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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Is Media Addicted to Kennedys?; Is Press Fair to Porter Goss?
Aired May 7, 2006 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice-over): Car crash. Patrick Kennedy goes into rehab, and the media go into scandal mode. As the congressman struggles with addiction, are journalists addicted to Kennedy tragedies?
Goss is gone. Has the press been responsible in analyzing the CIA director's sudden resignation?
Pumping the story. A look at the high-octane hype over rising gas prices.
Plus "New York Times" editor Bill Keller takes on his critics over leaks of classified information.
And from punditry to politics, Tony Snow hops on the great Washington merry-go-round.
KURTZ: Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES, where today we turn a -- our critical lens on the two events that have shaken Washington: a congressman's car crash and the sudden ouster of the CIA director. I'm Howard Kurtz.
We begin with Patrick Kennedy and that bizarre car accident on Capitol Hill just before 3 a.m. on Thursday. The lack of a sobriety test, although Capitol policeman say the appeared drunk, and the Rhode Island Democrat's brief meeting with reporters on Friday afternoon.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PATRICK KENNEDY (D), RHODE ISLAND: But in all candor, the incident on Wednesday evening concerns me greatly. I simply do not remember getting out of bed, being pulled over by the police, or being cited for three driving infractions. This afternoon, I'm traveling to Minnesota to seek treatment at the Mayo Clinic to ensure that I can continue on my road to recover recovery.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: The story, thanks in no small measure to the Kennedy name, was all over the airwaves.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Questions tonight involving Congressman Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island, a son of Senator Edward Kennedy.
GLORIA BORGER, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, "U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT": An auto accident on Capitol Hill in the wee hours of this morning.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: A police report from the scene described Kennedy as staggering after the accident.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: And joining us now, Blanquita Cullum, a radio talk show host and chairman of the Talk Radio First Amendment Committee; David Folkenflik, media correspondent for National Public Radio; and in New York, Eric Boehlert, a contributor to the "Huffington Post" and an author of a new book, "Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush." Welcome.
David Folkenflik, would this story be getting more than -- I don't know -- three or four paragraphs if it was Congressman Patrick Smith?
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, MEDIA CORRESPONDENT, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Absolutely not. I mean, the press likes to treat the Kennedys as a combination of the House of Windsor and Dysfunction Junction. I mean, you know, the -- Congressman Kennedy, in his brief and illustrious career, has certainly contributed to that.
You know, there are a lot of things to be spun off this. It's sort of the decline and dysfunction of Camelot. You've got the question of whether, you know, an abuse of power, a congressman gets treated than the average citizen when he appears to stumble out of the car.
And indeed, you've also got the question of, you know, is it Congress gone wild? Are all these guys -- you know, you've got questions of bribes or prostitution rackets or things like this. Are all these guys somehow dirty or tainted?
KURTZ: Eric Boehlert, I mean, this clearly was an embarrassing incident, and Kennedy announcing he's going into rehab for the second time in recent months, but you know, it was a fender-bender in which no one got hurt. So what explains the huge coverage here?
ERIC BOEHLERT, AUTHOR, "LAPDOGS": Yes, I'm not sure. I went back, and I think Patrick Kennedy has gotten almost as many mentions on CNN in the last few days as Porter Goss, and if you compare the significance of the stories, they're not even in the small ballpark.
Obviously the name, and I think what was odd is what drove the story early on was that because the complaint was in the D.C. police, that the report -- that the accident hadn't been held properly. So it was sort of this internal squabble about, you know, whether he got treatment. No one ever suggested he, himself, had asked for treatment -- special treatment or anything like that. So, it was odd. His initial explanation didn't really make any sense. As we now understand, he's got an addiction problem. So it all wound up in this odd story that I think was going to keep going until Porter Goss came in and sort of stepped on it, and I think that sort of put an end to the Kennedy story from a D.C. angle.
KURTZ: Well, it didn't put an end to it in terms of in a lot of newspapers today and still on the air.
