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Reliable Sources

Covering the Colorado Massacre; Right Takes on Romney

Aired July 22, 2012 - 11:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: My first thought was that sadly and tragically, we've seen these atrocities before. Columbine, Virginia Tech, Gabby Giffords, and now Aurora, Colorado during a Batman movie. Once again, the media frenzies, the anchors jetting off to the scene of the horrible crime, the early mistakes, the polarizing commentary, the pointless speculation.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your guess, is there someone else involved? You know nothing about this-

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Absolutely. Someone knew. Someone knew what he was going to do. Someone knew what his proclivities were.

CLINT VAN ZANDT, NBC CRIME ANALYST: It's just simply the terrible, terrible collision between some dark, Trekkie-like person's fantasy world and reality.


KURTZ: We'll examine the frenetic coverage of the movie theater shooting. On the campaign front, conservative commentators joined the call for Mitt Romney to release his tax returns. Is the right in revolt against the Republican candidate? Plus, Yahoo taps Google executive Marissa Mayer as its new CEO, and the media coverage has been downright adoring.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: From Google geek to Yahoo CEO, and she announced on Twitter last night she's also going to be a first-time mommy.


KURTZ: But with so few female bosses in Silicon Valley, is the press putting her on a pedestal? I'm Howard Kurtz, and this is RELIABLE SOURCES.

Perhaps the single worst thing that news organizations do after a crazed gunman opens fire on a crowd is rush to judgment about the affiliation or beliefs of the shooter, as ABC News did.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BRIAN ROSS, ABC NEWS: There's a Jim Holmes of Aurora, Colorado page on the Colorado Tea Party site as well, talking about him joining the Tea Part last year. Now, we don't know if this is the same Jim Holmes, but this is a Jim Holmes of Aurora, Colorado.


KURTZ: It turned to be someone with the same name, and ABC and Brian Ross apologized. That was a terrible blunder. The other troubling thing that television in particular does is to turn such an atrocity into ideological fodder while the victims are still being treated. MSNBC had a gun control debate just hours after the shootings, and there was this gun control discussion on CNN.


DAVID KOPEL, DENVER UNIVERSITY: Honestly, Piers, I think this is the wrong night to be doing this, and I really wish you'd waited to have this segment until after the funerals.

PIERS MORGAN, CNN: A lot of people have said that today. A lot of people who don't want strengthening gun control have said this is not the day to debate it. I'll tell you the day to debate it. It would have been yesterday to prevent this from happening.


KURTZ: Other pundits said there was no need for some grand policy debate.


BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: Once again, we have mass murder in America and the killer is a young man who is simply out of his mind. It's nobody's fault, there's no policy deficit, it's just an atrocity that is impossible to explain.


KURTZ: Joining us to examine the coverage of the Colorado shooting in Minneapolis, Ana Marie Cox, political correspondent for "The Guardian." And here in Washington, Ramesh Ponnuru, senior editor at "National Review", and Bob Cusack, managing editor of the Capitol Hill newspaper "The Hill."

And, Bob, why the great rush by ABC to report what turned out to be flatly wrong information about the alleged shooter?

BOB CUSACK, THE HILL: That's a pretty bad mistake. I mean, obviously, journalists in that situation, you're doing a lot of research, who is this guy but you can't say that on television unless you confirm it, especially for such a common name. A bad mistake.

I think generally the media did an OK job, because a lot of the political shows, whether it's Bill O'Reilly or Hannity, they went to straight news coverage on this. But to make that kind of mistake, quite poor.

KURTZ: And infuriated the Tea Party and rightly so, with that kind of erroneous information.

Ramesh Ponnuru, we saw Piers Morgan a moment ago in the early hours after this tragedy. He tweeted, "America has got to do something about its gun laws." And then, the site -- the conservative site founded by the late Andrew Breitbart, threw up a headline, "CNN, Piers Morgan 'Dark Knight" massacre to push gun control." Is a single tweet exploitation?

RAMESH PONNURU, NATIONAL REVIEW: You know, I am actually pretty latitudinarian on this. I think --

KURTZ: Can you define for our audience, people like me who don't quite get it?

PONNURU: I think I know that if you do believe that stronger gun control laws would have prevented this from happening, which I think is actual pretty dubious, but if you do believe that, I don't see why you wouldn't make that argument on that day when people are paying attention and it might make an impact.

KURTZ: And here's the irony, Ana Marie Cox, the same Breitbart site, this is the Web site that talked about Piers Morgan exploiting the situation, throws up a headline, "James Holmes could be registered Democrat." And the later there was update, may not be registered to vote.

ANA MARIE COX, POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, GQ: Yes. I mean, people get things wrong. News organizations get things wrong, you know, in the sort of craziness right after an event like this.

I think what's really missing from the coverage, however, is context. Something about just how rare these kinds of shootings are.

And if we're going to have a gun policy debate, it probably shouldn't actually be about the kinds of assault weapons he used. Seventy-five percent of all gun violence in the U.S. is actually committed with handguns. It's far more prevalent.

