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Reliable Sources

Trash Talk Over Boston; Boston Victims Overshadowed

Aired April 28, 2013 - 11:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: Remember how the media tried to play a positive and unifying role after the shock and horror of the Boston bombing? Well, that didn't last long.


ANN COULTER, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: They should have just kept shooting when they caught him in the boat. Just get him an automatic death penalty there.

LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC: The NRA is also in the business of helping bombers get away with their crimes.


KURTZ: Has the attack becomes just the latest fodder for partisan commentators?

Are the suspects' religious beliefs getting too much scrutiny or not enough?

And has the coverage been way too sympathetic to the 19-year-old suspect?

A "New York Times" columnist takes me on and says the media are pushing a liberal agenda on gun control and other issues. I'll take that up with Ross Douthat.

Plus, President Obama takes some jabs at the media at last night's White House Correspondents' Dinner, including a Web site that's been getting a lot of buzz.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The media landscape is changing so rapidly. You can't keep up with it. I mean, I remember when "Buzz Feed" was just something I did in college around 2:00 a.m.


KURTZ: But should the press corps be yakking it up with the White House gang and all those celebrities?

I'm Howard Kurtz and this is RELIABLE SOURCES. (MUSIC)

KURTZ: The coverage of the Boston bombing took a sharp turn this week as the narrative turned to the motivation of the Tsarnaev brothers and whether federal authorities had mangled the case. There was some angry talk about Muslims, as much of the media world picked side, pointed fingers and engaged in ideological sniping.


BOB BECKEL, FOX NEWS: We might want to rethink now and say do we want to allow any more Muslim students into this country, take a period of time two years, three years, four years and just stop that from happening?

TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS: I think we also have to examine the use of drones that the United States is involved in and there are a lot of civilians who are innocently killed in a drone attack in Pakistan and Afghanistan and in Iraq.

BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: So, how exactly would you fight the war against terrorism, Tom? You want to invade Pakistan?

ALEX WAGNER, MSNBC: I think that Krauthammer and O'Reilly going after the president and saying he's not being tough enough on Muslims smelled a little bit like a precursor to, is the president actually secretly a Muslim?


KURTZ: So, what explains the ugliness that erupted after the marathon was marred by violence?

Joining us now: in Los Angeles, Cenk Uygur, host of "The Young Turks" on Current TV and on the Web. In Seattle, Michael Medved, host of the syndicated "Michael Medved Radio Show". And here in Washington, Jane Hall, associate professor at American University School of Communications.

Cenk Uygur, has the tone on the airwaves about what happened in Boston gotten too vitriolic?

CENK UYGUR, YOUNG TURKS: Well, it has, but we know why. I mean, let's be honest about who makes it vitriolic. It's usually FOX News talking about Muslims, which is ironic because it is the same Bill O'Reilly who kept calling Dr. Tiller, Dr. Tiller the baby killer until Scott Roeder shot him. So, here's a fundamentalist that's a Christian worried about fundamentalists who are Muslims and driving people to violence, incredibly ironic.

KURTZ: I understand -- I understand why you as a liberal would want to blame FOX News but when you have something we just played, MSNBC's Alex Wagner saying that Charles Krauthammer and Bill O'Reilly are on the verge of calling President Obama a Muslim because of the criticism of the president's remarks. Neither of those guys have gone anywhere near that garbage. So it's not entirely just on one side. UYGUR: Well, I mean, it's a funny way of balancing things out, Howard. I mean, on the one side, you have a guy who keep saying, Muslim, terrorist, Muslim, terrorist, trying to equate the two. On the other side, you have somebody saying, hey, maybe that's not that wise and maybe they're implying something here that they shouldn't be implying.

So, I don't equate those two as equal. Just to say that one side does something 1 percent or 10 percent may be wrong doesn't justify the other side doing something 100 percent wrong. If Bill O'Reilly wants to keep going in that direction, hey, listen, do you know since 1995, 56 percent of the terrorist acts in the United States have been right winged terrorists?

KURTZ: Let me jump in because I want to --

UYGUR: Only 12 percent have been Muslim terrorists.

KURTZ: -- bring Michael Medved into the conversation.

Same question to you -- is the media tone on this in some quarters too vitriolic? And you just heard Cenk blamed it mostly on FOX News.

MICHAEL MEDVED, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: When you're talking about an a event like Boston, which is so horrifying and 30 people still in the hospital and there are people permanently crippled. When you say too vitriolic, I mean, the American people are upset. It's the most series successful terrorist attack on the homeland itself since 9/11. It's a serious matter.