Blanquita Cullum, beyond the New England papers, major news organizations nationally haven't really given much attention to Kennedy's long history of addiction and psychiatric problems and the incident where his girlfriend called the Coast Guard to be rescued from the boat where he was drinking. Did he pretty much get a free pass up until now?
BLANQUITA CULLUM, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST, RADIO AMERICA: No, I don't think he necessarily got a free pass, because you're talking about papers that people like to look at legitimate papers -- that we call legitimate papers, like the "Post" or "The New York Times" or "The New York Post" or whatever, or the Los Angeles -- we're talking about "The National Enquirer", "The Star", "The Globe". Remember that when we're talking about members of Congress, members of the cabinet, members of the Senate, this is Hollywood here in Washington, D.C.
KURTZ: So did the supermarket tabloids do a better job than the mainstream media?
CULLUM: Yes, they absolutely did. They did a much better job than the mainstream media. And I guarantee the follow-up will be better than the mainstream media.
And the thing of it is, is that you're right, I think, about this being like the House of Windsor, David. You know, we can't help it. It is what it is. We are fascinated with the Kennedys, and we follow their tragedies and we follow all the conspiracy theories. And whether you like them or you don't like them, they are rock stars in Washington, D.C.
FOLKENFLIK: And don't sell short the mainstream media on this. If you -- I was watching a little bit of FOX News the other day, you know, did this, but it did it sort of split screen with little images of Chappaquiddick and Senator Kennedy's own much more serious run-in.
KURTZ: Is that a fair comparison?
FOLKENFLIK: It's part of the history and lore of this family and, in a sense, it's almost unavoidable, given that, you know, driving while impaired is an incredibly serious thing.
CULLUM: And the other thing is, David, you raise a really good point. The reason they always show Kennedy with -- Patrick Kennedy or Kennedy with another family member is they always think about, you remember the situation with the girl who alleged that she had been raped. You know, and Kennedy was on the compound. They are always looking, well, he's the one that's supposed to be the patriarch of the family right now, and they're looking at the influence that he has on younger members.
FOLKENFLIK: But, again, I would say the mainstream media is not exactly avoiding this as a story. If you think of Anderson Cooper's show on Friday night on this own network, the top of the show was entirely about Patrick Kennedy, and there wasn't just a story about it. There was a package of, call it, four or five.
Porter Goss resigns under deep pressures, president -- excuse me, director of the Central Intelligence Agency. That story is number -- fifth. It happened the same day that that show aired. It's an extraordinary assignment of priorities there.
KURTZ: And you're leaving out all the side bars on Ambien and could this happen to other people.
KURTZ: Eric Boehlert, what I'm hearing here is that this really isn't about Patrick Kennedy. It's really about him as a symbol of a family that has been at the forefront of the media consciousness and the public consciousness for, you know, 40 or 50 years now.
BOEHLERT: Yes, of course, your original question, would this story have been different if his name was Patrick Smith. Of course, it would have gotten coverage only in his -- in the market where he was from, the, you know, his hometown paper.
But, you know, the Kennedy thing just goes on and on and the D.C. press, I think is sort of addicted to it.
You know, I'm glad he came out. I'm glad he gave a, you know, what seems like a very honest explanation. He's going to go get treatment. And so we don't have, you know, the weekend and next week about, you know, I don't think I could stand anymore coverage of the D.C. police department, who sort of can't respond to a single car accident without there being days worth of questions about, you know, what happened and who was asked and whatnot. So I think he's going to get -- yes.
KURTZ: Actually, it's the Capitol police department.
BOEHLERT: Right. I know. But I mean...
BLANQUITA: And the Capitol police department gets slapped by Cynthia Kinney. I want to say that I don't believe -- I mean, she was doing her Zsa-Zsa Gabor imitation. I really don't think so much -- I mean, yes, I think it's important that he was a Kennedy, but I think, as I said before, members of Congress are the rock stars that come here. If they break the law, they need to be held accountable, and that's why the press covers it.