And, you know, people die from gun violence all the time. Chicago has seen a wave of violence. They regularly have double-digit people dying over a single weekend. And that doesn't get coverage. You know, that doesn't get -- the kind of killing that happen every day that could be prevented aren't getting the kind of coverage that this gets.

KURTZ: Well, they certainly get local coverage. But the national media don't turn it into some kind of crusade.

But coming back to --

COX: And we don't have a policy debate. We don't have a policy debate over those killings because they do happen all the time. And they do get local coverage. That might be where a policy debate would make a difference.

KURTZ: Now, I would agree with Ramesh to this extent -- gun control, what kind of weapons are used, other security matters, we saw Virginia Tech. A legitimate part of the debate, but I feel so strongly about this -- how about waiting a decent interval, maybe a day until, you know, the families have had time to absorb the shock, the victims have been identified. Why this rush to do it immediately?

CUSACK: Well, if you talk to gun-control advocates, they are so frustrated because we've had these shooting massacres. And the NRA is very, very powerful in Washington and in the halls of Congress. And Democrats have shied away from the gun-control debate. So when they see this, they're just -- they want to speak out because they have an ability to possibly influence the debate.

KURTZ: Because they have the nation's attention for this rare moment because most of the time the attitude among journalists in Washington is -- well, gun control, it's not going anywhere, both parties consider it a political loser.

CUSACK: Right. Exactly. That's right.

KURTZ: But now, the media machine, and there are a lot of anchors and correspondents from all the networks that have flown out to Colorado to do their live shots and their special reports, everybody, every network's got a special hour -- now, it's going to dig up every detail about James Holmes' life. And it will be served up as political fodder.

PONNURU: Right. And I think one other thing we need to keep in mind here in addition to avoiding sensationalism and rushing from judgment in the case of ABC is let's not make this guy into a celebrity. I mean, we know that many of these mass murderers study the coverage of previous mass murders and part of what they want is publicity.

Let's be mindful -- obviously, we've got to report on it, we've got to explain to people what happened, who this guy was. But let's be mindful of that and not try to make him into a big deal.

KURTZ: I would go a step further, Ana Marie. I don't care -- other than how he got the guns and how he got 2,000 rounds of ammunition, I read through the mail. I don't care about this guy. I don't care about whether he was disappointed in school. I don't want the psychological studies of him because anybody who shoots up a movie theater with men, women, and children is crazy, is so much a sociopath that I think it's almost fruitless to try to figure out what was it that made him snap.

What do you think?

COX: Well, and another piece of context for this from the kinds of studies that surround this particular kind of violence, people don't understand psychopathology. It is kind of a mystery to the people who are professionals in that field. So yes, it doesn't do a lot of good to try and figure out why this happened. But I guess I want to say something about whether or not we should do coverage in the immediate aftermath. I want to be careful about what saying the media should and shouldn't do because these are going to happen.

I think Ramesh is actually right in saying we should be mindful. ABC probably should put everything in context. Put everything sort of in the area, what they say, any news organization should be careful to say that we don't really know very much. And when you don't know, you say you don't know. You don't go with information that you think might be true.

You know probably better than any of us sitting here, the pressure that people have to break news. That pressure has just become so overwhelming that people will go with false news.

KURTZ: We saw that just a couple of weeks when the Supreme Court decision on Obamacare resulted in people going on the air, at this network and other networks before realizing what the high court had done.

But you know, all these profilers are being trotted out to psycho analyze the guy, as I said, I don't care. I don't want to turn him interest a celebrity. I don't want to turn him into some national object of fascination.

At the same time, it seems like the whole DNA of journalism is weak. There are unanswered questions, and we have to answer them. Maybe some questions can't be answered.

CUSACK: That's right. And it's just -- on television, you don't say, well, I don't know. And I think that's -- that's the point here is that when you don't know, you can't speculate, especially because we don't know what he's going to be saying in the next couple of days. It's just -- it's fruitless to speculate.

PONNURU: And I think that raises another question, which is everybody's been jumping all over Brian Ross, I think appropriately so. But what about George Stephanopoulos? What went through his mind when he -- I mean, he obviously knew that Ross was going to say something like that and he asked him question. You know, he set it up. He said, you know, we understand there's some information here, or something like that.

KURTZ: I think that's fair because Ross -- you know, while has made occasional mistakes, is an award-winning investigative reporter. And the anchor is told he has information to report. You can't while sitting in this chair double-check the reporting of your correspondents.

PONNURU: We haven't heard anything from Stephanopoulos about what he knew, was he -- did he say afterwards. Well, gosh, I mean, you just listen to what Ross said, and you have to say if you have any sort of judgment whatsoever, boy, that seems awfully thin.

KURTZ: Well, and as well -- PONNURU: He didn't interject anything.

KURTZ: As well we have the talk because this happened during the movie "The Dark Knight", about "Batman" movies, and violent movies, and could that have played a role, which reminds me of the video game debate. I mean, I guess, you know, when you got 24 hours to fill a lot of columns and newspapers you try to explore every angle. But I think some of this is just fruitless.

