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Storm Reporting Turns Dangerous; Eric Holder's Media Mess; Mocking Michele Bachmann
Aired June 02, 2013 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: "The Huffington Post" called it an apology tour. Eric Holder meeting with some Washington media executives, but many rejecting the invitation because he insisted the sessions be off the record.
Holder under siege over his department aggressively seizing phone records and emails involving "The A.P." and FOX News now trying to use the press for damage control.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WOLF BLITZER, CNN: The embattled Attorney General Eric Holder is sitting down this afternoon with members of the news media to talk about the Justice Department investigation into leaks that led to subpoenas for phone records and more. But CNN and other news organizations are declining to attend the meeting because it is, quote, "off the record."
NEIL CAVUTO, FOX NEWS: Off the record or just off the wall. Attorney General Eric Holder is inviting to an off the record. Fine. There's only one teeny problem, not many are taking him up on it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: But if Holder thinks the Justice Department went too far against reporters doing their jobs, why doesn't he say so publicly?
We just confirmed that Friday's deadly tornadoes in Oklahoma claimed the lives of three storm chasers. One whom worked with the Discovery Channel and two weather reporters wrecked their car in a terrifying close call. Is covering these killer storms just getting too risky?
Two media outlets say they've seen a videotape showing Toronto Mayor Rob Ford smoking crack.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KEVIN DONOVAN, INVESTIGATING EDITOR, THE TORONTO STAR: We were showing a shocking video. The video, which appears to be real, showed Mayor Rob Ford in a room, his shirt open, lulling back in his chair and appears to be smoking a crack pipe.
(END VIDEO CLIP) KURTZ: The mayor denies it calling journalists a bunch of maggots. As the Canadian press gotten carried away by an alleged video that someone is peddling for $200,000. We'll ask the manager of Toronto's largest newspaper.
And Katie Couric tells Howard Stern what she really thinks of Matt Lauer.
I'm Howard Kurtz and this is RELIABLE SOURCES.
KURTZ: We've all seen reporters standing outside in hurricanes and blizzards, but, lately, weather reporting seems to have taken a more dangerous turn. When a second round of deadly tornadoes struck Oklahoma on Friday, two journalists from the Weather Channel got in their car and drove toward the storm. The result: a harrowing close call that all but destroyed the car and left the channel's Mike Bettes and a colleague badly shaken.
On the Weather Channel, Bettes was asked what he thought about when he ran into danger.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE BETTES, WEATHER CHANNEL METEOROLOGIST: Good question, Dave. I know it's tough.
I just saw my wife's face. And I thought, you know, that's -- you know, that's my life. I don't want to give that up just yet.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: And then there are the storm chasers, those citizen thrill-seekers who sometimes sell picture and information to news outlets. CNN confirming this morning that three of them died on Friday while pursuing the tornado in Oklahoma City. They are Tim Samaras who worked with the Discovery Channel program "Storm Chasers", his son Paul Samaras and their colleague Carl Young. Very sad news, as confirmed by Tim Samaras' brother.
Joining us now to talk about the risk of covering extreme weather in Oklahoma by phone, Chad Myers, CNN meteorologist and a severe weather expert. And here in Washington, Lois Romano, senior political writer for "Politico", who spent a decade reporting from Oklahoma.
Chad Myers, you face these questions all the time when extreme weather comes up, which is: how much risk does a journalist take in order to get close to a storm that could be deadly?
CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST (via telephone): Well, we all know this is difficult and dangerous and sometimes things go wrong, but I think people portray Tim as a chaser out for thrills. It's just the wrong thing. And you weren't.
I just want people to know that Tim was a scientist and he was out there to put probes out there and he was out there to learn and understand and to make science more understandable with this storm and a tornado itself and to get more data so that people could save, so that the National Weather Service, NOAA, could get better warnings.
You know, we all go out there and try to protect the public. But Tim was even one step higher, and I've had a very hard morning. And you can hear it in my voice, I'm sure.
KURTZ: Yes, I really can, Chad. And since Samaras has an engineering background, what a tragedy he was killed with his son. He says that he has gotten by financially, why getting snippets of funding from the government and from the media.
Lois Romano, as somebody who live in Oklahoma City area, and the Tulsa area, I should say --
MYERS: There's just no one safer that Tim. Tim, he would never put himself in danger. Certainly wouldn't put his son in danger and to get left turned by that storm or right turned, wherever, they don't know where he was. But that was a very dangerous storm to chase. We knew it.