KURTZ: Well, I would just suggest that there are 435 members of the House and that 434 of them don't get this kind of coverage. I want to turn now to the other big story on Friday, President Bush announcing that Porter Goss is stepping down, under severe pressure, as CIA director after less than two years on the job. Journalists immediately began scrambling for explanations.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIM AXELROD, CBS NEWS CORRESPONDENT: The White House says the decision was mutual, but U.S. officials familiar with the CIA tell CBS News that Porter Goss did not leave voluntarily.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Porter Goss had no friends left in Washington. I mean, he was getting criticized on Capitol Hill from Democrats and Republicans alike.
BRIAN ROSS, ABC NEWS: Most recently the involvement of the No. 3 man, Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, in an FBI bribery scandal involving prostitutes, poker parties and Washington, D.C., hotels raised even more questions about Goss.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: David Folkenflik, that mention of the investigation and prostitutes. And here's a "New York Daily News" story from yesterday. It says that Porter Goss resigned amid allegations that he and a top aide may have attended Watergate poker parties where bribes and prostitutes were provided to corrupt congressman. And the story goes on to say that sources said solid evidence had yet to emerge that Goss went to the parties.
What do you make of dragging that piece of it into the story?
FOLKENFLIK: I was very struck by that, too. It was a very provocative way to frame that story. And I think the daily news -- we're going to have to watch and see if they're able to sort of substantiate and flesh that out.
It was an element you saw a lot of other newspapers sort of mention it deep down into stories. I think it's the No. 3 official at the CIA that was caught up in these allegations. Was he involved in a corrupt congressman? Was he involved in possible involvement in prostitutions? That hasn't been proven even of this other CIA official, much less that Goss had anything to do with it whatsoever.
Nonetheless, one of the interesting things was that there seemed to be concerted effort, in some ways, by CIA and federal officials try to kind of leak that there had been tensions between his overboss, the total director of intelligence, John Negroponte.
The striking thing about that is this administration tends not to have leaks. It tends not to the step on its message. There wasn't a clear message from the White House on Friday, so it was a little difficult to make -- know what to make of it.
KURTZ: But, Eric Boehlert, if Goss left because he was sort of the loser in a bureaucratic power struggle with John Negroponte and the White House perhaps had lost confidence in him, that's a much less sexy story than prostitutes and investigations and so forth.
BOEHLERT: Right. Well, I think part of it was there was -- there was sort of a -- I mean, I think usually in D.C. you can sort of read the tea leaves. And if he simply came out on the losing end of an internal battle, that would have been the story.
But there seemed to be a total, complete lack of understanding on Friday, what was going on. It didn't make any sense.
And, you mentioned the No. 3, and I think the reason that is telling is that when Porter Goss tapped him to be his -- his No. 3, it didn't make sense, because this person did not have the -- what a lot of people didn't think was the proper background or enough prestige to be in that -- he seemed to be over his head in that position.
So that's why I think his No. 3 is getting some attention with the ongoing investigation. And I think it's being talked about because it didn't make any sense on Friday, why he was -- why he was leaving.
BOEHLERT: Although, it was the typical Bush White House Friday afternoon, let's get the bad news out.
KURTZ: I did -- I did notice that. Are journalists not terribly favorably disposed to Porter Goss, because they didn't like his crackdown on leaks?
CULLUM: I don't -- I really don't even think that's the problem, if you want to know the truth.
Look, when Porter Goss came in, and Porter Goss with his history of being a former member of the CIA, having been on the intelligence committee, all the problems that the Central Intelligence Agency was having, goes in and replaces George Tenet, George Tenet for all, you know, matters and purposes was pretty popular, and in with the rank and file. So Goss goes and shakes the foundation...
CULLUM: ... a lot of people go out. And some people say that part of Porter Goss' problems started when Porter Goss isolated himself from the rank and file who were there, and some of the people who were really good guys, left.
KURTZ: Yes, including there was a lot of tension between the old guard and the new guard representatives...
CULLUM: And the new guard, which could have...