And just to -- on this closing note, happened to notice a piece in "The Washington Times" by a retired police officer named Peter Bella who summing up says of the media, "They could not resist turning a tragedy into a spectacular national media lollapalooza. It was sad -- pathetic to see how low the media sank in the name of sensationalism."

I thought actually the coverage was surprisingly restrained in most instances but not all.

Ana Marie Cox, your thoughts?

COX: I think that people are starting to learn some lessons about the value of getting thing right firs before, you know, getting things, just getting things out there. And I do think, I'm actually was pleasantly surprised that there hasn't been a lot of speculation about what part the "Batman" movie itself might have played, because as we were saying before, people who are crazy do crazy things. They could be set off by something they read, you know, while sitting on the toilet.

They can be -- I mean, who knows what makes people do thing that they do? And to try and connect this really specifically to the "Batman" movie seems especially kind of inappropriate to me.

KURTZ: Speculation is great when you're sitting in a bar. You're gathered around the water cooler.

COX: Yes.

KURTZ: I don't think it has much place, particularly at a sensitive time like this, in the aftermath of such a tragedy in front of a television camera.

We'll have more on this story later in the program. But first, when we come back, George Will, Bill Kristol, and "National Review" all say Mitt Romney should release his tax returns. Is the conservative press turning on the guy?


KURTZ: The Obama campaign, along with a parade of liberal commentators, has been hammering Mitt Romney for two weeks for refusing to release more of his tax returns. But it was far more striking when "National Review" scolded Romney as well. The conservative magazine is saying in an editorial, "His current posture is probably unsustainable. In all likelihood he won't be able to maintain a position that looks secretive and is a departure from campaign conventions."

And there was no shortage of pundits on the right joining the fray.


BILL KRISTOL, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Here's what he should do -- he should release the tax returns tomorrow. It's crazy. You've got to release six, eight, 10 years of back tax returns.

GEORGE WILL, ABC NEWS: Mitt Romney's losing at this point in a big way. If something's going to come out, get it out in a hurry.


KURTZ: Romney and his wife, Ann, are insisting in interviews that he won't change his position.

And, Ramesh Ponnuru, you knew that people would say even "National Review" is urging Romney to release his tax returns.

PONNURU: That's right. Any time a conservative magazine or publication takes issue with something that a Republican is doing that becomes a little bit of a news story.

I don't think, though, that this is something that signifies some big breach on the right. I think this is a tactical disagreement among people who are broadly allied, saying this is not the right way for the Romney campaign to proceed and I suspect that's -- the way it's being received in Boston, as well.

KURTZ: Ana Marie Cox, it does, though, tend to undercut the argument that this is the big, bad liberal media harassing Mitt Romney.

COX: I'm not sure it does that. I can't believe I'm agreeing with Ramesh, but, you know, this is getting the kind of coverage it's getting because it's a rift on the right and people like to cover rifts.

And I also want to point out that there's a lot of presidential candidates who have only released limited numbers of -- limited tax returns. This convention does ironically go back to his father, the convention of releasing a lot of tax returns.

But I'm not sure that it really matters to the average voter. What probably matters more is if they can make this idea of secrecy stick and if also they can make the idea that Romney is so rich he does not play by the rules that others play by.

KURTZ: Right. Well, I would say --

COX: I'm not -- go ahead.

KURTZ: Let me just jump in. I would just add that many of these conservative commentators now criticizing Romney on taxes were not big fans of his during the primary. And somebody who added her voice to this debate is CNN anchor Erin Burnett. Here's what she had to say.


ERIN BURNETT, CNN: Mitt Romney is running on his business expertise. His tax returns are a relevant window into how he conducts his business affairs. If he refuses to release them, it is because: one, he had a lot more money in tax shelters in prior years than he does now. Two, he did something shady. Or three, he's stupid.


KURTZ: Should a straight news anchor be taking a stance on a hot button political issue?

CUSACK: I was talking to a Republican about that segment, and they definitely notice it. And they were not pleased with that. I think that pushes the envelope too far, especially the "he's stupid" part -- that rubs Republicans the wrong way and it becomes more of a partisan issue, and Republicans can now fire back at that and blame the media for this controversy.

KURTZ: Well, I think an anchor can say somebody did something stupid.

Go ahead, Ana Marie.

COX: That's one way to heal the rift on the right. When you start doing that kind of name-calling, conservatives might sort of forget that they're angry at Romney or forget that they're talking about tactical errors in Romney and go into -- to attack the media, will kind of bring them together.

I just want to point out, we were talking in the last segment about speculation. It's just as inappropriate here as it is in the Aurora case. And we don't know why. We don't know what's in the tax returns.

We can speculate, and it's kind of fun to speculate. But there's no point to doing it really.

KURTZ: Right. You have all these people saying that, you know, it must show there are years when he didn't pay taxes, when nobody has any clue. So, it is pure, unadulterated speculation.

I want to turn to -- I didn't mean to cut you off. I want to turn to something that I've noticed has really become more and more of a prominent issue in presidential campaigns because of the media coverage. That is when surrogates for the presidential candidate say things that we in the press all jump on.

