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Victims: We are Grateful for Support; Ariel Castro's Brothers Speak Out; Covering Cleveland's Kidnapping
Aired May 12, 2013 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Brianna Keilar at the CNN Center in Atlanta with a news update.
We have new developments out of Cleveland this morning. Moments ago, we heard from attorneys representing the three young women who were freed last week after a decade in captivity.
CNN's national correspondent Susan Candiotti is in Cleveland. She was at the news conference.
Susan, what did you learn?
SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Brianna.
Well, coming to you from a very cold and windy Cleveland this day, we're learning that Amanda Berry and her little girl, as well as Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight are all spending this Mother's Day with family and/or friends.
Hearing this from a public relations firm here in Cleveland that has decided to represent these -- these victims for free and, in fact, they told us that on behalf of their new clients now that they are enjoying this day, that they are thankful for all the support they're getting and they wanted everyone to know this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIM WOOLEY, ATTORNEY REPRESENTING THE 3 CLEVELAND VICTIMS: Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight are extremely grateful for the general assistance and loving support of their family, friends and the community. They're also very grateful for the tireless efforts of the numerous law enforcement officials with the Cleveland police department, the Cuyahoga County sheriff, the FBI and the Cuyahoga County prosecutor's office.
Amanda Berry says, quote, "Thank you so much for everything you're doing and continue to do. I'm so happy to be home with my family."
Gina DeJesus said, quote, "I'm so happy to be home. I want to thank everyone for all your prayers. I just want time now to be with my family." Michelle Knight says, thank you to everyone -- quote, "Thank you to everyone for your support and good wishes. I am healthy, happy and safe. And will reach out to family, friends and supporters in good time."
There have been numerous requests from the media to interview or speak with Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight. In response to those requests, please understand this: Ms. Berry, Ms. DeJesus and Ms. Knight will not be participating in any interviews or speaking with any representatives of the media at this time, for the following reasons.
First, there is a pending criminal investigation and prosecution. Ms. Berry, Ms. DeJesus and Ms. Knight are victim/witnesses in that proceeding and it is not in the best interest of anyone connected with that proceeding for Ms. Berry, Ms. DeJesus and Ms. Knight to be making statements to the media while that proceeding is pending.
Second, and most importantly, Ms. Berry, Ms. DeJesus, and Ms. Knight have asked, in fact, have pleaded for privacy at this time so they can continue to heal and reconnect with their families and their lives. You all care greatly about their well being, so, please respect this most basic request. Give them the time, the space and the privacy so that they can continue to get stronger. There may be a time at some point in the future that Ms. Berry, Ms. Dejesus and Ms. Knight will want to tell their stories.
Let me make this very clear, that will not be while the criminal proceeding is pending and it will not be until they tell us they are ready to do so.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CANDIOTTI: Now, again, this public relations firm representing these ladies for free also did not take any questions this day, but we did learn separately from the Cuyahoga County sheriff who attended this news conference, along with the special agent in charge here in Cleveland that the suspect in this case, Ariel Castro, had two visitors. He met with two lawyers, according to the sheriff. It is his belief that this happened on Friday and these were two lawyers who might be representing Mr. Castro in the future. We'll have to see -- Brianna.
KEILAR: We certainly will be looking for that, Susan.
And this information that we heard today from this PR firm that is serving these women pro bono, it's really only part of the story out of Cleveland today. CNN has a world exclusive interview and I know you have part of it to share with us, Susan.
CANDIOTTI: Thank you.
When Ariel Castro was arrested on charges of kidnapping and raping three women for over a decade in his Cleveland home, police also arrested his two brothers. In fact, showing their faces to the world. In the minds of many people, all three were monsters. Last Thursday, police released Pedro and Onil Castro saying neither man had anything to do with the alleged abductions and torture of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight. Now, for the first time since their release, both men sat down and talked exclusively with CNN's Martin Savidge about their brother and their ordeal. They're grateful the young women and 6-year-old little girl are finally free and safe, but are haunted by missed clues, haunted by the media and are receiving death threats for something, they say, they did not do.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Do you worry now that people will always suspect that you actually did have a role?
ONIL CASTRO, ACCUSED KIDNAPPER'S BROTHER: Absolutely.
PEDRO CASTRO, ACCUSED KIDNAPPER'S BROTHER: Yes.
O. CASTRO: And the people out there that know me, they know that Onil Castro is not that person. Has nothing to do with that. Would never even think of something like that.