And we saw chasers just in pickup trucks driving into the tornado. We were looking at him and we're on live TV at 4:45 on "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper, and, where are these guys going? Not Tim, but where are these people driving to because the tornado is forming right there and so many people got close -- got too close at times as it -- it didn't start as an EF-1 almost. It started as a multi-vortex, large tornado and people were under it when it started.
We were about seven miles away. We were in a perfectly safe position and I'm sure Tim was, too. He wanted to put the little probes out there to figure out --
MYERS: -- what pressure drops, what this multi-vortex means and how to better forecast a large tornado dropping straight out of the storm. Not starting as a 70-mile-per-hour dust devil.
KURTZ: Chad, let me jump and turn to Lois Romano, who worked in Oklahoma where tornado, of course, are way of life.
KURTZ: In 1999, it was a storm in Moore, which was also recently hit.
LOIS ROMANO, POLITICO: Right, parallel the storm.
KURTZ: And you interviewed people, and talk a little bit about the media's role in this.
ROMANO: Well, first of all, let me just say -- it's like covering a war zone. So, there is a very important role for the media and they're doing a public service. But I went into the aftermath of the storm and an elderly gentleman took me into what was his home and it was completely torn down and he showed me his EZ chair which was maybe 50 yards away.
And he was telling me how he was sitting in his condominium watching the radar from all the weather channels when all of a sudden, he realized the thing was getting really close. He said, oops, I better get in the car. He just went and raced himself ahead of the tornado.
So, he believes that the weatherman saved his life. So, it plays a role. I mean, the media play a role in warnings. They play a role in assessing the damage because they fly the helicopters because then in turn let's the government declared a disaster area and gets aid.
And, Chad Myers, you talked about being perfectly safe, because you were seven miles away from this killer storm. But can you really be perfectly safe in that kind of situation? And is it journalism and desire to be near the action that leads meteorologists and journalists and correspondents and Weather Channel people to try to get as close as possible or just really good television?
MYERS: Well, we all know where to be on a tornado that moves through the Northeast. Now, we all want to be to the southeast of the storm. We want to be where the air is clear. It's not even raining. There's no hail.
And you want to look into the storm from the southeast to the northwest. Great pictures. That's where the definition is. The tornado will be dark. The sky will be light. We'll have great pictures on television. Yes, that's where we want to be.
But this storm was different. This storm put down a tornado, a very large, multi-vortex, 150 mile per hour tornado and then it lost that vortex and turned to the left, and another tornado actually developed right behind us. We had driven another 10 miles away from the storm and another tornado sat down not less than a mile from us.
MYERS: And then, later on in the day, 15 minutes later, another tornado was on the ground 15 miles west of there that was heading back to us.
KURTZ: Just underscoring, just underscoring how dangerous these assignments can be and you're often in the middle of that.
Chad Myers, appreciate you calling in from Oklahoma. We've got to get to a break.
Chad Myers, thank you. Lois, stick around.
When we come back, Eric Holder trying to meet with the media and make amends, but not everybody is taking him up on that invitation. More in a moment. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
KURTZ: "New York Times" said no, so did "Associated Press", CNN, CBS, NBC, FOX News, and "The Huffington Post". They all turned down invitations from Attorney Eric Holder to discuss the furor over his department using subpoenas and search warrants to go after the personal records of journalists in leak investigations.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: NBC News has officially declined, by the way, to attend Attorney General Eric Holder's off the record briefing on guidelines for journalists in leak investigations.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's an absurd idea in the middle of a huge national controversy to have the attorney general interact with journalists and have it supposedly secret.
MEGYN KELLY, FOX NEWS: FOX News alert seconds ago, we saw what we believe are journalists headed into the Justice Department and a new round of meetings aimed at containing a political firestorm over the DOJ spying on reporters.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
KURTZ: As you saw, not everybody blew off the invite. Holder did hold these off-the-record session with executives from "The Washington Post", "Politico," ABC News, "USA Today", "Los Angeles Times," "Chicago Tribune," "Bloomberg," "New York Daily News", "Wall Street Journal" and "The New Yorker."
And some journalists felt free to describe the meeting in general terms.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARTIN BARON, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: We expressed our concerns that reporters felt some fear for doing their jobs. That they were concerned about using their e-mail and concerned about using their office telephones and that we need to have the freedom to do our jobs.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: But what exactly did the news organizations get out of such off the record meetings when the attorney general is facing calls for his resignation.