KURTZ: ... by the former congressman. I want to move on here, because I want to play for all of you a tape that Donald Rumsfeld gave a speech in Atlanta on Thursday. He got heckled. We'll see first a woman who heckled him from the crowd and then we'll see a question from a former CIA analyst named Ray McGovern. Let's watch. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You lied!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get out of here.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You lied about Iraq, the costs of the war (ph). You lied about everything!
RAY MCGOVERN, FORMER CIA ANALYST: Why did you lie to get us into a war that was not necessary, that has caused these kinds of casualties?
DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Well, first of all, I haven't lied. I did not lie then.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: David Folkenflik, that footage led the "NBC Nightly News", "The CBS Evening News". It was the second story on the ABC's "World News Tonight". Here's the sum total, if we get a tight shot, of the "New York Times" coverage of the incident. Many papers just running brief wire stories, pretty brief. What explains the disparity?
FOLKENFLIK: Well, it's obviously great visuals to have somebody confronting -- someone of some authoritative nature, a former senior CIA analyst confronts the secretary of defense. You know, to Rumsfeld's credit -- perhaps he felt he needed to show he was open to this -- he kind of allowed a guy to continue at a time when some guards were moving in a little bit to sort of quell this.
At the same time, not all of the networks played the extended version of it, in which McGovern actually had some interesting comebacks to Rumsfeld's denials of certain statements he read from certain transcripts. It was an interesting exchange.
KURTZ: Right, right. Eric Boehlert, I mean, public officials get heckled all the time. This one really seemed to get quite a big ride, at least on television.
BOEHLERT: Well, I mean, if you're talking about the Ray McGovern exchange, I mean, it wasn't a heckle. He sort of waited patiently in line, and I think, as David mentioned, I mean, he had his facts and he had the quotes and he was going to ask -- use the word that, frankly, a lot of press will not use when talking to Donald Rumsfeld, which is "lie" in talking about Iraq.
So I think it did make for good television. And I think it's about time some people started asking that question in public.
KURTZ: Blanquita, does this play into the media narrative that Rumsfeld is under fire, some former generals want him out, he didn't tell the truth about the war? Is that why it seemed to resonate?
CULLUM: I think it resonated because it was good theater. And the other think is, everybody seems to think that, because you're in the Central Intelligence Agency you are of one mindset. Everyone seems to think that if you're a general, that you're necessarily Republican.
This guy can have facts and figures, but if he's with the CIA, how are you going to check them? The thing of it is, is that he -- I mean, I think what I admire about Rumsfeld is Rumsfeld is not afraid to have people protest. That's the great thing that Americans can do, of the mother coming out and speaking. Rumsfeld can deal with that.
But people should know that there are many points of view that come out of the CIA.
KURTZ: All right, well, we still have some of those points of view on this tape.
We're going to take a break. Up next, comedy or calamity? Why are liberal bloggers making Stephen Colbert that hero, and ripping the mainstream press in the process?
And later, 1 p.m. Eastern, go "ON THE STORY" with CNN reporters Suzanne Malveaux and Candy Crowley, as they take a behind the scenes look at covering the Porter Goss resignation and Patrick Kennedy's accident.
KURTZ: Welcome back. Comedy Central Stephen Colbert got decidedly mixed reviews for his mockery of President Bush at last weekend's White House correspondents' dinner.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, COMEDY CENTRAL'S "THE COLBERT REPORT": The greatest thing about this man, is he's steady. You know where he stands. He believes the same thing Wednesday that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened Tuesday! Events can change. This man's beliefs never will!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: But many liberal bloggers say journalists deliberately ignored Colbert's performance because he showed them up in getting tough with the president. Chris Durang at the -- at the "Huffington Post": "Colbert's was a brave and shocking performance and for the media to pretend it isn't news worthy is a total bafflement and a symbol of how shoddy and suspect the media is."
Eric Boehlert, you wrote a book about media lapdogs that has just come out. Do you believe that journalists are such lapdogs that they minimized or ignored the Colbert performance because they were embarrassed by his mockery of Bush?