I was a very liked person, individual. I have never had any enemies. No reason for anybody to think that I would ever do something like that. It's shock to all my friends. They couldn't believe it.
P. CASTRO: Same. I couldn't, I could never think of doing anything like that. If I knew that my brother was doing this, I would not be -- I would not -- in a minute, I would call the cops, because that ain't right.
But, yes, it's going to haunt me down. Because people are going to think, yes, Pedro Castro got something to do with this. Pedro don't have nothing to do with this. If I knew, I would have reported it, brother or no brother.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CANDIOTTI: A powerful and intriguing interview -- Brianna.
KEILAR: Susan Candiotti, thank you for that.
And be sure to watch the full exclusive interview with Ariel Castro's two brothers. That's tomorrow at 7:00 a.m. Eastern on CNN "STARTING POINT."
I'm Brianna Keilar at the CNN Center in Atlanta. Howard Kurtz is next with "RELIABLE SOURCES" which begins after a quick break.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: We finally heard a statement this past hour from the three women kidnapped in Cleveland and almost unbelievable saga of a decade of depravity that has naturally caused a media explosion. It's a story of anguish and emotion that has been extremely challenging to cover.
And when Amanda Berry, Michelle Knight and Gina DeJesus were freed, there was a journalistic mob scene and no shortage of confusion.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN: Amanda Berry, 27 years old, ready to address the press at any moment.
JON SCOTT, FOX NEWS: So what apparently is going on there is Amanda is going to be coming out to make some kind of a statement.
THOMAS ROBERTS, MSNBC: We are waiting for that brief statement that Amanda Berry is going to make once she returns home.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN: But, indeed, she is not ready to speak and her sister, Beth Serrano, just came out.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
KURTZ: After Ariel Castro and his two brothers were arrested and the horrible details began to emerge, journalists struggled to make sense of the tragedy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
ERIN BURNETT, CNN: She's the one in the center with the white tank top pictured here with a 6-year-old girl that police believe is her daughter. Now, reports that there were other children, other pregnancies in this situation. But we've been unable to confirm that.
BILL HEMMER, FOX NEWS: Multiple police sources saying there were three women pregnant multiple times. It's not clear if more than one child was born.
JOHN WALSH, FORMER HOST, AMERICA'S MOST WANTED: It looks as though his brothers helped him do that to help beat these women down, tie them up, to threaten them, to terrify them.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
KURTZ: But it turns out that police cleared the other two brothers of any involvement in the kidnapping case.
Joining us now to examine how this story is being covered: in New York, Lola Ogunnaike, a "Today" show contributor and former "New York Times" reporter. In Chicago, Jim Warren, Washington bureau chief for "The New York Daily News." And here in Washington, Paul Farhi, media reporter for "The Washington Post."
Well, Lola Ogunnaike, as compelling and as heart-rending, and as appalling as this kidnapping story is, is it worth close to wall-to- wall coverage that it's getting particularly on television?
LOLA OGUNNAIKE, TODAY SHOW CONTRIBUTOR: I think it actually is, Howie, because let's just face it, people are intrigued by this story. No one thought that these women were alive. People held out hope and the fact that they are, indeed, alive, and that they do have this compelling story to tell, I can't imagine cameras turning away from this at all.
KURTZ: Paul Farhi, we just heard the publicist that deliver the statement on behalf of the three women who say they are not doing any interviews and they have pleaded and asked for privacy at this time so they continue to heal and reconnect with their families.
How likely is it the media going to give them that privacy?
PAUL FARHI, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, that's not going to happen. There are network bookers now crawling over the story, trying to get those big interviews, trying to get those -- and CNN did very well getting the brothers who were accused on camera.
KURTZ: So, if you can't get the three women, you get relatives, you get friends, anybody who can paint a picture.
FARHI: You get any element of the story that you can get and put it on television, because that's what's going on here.
KURTZ: But is that a problem, Jim Warren? I mean, here, you have these three women who have been through this horrible, almost unimaginable ordeal and, yet, naturally, journalists doing their jobs want to find out as much as they can about who these women are and what they went through.
JIM WARREN, THE NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: Yes, I mean, if they want privacy, sadly, they'll have to be jetted to, I think, seclusion in Nepal, because it's not going to happen within the confines of North America. And that can be expected.
I mean, it's a stunning story that operates on, obviously, so many levels. I mean, it plays to all of our primal fears about our kids. There's just enough of a salacious in there to intrigue us, and then there's actually serious matters of public policy, particularly how law enforcement treats all members of the community, all neighborhoods in a big city, if they do that equally.
