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Reliable Sources

Woodward's White House War; Media Fall Short on Cutbacks; Romney Breaks Media Silence

Aired March 03, 2013 - 11:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: Bob Woodward is best known for vacuuming up information from one White House to another. But this week, he went to war with this White House. After criticizing President Obama's handling of the budget battle and his veracity, Woodward upped the ante by saying the administration was pushing back hard at him.


BOB WOODWARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: And it was said to me in an e-mail by a top --

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: What was said? Yes?

WOODWARD: It was said very clearly, you will regret doing this. I mean, it makes me very uncomfortable to have the White House telling reporters, you're going to regret doing something that you believe in. And even though we don't look at it that way, you do look at it that way.


KURTZ: But it turns out the email's author, White House economic czar Gene Sperling, said he was offering that advice as a friend. So did Woodward falsely suggest that this was an attempt at intimidation?

Plus, are the media swallowing the Obama line on the terrible consequences of a deep budget cuts that just took effect?

Michelle Obama on another TV blitz with some critics giving one appearance a big thumbs down.


MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: And now for the moment we have all been waiting for. And the Oscar goes to -- "Argo."




KURTZ: Are the media surrendering the airwaves to the first lady? Plus, how did Yahoo's Marissa Mayer go from Silicon Valley icon --


RICHARD QUEST, CNN: It doesn't matter which way you cut it. This woman is seen as a rock star and superstar in the CEO streets of the world.


KURTZ: -- to media ridicule for asking workers to show up at the office?

I'm Howard Kurtz and this is RELIABLE SOURCES.


KURTZ: Bob Woodward has been embroiled in controversy since he and Carl Bernstein were unearthing the Watergate scandal, but this one is different.

First, in a "Washington Post" op-ed, Woodward show that President Obama was wrong in insisting that the White House didn't suggest the automatic budget cuts before the Republicans agreed to them. Then, Woodward accused the president of changing his stance on whether the current round of budget cuts would include tax increases, as well as spending cuts.


JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC: You talk about the president moving the goal posts. What do you mean by that?

WOODWARD: He was absolutely desperate to get something. So, he got his benefit and now he wants to come back and say, wait a minute, let's put some taxes in here which he agreed in the sequester not to do.


KURTZ: The evidence on that point is mixed. But Woodward doubled down by disclosing that a top White House official had yelled at him in a lengthy phone call and then e-mailed that Woodward would, quote, "regret taking this position." When "Politico" obtained the actual e-mail from economic adviser Gene Sperling, the tone was -- well, less than threatening and that became a story in itself.


ED SCHULTZ, MSNBC: I apologize for raising my voice in our conversation today.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN: But I do truly believe you should rethink your comment about saying that the president asking for revenues is moving the goal post. SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: I know you might not believe this, but as a friend, I think you will regret stacking out that claim.


KURTZ: So, what should we make of Woodward's reporting and his tactics?

Joining us: Cenk Uygur, host of "The Young Turks" on Current TV and on the Web.

Jackie Kucinich, political reporter for "USA Today".

And Tim Carney, senior political columnist for "The Washington Examiner."

Cenk, now that we've seen the email exchange with Gene Sperling, doesn't it kind of look like Bob Woodward exaggerated this apparent push back from the White House?

CENK UYGUR, YOUNG TURKS: Look, I love it when anyone challenges the government, whether it's Republicans or Democrats. But he really stepped in it. He went too far here and he got caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

It's not just Gene Sperling's e-mail where he says, as a friend, et cetera, it's Woodward's e-mail back to him saying, "Oh, my friend, you never have to apologize to me."

KURTZ: I happen to have that here so let's put it on the screen before I go to Tim Carney.

Woodward responding to Sperling. This is remember, he's responding to an email that he claims to be very upset about.

"You do not ever have to apologize to me." You're accurate. "You get wound up because you were making your points and you believe them. This is all part of a serious discussion, I for one welcome a little heat; there should be more given the importance. I also welcome your personal advice."

So, Woodward make a mountain out of a relative e-mail mole hill?

TIM CARNEY, THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER: I think he did. I think Bob Woodward did a one very good bit of reporting, which was showing that when Jack Lew and President Obama said, we didn't want the sequester, that Jack Lew and President Obama were being misleading. They may have been dishonest.

If Woodward stopped there, it would have been great. But then going on and making it sound like he was threatened and even the goal post saying, I think he went too far.

He should have stopped after he did his part of reporting.

KURTZ: Now, in fairness to Bob Woodward, Jackie Kucinich, he's very careful in his language. He didn't say he was threatened. He didn't call it an attempted intimidated. I think it was the clear implication.

But Bob Woodward, who's, you know, been reporting on administrations for four decades, be intimidated by one angry phone call and an e-mail?

JACKIE KUCINICH, USA TODAY: It sounds like he had help as well blowing this out of proportion a little bit. I mean --

KURTZ: From those of us on the press.

