun to watch. It's guilt-free gossiping that you can have. It's like the modern day soap opera, in my mind.

But what makes a good pitch is all of that. In terms of the worst pitches that I've gotten, you know, it's usually --

KURTZ: What's up there?

COHEN: Once someone said, "There's a big star coming in. We have a huge star we're bringing in. This huge star wants to meet with you. We can't tell you who it is. It's major."

And I thought, "Oh, OK, it's J. Lo," like J. Lo loves Bravo. She's said that a lot in interviews. So it's J. Lo, clearly. So I go to the meeting, and it's -- I don't know if you're familiar with the Hollywood squares back in the day, but it was --

KURTZ: I used to love Hollywood squares.

COHEN: There you go. It was --

KURTZ: It was the reality show of its time.

COHEN: Yes, exactly. It was Madam, the little marionette. Remember Madam, the old lady marionette. That was the big star that was making her return.

And I was, like -- I was actually -- I love pop culture. I love pop culture, and I love especially '70s and '80s because I grew up on that, and so I was the only one in the room excited. I was like, oh, my god. Now, who's coming back? Wow!

KURTZ: It was great.


COHEN: Great. Exactly.


KURTZ: After the break, I take a little stroll with Andy Cohen.


KURTZ: More now of my interview with bravo's Andy Cohen.


COHEN: Emily -- hey, you guys.

KURTZ: What is it like?

COHEN: Thanks for coming.

KURTZ: You used to be just like a producer.

COHEN: I know. It's so weird.

KURTZ: Now, you can't walk through airports unmolested.

COHEN: It's very weird.

KURTZ: Does it all go to your head? You can tell me.

COHEN: No. Yes. I'm from St. Louis, please.

KURTZ: You don't have the feeling that you're now kind of a special talent and that you have --


KURTZ: A retinue of people who cater to you --

COHEN: Yes. Haven't you seen my huge glam squad that's here?

KURTZ: Yes. And they make your blue cards and things like that.

COHEN: Yes. Oh, yes, exactly. Yes. You should see my posse.

KURTZ: At some point, Andy, you decided that straight news (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

COHEN: Right.

KURTZ: Straight news was not for you.

COHEN: Yes. Hard news wasn't for me. And I think, you know, that the business changed so much when I was there. We were competing with "The Rosie O'Donnell Show" and "Entertainment Tonight" and "Access" and "Regis and Kelly" and all these other shows at the time for bookings.

And it became incredibly difficult on a number three morning show to get people first and, you know, get interviews that had traction and delivered numbers.

KURTZ: And that's how you were judged, by whether you could deliver the big names? That's the game, right?

COHEN: Well, it was one of the things I was judged by, and the truth of the matter it was always such -- I learned so much that it was such a positive experience and that -- you know, we did so much good there in that time that I definitely had a lot of laughs, and I wouldn't trade that.

The thing I didn't mention that's also interesting is I think my time at CBS News informed everything I'm doing right now in that -- I'm interviewing people now.

I interviewed people for 10 years at CBS News off camera, but I -- you know, I was the guy that I cut out of the pieces.

KURTZ: (inaudible) except you were never on camera.

COHEN: Exactly.

KURTZ: And now?

COHEN: And now there you go. And also, I spent a tremendous amount of time in edit rooms at CBS News, at 48 hours and at the morning show crashing pieces, "48 Hours" doing a lot of character- driven story-telling, which is essentially what we're doing now in a way with "The Housewives."

KURTZ: It was your boot camp for Bravo.

COHEN: It really was.


KURTZ: And you can check out the behind-the-scenes encounter with Andy Cohen at

Up next, former ABC News president David Westin on his sometimes rocky tenure at the network.


KURTZ: He ran ABC News for 14 years, steering the division through wars, terror attacks, campaigns and a tough media landscape, and making a few mistakes along the way.

David Westin examines that career in a new book, "Exit Interview." I sat down with him in New York.


(on camera) David Westin, welcome.

DAVID WESTIN, FORMER PRESIDENT, ABC NEWS: Thank you, Howard. It's good to be here.

KURTZ: Looking back at your tenure as the president of ABC News, you have been a lawyer. You have a background as a journalist. And very early in your tenure, you were tested.

Princess Diana dies, and you go to Peter Jennings, the world- famous actor, and you would like him to be part of a special. And his reaction? WESTIN: His reaction was not positive. I think it's fair to say. But you know, one of the great joys of the job that I had was working with people like Peter Jennings, and Diane Sawyer and Barbara Walters, you know, Ted Koppel, and people like that.

And Peter and I developed a very close relationship, but this was early on.

KURTZ: Yes, and he was testing you.

WESTIN: He was.

KURTZ: And he was wondering if you were sort of taking the network in a tabloid direction. It was a huge story.

WESTIN: Yes. It was a huge story, and it came up and took over Labor Day weekend. So I was alone in the newsroom with my staff, because Peter was out of pocket, and everybody else was out of pocket.