And it's not just relevant to Cleveland. But, Lord knows how the phone is going to be ringing off the hook, 24/7 at that PR firm. And they'll say no and at some point, they'll probably say yes to the most alluring bidder.
KURTZ: I think we have a consensus here at the media. We're not going to back off this story any time soon.
Lola, as the BBC has pointed out, "The Cleveland Plain Dealer," during the 10 years or so these women were missing, published 36 articles on Amanda Berry, who is white, 19 on Gina DeJesus and that disparity, some people, including myself, would suggest, taps into what I would call the missing white women syndrome. That those young, attractive white women who go missing or murdered tend to get more attention from the mainstream media. OGUNNAIKE: I think it's absolutely true. There's evidence that proves that to be the case. A blonde, attractive white women will no doubt get more attention than her counterparts of color. That's an unfortunate reality.
Organizations like Black and Missing were created to address that matter. And, unfortunately, until the media realizes that all people who go missing are deserving of media attention, not just people who look a certain way. We're going to be talking about this for years to come.
FARHI: But let's ask about the demand then. We know we're supplying these kind of stories, the demand end is that the audience likes these stories, particularly women.
Who was interested in the Jodi Arias trial? Well, it was women mostly interested and women relating to these victims, these perpetrators in a way that they respond to that story.
KURTZ: Justify this obvious imbalance.
FARHI: If the job of the media is to tell people things that they're interested in, yes, in so far as the audience wants to see people like themselves.
KURTZ: I find that troubling if the audience, many of whom for certain networks or news organizations may be white is less interested in cases of minority victims, minority kidnap victims, murdered minority women. I don't know that we should go along with that.
FARHI: Perhaps we should not.
OGUNNAIKE: I'm sorry, the job of the -- I'm sorry, the job of the media is to provide the news and not just news about missing white women, news about missing black children, missing black people and missing people of color in general. And the news just doesn't serve one community.
KURTZ: Well, one African-American who --
WARREN: Yes, Howie --
KURTZ: Go ahead, Jim.
WARREN: Yes, Howie. I mean, I do think it reflects a cultural biases and prejudices and priorities in a lot of our newsrooms which are dominated by Caucasians. At the same time, this is absolutely nothing new. If you look at the history of journalism, going back to newspapers at the time of the American Revolution, there's an obsession with these source of subjects.
I mean, this is on par with the 1892 coverage of Lizzie Borden and her alleged ax murders of her father and her step mother in Fall River, Massachusetts, and the detail that came out there that riveted the country in some ways, almost supersedes what's played out in the last -- KURTZ: Well, thanks for that.
WARREN: Nothing knew.
KURTZ: Thanks for that historical perspective.
Now, one African-American who's gotten a lot of attention in this story is Charles Ramsey. He, of course, is the neighbor and dishwasher in Cleveland, who heard the cries of Amanda Berry and broke that door down and led to the rescue of her and her 6-year-old child.
Let's take a brief look at one interview done by CNN's Anderson Cooper.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Do you feel like a hero? A lot of people --
CHARLES RAMSEY, HERO NEIGHBOR: No, no, no. No, no. Bro, I'm a Christian, an American and I'm just like you. We bleed same blood, put our pants on the same way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So, Lola, Charles Ramsey says he's not a hero. He made the television rounds, like he was in Washington over the weekend, being greeted as a hero.
But were the media to record him hero status, do you think?
OGUNNAIKE: I don't think the media was too quick to report him hero status because what he did was indeed heroic and he'd be the first person to tell you that he was not a hero. What he did was heroic. That said, I do think that news -- the 24-hour news cycle requires a new story every day. So, on one day, he's a hero, the next day, he's a joke, and by the third day, his criminal background has been resurrected, and all of a sudden, this hero has been tainted.
KURTZ: On that point, Paul Farhi, though, the ABC affiliate in Cleveland WEWS, ran a story saying Charles Ramsey, who was thrust into the news because he did a heroic thing, there is no question about that, had a criminal past and had domestic abuse violence in his past. And then the station apologized saying, well, the story was true, but it wasn't in good taste to report that.
FARHI: Well, I would say, it probably wasn't exactly relevant, but we do want to find out about the people who are in the news and, perhaps that's a detail that people want to know. I don't find it especially compelling.
He is a hero. And he did do something heroic. He is part of the story, part of this narrative. The guy who rescues the damsels in the distress, that's important. His criminal past is not quite so relevant.