BOEHLERT: I mean, if you look at it, it doesn't make sense, but there's a mindset. I mean, this did not happen in a vacuum. And that's what's important to understand about the anger on the left. I mean, if you go back to exactly a year ago, we had the Downing Street memo, which very clearly laid out how Bush misled the country into war. For six weeks the press just would not touch that story, and it wasn't until the liberal bloggers really forced them to.
So this is a much smaller example, but I mean, how can you go to the dinner and then write a report and not mention Stephen Colbert, as "The New York Times" did not do for four days? There's this mindset that if -- that the press and the White House are all -- they're just in the exact lockstep, and it's very peculiar to us.
FOLKENFLIK: I think we should stop ourselves from getting too far ahead on this. I mean, we're talking about something which is a comic's thing at a dinner. The correspondents, very few of them go home and then file stories. They're there basically to have one night off to party, to relax a little bit, and to show some sort of shared commerce with the president.
I did not go to the dinner that night. I watched that, actually, later with family, just for kicks. And I got to say, outside of the room, it seemed much funnier than to friends and colleagues of mine who were inside the room. I thought Colbert had a lot of funny lines.
But simply to politicize this, and it's a comic. It was like a 20-minute roast, but at the same time, to notionally compare the press coverage of this to the Downing Street memo seems to me a little foolish.
I do think there's a discomfort, particularly by the reporters in that room, in somehow laughing too hardily at that particular roast, when the president is sitting, you know, not 20 yards away.
BOEHLERT: I disagree. I don't think it's about timing and I don't think it's about comedy. I don't think it's about Stephen Colbert's timing. I don't think it's about how he did in the room and outside the room.
I think it's this mindset within the D.C. press that, you know, if someone attacks Bush, and we got to understand he also attacked the press mercilessly in that segment in a very brilliant skit.
KURTZ: And I was going to bring that up. Let me get Blanquita in. Do you think one of the reasons he didn't get a great reception in the room was because journalists thrilled about being the butt of many of those jokes?
CULLUM: Yes, but he didn't do it hard enough. For example, if you remember when Don Imus really rocked the room, and he not only insulted the president, he went after the press?
KURTZ: That's President Clinton. Yes, I remember vividly.
CULLUM: And he went after the press but more mercilessly than he did the president, and it so outraged the press that they really just went -- came down on Imus.
What was the result? Well, the result was Imus, you know, got lambasted, Imus got bad press, and Imus got a television show.
Now, Colbert, on the other hand's, ratings are not as high as Jon Stewart with "The Daily Show" and he had nothing to lose by going out there and being merciless and being a comic. Just creative.
FOLKENFLIK: I've got to say, the guy was doing exactly what he does every night, and he's actually a very funny guy.
KURTZ: This is a great segment, but unfortunately, we're out of time. OK, David Folkenflik, Blanquita Cullum, Eric Boehlert, thanks very much for joining us.
KURTZ: Coming up a CNBC anchor shakes the stock market by reporting an off-the-cuff comment from the new Fed chairman.
And the Harvard sophomore caught plagiarizing from a second book in her first and last novel.
Latest in media news is just ahead.
KURTZ: Checking now on the world of media news, Maria Bartiromo sent the stock market tumbling on Monday. The CNBC anchor spooked Wall Street by reporting a conversation she had with the Fed chairman, Ben Bernanke, at the White House correspondents' dinner.
Bernanke had suggested to Congress that the Federal Reserve would probably finish raising interest rates soon, but he told Bartiromo that message had been misinterpreted and that further rate hikes would depend on how the economy was faring. The scoop caused some grumblings about her methods but she says Bernanke didn't say anything about his comments being off the record.
And speaking of stocks, Louis Rukeyser, the longtime host of "Wall Street Week", died this week. Lou Rukeyser was analyzing the market on television before doing that was considered cool. And while his deliberate came to seem style seemed slow compared to fast-paced cable channels, millions trusted him to decode the mysteries of Wall Street.
