Return to Transcripts main page

Reliable Sources

Media Boost Marriage Rulings; David Gregory's Arresting Question; Paula Deen Vs. Matt Lauer

Aired June 30, 2013 - 11:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: When the Supreme Court issued a pair of rulings boosting same-sex marriage, the only real question was how far the media would go in treating it as a victory?


RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC: The political winds on this are now blowing so hard in one direction that the idea we will go back is almost unimaginable in any state in the country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In December, I can only imagine what this day feels like for you.

SAM CHAMPION, ABC NEWS: My heart is pounding, like really thumping in my chest.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a true affirmation.



KURTZ: Are journalists being fair to the other side of this emotional debate?

Paula Deen, dumped by the Food Network, finally shows up for that cancelled interview with the "Today" show.


PAULA DEEN, CELEBRITY CHEF: I tell you what, if there's anyone out there that has never said something that they wish they could take back, if you're out there, please pick up that stone and throw it so hard at my head that it kills me. Please. I want to meet you.


KURTZ: Did Matt Lauer pin her down on her past racial slurs?

"The Guardian's" Glenn Greenwald pushing back against David Gregory, asking whether he should be prosecuted for publishing classified information from fugitive leaker Ed Snowden.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GLENN GREENWALD, THE GUARDIAN: I think it's pretty extraordinary that anybody who would call themselves a journalist would publicly muse about whether or not other journalists should be charged with felonies.


KURTZ: Was that question by the "Meet the Press" host out of bounds?

Plus, some reflections from me on my final show after 15 years.

I'm Howard Kurtz and this is RELIABLE SOURCES.


KURTZ: We are monitoring the situation in Egypt this hour, where a massive number of protesters have filled the streets in Tahrir Square and elsewhere. You're looking at a live picture there from Cairo. There is fear there may be clashes between pro and anti- government forces and we will provide live updates as CNN keeps an eye on that situation.

But, first, the networks were cautious when the Supreme Court ruled on same-sex marriage this week, determined to avoid a repeat of last year's Obamacare fiasco when two of them initially botched the decision.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN: We do know that a decision has been reached. We're going through the writings of the justices. We want to be precise, obviously, and make sure we fully understand what these justices have decided.


KURTZ: Once it became clear that the high court had struck down the Defense of Marriage Act and knocked out a challenge to same-sex marriage in California, supporters began celebrating and the media's tone was strikingly upbeat as well.


MADDOW: This is the most consequential way they could have chosen to rule in a pro-gay rights way. This is a very big deal of ruling and this is a very big deal way to decide it.

DON LEMON, CNN: I'm standing in front of the birth place of the modern gay rights movement, Stonewall Inn.


KURTZ: MSNBC was interviewing the plaintiffs in the Defense of Marriage case when they were interrupted by an important phone call.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president is on the line from Air Force One, President Obama.

Go ahead.

KRIS PERRY, PLAINTIFF: Hello? Mr. President, this is Kris Perry.

THOMAS ROBERTS, MSNBC: That is an enormous phone call you just received from the president there saying that we are proud of you guys and thanking you for your leadership.


KURTZ: Good timing.

On FOX News, there were a few outright denunciations of the rulings, but there was a call for balance.


LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: What I'm concerned about is in this conversation that we're respectful that both sides can be heard without people who believe in traditional marriage being branded as intolerant or anti-gay. I don't like that, OK?


KURTZ: So were much of the media rooting for what was being framed as a victory for gay rights?

Joining me now: Steve Roberts, professor of media and public affairs at the George Washington University.

Terence Smith, former reporter for the NewsHour on PBS, CBS News and "The New York Times."

And Jane Hall, associate professor at American University's School of Communications.

Steve Roberts, was there any question in your mind that the underlying tone has been pro same-sex marriage in the media coverage?

STEVE ROBERTS, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: No question at all. I think there has been a lot of cheerleading, but at the same time there's a lot to cheer about. What's a great story? You know, this is a great story in terms of people who have worked very hard and longed for many years for this moment. And so the human dimension was all on the side of the gay rights story.

And I think that lent emotion and it lent power to the coverage, but did it come across as unbalanced? Yes, 13 states approve of gay marriage, 37 do not and that got lost a little bit.

KURTZ: This front page of "USA Today" was typical. "Rainbow Rulings" is the headline, and, of course, there's a picture of a couple kissing each other.

And my question there, Terry, is often when these stories are reported, it would be followed by pictures of and interviews of happy couples who were getting married, wanted to get married, and those kinds of images carried by the media helped turn the tide of public opinion in the first place.