KURTZ: Jim Warren, some of these horrifying and awful details that have begun to emerge about the rapes and the beatings and the chains and all of that, what I would describe as torture. Should some of that be withheld or softened by the media? I mean, it is hard to read. It is hard to hear how much of the raw stuff do we need to report?
WARREN: Yes, no, I agree. And the making of the sausage, essentially, that one now has, particularly on cable news and the internet, sort of makes this in some ways unavoidable.
And I think, you know, the era in which, Howie, you, me, Paul, had only, you know, have eight or 10 hours sitting in a newspaper newsrooms to sort of evaluate these questions and decide in considered fashion whether or not we would include some details. The horse is out of the barn there, and particularly when you throw bitterly competitive online pressures and something we have not talked about, what almost seem to be now the lower bars of entry to many of our Web sites in the media and a certain sort of nonchalance about making mistakes. Well, we can always correct that.
I think it is nice that there will still be some news organizations that will say, no, A, B and C we're not going to include but there's no doubt that they're going to be all too many others perhaps a majority who are going to go with every little tidbit they can get, no matter how salacious.
KURTZ: I take your point.
I'm also glad that CNN's Martin Savidge got that interview with the two brothers of Ariel Castro because there was an impression created by the media, understandably, because they have all have been arrested by police, that all three brothers went on this and we can hear in their own words that they have been cleared, but they were not only shocked and horrified, but said they would have turned in their brother, Ariel.
Now, on Wednesday, as this story was just erupting on the airwaves and online and everywhere else came the verdict in the Jodi Arias murder trial. She, of course, guilty of first degree murder.
And I wonder, Lola Ogunnaike, whether you think that that story, which was a trial that was kind of packaged and sensationalized by television, had a lot of graphics, sexual testimony, was worth being treated on a par with the awful details of the Cleveland kidnapping case.
OGUNNAIKE: Absolutely not. But there was intense interest in this case. It's been going on for the better part of nearly five months and what you saw here was a news media that was obsessed with this, that they were practically salivating over Jodi Arias. You had sex, you had religion, you had a pretty blonde femme fatale.
They couldn't resist this story. It was like it was handed to them from the tabloid heavens. KURTZ: And what was really rather unusual, shall we say, is that after that conviction, which means that Jodi arias faces the possibility of the death penalty, she gave an interview to the local television KSAZ, the FOX affiliate in Phoenix, talked about how she wanted to die rather than spend the rest of her life in prison and she also said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Do you have a sense of where the public feeling is about you, whether you're liked or not liked?
JODI ARIAS, CONVICTED MURDERER: Psychologist once explained to me that society has this need to persecute people. They get some sort of gratification from it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: She talks about persecuting people. This woman is a murderer.
FARHI: Yes, well, I'm not sure how great her credibility is on the social sciences, but, look, it is true that this was a packaged for television story. Television was deeply invested in it. There was no way that they were going to cut away from that verdict.
KURTZ: And yet, it still seems it me that the legitimate drama and the awful tragedy of what happened to the three women in Cleveland, Jim Warren, far outweighs the obsession that particularly television had with what was essentially a local murder case that had a lot of sex in it. It was very graphic and, therefore, made for great soap opera.
WARREN: And there are a lot of murder cases that are sexy and have a lot of graphic details that will confine every single week probably in many major American cities. Would this have been played in the way it was if it were not for having the video for, if it were not for having cameras in the courtroom?
KURTZ: Cameras in the courtroom, right.
WARREN: I went to a dinner last night with a bunch of prominent federal appeals court judges in Chicago. The sort of folks who are still standing out against having cameras in the courtroom and I'm all for that. But, boy, at times like this, Howie --
WARREN: -- I wonder whether, would we be better off --
KURTZ: There we are. We'll leave it there on that note.
Jim Warren, Lola Ogunnaike ion New York and Paul Farhi, right here -- thanks for joining us.
When we come back, we'll go to Cleveland and talk to columnist Connie Schultz about the national media invasion and the impact on the families.
KURTZ: We're continuing our scrutiny of the Cleveland kidnapping coverage.
And joining us now from Cleveland is Connie Schultz, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for "Creators Syndicate" and "Parade" magazine.
Connie, we were talking in the last segment about how Amanda Berry seems to have gotten more media attention both during her disappearance and since she and the other two women were freed from the press and why is that and whether there might be any kind of racial or ethnic component to it. Your thoughts?