KUCINICH: But from those of us on the press, there was one particular publication that reported this happened and then debunked it like three days later. And by really saying, it rhymes with "molitico" and there was a little bit of that going on and other publications, of course, were jumping into it as well.

So, I think he had a little bit of help blowing this out of proportion.

UYGUR: And, you know, the right wing also jumped in. The right wing media did, saying, oh, my God, look what the Obama administration is doing. And they back pedaled. Oh, Bob, what did you do?

CARNEY: I did some snarky tweets making fun of the White House until the full e-mail came out and that sort of thing, and then you realize the White House --

KUCINICH: Involved in the position where you're getting those e- mails. Every single one of us have and it's -- I mean, that's part of the job. That's part of the exchange with some of these officials in all ranks of government.

KURTZ: I want to pick up your point about the conservative media, but I don't want to let this slide. The number of journalists have been saying that the Obama White House, in particular, is very aggressive in pushing back against stories that it does not like, that officials can raise their voices and use words we don't repeat on television.

You had that experience as well?

KUCINICH: Not myself, I have had colleagues.

KURTZ: Colleagues?

KUCINICH: Colleagues, yes, because I covered Congress. I covered the Romney campaign. I don't cover the White House.

But, yes, I heard about, you hear that, I don't think that's unique to this administration. And I'm not saying --

KURTZ: Well, most of them were saying it's part of the game. This is a contact sport.


KURTZ: But a lot of people say the Obama White House, you would think because it's a Democratic White House, would get along better with journalists. But, in fact, rougher on journalists than some of its predecessors.

KUCINICH: Well, it's an adversarial relationship and I think everybody is doing their job, if it is.

KURTZ: OK. Now, so let me play more sound for you. We have Bob Woodward the other day talking about this very question. Did he mischaracterize or overdramatize, shall we say, the e-mail from Sperling?

Let's go with that first.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think you overstepped the way you described this scenario?

WOODWARD: No, the e-mails speak for themselves. It's often a technique employed by White Houses either unintentionally or intentionally to say, oh, let's make the conduct of the press the issue rather than what they did.


KURTZ: And Gene Sperling, the White House economic czar, was out on several shows this morning. First, let's take a look at what he said about this contretemps with Woodward on "STATE OF THE UNION" earlier this morning.


GENE SPERLING, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: Bob and I have known each other for 20 years and always had a friendly and respectful relationship. Anybody who looks at the e-mails that went from me and came back from him can see that there's respect and friendliness.

DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS: Does the president think that's a good idea to say to reporters if they challenge him that you're going to regret staking out that claim?

SPERLING: Well, David, I've had a 20-year relationship with Bob Woodward. It's been friendly. It's been cordial. Those e-mails are very substantive. They're cordial.

GREGORY: Are you threatening him in any way?

SPERLING: Of course not.


KURTZ: That, of course, David Gregory on "Meet the Press." So, Gene Sterling is basically saying no big deal. And in that sense, he -- he wants to put this aside and talk about the administration's larger message. But that is at odds with Woodward's accounts, correct?

UYGUR: Now, there's a lot I disagree with the administration on. But here, Gene is basically 100 percent right. When he told Bob Woodward, hey, you might regret this. It turns out he was exactly right. Bob Woodward totally regrets it, right?

I mean, at this point --

KURTZ: He doesn't say he regrets it.

UYGUR: No, but at this point, everybody is talking about how Woodward screwed up.

CARNEY: Instead of talking about the fact that Obama and Jack Lew were misleading when they said they didn't want the sequester. The president and the secretary of the treasury are very comfortable revising history in a false way, just to make themselves look better.

KUCINICH: They're not talking about his reporting, they're talking about him. And I don't think any reporter really wants to be the story.

KURTZ: Unless you like having your name in lights --

KUCINICH: There's that.

KURTZ: -- which Woodward doesn't need, of course.

But there's a clear idealistic aspect to this, in the sense that some of those who are defending Woodward are -- some, not all -- liberal commentators who don't like -- you know, who feel that Obama is being attacked unfairly, but I can't help but notice because Woodward went on Sean Hannity's FOX New show that people on your side of the political spectrum who never had much use for Bob Woodward and now hailing him as a hero, a truth teller because he's taking it to the White House.

Little bit of ideological convenience there.

CARNEY: Yes, it's red shirt, red jersey, blue jersey is what I describe people get on a team and they root for whoever is attacking the other team, sometimes without paying very much attention to the details of the matter and I think conservatives are doing that now.

UYGUR: Yes, and the funny thing is, everybody confused to why Woodward is so aggressive against Obama. But he had three books that were incredibly soft on Bush. He's been hard on Obama.

I'll solve the mystery for you -- Woodward is a Republican. It's not that big --

KURTZ: He would not identify himself with either party. And you're characterizing --

UYGUR: But I would be really surprised if Woodward wasn't voting Republican.

KURTZ: You describe his books as soft on Obama. But --

UYGUR: Soft on Bush.