And in terms of the association with radical Islam, look -- first of all, it's not just FOX News. CNN and, yes, even MSNBC and the major networks have all covered the fact and very appropriately that it was his process of Islamization, his process of becoming more, quote, "devoted to his faith" that led Tamerlan Tsarnaev towards his terrorism.

And this is the difference with all those, quote, "right wing attacks" that Cenk wants to talk about. You can't point. Timothy McVeigh was not a Christian terrorist. He did not commit his heinous acts based upon some kind of Christian ideology. In fact, he said he was an agnostic and he rejected formal Christianity. People alone in Islam --

KURTZ: And I want to broaden this, Michael, let me ask you. Some people think that those in the mainstream media, perhaps those left-leaning are shying away from the notion that Islam and religion played a role in the radicalization of these suspects. Do you not agree with that?

MEDVED: I think that occasionally you hear voices like that. But I think that your network, for instance, has done a pretty good job. One of the reasons for that is because the whole Tsarnaev family making it so easy. I mean, when you have the mother of the year, Zubeidat Tsarnaev, saying, "Allahu Akbar," and sounding like the wicked witch of the east, it makes it easy to make the association.

KURTZ: All right. Let me bring in Jane Hall. Let me take you back to this core question. Why are some hosts and some pundits on the war path over ideological and otherwise over this Boston tragedy?

JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF COMMUNICATION: I think that FOX is practically waging a campaign to link the words radical and Islam. I don't think radical Islam is a religion. I think what happens can be a perversion from what I understand of religion. I don't think the media should shy away from looking at how these young men got radicalized, what he learned when he went -- back to Russia. I don't think we should shy away and I think sometimes we do.

But I think there is a difference between endlessly linking this and saying, you know, they're hopefully having visuals that say radical Islam with these young men's pictures and talking about how they should have been shot in the boat and how the wife of one of the suspects should be imprisoned simply because she is wearing a head dress in the Muslim religion.

KURTZ: Not anybody on FOX is saying that.

HALL: Many people on FOX are saying that.


MEDVED: I'm sorry. That's just not true. Ann Coulter made a couple really outrageous comments, which disturbed me, as well. You are not hearing stuff other than from Ann Coulter --

HALL: Bob Beckel, Bob Beckel.

KURTZ: Who is a liberal, by the way.


MEDVED: Again, I don't -- look, the point about this is that it is the Tsarnaev family themselves. Uncle Ruslan, Ruslan Tsarni, he was the one who initiated this idea, this troupe in the media, talking about his own nephews that it was the fact that they had become involved with what he called all this religious nonsense that led them to violence. So --

UYGUR: You guys are missing it.


HALL: My point. Wait, my point is that we don't know what happened here and, yet, there is a rush to tar all Muslims with radicalism. That's my point. I think it is, in many places, on FOX. I really think if you look at it, it's across a lot of different shows on FOX.

UYGUR: So, I think Jane is right about that. But the main point, guys, fundamentalism. Whether it's Muslim fundamentalism or it's Christian fundamentalism. And, Michael, get real. I mean, we've had how many abortion doctors killed because of Christian fundamentalists?


MEDVED: It's not true. It's not true.


KURTZ: Time out. Time out. Time out. Time out!

I want to say a couple things and then we'll resume this conversation. Let me tell you what bothers me about the tone on the airwaves. And I don't want to see us descend to the same kind of tone here.

Everybody who does commentary for a living is entitled to say what they think. This is, as you say, Michael Medved, an emotional issue. But it seems to me everyone has reverted to what they do, which is finger-pointing, demonizing, blaming the other side, whipping up their base. We do it for ratings. We do it for clicks.

What bothers me is it doesn't match the moment. The country was in shock and in grief and kind of coming together over the fact that not only were three people killed in Boston, but a couple hundred were wounded, maimed, people lost their legs and yet we're back to the same old partisan sniping.

All right. Cenk, you pick it up.

UYGUR: Two things about that that is really important. Number one, you know, look, Howard, there's a part of me that disagrees and I'll tell you why. OK? It's because after tragedies like this, we do have to take action. And the question is, what kind of action are we going to take?

And I said before we found out the suspect's identity here, because that was really an interesting moment. We didn't know if they were right wing or we didn't know if they were Muslims. We didn't know who they were. I said our reaction should be the same no matter what so that right wingers, left wingers, whoever should all agree what our proper reaction should be before we find out who it is. So, we don't fly off the handle either way.