TERENCE SMITH, FORMER PBS REPORTER: It probably did. But the coverage was too celebratory. It was cheerleading, to use Steve's word.

It -- you know, there are two sides to this story and there are two sides to this argument. And the other side, the opposition, didn't get much time or attention at all.

I saw Chris Hayes had a show in which he had one good guest after another applauding the ruling. But there wasn't any other voice from the other side. That's wrong.

KURTZ: Referring to Chris Hayes' MSNBC show.


KURTZ: And, Jane Hall, contrast the tone of this pair of same sex marriage rulings by the Supreme Court with the decision the day earlier to strike down the heart of the Voting Rights Act. There I found the tone underlying to be disapproving, skeptical, challenging.

JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF COMMUNICATIONS: Well, I think it was regrettable that two very important stories happened one day after the other. Rachel Maddow was -- pains to point out that that story, the voting right story was highly consequential. The gay marriage story was viewed celebratory. The gay marriage story was viewed celebratory. It was a lot of couples kissing, a lot of happiness, changing public opinion.

The Supreme Court was probably mirroring public opinion and the media were mirroring the Supreme Court's mirroring. But the voting rights story which is very important, it's hard to visualize what might happen, what bad actions might come because of this and I think it was completely swept away.

SMITH: It really was swept away, and it ignored the follow-on stories that there should have been about the individual states and voter suppression acts that they are now enacting.

ROBERTS: It's partly the nature of television. Television doesn't do policy very well and doesn't do nuance very well, but it does stories very well.

KURTZ: Pictures and emotions, all of that.

ROBERTS: It does individuals very well. And gay rights, there were real stories and real emotion.

KURTZ: Let me put up on the screen some numbers from the study by the Pew Research Center from March to May, before the high court ruling. These were stories dealing with same-sex marriage.

If you look at MSNBC, the comments, 64 percent in support, 6 percent opposed, the rest mixed. CNN, 39 percent support, 4 opposed, the rest mixed. FOX News, 29 percent support, 8 percent opposed, the rest mixed. Although the study did say that "USA Today" and "The Wall Street Journal" were much more mixed overall in their coverage of the issue.

Let me also play for you a snippet of a couple of networks as we heard a lot of voices from gay journalists, gay commentators and gay guests understandably reacting to this news from the nation's highest court.


DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS: To the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden even in his current --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Openly gay people, two of us are married at this table.

MADDOW: Not me. I mean, it is -- it does raise the pressure on it.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN: I always found that so insulting on customs declarations. It's a small minor thing. It doesn't really amount to anything. But having to write on your customs declaration family members traveling with you, zero. It's offensive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. It's basically saying you're not a human being.


KURTZ: We'll get to Glenn Greenwald in a few minutes. We saw him at the top there.

I want to be clear about this. A little more than 20 years ago, many, or if not most gay journalists were in the closet, they were afraid to come out publicly. When one did, Jeffrey Smoltz (ph) of "The New York Times," it was an event. And he started covering AIDS.

Even four, five years ago, many television journalists who we now know are openly gay, felt it might damage their careers. So I'm glad these people got a chance to talk about something so important to them but if you put them on back-to-back-to-back, are you tilting the coverage, that's my question?

ROBERTS: Yes. And this is another thing that this coverage reveals. What's missing often in TV newsrooms, there are plenty of gays. There are very few people of faith and very few evangelical Christians who in their own beliefs would be against gay marriage. And this --

KURTZ: Just to clarify, you're not saying all people of faith are against same-sex marriage. ROBERTS: No, no, not at all. But I'm saying if you did a survey of any newsroom in Washington, the number of people of deep faith who oppose gay marriage would be minuscule. And, therefore, you wouldn't necessarily go into a newsroom and find the same kind of people that you would in terms of gays.

SMITH: But we're not supposed to measure journalists by their -- either their sexual orientation, their religion or their background. They're supposed to report the news, the developments and so forth. There were two sides to this story and one was presented.

KURTZ: But what we always say -- what we in this business always say is, yes, most journalists lean left, particularly on social issues, not necessarily as much on political issues. But we can keep our opinions out of it. This seems to be a story in which we did not many of us, I do not want a blanket indictment here, did not keep our opinions out of it and sometimes it was subtle -- selection of headlines and images and the way in which the story was framed.