Joining us in San Francisco, Debra Saunders, columnist for "The San Francisco Chronicle." And here in Washington, Dana Milbank, columnist with "The Washington Post", and still with us, Lois Romano of "Politico".
And, Lois, your editor-in-chief went from "Politico." Should the news organizations have refused to sit down with Eric Holder because he's saying you can't report what goes on in the meetings? ROMANO: I think that there was a useful dialogue that had to happen. So, I don't fault anybody for going or not going. People had to do what they needed to do.
But I just don't understand the Justice Department's thinking on this. I mean, we're dealing with a very serious press issue at a time when transparency is essential. Why have them off the record when you know they're not going to stay off the record? I mean, they're never going to stay off the record.
KURTZ: Right. And it seems like the rules were relaxed a little bit, Dana Milbank. You can kind of put on background, you didn't have any direct quotes. But the idea -- from the journalist point of view, I don't see what you get out of it if you can sit and get the benefit of the attorney general's thinking and you can't tell your readers. You can't tell your viewers.
DANA MILBANK, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, first of all, I can confirm FOX's Megyn Kelly's reports. Those were actual journalists. I believe they were. Yes, no, no, I think -- it's easy to mistake, but I think they were.
Look, I don't think there's anything to fault the journalists who went to this or who didn't go to this. I don't think it's an obvious decision one way or the other.
The Justice Department was saying, they're just there to collect ideas, which was undermined by the fact that they were trying to keep the reporters lawyers from coming, who could actually give them some legal ideas. So, there is a danger they're going to be used as a prop in this sort of circumstance.
And it's very clear that Holder had nothing to say about it. He's not committing to what he's going to do in terms of the regulations. He's given one on the record interview. That's the problem.
KURTZ: You asked him for an interview this week and the answer was?
MILBANK: He said that he would not give me an interview. He gave one, which appeared to be a very vague one. He didn't really say anything. Not saying what he wants to do in terms of the regulations --
KURTZ: Let me go to Debra Saunders.
The journalist who decided that they just could not bear to go to an off the record session, did they pass up an opportunity to press their point of view about protecting journalists in these leak investigations by sitting down with the nation's top law enforcement officer?
DEBRA SAUNDERS: Well, kudos to CNN and FOX News and "The New York Times" and "Huffington Post" and "A.P." for not going because they wanted to say, they didn't want to be part of this pageant. Now, I understand why journalists said yes and they agreed to go. But, first of all, it's not the Department of Justice doesn't understand what journalists think about what they're doing. This has been an unnecessary incursion, an invasive look at reporters basically trying to keep people away from reporters and hurting reportage.
So, you could go if you want to find out something, but it doesn't look like anybody learned anything because when you saw what the attendees said about what they heard, they came out basically repeating the same codes -- you know, those words that we have been hearing for days now: guidelines.
Like you need a guideline to tell you not to do something that other administrations haven't done? Balance -- we need balance.
You know what really bothers me about this? This FOX News thing with James Rosen. When you read the affidavit by the FBI agent, it is so clear that they knew who the leaker was. Thought they knew. I mean, we don't -- Mr. Kim, I don't know if he hasn't been --
KURTZ: OK, but the point is that he was --
KURTZ: -- James Rosen, FOX News journalist was described as a potential co-conspirator, which many people view as criminalizing journalism.
SAUNDERS: Well, and it could get up to 10 years. It said it in the affidavit, that that was the punishment.
But they knew this guy Kim, if you go by what it said, was the leaker. He called Rosen from his office phone for crying out loud. Why did they have to go after him?
KURTZ: Let me just jump in and say --
SAUNDERS: -- has the things about FOX News.
KURTZ: OK, Debra, let me just jump in and say -- the former State Department official Steven Kim has been indicted in this case, but certainly not convicted.
Now, there was a "Daily Beast" piece in unnamed Justice Department officials, Lois, were quoted as saying that when Eric Holder read "The Washington Post" story about the James Rosen case, "The Post" wrote the story, that he felt remorse about this. But again, he's not willing to say that publicly.