And I decided to do a primetime special. And Peter called in late at night and caught me on the newsroom floor while we were in a special report and said, "I understand you are thinking about a primetime special, and if you do that, no one will ever take you seriously as the president of ABC News."

KURTZ: I guess you survived that and did eventually another huge story the following year. It was when the Monica Lewinsky story first started to break.

"Nightline" was your next show up on the air, but "Nightline" had a well-produced story about the pope visiting Cuba.

Ted Koppel did not want to change that, and you did not overrule -- you did not say, "Let's jump on this Lewinsky story." Mistake?

WESTIN: I was down in Havana. Yes. Direct answer?


WESTIN: I would do it differently if I had to do it again. But I was in Havana because the pope was visiting Cuba.

KURTZ: Right.

WESTIN: It was an historic event. We had everyone down there. Ted was down there. Peter was down there. Everyone was down there.

And I got a call out of the blue at dinner in old Havana saying there's this intern that claims this story. And my first reaction is "That's ridiculous."

And then as the story developed over the next few hours, it became clear that there was a real story here. And Ted was uncomfortable going with it because we -- literally, we confirmed it 20 minutes before air.

KURTZ: Well, but isn't that what you do in the breaking news business, confirm stories on the run?

WESTIN: Yes, provided you're absolutely sure you are right. And Ted argued strongly we want to make sure we have this right. The story has moved a lot. Let's keep moving.

And I went with Ted's judgment. I deferred to him. In retrospect, you should go with news.

KURTZ: Yes. It turned out to be a pretty big story as I recall.


KURTZ: It got President Clinton impeached.

WESTIN: We broke it along with "Washington Post" and on our Web site, actually, and radio.

KURTZ: But not on the air.

WESTIN: Right.

KURTZ: You and I tangled early on when I found out that Leonardo DiCaprio had been sent by ABC News to interview President Clinton for an Earth Day program.

And I wrote that I did not recall this until reading your book. It was a decision of titanic proportions. Your staff was not happy about this. And you defended it initially and said, well, it wasn't really an interview and the White pushed back.

WESTIN: Yes. It was an effort by me and by us to try to get a larger and frankly younger audience to come to a serious environment special.

A Leonardo DiCaprio that year, who was very interested in the environment -- he was the chairman of Earth Day, and that's how it came about.

KURTZ: But David, he is a movie star.

WESTIN: He is a movie star, but I was trying to do something that I thought was valuable and try to get more people to watch it. The problem came as I didn't understand exactly what we had asked for. I thought, in fact, we only asked for --

KURTZ: A walkthrough.

WESTIN: A walkthrough with the president that turned into an interview.


KURTZ: So you weren't just (UNINTELLIGIBLE) your network with an incomplete set of facts.

WESTIN: That's right. KURTZ: So what lesson did you draw from that?

WESTIN: You should get the facts straight, first of all.

KURTZ: Before you --

WESTIN: But secondly, you know, I think it was the right thing to attempt to do. It was done for the right reasons. Having said, you know, there is a difference between journalists and non- journalists, and I came to learn that over my time.

You know, as you say, I came from outside of journalism. It took me a little time to learn. But when you see someone like Barbara Walters prepare for an interview, you realize how much skill and discipline goes into it.

KURTZ: Well, with all deference to Leo, there is that distinction. 9/11 happens, and you decided that ABC journalists should not wear flag pins on the air.

It was a very patriotic time, understandably, in the country. One of your correspondents, Terry Moran, did so anyway. You did not like that. Tell me about your thinking on that issue.

WESTIN: It came up while I was in the control room. As you recall, We were on the air for about four-and-a-half days straight, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with no commercial interruptions or anything else.

And I was in the control room because there was constant reporting coming in during that time. And we were having to vet to make decisions about what to do and not to do.

And Peter couldn't help participating in that, and I had to really be involved in the decision process. And they came to us and said we're being asked why we're not wearing lapel pins because a number of other outlets, particularly cable news --

KURTZ: Fox News in particular.

WESTIN: Fox News in particular. And they integrated the American flag into the backdrop and the bumpers and the teases and everything else.

And we had long had a policy at ABC News that we wouldn't let people wear any lapel pins of any sort, the theory being when you are reporting the news, you should be reporting the news, not taking a position.

And I said quickly, "We're going to stick with our policy and stand by that." And I believe to this day, that was the right decision.

KURTZ: You used some pretty strong language, David Westin, about ABC's reporting and the media in general's handling of the claim by the Bush White House that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.


KURTZ: You say we all failed the American people.

WESTIN: I think we did, and as I say, it's one of my experiences with Peter Jennings. Because Peter, who was, of course, an extraordinary journalist, and one of his biggest strengths was he was always skeptical of everybody and everything, particularly when it came to the government.

And we had more than one discussion leading up to the war in Iraq, where I said, "Whatever happens, they will find weapons of mass destruction." He said, "Don't be so sure," and I wish I had listened to him.

KURTZ: Speaking of that whole era, which was a difficult one for the country, as the Iraq war turned sour, "Nightline," Ted Koppel, who was going to devote an entire program reading the names of the fallen, those soldiers who died, which sounds like a pretty straightforward thing.