But even on FOX News, there wasn't a lot of people, as I mentioned at the top, denouncing these rulings, but they were saying that this could lead to, for example, federal government nationalizing the issue of government, taking it away from the states.

HALL: You know, I think it is new to have journalists who are openly gay and then to talk about how they felt about it. And I think, again, it's new and we are biased towards what's new.

But I agree with you, what's interesting about FOX is I think it's a reflection of the political calculation that the American people are more in favor of this and that someone who comes out against it in 2014 or 2016 is going to not be able to use this as a wedge issue. And I think the muted nature of some of the coverage was a recognition the public opinion has changed.

The other thing I wanted to say is that years ago my students were telling me this was a civil rights issue, and I think it has been reframed as a civil rights issue. And, therefore, it is to be congratulated.

KURTZ: The speed with which the country has changed since Andrew Sullivan, who then at the new republic in 1989 wrote a cover story in favor of same-sex marriage, nobody thought it was politically possible but that, of course, has changed the climate for all of us. I'm glad there are many gay journalists who have come to prominence or feel free now to talk about their views.

But if you live in one of the states that doesn't allow gay marriage and if you passionately believe that marriage is between a man and a woman, this is offensive, you didn't see a lot of people sharing your views in the national media, I would say this week.

ROBERTS: That's part of -- I agree with terry that we shouldn't follow our background or opinions in reporting, but it gives us a sensibility. It gives us a set of interest. That's why we want diversity in the newsroom. Because we -- that's why we want women in the newsroom.

That's why we want blacks in the newsroom. Not just a question of political correctness, because we can cover the world better if we have more diverse people. And we don't have a lot of people of faith who would take the normal view -- would take the view that same-sex marriage is wrong. There's not a lot of people in newsrooms in Washington who follow that.

KURTZ: I briefly want to put up the cover of the new "New Yorker" magazine, which has instantly become iconic, and you can see there Bert and Ernie watching the Supreme Court. "Sesame Street" putting out a statement saying they are just best friends and stop with the sex speculation.

Let me turn now to "Guardian" columnist, Glenn Greenwald. Shortly before we spoke to him last Sunday, he appeared on "Meet the Press." And as David Gregory was pressing "The Guardian" columnist about publishing the classified material that Ed Snowden had leaked to him, the conversation took an ominous turn.


GREGORY: To the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden, even in his current movements, why shouldn't you, Mr. Greenwald, be charged with a crime?

GREENWALD: The assumption in your question, David, is completely without evidence, the idea that I've aided and abetted him in any way. If you want to embrace that theory, it means that every investigative journalist who works with their sources, who receives classified information, is a criminal.


KURTZ: David Gregory says he's just asking questions and reflecting what's out there, but did he legitimize the motion that a reporter should, could maybe be prosecuted for doing his or her job?

SMITH: Well, he said you are -- to the extent you are aiding and abetting. And what wasn't clear was, was he questioning his reporting or some allegation that he assisted Snowden in his escape. And if it's the first, it's totally inappropriate. If it's the second, that's another matter.

KURTZ: I'm all for asking Glenn Greenwald, who played a central role in this story, the tough questions last Sunday. I asked him whether his reputation will be tarnished by Ed Snowden fleeing to Moscow. But now, we have stories about his past business and tax problems, "The Wall Street Journal" speculating about whether he was aiding and abetting Snowden. Without evidence, that seems to me to border on outright unfairness.

HALL: I think it is. I think there's a confusion, unfortunately, in the question that David Gregory asked. I mean, he seems to be endorsing what some lawmakers have said, that phrase aiding and abetting implies you committed a crime. And, you know, he was the -- Snowden is the source. You can debate whether Snowden should have leaked it, but Greenwald is a journalist and it gets to the question, "The Washington Post" had these stories. Are they implied to be somehow aiding and abetting? Something in the language I think was unfortunate.

ROBERTS: Look, I think Greenwald got the better of that exchange. I think he answered forth rightly and very clearly.

But as Terry points out, no matter how much we deeply believe in the critical importance of journalists being free from this kind of harassment that we've seen from this Obama administration, we also have obligations to be citizens. And if when we do witness a crime, there are times when journalists are citizens and are called upon to cooperate with law enforcement officials. But I don't think this is one of them, but there are times when we have to admit there is a role there.

KURTZ: Let me play one more clip because CNBC's Andrew Ross Sorkin was one of those who are piling on Glenn Greenwald. And then (INAUDIBLE).

Take a look.