At the same time, if there's a mass shooting or there's an act of terrorism, we do have to respond and there are political differences about how we respond.

KURTZ: Nobody --

UYGUR: Obviously, I think the right wing guys go overboard and we invaded Iraq after 9/11 for no reason, et cetera. But it is a moment where we have to make decisions.

KURTZ: Everyone agrees that these are important issues, that these emotional issues and they should be debated. I am talking about what I see in some instances, and you see it this week, you didn't see it too much last week as the ugly tone. Do you agree, Jane Hall, that this has almost become a default setting for a lot of people who are on the air who, in order to kick start their careers, they need to whip up, you know, certain degree of animosity?

HALL: Well, I think as time goes by and there is air to fill, you know, people do do that. I will say that I think a lot of people have tried to attach meaning to -- you know, some people have said this is proof that we need good government. Barney Frank said that and got a lot of criticism. Lawrence O'Donnell and others on MSNBC and others talked about this is a need for gun control.

KURTZ: Right.

HALL: People are attaching meaning to this partially because we're all fearful about how we can prevent this. I mean, there is a legitimate fear and legitimate concern. But I do think people attach their agendas to it.

KURTZ: Well, legitimate fear, legitimate concern, legitimate debate, but also in my view, a degree of exploitation and whipping things up because that's how you get people to watch you on the air.

When we come back, the avalanche of coverage about the suspects, have the media given enough attention to the victims of this awful attack?


KURTZ: The touching tribute on the cover of "Boston Magazine", a heart formed by many, many running shoes worn by those who ran in the Boston marathon.

The media pendulum in the last few days has started to swing back to the victims of the Boston bombings as journalists have sought out interviews with the wounded.


GIO BENITEZ, ABC NEWS: When you look at that incredible picture of him carrying you away, what goes through your mind?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: God had angels watching me that day.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN: Do you still feel it?

ADRIANNA HASLET-DAVIS, BOMBING VICTIM: I do, not right this second, but I do. When I have a sheet over it, I can feel the feeling of sheet on top of your toes. I still have phantom itch, which is weird. You can't scratch it.


KURTZ: But television has devoted huge amounts of airtime to the lives of the Tsarnaev brothers, in a way that critics such as Rush Limbaugh say is too sympathetic. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Just a mixed up kid, totally American kid out there smoking pot, watching YouTube, driving around in his Porsche, not liking America. Totally normal kid. Nothing to see here.

Very sad, in fact.


KURTZ: Jane Hall, has there not been enough on the victims, for example, we kind of moved on from the 8-year-old boy, Martin Richard, who was killed in that attack?

HALL: Well, you know, if Martin Richard's family were giving interviews, I'm sure many people have wanted them to do that.

I don't know about that, but I know enough about TV to know that we'd see that story. And I think it's very important to see the victims and you'll be surprised to hear, I actually think Rush Limbaugh has a point. To portray him as a hapless teenager or now, the frame is, this is a distortion of the American Dream, which is in two news stories that are out -- I don't agree with that.

KURTZ: OK. Here we have very lengthy pieces, front page of "The Washington Post", portrait of faded American dream, picture of the family, the Tsarnaev family there. "New York Times" front page, before bombs, a battered American dream.

And so, Michael Medved, have the media, to some extent, as they try to understand what happened to these two guys been portraying and, particularly, the 19-year-old, as a mixed up kid?

MEDVED: Well, I think it's inherently dramatic and it is a huge question because at least the younger brother, Dzhokhar, did seem to be enjoying some success in school, et cetera, et cetera. So, what goes wrong with someone like this?

And this brings me back to something that Cenk said earlier, which is it is different because these brothers have become radicalized and Islamic. And no, they don't represent all Muslims and no one is saying that every single Muslim in the United States represents some kind of problem or even potential problem.

But the point is there is a context here, and the context is there is a worldwide movement, it's a powerful worldwide movement. It's a dangerous worldwide movement. It's caused violence everywhere and these particular brothers became part of it. The question on how they became part of it and why seems to me a legitimate field for investigation.

KURTZ: And, Cenk, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, you know, he's not just a teenager. Yes, he, you know, seemed to be a semi-successful college student, but he is, allegedly, someone who kills and maims. I just worry that that is getting drained from some of these profiles. UYGUR: Yes, I'm surprised that people perceive that. I don't perceive that at all. I mean, he is a terrorist and everything I ever read talks about how he's a terrorist.