ROMANO: Well, I don't think they've done enough to explain what their thinking was on this, but I don't know that he, seeing this in print probably was a stark awakening and seeing how it was couched. But, nonetheless, you know, it's kind of -- it's beyond comprehension how they used an act, the Espionage Act, that was shot down in 1971 in one of the most famous cases, in the Pentagon papers, and try to -- as Debra said -- tried to call James Rosen co-conspirator for doing his job.
Let's talk about the culture of Washington. I wonder whether you think, Dana Milbank, that -- those who have turned down the meetings were getting a little bit sanctimonious. I mean, don't reporters go to off the record sessions all the time. President Bush held them, President Obama has held them, every White House has these background briefings. Every phone call, half the phone call conversation Washington began, "you didn't get this from me but" or this is, "you can't use this unless I agree".
So, suddenly with Holder, it is like, I am just shocked that he'd wanted this to be off the record.
MILBANK: The controversy during the Bush administration was the president tried to have an off the record barbecue at his ranch down in Waco and we could report on what food was served, but we could not report on the type of conversation.
Sure, this is a perennial issue and I don't think there is a right or a wrong. I mean, there are times off the record, there's not time. I don't think this is a clear case of this.
This is just a clear case of the Justice Department and Eric Holder with a self-inflicted injury. This is something he didn't have to have happen. There's a lot of stupid accusations leveled against him and the Justice Department every day.
This one is very real. He didn't have to have it happen and he's really -- he and the White House have really lost a lot of goodwill and a lot of benefit of the doubt among journalists in the other cases, too.
KURTZ: And, Debra, Republicans or some of them, I should say, are making the case that Eric Holder lied to Congress when he testified just a couple weeks ago before we knew the full details of some of these cases that he was not in favor of potential prosecution of the press for the disclosure of material.
All this drum beat of stories about his job is on the line, he's fighting to save his job, by the way, "New York Times" this morning this is how these things are done here inside the Beltway. Some of the West Wing in the White House privately telling associates they wish Eric Holder would step aside.
Are the media making too much of not the issue, which is a critically important issue, but whether or not Holder is really in danger of losing his job?
SAUNDERS: Well, I think Holder is in danger of losing his job, eventually.
KURTZ: So the story is not overblown in your view? SAUNDERS: No. I may well have said yes to this invitation. I'm not sanctimonious about it. I'm sanctimonious about a lot of other things. That's what columnists do.
But I would have gone to find out, did you read this affidavit you signed? Did you know what you were doing? I'm not getting any answers on that. And that's the story.
The idea that journalists went there to tell him what he thinks is as if the Department of Justice doesn't know. That's sort of ridiculous. You go there to find out what you can about what they were thinking and learn who did what.
KURTZ: Right. We're a little short on time. Let me get you both in on this.
"Washington Post" reporter Walter Pincus, 80-year-old dean of national security reporters, was very well-wired and one of the few who raised questions about the march to war in Iraq says the media are over-blowing this. He writes, "When will journalists take responsibility for what they do without circling the wagons and shouting the First Amendment is under attack."
So, is there an a element here -- because this is our business of us telling basically one side of the story, the first Amendment side -- without really a giving adequate consideration to the fact that the government is trying to protect classified information in some of these cases.
ROMANO: I don't think it's overblown at all. The government has every right to protect classified information but journalists haven't signed an oath not to give out this information.
KURTZ: It's not against the law to receive this information.
ROMANO: Right, exactly.
KURTZ: Maybe illegal to leak it.
MILBANK: And this administration is pursuing more leak prosecutions than all other previous administrations combined in the history of the republic. That's something important.
ROMANO: The leaker is fair game, in my view, but I don't think the media is fair game.
KURTZ: All right. Well, something tells me --
SAUNDERS: And again --
KURTZ: Go ahead, Debra, briefly.
SAUNDERS: And, again, they basically wrote they thought they knew who the leaker was, so, why did they have to check all the records of Rosen when they seem to think they had it nailed already?
KURTZ: All right. Lots of questions. Not a lot of answers at this point.
When we come back, Michele Bachmann stepping down and MSNBC steps up with plenty of ridicule. Why liberal commentators may miss kicking her around.
KURTZ: When Michele Bachmann announced this week that she isn't running for reelection, the congresswoman predicted she wouldn't get fair shake from the press.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: I fully anticipate the mainstream liberal media to put a detrimental spin on my decision not to seek a fifth term. They always seem to attempt to find a dishonest way to disparage me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: The one news channel used the occasion to mock the Minnesota Republican, MSNBC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC: It is easy to not just dismiss Michele Bachmann, but to enjoy Michele Bachmann as the sort of living, breathing embodiment of the crazy in American politics.