ANDREW ROSS-SORKIN, CNBC: I put my foot in my mouth and I'm sorry about this. When I veered into hyperbole and suggested that he almost be arrested, that was quote, and I have to say, it didn't come out right and I misspoke, I'm sorry I said it that way and I'm sorry I said it.


SMITH: He should be sorry.

KURTZ: Yes, I'm glad he apologized.

There's almost an underlying here, because Glenn Greenwald is not only just a lawyer and a commentator, but an activist on these national security issues. He has a strong point of view, he doesn't hide it. There's almost the feeling maybe that some in the establishment media in Washington, in New York, resent this and therefore are kind of denigrating it.

Let's face it, he got the scoop others didn't and "Washington Post" shared. At least the facts of the story have held up.

HALL: The facts of the story have held up and it's a very important story. I mean, I would criticize the media coverage this week. We now have pictures of Edward Snowden's girlfriend.

I mean, I think we have degenerated into getting too far away from the serious questions of national security. And should we have had this and a lot of other things that are a lot more important.

KURTZ: All right. Time for a break here.

When we come back, Paula Deen belatedly shows up on the "Today" show with a tearful apology. But is her career cooked?


KURTZ: When Paula Deen blew off a "Today" show interview after acknowledging in a lawsuit that she had once used the N-word, the Food Network dumped her hours later. This week, trying to salvage her career, she belatedly kept that date with Matt Lauer.


MATT LAUER, TODAY: Right now, it seems that an informal jury of your peers, your fans and your critics and your business associates --

DEEN: Yes.

LAUER: -- are weighing the question, is Paula Deen a racist. So, I'll ask it to you bluntly, are you a racist?

DEEN: No. No, I'm not.

LAUER: By birth, by choice, by osmosis, you don't feel you have racist tendencies?


LAUER: You were asked whether using the N-word in telling a joke was hurtful and you said, quote, "I don't know. Most jokes are about Jewish people, rednecks, black folks. I didn't make up the jokes, they usually target, though, a group. I can't myself determine what offends another person."

That last sentence gets me.

DEEN: And I can't.

LAUER: "I can't myself determine what offends another person."

Do you have any doubt in your mind that African-Americans are offended by the N-word?

DEEN: I don't know, Matt. I have asked myself that so many times.


KURTZ: Joining our panel now in Tampa is Eric Deggans, television and media critic for "The Tampa Bay Times" and author of "Race Baiter: How the Media Wields Dangerous Words to Divide a Nation."

I'll start with you, Eric. Was Matt Lauer sufficiently tough in that interview on Paula Deen, or perhaps too tough? ERIC DEGGANS, THE TAMPA BAY TIMES: Well, I just felt that he missed a couple of important points that needed to be addressed in the Paula Deen situation. Number one, there were several points in the deposition -- there was a point in the deposition where she should I'm sure I've used the N-word more than once. And even though she claimed on the "Today" show that she had only used it once.

Beyond that, I think the bigger question is that she's facing a lawsuit that alleges that there have been racial and sexual harassing environments in her restaurants. The deposition was in connection to that lawsuit. And there's an attorney for Rainbow PUSH Coalition, a civil rights group, who claims to have several more past and present workers at Paula Deen restaurants who say that they have made similar allegations.

And that was something that wasn't talked about at all during the interview, and I think that's the most important point. We're trying to find out if she has fostered this relationship or looked the other way or somehow allowed an abusive relationship to exist in her restaurants --

KURTZ: Right.

DEGGANS: -- which is at the core of her business empire.

KURTZ: Well, fair enough. But you can only get to so much in a 10-minute television interview. I thought Matt Lauer asked a lot of very direct questions, like, are you a racist?

But let's turn to Paula Deen, an experienced television personality. She had been sitting atop this food cooking empire. Did she come across as sincere and sympathetic?

HALL: I think, you know, I was -- when I heard that she has hired media consultants after this interview, I thought what is with celebrities who cannot apologize?

You know, she seemed to turn it into I am the victim, which if you look back at a number of other instances with other celebrities who have said racist things, if she did say this, what she's accused of, it was astonishing to me that she had this video apology and then the "Today" show apology.

The other thing that's astonishing is why do we get so focused on this and back to the voting rights act. We focused on Paula Deen and whether she said the N-word. It's so strange to me.

KURTZ: Well, you say a victim, but it seems to me, she's entitled to defend herself. And let me just mentioned that, even after that "Today" show interview, Wal-Mart dropped her as a corporate spokeswoman, a couple of other companies did and Random House ending a five-book deal with Paula Deen. So she's still struggling to salvage what remains of her career (INAUDIBLE).