CONNIE SCHULTZ, PULITZER PRIZE-WINNING COLUMNIST: I do want to push back a little bit on that discussion because Amanda Berry, during the time when she was missing, her mother never gave up, hammering away at the media and at the police and at the FBI, and she wanted -- and Regina Brett (ph), my former colleague at "The Plain Dealer" has written about that a great deal because her mother constantly called Regina, and Regina has been talking about that this week.
So, I covered gender and race for more than 30 years. Much of it here in the city of Cleveland and I would call it immediately if I thought that was the issue. I think she's getting more coverage since because she was the one who screamed for help and whose screams were heard and she got out and the other women were freed.
I think we just have to be careful in drawing too many assumptions about that particular part of the story.
KURTZ: Right. And, you know, people forget that the media attention to go also where families are cooperating. So, for example, the new issue of "People" magazine has a headline, three women freed in Ohio, but there's and two pictures. One of them, Amanda Berry, we see it up there on the screen, the other, Gina DeJesus. No Michelle Knight.
And there have been reports that Michelle Knight has not yet reunited with her family.
So, is that --
KURTZ: -- in part, maybe explain this disparity in coverage after the women were freed?
SCHULTZ: Oh, I think it can. And I think we have to be careful about what we do with access. One of your panelists talked about how we're going to be filling in all the blanks because the young women don't want to talk. I would really caution us against that because you and I have been in the business for a long time and you got all kinds of new found experts on people's lives, even if they knew very little about their lives before. And I think we have to tread gently here because we don't gain anything by getting wrong information.
We do not do any -- we do a disservice to these young women who have already been victimized for 10 years. Let us not keep on that and let us dial it back a bit. Sometimes we just have to be patient and it's not our strong suit in this industry.
KURTZ: Speaking of dialing it back, speaking of treading lightly, you didn't want to do this interview this morning at the stake out where a lot of the networks have satellite trucks in front of some of those families' homes. And the reason for that was?
SCHULTZ: Right. Thank you for asking me that. This is my town and these people are in that neighborhood are traumatized by this, as well. And I can't imagine what it is like for these young women and family members if they're seeing all the trucks parked outside the house and outside the homes.
And I saw that image this morning, it may have been on CNN of one of the one woman in a hoodie and a neighbor trying to protect her as she runs into her house for the first time in ten years and I thought we're victimizing these women, too. They're in hiding. I don't agree with the panelists who said they're going to perhaps leave North America to have privacy.
I agree that may be the case, but let us not say in part because it's who we are. We can do this better. When you see images like that and when you see tents and cable crews outside these homes what it telegraphs to viewers. What it does is it chips away at our credibility with a public that is already becoming less trustful of us.
KURTZ: Let me stay with that point because I understand that news organizations are there because the journalists have a job to do. You want to shout a question, but this is a heartbreaking case of women who were held in captivity under the noses of neighbors who say they didn't know for ten years. And, now, in effect, the mass media presence there is forcing them to stay behind closed doors. Is that really what's happening?
SCHULTZ: We had a helicopter. Do you remember that earlier this week? There was helicopter footage of the homes as they were waiting for them to come home. To me, I could not watch that and hear all these so-called former FBI who are experts on these women. The television judges and the speculation got wilder and wilder and all the things that they're supposing these women have gone through.
You know, these young women are the ages of my daughters. So I can't help but also come at this as a mother and I was feeling so angry during much of this coverage because it contributed nothing to the discussion of domestic violence and to sexual abuse. It contributed nothing to showing a community, helping a community show support for these women. I understand it's not the media's job to help the community do that, but it's also not our job to be such a corrosive influence while we're here.
KURTZ: I think that's a really invaluable perspective and the fact that you're there in Cleveland and this is your community, as you say. Connie Schultz, thanks for joining us this morning.
SCHULTZ: Thanks, Howie.
KURTZ: Ahead on RELIABLE SOURCES, the press and Benghazi. In the wake of congressional hearings this week, our main stream journalists finally getting serious about investigating the aftermath of those fatal attacks.
KURTZ: The attack that left four American diplomats dead in Benghazi has gotten plenty of coverage, but the story had faded quite a bit since the election except on conservative media outlets.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PETER JOHNSON JR., FOX NEWS LEGAL ANALYST: The main stream and left stream media said, well, you know, Benghazi is a bit of a joke in some respects.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Three State Department officials this week offered stinging criticism of the administration's handling of the terror attack. In the congressional hearing, the story roared back into the headlines, but not everyone took the same approach.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: The simple truth is Republicans want to know the whole story because it embarrasses the Democrats.