Look, you have to try to figure out their motives. Now, look, we give them too much attention on the one hand --

KURTZ: Do you have to figure out the motives or are they just two sick and twisted individuals who may not be -- even though it kind of serves the media agenda to paint this on a larger canvas, who may not be representative of anything much larger than anything than their own tendencies towards violence?

UYGUR: Well, we don't know until we figure out their motives. That's my point.

And, look, you know, I'm conflicted on this because I don't want to give too much attention to people who do this because I think some of them are doing it for the attention. When it came to the mass shooters in Newtown, for example, I've never said the guy's name because we don't publicize streakers. We don't show them on TV.

But when you shoot 26 people or you bomb and kill 4 people and injure 260 we go on and on about it. So, I get that point, Howard.

On the other hand, we've got to know what caused it, so we can prevent the next one.

KURTZ: All right, that's a fair point -- that's a fair point.

From "Washington Post", Jane Hall, the older one, Tamerlan, was sociable, even showy, dressing sharply, honing his body to become an Olympic boxer. I don't care. I don't care whether his friends think he's cool.

I just want to know about the crime, how it was committed and I don't want us to lose the spotlight, as I said, there's been more stories lately, interviews with the wounded on those who were hurt by their attacks as opposed to those who carried them out.

HALL: You know, again, I kind of show the ambivalence. On the one hand, I want to know what caused it, and on the other hand, I don't want the "People" magazine profile of these people. You know what I mean?

KURTZ: You know, there's amazing bit of use of technology in "New York Times" the other day on this, and I want to take a moment to show it. If we can put it up, "The Times" had a photograph of the moment of runners crossing the finish line in the Boston marathon when that explosion took place and was able through reporting to identify each person, interview them, do audio interviews, and then we could hear their sounds, we could hear their take on how they felt at that moment. Let's play some of that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I said out loud, this is how my life is going to end. And blessed myself and I said, please, God, let me children be okay because I didn't know where they were.


KURTZ: Using technology to tell the story.

Jane Hall, Cenk Uygur, and Michael Medved, thanks very much for joining us on this important and emotional topic this Sunday morning.

Up next, a "Boston Globe" columnist says it's the police officers and the first responders and the firefighters who should be getting media attention, not the men who set off the bombs. We go to Boston in just a moment.



OBAMA: If anyone wonders, for example, whether newspapers are a thing of the past, all you need to do was to pick up or logon to papers like "The Boston Globe."


KURTZ: President Obama talking about the hometown paper at last night's White House Correspondents' Dinner.

And joining me now from Boston is Kevin Cullen, columnist for "The Boston Globe."



I hope he follows that up with a digital subscription.


CULLEN: (INAUDIBLE) all the dough we can get.

KURTZ: You can send that note to the White House.

Now, you had a richly detailed piece in the paper the other day about the scene at the boat which Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured and you quote Billy Evans, who is the police supervisor on the scene yelling, "Hold your fire," and turning to the SWAT team and saying, "He hurt your guy, cuff him," before they took him out of that boat.


KURTZ: How did you get these police officers and firefighters to recount the story in such graphic detail?

CULLEN: Well, I guess, Howie, the best way to explain it. You know, obviously, this is the most followed story, news story in the last two weeks in the world. But for us here at "The Boston Globe", it's a local story.

So, one of the reasons -- personally, this has such an impact on me -- is that I know a lot of these first responders. I mean, I've known them for years and that's why I think it was a little different.

You know, I was in Omagh, Northern Ireland, in 1998 when 28 people and two unborn twins were killed by a bomb. I was in London in 2005 when more than 50 people were murdered by bombs on the tube and on a bus.

But two weeks ago, what happened in my town was deeply personal. And, so, I think for all my colleagues at "The Globe," all of us, this was a professional mission, but it was also a personal mission because we knew people. I know people who --

KURTZ: If I were to ask you, these are brave officers. If I were to ask you, could they be overdramatizing or embellishing the account at all -- you would say you know some of these guys and you trust them.

CULLEN: Oh, yes, absolutely, because the other thing is, if they embellish it, they have to live with us for the rest of their lives here. So, I always say the accountability and the closer you are to a lot of things, the more accountability there is. I have no doubt -- if anything, I thought they were understated the accounts I was given the other day.