There wasn't any particular commentary accompanying it. Karl Rove, then working at the Bush White House, told you that this was a classic example of anti-war bias. It was an interesting conversation you had with him.

WESTIN: Yes, we did have a conversation and I tried to persuade him of what you just said. We saw it, genuinely. Ted and I both saw it was a very straightforward way of honoring, actually, the men and women who had fallen.

It was a year into the war at that point. And the numbers were growing. Things were not going well. And we simply wanted to have people look in their eyes and their photographs and hear their names. We thought that was fair.

And he would have none of it. At one point, I said, "Karl, if Fox News put exactly this program on, exactly this program, would you feel differently?" He said, "Altogether."

And I said, "Well, how can that be? It's the same program? He said, "Because everyone knows Fox News is not anti-war and everyone knows you are." Which by the way, was not true.

I mean, Ted had been on an embed. He felt strongly about the Iraq war and I had no indication that he was against it at all. He just felt strongly as I did that people should understand what the price was that we were paying.

KURTZ: And there was kind of a culture war going on, because conservative critics felt that ABC and the other networks and the other major news organizations were giving too much time to opponents of the war at a time some thought that was unpatriotic.

Looking back, people who opposed the war, given how it turned out, certainly had a strong case to make that this was -- well, whether you think we should gone in it or not, that it was totally mishandled or poorly executed.

WESTIN: It was not that long after 9/11, and there was still a sense in the country that we had been -- we had been badly wounded and lost thousands of our innocent civilians.

And there was a feeling across the country of patriotism. At the same time, we were criticized fairly severely for even trying to present another side to the story, which I think was exactly the right thing to do in retrospect. It was our job, but we did come under real criticism for it at the time.

KURTZ: Now, in the last part of this book, you write quite candidly about what you had to do before leaving the presidency of ABC News, and that is cutting a quarter of the news staff.

You say you had no choice. You go through kind of elaborate rationale, how you tried to compete in the modern era when everybody's got fewer resources. But of course, this has to hurt the general order.

WESTIN: It hurt the people and it hurt me as the one who's calling for (UNINTELLIGIBLE), because as you know, news organizations are very tight-knit groups --

KURTZ: Right.

WESTIN: Who spent years and years and years together.

KURTZ: On human level, you are letting people go who you respect and who you have worked with closely.

WESTIN: Absolutely. And it was very painful. That said, this is a specific instance of what is going on across the news media, across the entire country.

We see this everywhere all the time and a necessary adjustment of the news media to a very changing landscape. And the question is, if we are going to have a strong, robust news media going forward, who can do original reporting, how can we have a business structure that supports that?

And I concluded -- I believe I was right -- that the best way for ABC News to survive and go on and flourish and be strong in the future was to really come to terms with our cause which had built up in a different time and a different era.

We could take advantage of technology that we had not fully taken advantage of. We could take advantage of partnerships, and we did that.

And you know, I believe that that was right. And I look at ABC News today and I think it is going on from strength to strength, in part because we made those very painful adjustments. KURTZ: But it was a form of triage and you can't sit there and tell me that with fewer bureaus and fewer boots on the ground, to borrow a military analogy, that some stories are either not getting attention or not getting coverage in a way that would have been.

And you know, it's fine to say it is necessary. But at the same time, don't have you to acknowledge that it does hurt the journalist?

WESTIN: You have to make different decisions about coverage. There's no question. You can't cover everything that you once did.

The question is, was everything you were covering as valuable as it should have been? You have to make really important decisions.

So for example, while we were making cuts, we were investing more in our investigative unit, because I concluded I think correctly that that was something that really was valuable.

Let's be honest. Going backwards in time, across all the news media, there are stories that are incredibly valuable and incredibly important for them to know.

And it is important for people to find those stories and come to them. There's also some stories not as valuable, and so you do have -- it is triage but it is, I think, cutting where it is not going to hurt the American public ultimately.

KURTZ: And of course, television networks are moving more of their efforts online as well, which makes a lot of sense.


KURTZ: David Westin, thanks very much for joining us.

WESTIN: Thank you, Howie. Good to be you.


KURTZ: I will have some final thoughts in a moment.


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

When Roger Ailes goes too far, he really goes overboard. Take this week went the Fox News channel accused "New York Times" reporters of being, quote, "a bunch of lying scum."

Really? All of them? Well, Fox News executive tells me Ailes realizes his language was too harsh and he regrets the attack.

Arnaud de Borchgrave, a swashbuckling foreign correspondent who went on to edit the "Washington Times" has been lifting material without credit in his column for the paper, sometimes barely changing a word. The 85-year-old journalist dismissed the criticism as minor, telling the "Washington Post's" Erik Wemple, "I can't believe you're asking me these questions."

But the "Washington Times" says de Borchgrave is taking a three- month leave while it examines the allegations, which certainly look, feel and smell like plagiarism.

That is it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz. Hope you are enjoying your Memorial Day weekend. You can check out all of our segments and more on our Web site,

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