SMITH: I mean, it was the worst mea culpa ever. Ever, ever, ever. Give her credit where credit is due.


KURTZ: It was counterproductive. She didn't come across as in any way contrite or apologetic. And I found the whole thing made her situation worse, not better.

ROBERTS: She portrayed herself as the victim of this whole situation. You know, I was prepared to be sympathetic to her before I re-listened to the interview, because I think it's very important we not use the word "racist" easily. We don't use anti-Semitism easily. It's got to be -- it's a profoundly important idea that should be used very sparingly.

But I was totally unconvinced by that interview. I was far less sympathetic after I listened to it than I was before. If you listen to it carefully, one of the things she kept saying is I never purposely offended anybody.

Without grappling with the fact that her instincts were so much a part of what she was, that she offended people and as Matt Lauer pointed out, don't you understand how offensive that word is? She said, I never did anything on purpose -- but she did a lot of things to offend a lot of people, maybe not on purpose.

KURTZ: Eric Deggans, is there an argument though that the Food Network rushed to judgment against a certain woman of a certain age who admitted past mistakes?

DEGGANS: Well, I think again what troubles me and troubles a lot of people about the situation isn't that she used one word in 1986. There is a sense during the deposition that she's trying to shrug off the implications of using the word even in jokes, even later. She's doing that because she's the subject of a lawsuit where her brother has been accused of also creating this environment.

So who knows where the truth lies here in terms of her using the N-word. But I think there's a larger question about what she allowed to happen at her restaurants and about how she's dealing with it in this lawsuit.

And then there's also, you know, this idea she's represented sort of the glamour of southern life. She's represented a style of cooking that's descended from black slaves. It's descended from black people.

Some people feel that she hasn't consistently or -- she hasn't acknowledged that enough. And so, I think you're seeing a lot of past conflicts with Paula Deen, a lot of past discomfort with Paula Deen suddenly rushing into the public space because of this controversy.

KURTZ: I don't want to be overly sympathetic to her. I think with her past words and actions, she's made herself as toxic as some of her deep fried recipes.

But it occurs to me in a country where, you know, Martha Stewart went to jail, Michael Vick dealt with dog fighting and they were allowed to have comebacks. And now, everybody -- it seems to me there's a lot of people who made a lot of money on Paula Deen who are running the other direction.

SMITH: I thought the most devastating criticism of Paula Deen was that photograph in the "Washington Post" of the -- her supporters and fans lined up outside her restaurant in Savannah. You took a look at them and there wasn't one under 200 pounds. It was devastating.

KURTZ: They must eat a lot of those dishes. Let's take a break right now.

Up next, CNN will bring you the latest developments from today's protests in Cairo. Pictures -- and new pictures of President Obama's visit to the place where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Candy Crowley in Washington with a developing story out of Egypt. Massive demonstrations under way for and against the country's president, Mohammed Morsi.

I want to bring in Reza Sayah. He is outside the presidential palace in Cairo.

Set the scene for me, Reza.

REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Candy, most big showdowns have a dramatic buildup and, man, are we feeling a buildup here tonight in Cairo, as the clock is counting down to a potential face-off between supporters of president Morsi and his opponents in what many call a defining moment for this young government in post-revolution Egypt. Lots happening in Cairo.

Let's set the stage for you. At this hour we're at the presidential palace. I'm going to carefully step out of the shot so you can see the scene. The palace is to your left, if we zoom in. And you can see thousands of people have already gathered here. More are streaming in.

What we don't see are security guards. The only thing that's separating those protesters from the palace is a very lengthy barrier and, seemingly, what protesters have to do, if they want to get to the palace, is scale that wall.

Across town, more opposition factions, liberals, moderates who claim that president Morsi and his Islamist supporters have hijacked the revolution and pushed everyone aside.

A short drive from where we are, supporters of the president, who claim that he has been elected democratically. They're calling on the opposition to leave him alone and allow him to finish his four-year term.

The concern, Candy, in the coming hours, if elements within these demonstrations cross paths, there could be some violence, Candy. CROWLEY: Reza Sayah in Cairo for us today. Any time you get crowds that big with opposing views, it feels a little scary. We will be back to you.

We want to turn now to South Africa where President Obama visited Robben Island, the place where Nelson Mandela spent many years in prison.

CNN's Jessica Yellin is in Cape Town, I think that's the president's next stop.