KURTZ: Right. Kevin, you also in a different column interviewed the family of Sean Collier, he is the MIT police officer who was killed in the shootout with the older brother. Have people like him gotten enough attention, certainly nationally?

CULLEN: Well, I hope so. I mean, I think Sean Collier was the prototypical policeman, young policeman. He was very idealistic. And when I talk to his brothers and his sisters, they reached out to me. They wanted to talk to me because they wanted me to get, everybody knew about him as a police officer.

But they really wanted, as they said, they wanted to tell Sean's story and, yet, get the full in there, and I hope we accomplish that, because he was a wonderful young man. And he was not just admired on that campus, he was deeply loved by the students and the teachers and everybody at MIT.

KURTZ: And yet, as I mentioned a few moments ago, the big story, the big journalistic firepower, for example, in this morning's "New York Times" and "Washington Post" are these detailed profiles of the Tsarnaev brothers, what happened to them, where they went wrong. I mean, this is, you know, two full pages inside the paper of "The Washington Post."

Do you want to read these pieces? Do you care about this part of the story? CULLEN: I mean, I will read them, Howie, but I have to be honest -- from the moment those bombs went off, my personal concern and professional concern were the victims and the first responders.

So, actually, it's going to be easy for me to forget these guys because I can't pronounce their names. I want people to know people like Sean O'Brien (ph), firefighter who raced to the scene. The Danny Linski (ph), the superintendent chief of the police here in Boston, who's no disc jockey, who was on the streets when this stuff was going down early Friday morning.

I want people to remember the women from -- the policewomen from district four not too far from here, who went towards the bombs. When the bombs started going off, those police women went towards the victims. I want them to remember those names.

I want them to remember -- I want them to remember the Watertown police officers who responded to this. Johnny McClelland (ph), Jeff Poslisi (ph), the sergeant who brought the suspect down. Joe Reynolds (ph), the police officer who came across him.

Those are the names that America should remember because they are, I think, the word hero is used too often, and very often is to value. But what our first responders here, the firefighters, the police officers, emergency medical services people here. I don't know how to call what they did other than heroic.

KURTZ: Is there any danger because it's local and you know these people and you are, obviously, emotional about it that you're sort of too close to the story and that would affect your telling of it?

CULLEN: Maybe. That brings pluses and minuses with it, I guess. You know, I'm a columnist. I'm entitled to engage in opinion. But I also, I got to tell you, you know, this wasn't -- I mean, we're talking about me.

"The Boston Globe" as an institution really stepped up and I think showed its indispensability. I've listened for years people telling that we're dinosaurs and we're going to go away.

I think the last two weeks have shown more than anything, newspapers like "Boston Globe" are vital because we are part of this community and that attack on the marathon was not just an attack on Boston. It was an attack on all of us and we responded in kind. Woody Allen said 80 percent of life is showing up, well, the "Boston Globe" showed up.

KURTZ: I'm going to agree with you on that point. "The Boston Globe" showed up and also got million of visitors to its web site because it dropped its pay wall because of the magnitude of this event.

I think some of what you said here today shows you the value of not just reporters who know the community, but reporters who live in the community and bring that emotional attachment. Kevin Cullen, thanks very much for joining us from Boston. CULLEN: Thanks, Howie.

KURTZ: Next, George W. Bush has been all over the airwaves this week and ducking most of the media's questions.

Plus, the press corps takes its hits at the White House Correspondent's Dinner both from the president and Conan O'Brien.


CONAN O'BRIEN, HOST, "CONAN": Some people say print media is dying and I don't believe it and neither does my blacksmith.



KURTZ: George W. Bush has stayed far from the media spotlight since leaving office. This week all as all the living presidents gathered in Dallas for the dedication of his library, which created a round of television interviews. But despite the best efforts of these journalists, the former president showed his skill at ducking questions.


MATT LAUER, NBC NEWS: Do you want people to look at some of the information you had and do you think you'll convince the people who thought it was an unjust war, the wrong war at the wrong time that perhaps you were right?

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: Look, the whole purpose is to lay out the facts as I saw them at the time and people make their own judgments, some will agree, some will disagree.

DIANE SAWYER, ABC NEWS: One of the issues in which there seems to be some shift taking place among senators is gay marriage. We know that Mrs. Bush has weighed in, ready to weigh in?

BUSH: No. But thank you for trying.


KURTZ: So, Bush managed to celebrate his presidency without having to make news. While Fox News sent Bret Baier to interview Bush, the network also sent his former press secretary.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, this is my last question.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Who is your biggest fan?