ALEX WAGNER, MSNBC: I think she represented a strain of elected officials who don't feel like they need to actually do anything once elected into office.
AL SHARPTON, MSNBC: It was a wild ride. But through it all, one thing stayed the same -- Bachmann never stopped embarrassing herself and her party.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
KURTZ: Debra Saunders, Michele Bachmann got a lot of things wrong and often refused to correct them. So, that's fair game. But is she crazy?
SAUNDERS: Well, first of all, we know that when she announced she is retiring, there is a national day of mourning among fact checkers in the journalism business. She was the gift that kept on giving. She said a number of things that were wrong, including in the 8 1/2 minute video where she said she is basically getting out because she feels it's time. It has nothing to do with her chances of being re-elected or any congressional investigation. So, she's not credible.
But, you know, journalism feels -- you know, journalism feels like junior high sometimes and the way that we make fun of her, we're like the mean girls in junior high in journalism with her. And she feeds off of it and we keep -- you know, she gives it to us and we give it back and I don't think we look real good.
KURTZ: All right. Let's try to elevate this to the high school level.
Lois Romano, you interview Michele Bachmann, might have been her high water mark when she was running for president. She won that Iowa straw poll. She was on the cover of "Newsweek" with that famous photo making her look a little crazy.
And you talk to her about legislation and issues. Do you think she gets a fair shake from the press?
ROMANO: I think that the coverage of her rise was very legitimate because, it was excessive, but it was legitimate because she spoke for a segment of the population at that particular point in history. Therefore, I think coverage of her fall and her errors are equally legitimate.
I mean, do I think, you know, we should ridicule her? No, I don't think we should ridicule anyone. But I think her mistakes and her failures become news.
KURTZ: She would make mistakes claiming that the HPV vaccine cause mental illness during presidential debate, and then not correct it when she was called on it. But you're probably among the columnists who are mourning her imminent departure.
MILBANK: Yes, actually, on MSNBC, I requested a moment of silence. But, you know, I actually disagree to the extent that I think Michele Bachmann should be thanking the press. We created her. We're the reason she's not one of 400 other people in the House whose names we don't know and never will know and she played the press just right.
Sure, it was full of ridicule and sure it was full of fun and, you know, that the Revolutionary War started in Concord, New Hampshire. I mean, that's terrific stuff and whether she was doing it deliberately and often on purpose, she made her name through the press and it worked very well for her.
KURTZ: Dana, you'll be waiting a long time for that, thanks.
I want to turn now to the IRS scandal and the conservative Website "Daily Caller" the other day reporting that the former IRS commissioner, Doug Shulman, had visited the White House 157 times over four years during the Obama administration, more than any other cabinet officers and writing, quote, "strongly suggest coordination by White House officials in the campaign against president's political opponents."
That spawned a number of television segments like this one.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: A new investigation by "The Daily Caller" indicates that the IRS enemies' list scandal has deeper ties to the White House than we originally thought. Now, here's why. According to the report, quote, "publicly released records show that embattled former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman visited the White House at least 157 times during the Obama administration. More recorded visits than even the most trusted members of the president's cabinet."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Well, it turns out that most of those visits were not to the White House, but the old executive office building across the street and they were for, by in large, meetings on Obamacare, how the IRS is going to implement the new health care program. So, in a scandal sometimes something sounds really suspicious and some media outlets jump on it maybe a little too quickly at times.
ROMANO: Well, and I think this is one of the liabilities of our 24/7 cycle and one of the more famous cases is poor Shirley Sherrod. The Agriculture Department official who a right wing blog decided to write one snippet of a tape and it ruined her career and got her fired.
KURTZ: This was not inaccurate, the 157 figure --
ROMANO: But the spin was.
KURTZ: The spin was and so Debra Saunders, you know, at the same time, the administration didn't immediately clarify what those visits were for, but was this a little too overheated in suggesting, insinuating, implying that there were some political (inaudible) involved in those visits to the White House complex.
SAUNDERS: Well, "The Atlantic" had reported that he was approved for visits through security. We're not sure exactly how --
KURTZ: You don't always go, even if you've been cleared by Secret Service.