KURTZ: Well, you say they're soft on Bush. The last book was very critical of Bush's -- but the point is, Woodward has had a lot of cooperation from this Obama White House and writing these behind-the- scenes narratives. Maybe the headlines from Sperling is, next time, not so much, buddy.

I mean, that case, he could make you nervous.

UYGUR: So, that's a really important point and one that's the most important out of all of this, because it's about access. If you don't play ball, your access gets taken away. I think that's the most dangerous thing in the media.

I think media has to rally right left, left wing, right wing, and say, hey, listen, we're not going to let you get away with that any more. We're going to report it as it is, and you're going to have to one of us access.

CARNEY: And, individually, every reporter has to be ready to lose access.

UYGUR: Yes, absolutely.

CARNEY: If you're not going to be telling the truth, if you're constantly guarding your access to power.

KURTZ: I have to ask you this because I'm sure some people out there watching today are thinking, you know, we're having $85 billion in automatic budget cuts, the so-called sequester, taking effect. This is going to have impact on people's lives, which I will talk about in a second. And you in the media are talking about Bob Woodward versus Gene Sperling, this must seem incredibly inside the Beltway ball to a lot of folks.

KUCINICH: It is incredible, that's because it is. It really is inside the Beltway ball.

I mean, there was this great question by a story by Paul Bahari (ph) that was about how this is like the weirdest Washington, inside the Beltway, naval gazing story ever because it really, really is. This is Washington crystallized in a lot of ways.

KURTZ: So, we think it's juicy because it involves a couple well-known personalities in this feud, but in your view, perhaps overplaying it a tad?

KUCINICH: Yes, absolutely.

UYGUR: At the same time, the access issue is important --

KUCINICH: The larger issue and, you know, frankly sharing private e-mails is a little bit, as a reporter, is a little bit unsavory.

KURTZ: Who actually put out the Gene Sperling e-mails ?

KUCINICH: That's the thing --

KURTZ: I'm going to go on a limb and say probably it was the White House.

UYGUR: Of course.


KUCINICH: But I am saying, as a reporter, when you think about those private e-mails you're sending back and forth to sources, that's a little bit -- but no, the larger issue, of course, we're talking about access. We're talking about this Bob Woodward v. White House, I think it's a little bit overblown.

KURTZ: Let me get to the substance here in our remaining time. I want to play for you montage clips of how television is covering and has been covering up until they took effect Friday at midnight the so- called sequester budget cuts.


BILL PLANTE, CBS NEWS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The White House stepped up its campaign to pressure Republicans, enlisting the secretary of homeland security to suggest that the layoffs could make it more difficult to prevent terrorist attacks.

SCHULTZ: Ten thousand teachers could lose their jobs. Airport security could be cut by $323 million, 70,000 kids would be kicked off Head Start.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN: Planes won't fly, trains are going to suffer, troops are going to feel the belt tightening in all branches of the service.

KIMBERLY GUILFOYLE, FOX NEWS: Sequestration isn't going to mean Armageddon for America. But the press and political class, mostly on the left, are trying to tell you otherwise.


KURTZ: You're nodding your head, Tim Carney. A lot of the reports, particularly on television, adopting the Obama line that the sky is going to fall?

CARNEY: Yes, that the sky is going to fall, that cats and dogs are going to be sleeping and all that stuff. I mean, I saw NBC, I think they have an editorial policy to use the word "massive" when they're talking about sequestration. KURTZ: Well, that's a lot money.

CARNEY: It's less than 3 percent of a cut. So, yes, I think they're way overplaying it.

UYGUR: I agree with Tim, again, on this issue. You know, I love Ed, but, come on. Everybody is getting fired. The world is on fire.

I don't believe the government -- I think that they're hyping it up. I think it's politics.

KURTZ: I think there is room for a lot more skeptical reporting about the impact of these budget cuts. "Washington Post" had a great front-page story the other day, which taken to task, among other things, Education Secretary Arne Duncan who said, quote, "There are literally now teachers who are getting pink slips." Little investigation showed that that was not the case.

We will what the impact is, but if the press had put in, let's say, 10 percent of the effort that was investigating, I don't know, Beyonce's lip syncing into the actual effect of these budget cuts, I think we would have seen a somewhat different picture.

Let me get a break. When we come back, Mitt and Ann Romney's first interview since the election just aired on FOX News this morning. We'll look at the Chris Wallace sit down in just a moment.


KURTZ: Mitt Romney with his wife, Ann, breaking their post- election silence with an interview on "FOX News Sunday". And host Chris Wallace asked him among other things about that post-election conference call with donors and supporters which leaked, of course, in which Romney talked about how President Obama won the election by giving gifts, in his word, to various constituencies.

Take a look.


CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: Fairly or not, you know a lot of Republican leaders roasted you for those remarks. Did that hurt? Did you feel in a sense you were being pushed out of the party?

MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not going to second-guess what people had to say. Look, I don't look back, I look forward.

ANN ROMNEY, MITT ROMNEY'S WIFE: You never like it. And I never like it. And I -- you know, I'm like a she-lion when it comes to defending Mitt.


KURTZ: A more candid response from Ann Romney. Tim Carney, from what you saw, that Chris Wallace asked the questions on why Romney lost the elections and what role he wants to play, that needed to be asked. There's a lot of people think, you know, FOX is soft on some other --

CARNEY: I thought the first part of the interview was definitely too soft and it might have been, really, because the she-lion was sitting there.

I mean, honestly, the second half of the interview, Ann wasn't there. It was one-on-one and Wallace was a little bit more cutting in his questions. And even in the last question he asked, which was a little bit critical, he said, fairly or not, he softened it. So, the first half, I thought, was definitely too soft.

UYGUR: Chris usually does a much better job that the average FOX host to be fair. I mean, he's not Sean Hannity. He's not representing the Republican Party.

So, you know, I don't take issue with Chris' questioning. It was pretty good overall. And he got to -- do they feel bitter about it and you got the sense Ann Romney definitely feels bitter, right? And Mitt Romney is trying to get beyond it, et cetera.

And he got to the essence of why he thought they lost, which they're still wrong about, which is that he said, oh, ObamaCare was a gift.

KURTZ: Popular, yes.

UYGUR: Right, and Latinos wanted ObamaCare and that's why they voted for Obama. That's not true. That just makes himself feel better. But that's not the case at all.

KURTZ: To Romney's credit, he said more than once that he made mistakes in the campaign.


KURTZ: At the same time, he was kind of stiff and guarded and some of his explanations, which didn't surprise somebody who like -- you covered him.

KUCINICH: Right. I don't think anyone expected him to come out and be a different person.

KURTZ: So somebody who had tried to cover that campaign and had little access to Romney and his inner circle, what did you make of the interview?

KUCINICH: You know, I think it's newsworthy because he -- you know, I spent the better part of last two years covering him. So, I mean, the fact what he's doing now is absolutely newsworthy, and -- but I think, you know, he rightly said that he accepted responsibility, that the campaign accepted responsibility for what they did wrong and they didn't reach out to minorities. He didn't say how they could have done that better.

But, yes, I mean, I think that it was -- it was interesting. But, also, on the second part of the interview, I didn't hear anything new. I heard, pull the string Mitt Romney talking points that I listened to all last year.

KURTZ: I see.

OK. Let me play a second bite from the FOX News interview and here, Ann Romney was asked about whether or not the country got a good picture of her husband or a picture of him as being rich and out of touch. The descriptions we heard so often during the 2012 campaign.


ANN ROMNEY: It was partly true, but it was not just the campaign's fault, I believe it was the media's fault, as well, is that he was not giving, being given a fair shake that people weren't allowed to see him for who he was.


KURTZ: Media's fault, as well?

CARNEY: I think a Republican blaming the media for being unfair to it is like a football player saying, oh, we lost because it so cold in this playoff game in November. You got to learn to deal with that. I think she was actually wrong where the media was at all fault.

I didn't think the media was too hard on Mitt Romney, I thought the media was too soft on Barack Obama and didn't go into a lot of his deceptions or problems of his first term.

UYGUR: Yes. Look, they were rich and out of touch, and that was the problem. So, that's the one thing the media did do right. Present it that way, it's true.

KURTZ: The fact that they are rich is a fact. Whether they're out of touch is an opinion.


KURTZ: Some thought the media provided a kind of caricature of the Romneys. But at the same time, always came back to the question, what was Romney doing giving very few interviews, by the way, to drive a positive message about himself?

UYGUR: Well, no, look, they covered it accurately. The Obama campaign pushed the Bain days. And when you look at the Bain days, they did destroy a lot of jobs and they did for their financial gains.

KURTZ: For those who have already forgotten, his years as a venture capitalist at Bain Capital.

UYGUR: Right.

KURTZ: And whether or not outsourcing and layoffs a result of corporate takeover.

UYGUR: Right. And then, secondly, he's the one who said the 47 percent number. So, you can't blame the media for covering it.

KURTZ: Forty-seven percent of Americans feel they're entitled to government benefits and they act like victims.

UYGUR: Exactly.

KUCINICH: There were people within the campaign that wanted him to come out more and be more of himself and show that to the public. And even at the end, people were saying, I don't know this guy. So, I think --


UYGUR: I think that is Romney. The Romney is the guy saying to his rich donors, hey, 47 percent are bums.

KURTZ: So you're saying don't blame the media for that portrait?

UYGUR: Yes, it was -- because the media did their job in showing you who Romney really was.

CARNEY: But also, I think it really comes down to the fact that Romney somehow didn't think it was his job to push these stories. When Romney finally said, I'm being misrepresented on what I said about Detroit, you finally got people fact checking Obama and misleading. But it took until the last debate.