BUSH: My sweet press secretary. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Dana Perino is a nice person, was a good spokeswoman. But can you imagine the reaction at Fox at MSNBC and sent Robert Gibbs to interview former President Obama.

Now, last night, I put on the tux for the White House Correspondents' Dinner, this annual ritual that has turned into such an overblown spectacle. And President Obama took his usual swipes at the media including the cable news networks.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I know CNN has taken some knocks lately, but the fact is, I admire their commitment to cover all sides of the story, just in case one of them happens to be accurate.

So, my former advisors have switched over to the dark side. For example, David Axelrod now works for MSNBC, which is a nice change of pace since MSNBC used to work for David Axelrod.

The History Channel is not here. I guess, they were embarrassed about the whole Obama is a devil thing, of course, that never kept Fox News from showing up.


KURTZ: Let's bring back our panel. Michael Medved, you're a film critic. What does this look like to the rest of the country?

MICHAEL MEDVED, SYNDICATED RADIO HOST: It looks like a bunch of insiders talking inside baseball. The number of ordinary Americans who immediately pick up the reference to the fact, that there were some people who thought that the guy who played Satan on the History Channel's theme on "The Bible" looked like Obama. This is not what the president needs right now. He's at his best when he has the feeling that I can connect with ordinary people. That's why he won the election.

KURTZ: All right --

MEDVED: And the idea of at this moment hobnobbing with a lot of insiders in tuxedos. It doesn't help the president.

KURTZ: I want to focus on the press corps. Let me ask you, Cenk Uygur. Sarah Palin tweeted this yesterday. I have to clean it up a little bit. America is working butts off while D.C. -- clowns throw themselves nerd prom, which is the nickname for this annual event. She calls it pathetic. Does it seem pathetic to you that one night a year some socializing and a nice dinner with press corps and the administration officials.

CENK UYGUR, HOST, "THE YOUNG TORKS": Sarah Palin is amazing. You know who I saw at the last White House Correspondents' Dinner? Sarah Palin. KURTZ: Yes, she went to some of the parties a few years back.

UYGUR: Yes, absolutely. I saw her at one of the parties. It's unbelievable. She's -- now, look the reality about the White House Correspondents' Dinner, it should be a lot more awkward than it is. It should be the press who's challenging the government getting together one night and being friendly.

Unfortunately, I think they're friendly on many, many nights. You get a sense of how the press is not challenging the government enough. Can you imagine if Julian Assange was at the White House Correspondent's Dinner? There is a guy challenging the government and he is certainly not invited.

KURTZ: I don't think he got an invite, but a certainly a lot of celebrities, Amy Poehler and Nicole Kidman and people like that. But this has also become a great branding exercise for media corporations who have the big parties before and afterwards sponsored by "Vanity Fair," Bloomberg, MSNBC so it become this whole weekend event for media people.

JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF COMMUNICATIONS: Well, it has. It's kind of getting closer and closer to the Golden Globes. You know, I think Ed Henry, the head of it, pointed out that they give a lot of scholarships. They made a point of it because they have been criticized. I think one night of hobnobbing is OK, but -- but I agree it's too close.

KURTZ: What about the celebrity aspect? It's not like, look, whatever will people think of the White House press corps, most of them are not celebs. Most of them work hard, but it's not like one dinner is going to change their view of how they should do their jobs, right?

HALL: I don't think so.

MEDVED: This is particularly strong in terms of blending the dividing line between Hollywood and Washington. And, I mean, I don't think that works well for Hollywood and I don't think it works well for Washington.

The fact that Conan O'Brien was the host that President Obama had some film clips that were very elegantly prepared, the president was funny. He's also always funny at this kind of event. But I think there is something a little bit tone deaf right now.

KURTZ: This guy's speechwriter has got to go. Cenk Uygur, once again, Michael Medved and Jane Hall.

After the break, "New York Times" columnist, Ross Douthat challenges me on whether journalists are pushing a liberal agenda on gun control and other issues. We'll bring you that debate in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KURTZ: The Newtown shootings four months of heavy media coverage and a failed congressional effort of expanding background checks. A vote that President Obama called a shameful day, but has the press been rooting for Congress to pass legislation on gun control and other social issues?

I spoke earlier with Ross Douthat a conservative columnist for the "New York Times."


KURTZ: Ross Douthat, welcome.

ROSS DOUTHAT, COLUMNIST, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Great to be here. Thanks for having me.