SAUNDERS: That's correct. But, you know, let me just say, Mr. Shulman, I think, first of all, you should check things out. I would hope that Fox will have the segment where they look at how many visits there were. We still don't know the answer. It could have been as few as 11. It could have been over a 100. So I should hope that they will take a look at that.
But Mr. Shulman sort of contributed to this because when he was testifying before Congress and asked why visited the White House so many times, he gave that flip end answer about taking his kids to an Easter egg hunt. So I think that was sort of like waving the red flag and that's one of the reasons why the conservative media jumped on this.
KURTZ: Right. But it's hard to know, Dana, in the midst of an investigation where there something like that would turn out to be a significant breakthrough or not much of anything at all.
MILBANK: I think this is just plain shoddy reporting. The reason these visitor records and logs are out there is because the White House voluntarily started putting these things out there. Much of this had been out in a congressional hearing before this report came out. This was out there in the public domain and then they took what's out there in the public domain and made some outrageous inference as if they were listening on these meetings and they knew what happened. That is crazy.
KURTZ: All right, Dana Milbank, Debra Saunders, Lois Romans, thanks for going, stopping by to go over these various topics here in Washington.
Up next, the mayor of Toronto denies smoking crack even as news outlets chase a video that several reporters say show him doing just that. We'll talk to the editor of Toronto's largest newspaper about this bizarre tale.
KURTZ: The mayor of Toronto, a colorful and controversial fellow named Rob Ford denies ever having smoked crack. But two media outlets say there is a cell phone video of him doing just that. A reporter for the web site, Gawker, says he has seen the video, as do two journalists at "The Toronto Sun."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBYN DOOLITTLE, CITY HALL REPORTER, "THE TORONTO SUN": The man in the video who we believe is Mayor Rob Ford appears stumbling. He seems incoherent. He rambles.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: But no one has produced this video and while several of the mayor's top aides have now resigned, Ford has lashed out at the media and continues to deny the allegations.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (via telephone): Mayor Ford, is that you in the Gawker video and is that you photographed with your arm around drug dealer, Anthony Smith?
ROB FORD (I), TORONTO MAYOR: There is -- number one, there's no video. So, that's all I can say. You can't comment on something that doesn't exist and I take pictures of everybody. Everywhere I go.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: But the Canadian press continues to dog the mayor at every turn as we saw again at a news conference on Thursday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) FORD: I look forward to hiring new staff as soon as possible. Thank you very much. Anything else?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: The "Toronto Globe and Mail" fueled the controversy with a story about alleged drug involvement by the mayor's relatives. I spoke earlier with John Stackhouse, the paper's editor.
KURTZ: John Stackhouse, welcome.
JOHN STACKHOUSE, "TORONTO GLOBE AND MAIL": Good day. Thanks for having me.
KURTZ: Is it uncomfortable at all for you and everyone else to report on an alleged crack smoking video that your newspaper hasn't seen?
STACKHOUSE: It's certainly awkward and, yes, it's uncomfortable. I think most journalists like to see things first hand so it's been awkward. Many elements of this story are relying either on second- hand information or anonymous sources in the case of some of the major investigative work we've done --
KURTZ: And on that point, let me come to the "Globe and Mail" story that has, you know, generated some controversy. Now first of all, for those who have not been following this, your paper reported that two of Mayor Rob Ford's brothers were involved in the drug trade and you say to readers that you've been investigating this since late 2011. So, first of all, why did you not publish the story until after this video or reports of this video surfaced?
STACKHOUSE: Well, we knew all along that it was explosive and we had to ensure that our information was rock solid. We interviewed and re-interviewed and actually had our lawyers sit in on some interviews with sources. We wanted a significant number of independent sources, ones who had never heard of each other or certainly talked to each other. And that is what took so long to corroborate.
KURTZ: But would you have pulled the trigger on the story had there not been this explosion over reports about a video in which the mayor of your city is seen, allegedly, purportedly smoking.
STACKHOUSE: Yes, we were preparing for publication in the coming weeks and then because of the so-called video we thought it was imperative to accelerate the publication of the story and we got it out the next weekend.
KURTZ: Now in that story, you say that the brother of the mayor, Doug Ford, who is a city counselor, sold hash back in the 1980s. Why reports from so long ago and why does that reflect on the mayor necessarily?
STACKHOUSE: It's a fair question. It was not just a single sale or a recreational use of drugs, which is how he's tried to dismiss it. This was over a period of seven years. It was an active commercial operation. It was known to many people in the community and it extended through his other brother, Randy, in the 1990s.