Jessica, tell us about this visit. I just -- I feel like you can't even spend enough time on how much symbolism there was there.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It was such a powerful visit to watch play out, Candy.

Robben Island, just off the coast over here, Candy; we're here in Cape Town. And President Obama visited the island a few hours ago with his family. It's where Nelson Mandela spent 18 years in prison.

Leading them on the tour was an 83-year-old South African, who was also a political prisoner for 18 years. And during their walk, the president was overheard giving his own girls a history lesson. He explained to them that the civil disobedience movement began right here in South Africa, because Mahatma Gandhi was a lawyer here; he returned to India to lead Indian independence. And what he did there then inspired Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Clearly this was an exceptionally important experience for the Obama family, but also for South Africans, who are watching this just as we are.

When they left or before they left the island, the president and Ms. Obama signed a guest book on the island, and they said, in part, "We are deeply humbled to stand where men of such courage faced down injustice and refused to yield."

Before he left the island, as you can imagine, Candy, the president stood inside Nelson Mandela's tiny cell, where he spent much of those 18 years.

And I should point out that, in just a short time, the president will be giving the signature speech of this trip, which will be framed around the legacy of Nelson Mandela. And he'll focus on what he believes are possible when one man has a belief and doesn't give up, Candy.

CROWLEY: Jessica Yellin in Cape Town for us right now. Of course, all of this playing out against the backdrop of Nelson Mandela hospitalized in Pretoria, we are told, still critically ill there. We will be back with Jessica; we will be monitoring the president's speech.

Right now I'm going to throw it back to Howie Kurtz and "RELIABLE SOURCES" because it's my last chance to do this, my friend. So, you know, God speed and good luck. And I won't even say, but not too much luck. I wish you lots of luck, you know. I hope it's a great success and I hope we're a great success here.

But I will miss seeing you in our hideaway down on the ninth floor, where our shows and the staff sync and I just really hope the best for you.

KURTZ: I appreciate that so much, Candy. And it's been an absolute pleasure to work with you and I'll be tossing back to you later this hour.

CROWLEY: Thanks, Howie.

KURTZ: Ahead on "RELIABLE SOURCES," the murder trial that is swallowing cable news. But is the coverage driven mainly by racial questions surrounding George Zimmerman?




KURTZ: If you flipped on CNN, MSNBC or HLN on Monday or Tuesday or Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, chances are you saw live coverage of the George Zimmerman trial. The case belatedly became a media sensation after the murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin last year. And now the court proceedings are becoming a television obsession.


ROBIN ROBERTS, ABC NEWS: Now to the explosive start to George Zimmerman's high-profile trial, as a prosecutor used Zimmerman's own words to try to portray him as a vigilante who targeted Trayvon Martin.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening, welcome to our special continuing coverage. Self defense or murder: the George Zimmerman trial.

REV. AL SHARPTON, TV HOST: But we start with today's riveting testimony in George Zimmerman's second-degree murder trial.

HOLLY BRISTOW, FOX: I would say her phrase that got the most attention today was her saying "creepy-ass cracker."

BOB BECKEL: It clearly was a racial statement. I mean, I think it's pretty tough to avoid that.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Uses "cracker" and the N word both to describe --


KURTZ: Our panel joins us now. And Terry Smith, why has television in particular elevated this tragic local murder case, that didn't even get much local coverage the first two weeks after it happened, into the daily soap opera?

SMITH: Well, of course race has something to do with it and is in there. It's an intriguing trial. It involves that very controversial Florida law, the "stand your ground" legislation, and whether or not that can be defended under any reasonable definition.

It -- the characters, while not particularly sympathetic, are interesting. So I'm not surprised.

Is it worth all the coverage and all the time? Of course not.

KURTZ: On that point, Steve Roberts, when networks like CNN and MSNBC are giving it, let's say, seven or eight hours a day, I mean, that's almost at the O.J. level and clearly crowding out a lot of other news, including, on a couple of days this week, President Obama's visit to Africa.

ROBERTS: Yes, I do think it's been overdone, but as Terry says, you have interesting characters. Trials are inherently dramatic stories. It's not the first trial that news organizations have gone overboard. The Lindbergh baby trial -- I mean, our history is littered with them.

KURTZ: You both seem to be saying yes, but. Yes, it's too much, but, gee, it's really interesting.

ROBERTS: But Terry mentioned race and we've got to talk about that. Even though Trayvon's lawyers have said this is not about race, of course it is about race. And as I was watching the clips of Barack Obama in South Africa with his daughters, remember what he said when at the -- when the Trayvon Martin case first emerged.