KURTZ: The gun control debate, the background check legislation that went down in the Senate, you see that as a classic example of media bias, media rooting for certain outcomes. Is that fair?

DOUTHAT: I mean, I think it's a little more complicated than that. I think it's a situation where the press likes to feel like they're in the vanguard of history on certain issues, right? Those are usually social issues and issues like gun control, gay marriage and so on.

I think those are the places where, you know, a lot of people in the press walk a very fine line between sort of trying to report neutrally, but also trying to, you know, be on the winning side and on social issues I think they tend to fall off that tight rope a little bit.

KURTZ: To the point of unfairness sometimes?

DOUTHAT: Yes, to the point of unfairness quite a bit.

KURTZ: OK, for example, Senators Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey, Democrat and Republican were kind of depicted as heroes for coming together with this compromise, which ultimately failed. And there was so much attention to that legislation and the day after it didn't get the 60 votes your newspaper "The New York Times" said it did not have a chance. Why were we given the impression that it might pass?

DOUTHAT: Well, it was also the intersection I think between the sort of vanguard vision of the press' role and the fact that it did have bipartisan support. I think that's the other -- there is also a media bias towards bipartisanship, right?

Because when something is bipartisan, it lets journalists who are, again, trying to sort of place things down the middle, be able to sort of root for an outcome. Look, it's bipartisan, we're not taking sides.

KURTZ: But you're saying it gives a kind of protective cover to say we're not in the camp of one party or the other. DOUTHAT: Well, think about how the press covered the Bowles- Simpson deficit plan, right? Now I like the Bowles-Simpson deficit plan. I mean, that's how America reacted maybe. But there was a sort of sense that because this was a bipartisan document. That it made sense to treat it as a kind of sacred text.

I think in sort of, again, not in sort of the to and fro of politics, but how the press portrayed it. Again, I liked a lot of things about that document. I'm not totally sorry the press played it that way, but I think you see that happening again and again.

There is sort of a desire for -- there is a desire for a figure like Michael Bloomberg, right, to sort of play this sort of post- partisan role, but that then intersects with the press' social issues.

When a figure like Bloomberg is mixing it up on guns, he gets to be a bipartisan, post-partisan figure and the press gets to sort of congratulate itself for being the history of vanguard.

KURTZ: That is hard for me to get my mind around. Let me turn to the column you wrote in "New York Times" and picked up something I wrote for "Daily Beast," which was soon after the Newtown massacre in which I said gun control was an important issue. The press has to be leading the conversation on this.

I certainly didn't say and you didn't say that I had contended that pressured push for gun control, but here's what you wrote, put it up on the screen. This is how the mainstream media tend to cover social issues. It involves acting as a crusading vanguard while denying often self righteously that anything of the sort is happening.

The trouble is that when you set out to lead a conversation, you often end up deciding where it goes, which side wins the arguments and even who gets to participate. I would say that it's important for journalists whether you like the phrase, leading the conversation or not, to push controversial issues that the politicians otherwise might prefer not to talk about.

DOUTHAT: Yes, no, I think that's fair and I also think it's fair. Look, journalists, you know, it's a hard job, right? The idea that there is a sort of perfect, unbiased position from which to cover the news is oft often, you know, it's often not achievable --

KURTZ: The easiest thing to do -- the easiest thing for journalists to do is to act as stenographers. President Obama said this. John Boehner said this. Experts say this. It's the harder thing to do when an issue is not being talked about and gun control was basically not mentioned in the 2012 campaign.

Same thing going back a couple of years on, you know, what's going to happen to Social Security and the deficit, these are issues to the politicians they are painful. They don't want to unwrap it because they will tick people off. So I say that the press has an affirmative responsibility to step up and you say, well, maybe but they seem tilted. DOUTHAT: Look at which issues you step up on, right. I mean, one of the things that conservatives have spent the last few weeks, and not only conservatives complaining about, is the way the press has covered or in most cases, hasn't covered this prominent trial of an abortionist in Philadelphia, Kermit Gosnell. He is accused of not only letting women die on his operating table, but delivering fetuses, babies and then snipping their spines.

KURTZ: A clear failure by much of the mainstream media, but you would say it is ideological or partial.

DOUTHAT: I would say that the choices that the press makes are not -- it's not always a case of explicit bias where you are going to the Goznell trial and you're writing this indicates pro-choice views or something.

It's more a question of what do you choose as the issue where you choose to crusade on, right. So press looks at Newtown and says, well, this is a moment when we need to lead a national conversation on gun control.