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: It helped confirm once and for all that in the wake of that terrorist attack, the Obama administration engaged in a widespread national security cover up and all done simply to ensure that President Obama was re-elected.
REVEREND AL SHARPTON, MSNBC: Today, the Republican smear machine was in high gear with another hearing on the deadly attack on our consulate in Benghazi.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC: The line from the Republicans in Congress was not something that should be seen as an attack. That is something that should be seen as a conspiracy and a scandal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So is the main stream press with some fresh reporting now starting to do the job it should have done all along? Joining us now Jim Geraghty, contributing editor at "National Review," Margaret Carlson, columnist for "Bloomberg View" and a former columnist of "Time" magazine and Bob Cusack, managing editor of the newspaper, "The Hill."
Jim Geraghty, have most of the main stream media failed until recently to adequately dig on this story as Fox News and others contend?
JIM GERAGHTY, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, "NATIONAL REVIEW": Yes. I think in a lot of media circles, we see this attitude that if the conservative press is interested in something, that somehow delegitimizes it. That somehow, well, you know, how wacky those guys are. We can't pay too much attention to that.
Guess what? I'm not surprising people that I have suspected, but I think conservative media does a pretty good job and even if you think we're like a broken clock. Benghazi -- like the questions from day one were there. My goodness, how could this not be so protected? What was done that night? We never got good answers. There's always been a ton of questions there.
KURTZ: Well, at the same time, Margaret Carlson, have some conservative outlets hiked this into crusade with talk of impeachment?
MARGARET CARLSON, COLUMNIST, "BLOOMBERG VIEW": Yes, those wacky guys that Jim is not part of did go too far. You know, they've been looking for Watergate for so long that, you know, they went too far on Benghazi. They were making it into this huge impeachable and some use the word impeachable offense without much and now, you know, the White House in some ways is paid into their hands. I was one of these people that thought Hillary Clinton did a great job at her hearings, but she did a great job only if all the information was out there.
KURTZ: Maybe the question, Bob Cusack, whether the media have framed this story as one where the initial attack, in response to the attack was bungled and the aftermath was confused. We have known that for a long time or framed it as a scandal where there is some sort of active cover up?
BOB CUSACK, MANAGING EDITOR, "THE HILL": Yes, I think it is black and white, depending which media outlet is. I think one area the media has fallen down on, who did this attack? Four Americans died. There hasn't been a lot of focus on the al Qaeda-linked group of who is responsible. We have seen a lot of finger pointing, but not a lot of reporting on that.
KURTZ: What really seemed to turn the tide after the hearing this week, we'll get back to the hearing in a moment, was ABC's Jonathan Karl reporting, actually obtaining 12 different versions of the famous talking points used by Susan Rice on five Sunday talk shows after the attack.
We have already known that those talking points turned out to be wrong in some respects, but we saw in Jonathan Karl's reporting the fact that certain references were taken out to an al Qaeda-affiliated group and CIA warnings about terror attacks based on State Department officials and this was a process overseen by the White House.
That erupted at a briefing held by White House Spokesman Jay Carney. Let's take a brief look at that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS: Jay, you told us that the only changes that were made were stylistic. Is it a stylistic change to take out all references to previous terror threats in Benghazi?
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, I appreciate the question, again. And I think what I was referring to was the talking points that the CIA drafted and sent around to which one change was made and I accept its stylistic may not precisely describe the change of one word to another. No, I'm just --
KARL: Extensive changes after they were written by the CIA.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: There were other reporters who joined Jonathan Karl at that briefing and it now seems, Jim, that some many in the main stream media are on the case.
GERAGHTY: They should be on the case. They should be angry because that Carney line from way back when of this being just a stylistic, that was horse, you know the word I wanted to use there. The White House Press Corps should be mad when the White House press secretary goes out there and gives them false information.
CARLSON: Stylistic is what my editor does to my copy and now because the White House wasn't forthcoming and has an evolving story, they're going to get blamed for the disagreements between State and CIA that were being played out on those talking points.
KURTZ: An interesting back story here is that before that on camera briefing there was a deep background briefing held by the White House in which only certain news organizations were invited much they try to obviously to spin the handling of it.