"If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon Martin."

This president does not very often talk about his race, but at times he does. He does in Africa today, and he did about Trayvon Martin. He was part of the reason why this case got so much attention, because he accentuated the race issue.

KURTZ: Well, I don't know that it needed the president to get a lot of media attention once the flame was lit.

And Eric Deggans, is there any question in your mind that, if there was not this strong racial aspect to the case and we heard the debates in the system this testimony this week about Trayvon's use of the word "cracker," according to a friend, that it would not be national news?

DEGGANS: I think you guys are forgetting something very important, which is that a year ago in March, George Zimmerman wasn't arrested for a month, and this story became one of the most covered stories of the year, right behind the presidential election, for a month. And now cable news is following up by following this trial that was a tremendous story, when people were pressing Florida to prosecute George Zimmerman.

Now, you look at the Jodi Arias trial, you look at even the Casey Anthony trial; these are murders where you can see murders like that, unfortunately, many times across the country.

I would ask sharper questions about why those stories got blanket coverage rather than a murder trial that became an international story that inspired protests across the globe, in a sense, people wearing hoodies in New York City, people wearing hoodies in Chicago.

We are now seeing the trial that's the result of that huge protest.

You know, is 24-hour coverage excessive? Of course.

But this level of attention is to be expected, given the scope of the original story.

KURTZ: Well, I would argue, Jane Hall, that the Jodi Arias trial was also wildly overblown, given its importance or lack thereof.

But when I see anchors on HLN, for example, doing reenactments of the crime scene and the specials and the theme music, I have to ask, even if you all agree that this has very compelling elements, I have to ask whether or not television, much more so than the newspapers, are exploiting this and merchandising it for ratings?

HALL: Well, I think that -- you know, I think that it is very important to remember that this was not even going to be charged and so there was an outrage over the lack of coverage. It became a national story.

KURTZ: That was the fuse, you're saying?


HALL: I think that that was the fuse. Now we have what appeared -- and also the 911. I mean, the media are following up. Whether it deserves 24/7 is a question. But I think to dissect his friend's testimony in a way is in some way a Rorschach test for how you feel about what this young girl said, whether she was well spoken enough, whether the defense guy went too hard on her, that was legitimate.

I think that is a lot more legitimate than Jodi Arias Day 1003, I don't mean to be insensitive, but it is about something, I think.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Exploited for ratings? Howie, what a cynic you are!


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, that never happens in television.



KURTZ: The evidence shows that the numbers for all the cable news networks that have focused on this are significantly higher than they are in a typical news day. I understand what goes into those judgments. I think this is an important case that America is following. I just question whether this is, on some level, too much when it crowds out all these other news stories.

With that, I've got to wrap it up, Terry Smith, Jane Hall, Steve Roberts, Eric Deggans in Tampa, thanks very much for joining us this Sunday morning.

After the break, the press lionizes that filibustering Texas state senator and Alec Baldwin uses his Twitter account to trash a British journalist. 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.

A reporter from London's "Daily Mail" has felt the wrath of Alec Baldwin on Twitter. The temperamental actor called journalist George Stark "a toxic little queen" and wrote, "I'd put my foot up your "blank," George Stark, but I'm sure you'd dig it too much," along with some obscenities we can't repeat here. Wow.

The "Mail" had reported that Baldwin and his wife, Hilaria, was tweeting during the funeral of actor James Gandolfini, but it appears that Twitter had the wrong timestamps on the messages. The tabloid says it's looking into that.

Baldwin's spokesman says in a statement, "It's disgraceful that a reporter would manufacture and publish a story and not call for comment or explanation. There are multiple witnesses to the fact that Hilaria left her phone in the car and wouldn't, couldn't and didn't tweet during the service."

Baldwin's anti-gay language was nothing short of awful. In a statement to the gay rights group GLAAD about his, quote, "ill-advised attack" on George Stark, Baldwin said, "As someone who fights against homophobia, I apologize." Baldwin meanwhile has suspended his Twitter account, at least for now.

It was a dramatic scene in Austin as Democratic state senator Wendy Davis waged an 11-hour filibuster to try to block the Texas legislature from passing a stringent bill banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

But as the lawmakers raced against a midnight deadline, all the cable networks went into taped programming, abandoning the story. So what did people do? Many flocked to Twitter and to YouTube and more than 100,000 watched a live stream online provided by "The Texas Tribune." As for Wendy Davis, well, much of the media treated her as a heroine for blocking the bill. Front page "Washington Post" profile called her a star and hailed her tenacity. "The New York Times" praised her stamina and conviction. And she made the television rounds.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: By the time it was over, a lot of people knew the name Wendy Davis.