The press is less likely to look at the Goznell trial and say let's have a national conversation on abortion because it's an issue that's more likely to make the press a little bit uncomfortable because I don't think it is any secret that most people who work in our profession lean pro choice and lean liberal on social issues.

So again, it's not -- the issue is not that we shouldn't have a crusading press. It would be we would have a better press maybe if more issue of wider range of issues were prompting these crusades.

KURTZ: I agree with the leaning left on social issues and I also think that it is a challenge for journalists who have those views or opposite views to keep it out of their work. I think we see this on immigration too although on the one hand, you have the Republican Party trying to come to immigration reform.

So that's a natural political strategy, but I think you also have journalists saying, look, 11 million people here illegally. We're not going to kick them out. Let's have an honest conversation about that.

When you talk about deciding who gets to be in the conversation and where it goes I think that's where you lose me. Because now you are kind of using code words to say journalists are cooking the books so to speak in leading the conversation.

DOUTHAT: On immigration. I mean, again, it is tricky, right, but because as you say there are Republicans in favor of immigration reform as well as Democrats. But it's also the case if you look at where it is a bipartisan push for immigration reform coming from? It is coming from the Wall Street wing of the Republican Party. It's coming from let's say the elite wing of the Republican Party. The Koch brothers wing of the Republican Party.

KURTZ: It sounds like you are all right with the press being out front of the issues. You would like it in a more even handed fashion. DOUTHAT: I'd actually just like to have more diversity within the press core so you have more interesting stories pushed and more questions asked.

KURTZ: I'd like that too and something we can agree on. Ross Douthat, thank you for being here.

DOUTHAT: Thanks for having me.


KURTZ: Still to come, a profile of "New York Times" editor, Jill Abramson wreaks of sexism. Reuters fires an editor who is under indictment and could an anchor's on air "f" bomb turn out to be a good career move? The "Media Monitor" is next.


KURTZ: Time now for the "Media Monitor," our weekly look at the hits and errors in the news business. "New York Times" Executive Editor Jill Abramson was the subject of an old fashion hack it job in "Politico" this week. Unnamed "Times" staffers were quoted as saying that Abramson has been known to blow up in a meeting, travels a lot and once told an editor to change an online photo right this minute.

It is hard to imagine a male editor would have been described as impossible to deal with based on such puny antidotes. Now after a furious reaction online, the author, Dylan Buyers, said he didn't intend for the beast to be about gender and asked a few resources whether that criticism stems from Abramson being the first woman to hold that post and they said no. But sexist or not the story was really short on evidence.

Reuters has fired Matthew Keys, its deputy social media editor who happens to be under indictment. Keys would work for a television station owned by the Tribune Company is charged with helping the hackers group, "Anonymous," gain entry to the company's computer system.

Now Keys broke the news of his own firing on Twitter. He says Reuters made no mention of the indictment but objected to his personal writings about the Boston bombings and Keys told the "L.A. Times" it is irresponsible to connect the two, but given he had already been suspended it's hard to imagine the firing had nothing to do with the charges against him.

I'm sure you have heard by now about the North Dakota anchor who had the worst first day on the job ever. When A.J. Clemente dropped two curse words just before his newscast began, the video went viral.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: NBC North Dakota News, your news leader in high definition.

VAN TIEU, CO-ANCHOR: Good evening. I'm Van Tieu. You may have seen our newest A.J. Clemente on North Dakota news and he will be joining the weekend news team as my co-anchor.


KURTZ: KFYR promptly fired Clemente over that "f" bomb, but he got so much attention he wound up making the television rounds.


A.J. CLEMENTE, FIRED ANCHOR: When I first saw the clip, it was, gut wrenching. I didn't even know I said it on camera until my news director walked in on the third break.

MATT LAUER, HOST: And I think to tell people what kind of guy you are, you have absolutely no animosity toward the station?

CLEMENTE: No. I fully expected they would fire me. I even called my news director after and apologized again.

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST: Did you think that your life was finished when this happened?

CLEMENTE: Extremely. I went home, crawled in bed, and called my parents.


KURTZ: This was a really dumb mistake. You are wearing a microphone, dude and yet the station should have given him a second chance. It is weird how it made him famous and he will probably end up with a better job.

That's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz. Check us out on Monday if you missed any part of the program. You go to iTunes and search for RELIABLE SOURCES to get our podcast. 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.