KURTZ: OK. Let me jump in, we could talk about this for the next couple of hours.

A very weird interview this morning on ABC's "This Week." Dennis Rodman just back from a trip from North Korea, Rodman, the somewhat, eccentric former pro-basketball player, talked to George Stephanopoulos about his meeting with Kim Jung Un.


DENNIS RODMAN, FORMER NBA PLAYER: He wants Obama to do one thing. Call him.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: He wants a call from President Obama?

RODMAN: That's right. He told me that. He said, if you can, Dennis, I don't want to do war. I don't want to do war. He said that to me.


KURTZ: One question I didn't hear which is, Dennis Rodman, what are you doing going to North Korea and meeting with this leader and a guy who allows no human rights in his country, a guy who is testing nuclear weapons that he could use against the U.S.? When did Dennis Rodman become an American pseudo-diplomat?

KUCINICH: I think you're absolutely right, it was a weird interview.

KURTZ: But to Stephanopoulos' credit, he -- when Rodman said he may go back to North Korea a second time. Report on human rights abuses in North Korea and maybe you should read it and ask him about it. Kind of making clear that didn't know what he was talking about when it comes to the communist country.

CARNEY: Well, this is part of the problem. You get somebody on, you get an athlete to talk about politics and you expect them to say something intelligent and some of them can and some of them can't.

UYGUR: He went with "VICE" and "VICE" usually does terrific documentaries and we'll have to see what the final product is. But he's, obviously, not prepared for what North Korea actually is. He doesn't know about the prison camps. He came back and said Kim Jung Un was awesome and I don't like him, I love him.

That's just, that's ridiculous.

KURTZ: Is that a technical diplomatic term, awesome?


KURTZ: All right. Cenk Uygur, Tim Carney, Jackie Kucinich, thanks very much for stopping by this morning.

Up next, my 2 cents on Sean Hannity's shout fest with Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison. Which one behaved badly?


KURTZ: Sean Hannity isn't exactly known for being shy but when the FOX News host got into the heated confrontation this week, it was the guest who picked the fight.

Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison went on the offensive immediately, this after Hannity tried to blame President Obama for the stalemate. And he did it in a highly personal way.


REP. KEITH ELLISON (D), MINNESOTA: Quite frankly, you are the worst excuse for a journalist I've ever seen. I mean, what you just displayed was not journalism. It was yellow journalism. It wasn't anything close to try to tell the American people what's really going on and, I mean, just shocking to me.

HANNITY: Yellow journalism?


HANNITY: To play Obama in his own words is yellow journalism?


KURTZ: Hannity is not a journalist. He's a conservative commentator.

I have to say, Hannity tried to engage Ellison in some kind of conversation, but the Minnesota lawmaker kept talking over him, barely allowing him to ask another question.


ELLISON: I was there August 2011 when the Republicans, your party, which you shamelessly represent --

HANNITY: I'm not a Republican. Let me correct the record.

ELLISON: You are nothing but a Republican. Yes, you are.

HANNITY: Sir, sir, I am a registered -- sir, Congressman. I am not a registered Republican. I'm a registered conservative.

ELLISON: You are a shill for the Republican Party.


KURTZ: Now, Hannity often defends the GOP, but he isn't a registered Republican. What was troubling here was that Ellison accepted the invitation to come on and then saying interested only in attacking Hannity.

Now I have a record of calling out Sean Hannity when I think he is wrong, but in this case, he wasn't wrong. Ellison told me in a statement I stood up to Sean Hannity because of what the sequester will mean for millions of Americans who have already been forced to work harder while they get by with less.

The president is not being an alarmist in chief or president panic when he talks about these cuts, he is leading. If you're not a Fox fan, check out the video and make up your own mind. But I do have to deduct points over what Hannity did later in the week.

He attacked Ellison who is Muslim over having written two papers supporting Louis Farrakhan as a law student and suggesting that Ellison might be the, quote, "equivalent of the Ku Klux Klan." Even Hannity had to elude to the fact that the congressman apologized a half dozen years ago for once having supported Farrakhan and with that, Hannity surrendered the high ground.

Coming up, Michelle Obama's media blitz, is the first lady being overexposed and should she have showed up at the Oscars?


KURTZ: Michelle Obama has become more of a television presence than any first ladies since the invention of the cathode ray tube. At times she seems to be everywhere.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What have you accomplished with let's move and what remains to be done?

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: When we started, there were a lot of people in this country who would have never thought that childhood obesity was a health crisis.

This is my mid-life crisis, the bangs. I couldn't get a sports car, they won't let me bungee jump so instead I cut my bangs.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You went for the bang. You're the boss of your hair.

OBAMA: I can do this. This is all mine.

There's so many different activities you can do indoors or outside. Get moving. It's good for you.


KURTZ: Getting tired just watching this, but it was her decision to join the Oscars last Sunday and announce the best picture award for Ben Affleck and "Argo," which left some pundits asking, how much is too much?