Here are three examples if we can roll the tape.


JOHN SUNUNU, ROMNEY CAMPAIGN NATIONAL CO-CHAIR: I wish this president would learn how to be an American. STEPHANIE CUTTER, OBAMA DEPUTY CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Either Mitt Romney, through his own words and his own signature, was misrepresenting his position at Bain to the SEC which is a felony.

ED GILLESPIE, OBAMA CAMPAIGN: He ended up not going back at all and retired retroactively.


KURTZ: OK, Ramesh, John Sununu, Ed Gillespie, Stephanie Cutter, now, each of those comments was a legitimate story that actually should have been covered, no question about that. But why did the media go (INAUDIBLE) in general over statements by strategists and surrogates?

PONNURU: Well, I think it's partly because the other campaigns are egging them on. And it's, you know, it's an arms race on that front in your side makes an issue out of Ed Gillespie, our side will make an issue out of Stephanie Cutter.

And, you know, the idea is you either -- you force the other campaign to either distance itself from one of its own people, which creates all kind of problems on its side, or you force them to look like they're defending the indefensible.

KURTZ: Or you get someone to apologize, which Sununu did for his choice of words on Obama should learn how to be an American, at least he apologized for his choice of words.

Ana Marie Cox, this does turn the media into a 24-hour gaffe patrol?

COX: It does. Again, I have to bring the average voter into the equation who probably doesn't care about the kinds of things that this -- these are, gaffes, unless they reflect on the character of the candidate. And I don't think any of these really do that. These are --


KURTZ: Don't these -- don't these campaigns trot out John Sununu, former governor of New Hampshire, for example, to make this kind of case? And if he is raising questions indirectly or subtly about Obama being an American, one could say the campaign is responsible for that?

COX: Oh, the campaign's responsible, but I'm not sure how many people care. Like -- I think that, you know, someone like John Sununu, the reason that surrogates are used is largely to gain support in a local area where the surrogate is popular. And so, it might matter to people there.

But I don't think that these fights are something that people are going to take into account when they're making their actual voting decision unless, you know, the fight get so ugly which it does threaten this time around. KURTZ: Right.

COX: But if the fight becomes really, really ugly, I think it tends to reflect badly on both candidates, but maybe one will look better than the other.

KURTZ: On that point, Bob Cusack, "New York Times"/CBS poll the other day showing statistical tie between Obama and Romney, 47/46. This after two weeks of Romney just getting hammered and Obama's forces kind of controlling the dialogue on Bain, on offshore bank accounts, on tax returns. The poll would seem to suggest that we in media are all atwitter, so to speak, about things average voters have not tuned in.

CUSACK: Well, privately, though, some Republican strategists say Mitt Romney should be up five points in this economy. And the fact that they're even is good news for President Obama.

KURTZ: Let me ask you before we go about "The New York Times" story the other day which said the reporters for "The Times" and "The Washington Post" and other major news organizations have increasingly gotten into the business of negotiating with sources, campaign officials, about what can be used on the record. And they get court approval and they try to fashion it.

I was not shocked by this because for 20 years you've been talking to people, OK, let's talk on backgrounds, OK, what can I use? You have these negotiations.

But it seems like it's becoming more and more formalized and more and more control is being with the hands of those who are uttering the statements that reporters want on the record.

CUSACK: Yes, I think it's gotten worse in that regard. When you go back with the quotes, they want to massage it more than they used to.

KURTZ: Take out anything remotely interesting or controversial.

CUSACK: Right, exactly. Then the reporter pushing back and saying, wait a minute, it's a bland article. So I do think that is getting a little worse, and that's why you're seeing more journalists saying we're not going to do that anymore.

PONNURU: But it's hard to see what journalist can do if there are other people who are willing to play that game, the sources can always use them instead of you.

KURTZ: And, briefly, Ana Marie Cox, that is I guess part of the problem, which is if you just say -- if you say no, then you find out you don't have quotes from senior Romney or White House or Obama officials but your competitor does.

COX: Right. I'm not sure it's gotten worse. I mean, people have massaged sources probably since there were sources. But I think it's akin to the problem we were talking about last time with the problem of wanting to get it out first even if you're not right. You want to get an exclusive even if it's biased.

And I think that sometimes we have to rely on actual writing to make an article interesting and not on quotes. That may be difficult for some people. But it's really the only way you're going to get anywhere if you want to be completely unbiased.

KURTZ: Right. People probably doing it since the stories were written in hieroglyphics on the cave wall.

Ana Marie Cox, Ramesh Ponnuru, Bob Cusack, thanks very much for stopping by this morning.

Up next, Yahoo's new boss is a young woman. Imagine that. Why journalists are putting Marissa Mayer on a pedestal.


KURTZ: Marissa Mayer, a top Google executive, certainly didn't shy from the media spotlight as when she said back in March she believed in equal rights for women but added this --


MARISSA MAYER, CEO, YAHOO!: I don't think that I would consider myself a feminist. I don't, I think, have sort of the militant drive and sort of the chip on the shoulder that sometimes comes with that.