And another interesting side bar, Bob, is that five or six days ago Steve Hayes at the "Weekly Standard" had much the same story, not quite in the same detail as Jon Karl did about changes in the White House talking points and he had examples and he had quotes. It didn't get anywhere near the attention that it did when ABC news reported it.
CUSACK: I think it's the lens. Steve Hayes is a very good reporter. He's been reporting on this extensively.
KURTZ: Was it too easy for people to say, that's the "Weekly Standard."
CUSACK: He's bias, but, clearly, he had the information, as well, and not getting the credit that Jonathan Karl did. But I do think, I mean, if you look at the timeline of how this administration has dealt with Benghazi. There's been a lot of contradictions from the get go. So the media hasn't looked at it as extensively as they should have.
KURTZ: And some people would say that is either because the media are protecting the administration, protecting Hillary Clinton because, obviously, a lot of people see this as a proxy attack on somebody who could run in 2016. Is there something to that criticism?
CUSACK: I think the focus on Hillary Clinton was a bit delayed. I think a lot of news organizations didn't realize or didn't report that this really could be an issue for her going forward and, of course, in 2016, in the political context.
KURTZ: One person who has been singled out by the right are doing aggressive reporting on the Benghazi story is CBS's Sharyl Attkisson, who has tweeted a number of things on how the administration has been -- she received tremendous push back was one quote from the administration and asking for all kinds of documents. And yet there are reports that she has intentions with her bosses who maybe think she's being a little too aggressive on the story.
GERAGHTY: You know, Howard, it's almost as if the president of CBS News is the brother of some high ranking White House official who is involved in national security matters. I mean, that's the only thing that could explain it, but certainly that's not the case, right, Howard?
KURTZ: Explain what you mean.
CARLSON: David --
KURTZ: But isn't that a little unfair to suggest that CBS News is in any way reining in its reporter because there happens to be a family relationship.
GERAGHTY: Gee, the only reporter who is really digging into Benghazi. Here she's getting great scoops and great stories that certainly people in my world are talking about a lot and here are the folks at CBS News, this is problematic that she's generating good information that nobody else has.
KURTZ: They're not saying that on the record. There were reports of tensions that have not been fully confirmed.
CARLSON: So we don't know if we find out that she was being in her reporting, we'll go back to Jim's thesis here.
KURTZ: What about the hearing itself and you had former State Department official testify that he was demoted after challenging and criticizing the handling of it and the administration said he was given a temporary assignment after he wanted to leave his previous work.
This official, Greg Hicks I believe is his name also saying some people were not interviewed as part of the investigation. Was there a lot of new information at that hearing for the media to cover or more fodder for those who think there is some kind of cover up?
CARLSON: I think there was new information, but the media needs the anti-hero to come forward.
KURTZ: The anti-hero.
CARLSON: And rat on the bosses. And say what really happened. We didn't have another face to put on Benghazi and now we have it. The other thing back to your point is that because the right wing went so far on this story, it's Watergate, it's impeachable. We couldn't hear Steven Hayes in the "Weekly Standard." It did take somebody who is just a meat and potatoes reporter.
GERAGHTY: Don't cite the nut job and Steven Hayes is not to be listened to. This is a huge conspiracy. The president should be indicted and aliens are involved and my dog is talking to me. You can find that for any story in the whole wide world. You can use it as an excuse to not cover something.
CARLSON: It was just a constant drum beat and they weren't doing any reporting.
KURTZ: It is our job to make a distinction between people who are commentators and opinionators who maybe go too far in accusing the administration.
CARLSON: A reporter, by the way, but, yes, he gets mixed up.
KURTZ: I think that story deserved a lot more attention. Another story that deserves a lot more attention is the story of this IRS scandal where the IRS is now acknowledging having targeting and conservative organizations, Tea Party organizations.
And it was put out by the administration that this was low-level people but now a number of organizations including CNN obtaining information from the inspector general that a top official at the IRS knew about these selective audits, if audit is the right word. I think it is getting underplayed right now.
After the break, Chris Christie scolds the press over its reporting on his stomach surgery.
KURTZ: "The New York Post" revealed the other day that Chris Christie had secretly undergone stomach surgery. The New Jersey governor let reporters have it at a news conference.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOVERNOR CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: It's ridiculous, silly. I mean, I don't mean to demean what you all do, but this is silly. For this kind of attention to be drawn to the fact that I'm pursuing a weight loss measure is, I think, shows just how really shallow a lot of this coverage has become.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Margaret Carlson, do you feel shallow?