We thought this reflected on the family and material given the family's political stand on drug trade in Toronto. Doug has been a leading advocate of greater police efforts to stamp out the drug trade in Toronto. So we thought it was important for the people of Toronto to know his own background.
KURTZ: What has been the reaction among some of the public, I understand, has been a little bit of a backlash against your paper in some corners.
STACKHOUSE: Absolutely. It's exploded. There is a good number of people in Toronto and well beyond who are outraged that we would rely on anonymous sources. They've raised questions, as you did, about the relevance of something that happened a number of decades ago. And there are an equal, if not greater number of people, I don't know how one measures this, but it's significant number of people who are shocked and appalled that leading public figures in Toronto would have this sort of association allegedly with the drug trade.
KURTZ: Now, Mayor Rob Ford and his brother have not been shy about pushing back against the media. I want to play for you something from a radio show that they did. I'm sure you heard it before. Let's play it for the viewers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's -- 80 percent, well, 80 percent of them are nasty sons of a gun.
FORD: Bunch of maggots.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So John Stackhouse, what is your reaction being called a bunch of maggots by the mayor of Toronto?
STACKHOUSE: Yes, well, that was the mayor saying that unfortunate term. He is a guy who shoots his mouth off, has for as long as he has been in public life. That's why people love him and support him. He came out the next day and apologized to the media and, you know, I accept that apology and feel he was saying that in the heat of the moment.
STACKHOUSE: But he doesn't like the media, generally, that's, I think that's well established.
KURTZ: I got that very clearly from watching even that brief snippet of videotape, now, on this elusive, alleged crack smoking, cell phone video. The web site "Gawker" has raised $200,000 from its readers to try to buy this from the source that's peddling it. Does that kind of checkbook journalism cause you any concern?
STACKHOUSE: Yes. This has raised all sorts of ethical debates among Canadians. But somehow we have to establish whether this video does exist and somehow get it on the public record or at least into police hands and they can, they can scrutinize it appropriately.
KURTZ: Will your newspaper pay for it?
STACKHOUSE: Would we pay for it? No.
STACKHOUSE: Well, we're not going to pay drug dealers, and that is what is believed -- those are the people believed to be in possession. We are not going to pay drug dealers money for information that should be in police hands.
KURTZ: Right. Fascinating, fast-moving story we'll keep an eye on and I'm sure your newspaper will, as well. John Stackhouse, thanks very much for joining us.
KURTZ: After the break, this is no ordinary layoff. The "Chicago Sun Times" fires its entire staff of photographers. We'll talk to Pulitzer Prize winner, John H. White who had been there for 35 years.
KURTZ: Newspaper errors are so common these days that they hardly qualify as news. But what happened at "Chicago Sun Times" the other day is dramatically different. The tabloid has fired its entire photo staff, at least 20 full-time employees. Among those let go is John White, a Pulitzer Prize winner who has been with the paper since 1978. We're looking at some of his pictures right now. I spoke to him this morning from Chicago.
KURTZ: John White, welcome.
JOHN WHITE, PULITZER PRIZE WINNING PHOTOGRAPHER: Thank you.
KURTZ: What was your reaction when you learned that not just you, but all of your colleagues on the photo staff of the "Chicago Sun Times" were getting the boot?
WHITE: Well, we're news people. We cover the news every day and we are -- we always expect unexpected, but this wasn't expected for us. We are human. We're hurt, but we know that the sun shine above the clouds and that journalism is not dead. It's very much alive and that as long as there's people who -- there will be the need for photo journalists.
KURTZ: Yes, journalism is not dead. But certainly photojournalism at least at "Chicago Sun-Times" has had a big setback. You were quoted the other day as saying your assignment comes from God. Talk about a little bit more about what you meant.
WHITE: Well, I would like to think that I and my colleagues and we're all visual service. Before people could read and write, there were the visuals and there will always be the visuals. It's the universal language that everybody understands, rich, poor, educated and uneducated. I could get a raindrop, a rainbow of the president and I could be the eyes for people.
They can it through my eyes and through the eyes of my colleagues and that we'll always be. Every time I capture a moment it's timeless. It's forever. It's like a light. It cannot be contained. So we are this visual service that has been behind the camera doing this work on a daily basis from birth to death, everything in between.