KURTZ: Mayer became huge news this week when she was tapped for one of the top jobs in Silicon Valley.


NATALIE MORALES, NBC NEWS: On Monday, former Google executive Marissa Mayer was named the CEO of Yahoo! At 37, she is now the youngest chief executive of a Fortune 500 country.

O'DONNELL: From Google geek to Yahoo! CEO. And she announced on Twitter last night she's also going to be a first-time mommy.

BURNETT: Marissa is a woman who is smart, strong and feminine. In short, she's a role model to celebrate. Let's hope she succeeds.


KURTZ: To examine this rather gushing coverage, I spoke earlier in our old studio to two women who have risen in the media ranks.


KURTZ: Joining us now in New York is Kara Swisher, editor of "All Things Digital." And here in Washington, Lauren Ashburn, the founder and editor-in-chief of Daily-Download Web site, where I'm also a contributor, and former managing editor of "USA Today." Kara Swisher, Marissa Mayer, who you know pretty well, has already gotten 100 times the coverage of all four Yahoo! CEOs who proceeded her combined. How much has to do with being a young woman?

KARA SWISHER, ALL THINGS DIGITAL: Probably a lot. You know, she's very -- first of all, let's get off the bat, she's a very competent executive. She's very experienced. She's been working -- even though she's quite young, I think she's 37, she's been working at Google for a long time, since the beginning. She, I think, is employee number 20. And she certainly got here tech jobs, she's got Stanford degrees out the Ying Yang.

KURTZ: Plus, the media seem to love her.

SWISHER: Well, she's done a good job of that. You know, she spent a lot of time doing press, during her career at Google, and has become sort of the -- she's made herself the symbol of Google. And so, if people know her already, people in the national press, because she's the one that shows up for magazine shoots and --

KURTZ: Right.

SWISHER: -- gives interviews. She talks about her personal life a lot. And most Google executives aren't like that. Larry Page hardly comes out of the cave.

KURTZ: I have noticed that. Let me turn to Lauren Ashburn. And then the second wave of stories after she was appointed CEO was, Oh, my God, she's pregnant.

ASHBURN: So what? I mean, I don't understand the big fascination with women who are pregnant. When I started in my career, my big promotion came when I was eight months pregnant with my daughter. So what?

The big thing that she needs to worry about is how she's going to turn that company around and how she's going to manage all of the people underneath her who have been passed over and who are going for her throat.

KURTZ: Speaking of pregnancy, Kara, you wrote on your Web site piece about how the Yahoo! board didn't have any problem with deciding Marissa Mayer should be hired despite her pregnancy. And then you got some flack on line for your last...


KURTZ: ... paragraph, where you said you had tried to reach her and she didn't return your messages.


KURTZ: "And in an apparent and vain attempt to show me what's what -- and good luck with that -- she did confirm her pregnancy to `Fortune.'" What made you write that? SWISHER: You know, I -- you know, my style on the blog -- I have a long relationship with Yahoo!. And they don't like to talk to me because I do break a lot of stories on them. And so they're continuing with that. It wasn't referencing her pregnancy. It's just referencing Yahoo!'s PR things, where they try to keep information away from me or don't call me back and stuff. And so it didn't have to do with the pregnancy at all.

I did call them -- I had given them about -- because I thought it was a sensitive issue, I had given them about five hours. And then the "Fortune" piece appeared, where she talked to them on the record.

So you know, they do stuff like that. It's a silly insider baseball thing. And I do it -- I do it all the time in Yahoo! stories. I make asides to CEOs.


SWISHER: And it's meant to be funny and it works in a blog, but probably not anywhere else.

KURTZ: All right. Isn't there a danger, Lauren -- I think of the way the media treated Carly Fiorina at HP and Meg Whitman at eBay -- that Marissa Mayer becomes the face of Yahoo!, and then when things go wrong at Yahoo! or she's not able to turn it around in six months or work miracles, then she bears -- the stories are all personal about how she has failed?

ASHBURN: Well, to the first part of this, the personal stories, she's putting that out there. So I think that if she's putting her personal life out there, if that's going to be the way that the media's going to go, OK.

I don't agree with it. I think that it's a huge mistake for people to be putting a woman in a position of power and then to be talking about her hair and her pregnancy. And it just sends such a bad message. And the media is responsible.

KURTZ: So is there -- I mean, let me just be blunt about it...

SWISHER: Can I -- can I interject?

KURTZ: Go right ahead.

SWISHER: Marissa does this. It's not the media. She -- if you go back, she talked -- she's done interviews about cupcakes and her fashion interests and her parties and all kinds of things. So over the years, she does talk to the media rather actively and talks a lot about her personal life.

ASHBURN: But Kara...


SWISHER: She can, but it's not the media's fault that she wants to give these interviews... ASHBURN: I think that it's the media's fault for making her career and the fact that she has become this very powerful woman in a tech field -- making her career all about what's going to happen with her pregnancy and her baby and...

SWISHER: But they didn't. That's not true. That's not -- everyone was talking about her competence as an executive, whether she could create product innovation. It was one single story out of 100 of them, and...