JENNIFER RUBIN, "WASHINGTON POST": She's the first lady. She's not just a Hollywood celebrity.

MATT LAUER, NBC NEWS: I heard a lot of people say, I don't know about the academy awards, too close to Hollywood, maybe that was one step too far.

PIERS MORGAN, HOST, CNN'S "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT": Should she have been there at all?

DONNIE DEUTSCH, CHAIRMAN, DEUTSCH INC.: From my vantage point, absolutely not. This is not a horrible crime in the scheme of things, but as far as I'm concerned, she was an uninvited guest.


KURTZ: Joining us now to examine the first lady's unprecedented media blitz Sally Quinn, editor-in-chief of the "Washington Post" and in New York, Barbara Lippert, editor-at-large for "Media Post."

Sally Quinn, clearly, Michelle showing up at the Oscars rubbed some people the wrong way. Overreaction?

SALLY QUINN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, "WASHINGTON POST": You know, I was absolutely baffled by the reaction. I thought it was fine. What I thought was that our movies, the American movies are the greatest ambassador we have to the world, I mean, even our worst enemies. Even the Taliban, even Kim Jong-un, I mean, all of these people watch American movies and they're riveted by it. They're all watching this show and out comes our first lady who is a black American woman who can appeal to people in developing countries and she's talking about the importance of the message that we're trying to send the American people.

KURTZ: Are you suggesting some of the criticism might be by the fact that she's an African-American woman?


QUINN: No, I'm saying that is a positive thing for the United States. I think she was a great ambassador for this country, as our movies are. So I thought it was a brilliant idea to have her on there.

KURTZ: The one thing that struck me as potentially valid, Barbara Lippert, in all the media chatter about this was if you don't want to watch Michelle Obama on Jimmy Fallon or "Ellen" or any one of these shows, you can just turn it off. When this mass event where we all watch the Oscars every year, people didn't know it was coming and therefore they couldn't avoid her.

BARBARA LIPPERT, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, "MEDIA POST": Well, that's exactly right. I think she did elevate an evening that really needed elevating. She lent some grownupness to a thing aimed at 14-year-old boys, but it wasn't her terms and her agenda.

When she's on Jimmy Fallon and when she is with Big Bird, she's so delightful. I mean, even the worst curmudgeon on the right could not criticize her desire to get kids moving.

But by contrast, the White House thing was a little awkward, a little staged, a little stiff. The beaming military behind her certainly didn't help and just opened the door for conservatives to criticize her about the Hollywood money and donors.

QUINN: Well, I thought it was a great idea and I thought that she, you know, we're looking for so many ways to improve our image across the world. And I think --

KURTZ: What about this point that, yes, there were military people behind her and --

QUINN: You know that they were having the governor's conference dinner that night. She was already in black tie and those military people were escorts. They always have escorts at the White House parties.

KURTZ: But I think maybe what's at the heart of this, why it is a media story, beside the fact that we like talking about Michelle Obama and her bangs is that it maybe seems in this second term that she's more enamored of being a celebrity as opposed to carefully staging her media appearance to drive an agenda, which in her case has to do with childhood obesity. QUINN: Well, I think that she does need to focus exactly on what she wants to achieve. I think the childhood obesity thing is a great thing to do. There have been some criticism of her recently saying why didn't she focus more, why doesn't she focus more on women's issues the way Hillary Clinton did, for instance. She could do that, but I think the more attention she gets, the more people are going to respond to her. I think this is a way for her to do it.

KURTZ: There has been some criticism even from liberal columnists, why doesn't Michelle Obama take on more issues, issues that are less safe, perhaps given her popularity as first lady. So Barbara, instead, we get all of this talk, and maybe some of it is just hot air, that she's hanging out with the liberal Hollywood crowd.

LIPPERT: Right. I think that her initiative, the let's move initiative is about women. It's about families. It's about human beings and children. It's about the women little girls will become. So she is connecting on that level.

Look, she said, whatever I do, I will get criticized for. I understand that and you know, even if it's as dumb as my hair and my bangs. So I think she is taking something that is beyond criticism, which is her let's move agenda and I think the appearance that Oscars may have diluted that a little and opened her to people saying she is overexposed.

KURTZ: I think the first lady has a very healthy attitude towards all the static that swirls around her by saying, yes, even my bangs can start a national conversation. At the same time, you know, if you're not -- if you don't particularly like the Obamas.

If this was another administration and another first lady for those who are on the other side of the political fence, can it -- are we reaching a point where it seems like they're inescapable, they're on everything.

President at the Super Bowl and Michelle at the Oscars, there could be some danger in that kind of overexposure.

LIPPERT: Well, they are the president of the United States --

KURTZ: That doesn't mean they have to visit us every single day.