DIANE SAWYER, ABC NEWS: A reminder of the movie "Mr. Smith" and that exhausting filibuster.

NORAH O'DONNELL, CBS NEWS: No leaning, no easing, no going to the bathroom for 11 straight hours. How did you do it physically? How tough was it?

CHARLIE ROSE, CBS NEWS: But did you think you could stop it by this filibuster? Or you just simply want to make a very powerful statement on behalf of the people...?


KURTZ: An impressive physical feat, no question. But I have to ask, if Wendy Davis had been conducting a lonely filibuster against abortion rights, would the media have celebrated her in quite the same way?

Still to come, some final thoughts before I sign off.



KURTZ: This is my last edition as host of RELIABLE SOURCES after 15 years in this chair. I was part of a pilot for the program back when Bill Clinton was first running for president. He was mired in the Monica Lewinsky scandal when I took over the host role. And I haven't missed a show since then, my own personal Cal Ripken streak. Here's what the program looked like right after the controversial House vote.


KURTZ (voice-over): The morning after: the media have an impeached president.


KURTZ: Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES, where we turn a critical lens on the media.

We've been hearing from readers and viewers all year that we have overcovered this. KURTZ (voice-over): One of our most dramatic programs came in the aftermath of the 2000 elections, when the networks called Florida for Al Gore and then for George W. Bush.

Sam Donaldson, ABC and the other networks were wrong twice in the most dramatic high-profile way imaginable, jerking the country around and the candidates as well. How could this have happened?

SAM DONALDSON, ABC NEWS: Well, no one is happy about it. We have egg on our face, no question about it.

DAN RATHER, CBS NEWS: We made a mistake. We were wrong. We were just flat wrong.

KURTZ (voice-over): In 2003, I exposed the serial fabrications of Jason Blair at "The New York Times," and later asked him how he felt when I called him about the first of those lies, a plagiarized piece about a Texas woman whose son was missing in Iraq and whom he had never visited.

How did you think when you were doing it that you could copy the quotes from this woman, that you could use details like her Martha Stewart patio furniture, which, as it turned out, was still in boxes -- which you didn't know because you hadn't gone there -- and not get caught? I mean, it just seems like it's so risky in addition to everything else.

JASON BLAIR, PLAGIARIST: Well, some people say it was an unconscious cry for help. I don't know.

KURTZ (voice-over): This program has been about asking difficult questions regardless of ideology.

After Barack Obama was elected in 2008, as most of the media was celebrating the new president, we were skeptical about the coverage.

KURTZ: The history and the hype. Did some journalists get carried away during Barack Obama's election victory?

Is there a danger that all this will be seen as some kind of love fest involving the media?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sure, there's a danger it's being said that way already.

KURTZ (voice-over): Over the years, I've had the chance to interview people, from Tim Russert to Jon Stewart, from George Clooney to Hugh Hefner, from Rush Limbaugh to Whoopi Goldberg, not to mention Katie Couric, Diane Sawyer, Brian Williams, Ted Koppel and Barbara Walters.


KURTZ: There was no Facebook or Twitter or iPhones or iPads when I became the host back in 1998. And as we've evolved, we've tried to reflect the changing nature of the news business. I'm very grateful to CNN for the opportunity to build this franchise and to all of for you watching over the years as we've tackled the tough journalistic issues during wars and terror attacks and presidential campaigns and various media frenzies.

The first-rate staff here is what has made this program, most recently under senior producer Hardy Spier (ph) and we have not shied away from controversy, including on those occasions when we've criticized CNN.

I am moving on to become an analyst for FOX News and create a new media program there. There has already been some sniping from people who don't like FOX, but I haven't changed and I'll be continuing my independent brand of media criticism.

As for CNN, I'm happy to report that RELIABLE SOURCES will continue with the full support of Turner Broadcasting chairman Phil Kent and chief executive Jeff Zucker. Jeff has been exciting to work for and very gracious about this transition.

I want to wish the network that's been my home for more than two decades all the best. So for the last time, thanks for watching as we turn a critical lens on the media. I'm Howard Kurtz. "STATE OF THE UNION" with Candy Crowley begins right now.