ASHBURN: No, I saw that on all different media.

SWISHER: Well, you know...

ASHBURN: I mean, she's 37. She's young. She's pregnant. How's she going to balance it?


ASHBURN: ... never -- a man would never have to...

SWISHER: Because there's 100 men and there's one women. I mean, that's one of the issues, is you've got, like, four or five women in technology. You've got Meg Whitman, who's been around for a while. You have Sheryl Sandberg and now you have Marissa in a CEO position -- and Geneva Monte (ph) at...

ASHBURN: But it does happen to other women in other media professions.

SWISHER: Yes. Yes...


ASHBURN: So she's not the only woman that this happens to.

SWISHER: No, of course not. But I think that -- what's -- what's interesting -- I think the pregnancy thing is interesting in the light that this is a massive turnaround that has to happen. This -- this is a job that is a 24/7 job...

ASHBURN: But she can do that...


ASHBURN: She can do that pregnant and she can do that with an infant.

SWISHER: Absolutely. No one said she couldn't do it pregnant. That's not what people are saying. I think what people are saying is this is a really hard job and she's pregnant, too. And believe me, I don't know if you have children, but pregnancy is hard...

ASHBURN: I have three.


KURTZ: ... about the juggling thing.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But the point is...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And you know, I did come back to work after only five weeks...


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... right after. And I remember walking around the halls kind of going, Whoa.

KURTZ: Well, I just want to jump in here for one second, Kara, and that is, you know, sure, Marissa Mayer has given these interviews and talked about her personal life. Then, you know, she has put herself in the spotlight. And that's OK. It's a strategy.

But I can't help but notice that her appointment made the front page of "The New York Times." Ross Levinsohn, who had been the interim CEO, worked at Yahoo! for a while -- had he gotten the job, I don't think it would have been on the front page of "The New York Times." The previous CEOs didn't make the front page of "The New York Times."

ASHBURN: That's true.

KURTZ: That says to me we're fascinated by a young woman.

ASHBURN: Well, we're fascinated by women who can make it to the top. Despite Hillary Clinton being secretary of state, despite all of the women that Kara has just rattled off, there is a glass ceiling. And any time anyone like her breaks it, the news is still going to be about women. We haven't had a woman president yet. And that -- any woman who is, you know, playing in that game is -- is fair game.

KURTZ: And Kara, you wrote a very substantive story about all the challenges she faces in turning around the struggling outfit that is Yahoo!. But you also...

SWISHER: I didn't mention her -- I didn't mention her age or her -- her nice outfits.

KURTZ: Yes, but you know -- but you gave her...


KURTZ: But you gave her some fashion advice.

SWISHER: Oh, that's because -- because all -- any -- every CEO that joins Yahoo! goes on and on about purple, and I'm tired of it. That's all. I just -- they just -- they, like, I bleed purple, I wear purple. Carol Bartz showed up in purple. I think Scott Thompson had purple. So I make a purple joke every time they appoint -- see, the thing is, they appoint a new Yahoo! CEO every time, you know, the seasons change. And so...


ASHBURN: ... fall colors, maybe brown or some plaid...

KURTZ: I'm out of -- out of my depth here.

SWISHER: Yes, but the point of the purple was, is that it's not the old Yahoo!. They need a new Yahoo!, and they go back to the Yahoo! yell and the Yahoo! purple. And that was the point in that one, not fashion advice. I shouldn't give fashion advice is to anybody.


KURTZ: All right. I need a short answer, Lauren. Will we ever get to the point where a woman CEO, even a pregnant woman CEO, is not going to be news in and of itself?

ASHBURN: I hope so. I don't know if I'll see it in my lifetime.

KURTZ: It's going to be a while.

ASHBURN: I think it'll be a while.

KURTZ: All right. That was a lively conversation. Kara Swisher and Lauren Ashburn, thanks very much for joining us.

After the break, my two cents on George Zimmerman's bizarre strategy of trying to win an acquittal in the Trayvon case on television.


KURTZ: Not many people charged with murder pop up in television interviews. But George Zimmerman is an exception. He sat down with Sean Hannity this week, and while the Fox News host was sympathetic and has unabashedly taken Zimmerman's side in the Trayvon Martin case, he asked many of the questions that needed to be asked.

But that wasn't enough for Zimmerman. He wanted to talk to Barbara Walters. On "The View," she explained her negotiations with Zimmerman lawyer Mark O'Mara.


BARBARA WALTERS, CO-HOST, "THE VIEW": Mr. O'Mara confirmed to me that if I came down to Orlando, George Zimmerman -- we all know who he is, everybody knows, right? -- would indeed do an interview with me.


KURTZ: But when Walters and her crew arrived and Zimmerman walked in, it was no go. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WALTERS: And then said he would not do an interview...


WALTERS: ... no matter what we said. But he would if there were one condition. It was a condition that, being a member of ABC News, I was unable to grant.


KURTZ: The problem? He reportedly wanted ABC to put him up in a hotel for an extended period of time. On the next day on "The View" came this strange moment.