QUINN: No, I just want to say one thing. Are they going Hollywood? I mean, first of all, Hollywood is liberal and the Obamas are liberal. And, so, there is always going to be that kind of connection. But Clint Eastwood at the Republican Convention was as about as Hollywood as you can get. So I think the Republicans --

KURTZ: His reviews weren't as good.

QUINN: Complaining about her going Hollywood is a little over the top.

KURTZ: Barbara, is this a phony media controversy that we use to fill some of the time in between talking about the sequester -- LIPPERT: She's so delightful and beautiful, that we love talking about her. But the thing is she's not the person to appear from the White House at the academy awards. Franklin Delano Roosevelt did a radio show where he spoke for 6 minutes about things including the Land Lease Act.

And Laura Bush appeared in a film about films in 2002, and she said her favorite movie was "Giant" because the guy was falling apart, he was destitute, and then the oil well came in.

KURTZ: So this is hardly unprecedented in your view, and I don't know. I guess other politicians have appeared on "Sesame Street" with Big Bird, but this seemed more memorable.

All right, after the break, why are the media savaging another woman, Yahoo's Marissa Mayer. We'll look at the furor over her ban on employees working at home.


KURTZ: When Marissa Mayer left Google last year to take over Yahoo!, she was hailed by the press as a young, dynamic CEO who just happened to be pregnant at the time. Just last week, Mayer got a big platform with a "Today" show interview.


SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC NEWS: A lot of people, of course, know you took on this job of being CEO of Yahoo!, but you had another big job, which is of course, having a little baby who just was born in September. How is he doing?

MARISSA MAYER, YAHOO CEO: Well, I have been mom now for about four and a half months and I've been CEO for seven months. I would say that I wouldn't miss a minute of either experience. They have both been great. It does take a lot of focus.


KURTZ: But now the press seems to have turned on Mayer in the wake of a memo ordering Yahoo! employees who work at home to start coming to the office every day or lose their jobs.


DR. NANCY SNYDERMAN, NBC NEWS CHIEF MEDICAL EDITOR: Everyone was looking to her as the 37-year-old new woman face of a CEO Fortune 500 company and she's adopted the boys rules of everybody come to campus.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS: Show up at the office or quit. That's the memo that Yahoo! just sent its employees.


KURTZ: Barbara Lippert, why are the media making this so intensely personal, this long running dispute of work and family when it comes to Marissa Mayer?

LIPPERT: Well, it really comes down to e-mail. The employees were so outraged at getting this thing from HR. It wasn't even her internal memo. It was from Human Resources. They were so outraged that they all sent it to Cara Swisher, a journalist, to leak it.

KURTZ: Who works for the web site, "All Things Digital," Cara Swisher working --

LIPPERT: So, it was leaked in the worst possible way. Even if it makes sense, you know, Yahoo! has been a struggling company forever. It has no distinct advantage in the marketplace. She really needs all hands on deck and to do whatever she has to, but she needs to do it in a flexible way.

If she built herself a nursery, she should announce that the one Yahoo! nursery will make your life easier. We're going to have vans going back and forth all the time. We understand you're working parents.

So, if you have a sick child, you can bring your child to the Yahoo! nursery rather than announcing if you have the cable guy coming, you might use your judgment, but otherwise, you're out of luck.

KURTZ: I have to ask you Sally Quinn, if a male CEO at Yahoo! had issued the exact same policy, would there be this kind of media storm?

QUINN: Well, there are all these extenuating circumstances. I mean, we just heard that she built herself a nursery with her own money. How many people can do that and where are they going to get the space?

KURTZ: Marissa Mayer is being paid more than $100 million in Yahoo! She did build a nursery right next to her baby next to her office. She doesn't have to worry about leaving the baby.

QUINN: Unfortunately, what that does is that just kind of wipes out any credibility she has on this issue. I think today if a male CEO made the same request or demand of the employees, there would be an outcry and there would be an outcry because what happens in a lot of these offices and particularly in the Internet is that people do work at home.

They often are more productive at home. Now, I think people are looking at this as black or white. Either you can work at home or you can't work at home. Well, obviously, for instance, at "Washington Post," if everybody worked from home, there would be nobody in the office.

So that's not going to work. So there are certain people who can and certain people who can't depending on what their jobs are. I, for instance, work from home but go into the office two or three times a week and I think it's important for me to be there because we have meetings and we talk to each other. KURTZ: Right. It's not black or white.

QUINN: Exchange ideas. It's sort of draconian to say either --

KURTZ: Never or you're going to get fired.

QUINN: Never come in or you're going to get fired. That doesn't make any sense.

KURTZ: By the way, Barbara, many men telecommute, but that somehow kind of morphed into a debate about working mothers and --

LIPPERT: Absolutely. You know, the engineers are going to be up in arms too. And I think she comes off as terribly imperious when I think she's just tone deaf. This isn't the first big PR mistake she's made.

You showed a clip of the "Today" show and she chose to go on the "Today" show to show the new design of the front page, when Yahoo! has a deal with ABC and the very day she was on the "Today" show Robin Roberts returned and they got a million more viewers.