CARLSON: So very shallow. That man has surgery to possibly run for president. That headline is irresistible to the media and it's not a complicated story. It is not Benghazi. It is not the IRS. It is a simple story.
You know, on the other hand, I would give the two guy two motives. He is 50. He has young children. He wants to see them grow up and by the way, you are running for president and we don't elect -- not since William Taft --
KURTZ: I have a problem with the way you summarized it, which is maybe Chris Christie, who doesn't seem to think it is anybody's business although he is an elected official, is thinking of his health and family and decided to run for president and we want to frame it in 2016 terms.
CUSACK: Well, that's true. He is a public official and this is part of the game of politics. I mean, Haley Barber a few years ago said, well, listen, if I lose 50 pounds, I'll probably run for president.
KURTZ: But can a governor have surgery in secret and scold the media over it?
GERAGHTY: I wonder how many lawmakers have had a little work done to make them look a little bit better that we've never heard about it because obviously those sprits of rumors float around. I will know that I've know a lot more about Chris Christie's digestive tract than I ever cared to know. I think we in the media would be much better off if we focus on the legislative output of the governor than say the digestive output track of the governor.
CARLSON: It's a simple story that we can all relate it to. There are a lot of overweight people in America. We speculate. The media speculates endlessly about who is running for president.
KURTZ: He had surgery. He is the governor of the state of New Jersey and therefore, I think it is a legitimate story. Some of the chatter I could do without.
Let me briefly touch on Mark Sanford who completed his comeback from hiking the Appalachian Trail this week by winning back his old congressional seat and what struck me was that he made the rounds and he did a lot of interviews in which he knew over and over he would be asked about his Argentine soul mate and he did it anyway. I wonder if that helped him while Bush did no national interviews that I could find.
CARLSON: She ran from the media and the press made fun of him most of the time in most of these interviews and the Nancy Pelosi cut out we made fun of that because it kept falling over. But -- you know and we criticized him for things I think that worked for him. KURTZ: Sanford faced the music in form of facing journalists and was written off by a lot of our fellow pundits saying, you know, he's in a spat with his ex-wife. Never going to win the election and yet he did and he won it easily.
GERAGHTY: Everyone was judging him based on the Argentinean scandal. Everyone inside that district was judging him on eight years of being governor, six years of being a congressman, and knowing him for what he had done throughout his entire career.
KURTZ: By the way, there are some journalist who said in fact that it's a very Republican district won by Mitt Romney by 18 points.
CUSACK: That's the underlying thing. He was very aggressive and Colbert Busch looking back was too cautious, the fact that he dealt with the weakness upfront.
CARLSON: Such an argument. Hillary Clinton, get it all out.
KURTZ: I think it is an argument for talking to the president not running a Rose Garden campaign particularly when you are not the incumbent. Margaret Carlson, Jim Geraghty, Bob Cusack, thanks for stopping by this Sunday morning.
Still to come, Brian Williams get some bad news from NBC. Some disturbing disclosures about "Bloomberg News" and a former Fox News producer has a very expensive day in court. The "Media Monitor" is straight ahead.
KURTZ: Time now for the "Media Monitor," our weekly look at the hits and errors in the news business. Brian Williams gave his best shot, but his news magazine just couldn't get much traction. NBC cancelled Rock Center on Friday, a year and a half after its debut. Now Rock Center did some very solid journalism by the likes of Ted Koppel and Richard Engel.
But there are also weak feature segments and a crowded identity and by the way, the network changed the time slot so many times even I couldn't remember when it was on. "Bloomberg News" is admitting that its reporters used the company's financial data terminals, which clients paid big bucks to use to snoop on how often Wall Street executives logged on and what categories of information they looked at.
Now the spying, according to CNBC, even extended to such top government officials as Ben Bernanke and Tim Geithner, an incredible breach of the law between the company's financial side and its worldwide news organization. That story is not over.
Finally, the man known as the Fox Small paid a price in court this week. Joe Muto, the Fox News producer who was fired after writing stories anonymously for the web site, "Gawker" was escorted in the courtroom in handcuffs. He was fined $1,000 and donates the $5,000 he received from "Gawker" and performs substantial community service. Fox was right it turns out. This mole broke the law.
That's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz. Happy Mother's Day. If you miss a program, just go to iTunes on Monday and check out our podcast by searching for RELIABLE SOURCES in the iTunes store.
We are back here next Sunday morning, 11 a.m. Eastern for another critical look at the media. "STATE OF THE UNION" with Candy Crowley begins right now.