WALTERS: If Mr. Zimmerman could not do the interview -- and in my ear, my little earpiece, I'm telling you that Zimmerman called, yes? That he just called, and Mr. Zimmerman, if you could not do the interview yesterday, I don't think we should do a quick one today.


KURTZ: Now, maybe Barbara Walters was showing her pique at having flown down to Florida and returned empty-handed, but I'm glad she didn't cave in. Zimmerman reneged on their agreement by essentially demanding money it would have been unethical for ABC to be pay. And Walters decided a quick phone conversation was a poor substitute.

The man who shot Trayvon Martin and had the temerity to say it was God's plan now seems intent on winning his case in the media.

Next on RELIABLE SOURCES, we'll have a live report from Aurora, Colorado.


KURTZ: Turning back now to the Colorado massacre, we'll go to Aurora, Colorado. We're joined now by CNN correspondent Jim Spellman.

And Jim, is it difficult emotionally to parachute into a scene of a tragedy like this and talk to people with very raw feelings who've either lost loved ones or survived the shooting themselves?

JIM SPELLMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It sure is. I mean, I think you have to kind of just put on your professional hat and just be sure you're doing kind of the next thing, and not getting caught up in that emotion while remaining aware of it.

I live here in Denver, Howie. So this is really -- these are -- this is kind of my turf. I travel on these streets. This hospital is a place I've been before. You have to just kind of put that out of your head. I'll set the scene a little bit for where you go if you want to check it out. This is James Holmes's apartment. Right here is where everybody -- is where the authorities were trying to get in and dismantle all these bombs. So when you're right in the thick of it, you're right next to...


KURTZ: Could you have your camera guy swing around and show us? Are there other TV cameras this? Has this become a kind of media encampment?

SPELLMAN: Sure. Sure, you see a couple of network crews right over here, satellite trucks. This is the first time we've been able to get this close. So people are just starting to kind of move themselves up from the farther away position that we had to be for the last few days.

KURTZ: And that leads me to this question, Jim. Every news organization obviously wants to be there. But the combined numbers, when there is this kind of invasion, is that resented at all by a relatively small town trying to cope with the tragedy? Do you have to tread very lightly?

SPELLMAN: Yes. You know, so for -- I've seen situations where that's been the case. So far in this one, I haven't had any sense of sort of hostility from people. I think one of the main things that one of the locations is a shopping mall. So everybody's in the middle of a shopping mall that's been closed, not in the middle of everybody's streets.

But so far here, everybody's as curious about what's going on as people in the rest of the country. So I haven't detected it here. Definitely, on some other stories I've been on, though, where people just feel like you're invading their privacy, I think we always have to stay, you know, aware of that because you're going to end up speaking to loved ones who've lost somebody or you might speak to somebody who -- I spoke with a man who still had buckshot in his arm. Obviously going to be highly charged situations. You have to tread carefully.

KURTZ: Highly charged, a difficult story to cover. And Jim Spellman, you've been working overtime, around the clock there. Thanks very much for joining us this morning.

Next on RELIABLE SOURCES, we'll examine how ordinary folks broke some news about the movie theater shooting on a social media website called Reddit.


KURTZ: When a major news event erupts, we often think of Twitter as the "go to" site on line, but some details of the movie massacre in Colorado emerged first on Reddit -- R-E-D-D-I-T. It's a cluttered, somewhat geeky Web site in which users post whatever they want and both (ph) the most popular offering is higher on the home page. And joining us to talk about the role of social media in this tragedy is "Washington Post" media reporter Paul Farhi. Welcome. What is it about Reddit that made it an ideal forum for such a fast- moving story?

PAUL FARHI, "WASHINGTON POST": It's the crowd source aspect of it. There's lots of people who are involved in Reddit, lots of people posting. And some of those people are actual eyewitnesses...

KURTZ: And they're -- they're almost acting as journalists in this situation.

FARHI: That's exactly what they are, they're citizen journalists, with all the flaws of citizen journalists. But nevertheless, if you're an eyewitness and you are there, you've got a great advantage over a professional journalist who obviously can't be there.

FARHI: Well, since you mention eyewitnesses -- we're going to take these graphics out of order. If we can get graphic number two here? Want to put up a graphic by a guy whose screen name is "The Murderator (ph)" -- that's the wrong one. Can we get the other graphic, please? That is not the guy. Can we get the other graphic, please?

I'll read it while we scramble around for that. The Murderator writes, "I am one of the 50 wounded in the Aurora theater shooting. Here are a few photos" -- there it is -- "of my very lucky but nonetheless terrifying brush with death." So rather than having some reporter with a microphone rushing out to interview this guy, he -- he -- I was going to say tweets -- he posted himself.

FARHI: Yes, and of course, and that's far more riveting, far more vivid and far more real than any journalist can possibly match. And this person, apparently -- we don't really know, but apparently, was there at time of the shooting.

KURTZ: Right. Of course, we have no way of verifying it. Let's go now to that first graphic. This is a series of posts on Reddit by a guy with a screen name that's hard to pronounce, but he turns out to be 18-year-old Morgan Jones (ph). We flashed his picture there earlier. We'll show it to you again in a minute.