We cry more than we laugh, but we are there for people. We are their eyes. The body is made of many parts. They are all significant. The eyes are more important, but that's what we do and --
KURTZ: That's a very touching description. I'm struck when you talk about life and death and everything in between. So in addition to the fact that you are a prize-winning photographer, you see yourself as a storyteller for the people of Chicago.
WHITE: I see myself as their eyes, not only for the people of Chicago but the world. Chicago is the greatest playground in the world, visual playground. Chicago is the greatest city. Great institutions that are teaching digital photo journalism and multimedia, but the world is bigger than Chicago and we are a servant for the world. You think of an image, say Boston or 911. It's the visual and for a lot of people 100 years from now on a connection with history.
WHITE: Vision stirrings.
KURTZ: Those images tend to be indelible. Now the "Sun Times" says it wants to cater to digitally savvy customers and it's going to concentrate on video and training reporters to use iPhones. Can that really replace what people like you and your colleagues do?
WHITE: Well, I think -- you think of the ingredients that go in to a photojournalist, passion, skills, and instincts. These are things -- you can't take someone who fills prescription bottles and have them do your heart surgery.
KURTZ: I can't put it any better than that.
WHITE: One thing for sure.
KURTZ: It is an art as you were saying.
WHITE: Yes. But you have to understand that those visions and values are different can't extinguish the light of hope. One of the great things about the photojournalists is the photojournalists out there every day and we live by that four-letter word, which is the greatest word in the world, love. We -- being there is lamp light to the world. Sometimes the photograph is being there. It says you are concerned. Everybody has a story. It is a privilege. It's a privilege. It's a great honor to be a photojournalist. It is a great honor.
KURTZ: I'm sorry for the bad news, but it so nice to end on an uplifting note as you've just done. John White, thanks very much for joining us.
WHITE: Thank you.
KURTZ: Really moving description of his life's work.
Still to come, Doonesbury creator, Gary Trudeau, gets a thumbs up from Amazon and Katie Couric dishes with none other than Howard Stern. 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. Here's something that could be a hit, Gary Trudeau, the Doonesbury cartoonist, was on our program recently to talk about a pilot episode he made for Amazon starring John Goodman and Bill Miry. He told me he was a tad reluctant to take the plunge.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GARRY TRUDEAU, CREATOR, "DOONESBURY": It wasn't something that appeal to me enormously originally and I thought about it. The process is actually given the capability Amazon has for capturing very nuanced data, the process gives them more information about whether or not they should be making the show. It is transparent. It's democratic. It's rational. It's not just people with gut feelings and executive towers in L.A.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Well, the viewers have spoken. Amazon picked up Trudeau's Alpha House along with four other video series among the 14 contestants. Maybe his appearance here had a little something to do with it.
It took a while but Katie Couric has confirmed a story I told you about here a few months ago that she was exploring the idea of launching a daytime program with Matt Lauer as part of that plan considered returning to "The Today Show" for a time to team up with her old pal. The question of a daytime partnership came up on Couric's show syndicated show while she was chatting with Howard Stern.
HOWARD STERN, HOST, "THE HOWARD STERN SHOW": Now, is it true --
KATIE COURIC, HOST, "KATIE": Wait, a second.
STERN: I have one question.
STERN: It is true when you were putting this show together that you wanted to co-anchor the show with Matt Lauer. It was going to be called Katie and Matt.
COURIC: We had discussed it, sort of theoretically. Because we did -- we have a great relationship, I think and we have a lot of fun because we enjoy each other and I think that Matt's funny and he thinks I'm funny.
STERN: You have a great chemistry is what you are saying. Did the two of you ever make love?
COURIC: Yes, a few times.
STERN: That's a yes. I thought so.
COURIC: No. You are so weird, Howard. No.
KURTZ: I have to learn to ask questions like. But Stern wasn't satisfied. Howard wanted to know more and got his chance when Couric returned the favor by dropping by his Sirius XM show.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STERN: Katie swears she never had anything going with Matt.
COURIC: You know what, I actually had a little crush on Matt when he was a local news anchor at WNBC because I thought he was so funny.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: The former CBS Evening News anchor handled the interrogation pretty well and Katie's daytime show is doing just fine with a solo host.
That's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz. If you missed our program, check us out on iTunes. You search for RELIABLE SOURCES in the iTunes store. RELIABLE SOURCES is 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.