When she did reveal the new home page there was nothing new there. Savannah Guthrie almost said as much. So she also when interviewed, she speaks in PowerPoint. You know, people want her to say, something more than the baby is fun and her job is fun. They want her to be a role model for women, and she refuses to be.

QUINN: Well the other thing, Howie, she said she wasn't a feminist. But I don't know what that means. I mean, anybody who believes in equality is a feminist. So the idea of saying I'm not a feminist doesn't make any sense.

KURTZ: I think part of what's going on here is that when she got this job and she was young, attractive, come from Google and she was pregnant, the media made her into a huge celebrity. How many Silicon Valley CEOs can most people name? And then of course, once we built somebody like that up you know what next step is, and now we seem to be tearing her down.

QUINN: Right.

KURTZ: Final thought on that Barbara, is she going through that cycle?

LIPPERT: Yes, we're not just tearing her down. She's, you know, this was a really bad move. It was a really ham-handed move (inaudible) out like that.

KURTZ: Maybe it was. But if this had been done at Microsoft or some other way, we'd be debating the working policy, we would not be debating Steve Balmer. We're debating Marissa Mayer because we made her famous and that made her a target. I've got 20 seconds.

LIPPERT: Right. What she's advocating looks like a way backwards as Yahoo! helps people work at home. QUINN: I agree. Totally agree.

KURTZ: We will end on this point of consensus and Marissa Mayer I think needs to speak out and talk a little bit, defend herself rather than hiding behind PR people. Sally Quinn, Barbara Lippert, thanks for joining us this morning.

Still to come, "The Washington Post" ends the ombudsman position after 43 years. "Business Week" magazine's highly offensive cover and the ultimate parting shot at the "New York Times" plus the cute little animal tale that was, well, too good to be true. "Media Monitors" straight ahead.


KURTZ: Time now for the "Media Monitor," our weekly look at the hits and errors in the news business. The cover of Bloomberg "Business Week" was headlined the great American housing rebound, but the cartoon illustration was a psychotic looking black man waving cash, a sexy Latino woman and another crazed-looking African-American with a dog.

How could any editor have thought these offensive stereotypes were OK to publish? Editor Josh Tyrangiel told "Politico," our cover illustration last week got strong reactions which regret. Our intention was not to incite or offend. If we had to do it over again, we do it differently. Now that is an understatement. The odd thing is the cover artist is a Latino who sees nothing wrong with the drawing.

"The Washington Post" has abolished the ombudsman's job after 43 years, turning its back of having an in-house critic. The paper will name a reader representative to deal with outside complaints and occasionally write online, but not produce a weekly column.

What's worse, this reader rep will not be a contractor with guarantee independence as the previous ombudsmen were but a post employee. Even in the era of budget cutbacks this is a sad development and in my view a mistake.

Some American journalists it turns out have been secretly taking money from the government of Malaysia. One of them according to "Buzzfeed" is conservative commentator Joshua Trevino who was paid $390,000 over a three-year span and paid out smaller sums to other right leaning journalist was to write about Malaysia.

Now Trevino who lost his column in London's "Guardian" for not coming clean about the payments lied to "Politico" in 2011 saying I was never on any Malaysian entity's payroll and I resent your assumption that I was.

Trevino now tells "Buzzfeed" the payments were part of a fairly standard PR operation and when "Buzzfeed" editor Ben Smith asked him about them, quote, "I ought to have come clean with him at the time."

The "Huffington Post" has deleted Trevino's posts for his violation of its ethical guidelines. By the way, taking money from a foreign government without not disclosing it, is not some typical PR operation, it is outright deception.

When a man named Amos Shushman died, his family took out a paid death notice in "The New York Times." He loved his family it said, finance, skiing, opera, biking in Central Park. In fact, it said, he loved everything about New York City except "The New York Times." Talk about a parting shot. Good for the "Times" for publishing it.

It's not every day you see a pig rescuing a goat on YouTube, which is why several news shows including "Fox And Friends" and "Good Morning America" went gaga over this footage.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This may sound like a sea rescue but a baby goat gets stuck in water at a petting zoo. This is terrible, baby goat. Send in the rescue pig. What is a rescue pig? Take a look.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That is the cutest thing.


KURTZ: Heart warming, right? Well, until we learned that the shoot you're watching right now had been staged by Comedy Central. Brian Williams acknowledged the error on "NBC Nightly News."


BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: It was a viral video back in September that purported to show a pig rescuing a goat from a pond and rocketed all over the world at the time on a ton of websites. A lot of different broadcasts, including this one and while we said at the time we have no way of knowing it was real, despite checking, we now know it wasn't.


KURTZ: Williams called it pig gate, but the scandal here is the failure to verify whether the footage was, in fact, real.

That's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurt. If you miss a program, check us out on iTunes every Monday and get our podcast, search for RELIABLE SOURCES in the iTunes store.

We are back here 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.