And he writes, for example, at 1:27 AM, "Bring as much crime scene tape as you can." 1:35 AM, "Shooter wearing green camp pants." 1:37, "Bomb squad is there, bringing in K-9 units, possible other bombs." That was not true. And 1:40 AM, "18 ambulances on scene."

This guy, Morgan Jones, hasn't even gone to college yet, and he was tapping into a police scanner and other media reports.

FARHI: He was essentially live blogging this episode. But you know, that shows you all of the flaws of this forum, as well. A lot of the stuff that he was putting up there was absolutely inaccurate. And it was real time, yes, and it was raw and it was on the spot, but it was inaccurate in many cases. And that's the problem of this kind of form of journalism.

KURTZ: So when people read something on Reddit or Twitter, especially in this real time situation, some tragedy has just happened, a hurricane, a shooting, you name it, they have to take it with a grain of salt, even if the information may be very valuable, but it hasn't been vetted by -- the way it would be -- well, not in every case by news organizations, as we saw with ABC's Brian Ross, but that it hasn't gone through some editorial process.

FARHI: Right, first rough draft of history. This is the first rougher draft of history. Journalists will come in. They'll refine it, and then historians will refine it even further.

KURTZ: Hard for newspapers to compete with this sort of insta- reaction by citizens. "The Washington Post" in an austerity moved closed its bureaus around the country, so it had to put people on planes to get out to the Denver area to do the story.

FARHI: That's right. But again, what the mainstream media provides in this kind of ecosystem is the notion that, We will vet the information, we will tell you what's right and what's wrong, we won't print rumors, we won't tell you things that we know to be the result of the heat of the moment. That's our value.

KURTZ: Except we also make mistakes.

FARHI: We also make mistakes, but we make fewer of them.

KURTZ: Fewer of them. And so this is a Web site that's got 37 million unique users. It's now owned by Conde Nast. I think because of the attention from the incident, a lot of people are going to check out Reddit, particularly when something is unfolding.

FARHI: I think it's a very valuable part, again, of this media ecosystem.

KURTZ: You don't feel like your job is threatened now.

FARHI: No, I don't. It's a supplement to what I and you do.

KURTZ: And we can rely on it -- and again, you know, with appropriate caveats and maybe the guy who said he was an eyewitness wasn't, although he posted the pictures. I haven't heard anything to contradict that.

FARHI: Well, and thank you for posting. We can go now interview you as journalists and find this guy and talk to him.

KURTZ: Making our job easier, as well. Paul Farhi from "The Washington Post," thanks very much for sharing that with us this morning.

Still to come on this program, David Gergen's not-so-full disclosure. The networks get pumped, and a blogger accuses a journalist of romancing a senator. "The Media Monitor" straight ahead. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

CNN commentator David Gergen has spoken on a number of occasions about Mitt Romney and Bain Capital, which, of course, are very much in the news. Sometimes Gergen has mentioned that he has ties to the company, and sometimes he hasn't.

He offered a more complete explanation on the air last week.


DAVID GERGEN, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: I should you tell you, Anderson, that I've had not only personal relationships, I started out with Bain Capital folks, partners, being great philanthropist here in Boston, but I've also had financial dealings with them. I've given a couple of paid speeches for them.

And I also was part of a company that was sold to Bain Capital. I was on the board of a company that we sold to Bain Capital. We thought they did a terrific job. But I did realize some financial gain from that.

Having said all that, knowing what I know about the Bain Capital partnership, how I think that they are people of real integrity...


KURTZ: And that is a very significant relationship, and Gergen should have never talked about Bain on CNN without mentioning that he made money from that association with the company. In fact, it might have been better if he had recused himself from the topic altogether.

"The New York Times" presented Ryan Holiday (ph) as a collector of vinyl records. On MSNBC, he said someone had sneezed on him while he was working at a Burger King. On ABC, he was a long-suffering insomniac. On CBS, he was a guy with an embarrassing story about his office.

Well, Ryan Holiday wasn't any of those things. He's a scam artist, a liar, to be precise. As "Forbes" magazine revealed. Holiday, an executive at American Apparel, punk'd these news organizations just to show that he could do it.

The media outlets reached him through a service that connects reporters with sources, and they didn't check him out very carefully. Holiday, after all, has written a book called "Trust Me, I'm lying."

Finally, a conservative blogger thought he had the goods on Connie Schultz. He sent the Cleveland columnist a note saying, "We have found numerous photos of you with Senator Sherrod Brown. In one of them, you appear to be hugging him. Care to comment?" Scandalous!

Well, Schultz wasn't bashful in replying. "He's really cute. He's also my husband." Doesn't this blogger know about Google?

But here's the best part. Schultz told her former paper, "The Cleveland Plain Dealer," that she's not naming the blogger because she doesn't want to be a bully. She wants him to pick better company and do better journalism. Kind of refreshing when someone refuses to get down in the mud.

Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz. By the way, if you missed a program, you can now go to iTunes every Monday and download a free audio podcast or buy the video version. Join us here 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.