Last week, we told about Kaavya Viswanathan, the Harvard sophomore who plagiarized, unintentionally, she insisted, portions of her book, "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed" from another author, Megan McCafferty. Now "The New York Times" has discovered that Viswanathan lifted parts of her novel from a second author, Sophie Kinsella. Publisher Little Brown is now killing the student's lucrative two-book deal in what must be a very painful lesson in ethics.
And checking our e-mail bag, a lot of you had strong views about our segment last week on "To Catch a Predator", "Dateline's NBC's" online sting against sexual predators, and ABC's "Prime Time" episode about stepfamilies that, in one case, showed a father beating his daughter. Roland P. in Little Rock, Arkansas wrote, "I cannot believe that the guest who appeared on your show objected to 'Dateline' taking pedophiles off the street. This is one instance where the end justifies the means."
Another viewer, Ted Fannin, e-mailed, "I just watched your show on the beating of the father punching his daughter. That's sure what it looked like to me. Thank you, ABC. You just told millions of Americans that you can punch and beat your kids as long as you only do it one time. ABC is just after ratings, not the protection of children.
Coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, high-powered hype over the price at the pump. Are the media making too much of the rising cost of gas?
Also, did "The New York Times" team up with partisan sources to publish national security leaks? Executive editor Bill Keller takes on his critics.
And Tony Snow is the latest to hop on the Washington merry go round, a fast-moving tradition of jumping from press to politics and back again. All that after a check of the top stories from the CNN Center in Atlanta.
MELISSA LONG, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm Melissa Long at the CNN Center in Atlanta. RELIABLE SOURCES continues in a moment, but, first, now in the news, in Iraq, civilians again bear the brunt of the latest sectarian violence. In Karbala, at least five people are dead after a suicide bomber attacked a crowded market.
And in Iraq two car bombs exploded, leaving nine dead. Elsewhere in the capital, 43 bodies have been found. All were shot in the head and dumped in various neighborhoods.
In Australia, rescue workers are taking it slow, using hand tools to chip away at rock that's blocking the escape route for two trapped miners. They are using hand tools now instead of a drill in order to avoid a cave-in. The men have been down there 12 days.
More headlines in 30 minutes. RELIABLE SOURCES continues, right after the break.
KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES.
Gas prices are up, in case you hadn't noticed, and that is fueling a whole lot of media coverage. Day after day the headlines track the price at the pump, the camera crews head out to gas stations and interview people about paying more to fill their tanks, and the networks are all over the story.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) KATIE COURIC, CO-HOST, NBC'S "THE TODAY SHOW": On "Close Up" this morning, the gas crisis. This morning, it's $2.92 a gallon for self-serve regular.
WILLIAMS: These days, as we know, a lot high anxiety over gas prices and more political fighting over what to do about it.
LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Tonight, lawmakers on Capitol Hill appear to be powerless in the face of rising anger about soaring gasoline prices.
SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST, FOX NEWS CHANNEL'S "HANNITY & COLMES": Big oil companies may not be to blame for the skyrocketing gas prices. It may just be simple economics and government policies.
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST, MSNBC'S "COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN": The gas crisis. Too bad hybrid engines can't run on the hot air produced by our politicians.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: But does all this coverage amount to pandering? Does it suggest that the government must do something about the free market at work, or does it just give motorists an opportunity to vent?
Joining us now in New York, Gerri Willis, CNN's personal finance editor. With me here in Washington, Jim Glassman, editor of the American Enterprise Institute magazine; and Frank Sesno, CNN special correspondent and professor at George Mason University.
Jim Glassman, clearly people care about gas prices, but why so much coverage, day after day?
JIM GLASSMAN, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: I really don't know. I think it has been excessive...
KURTZ: Excessive? Too much?
GLASSMAN: It's been unbelievable, and what bothers me the most is really this has been played as a political story or a kind of moral story. It's all about greed, where here really the media have an opportunity to educate people, because I don't think they understand why gas prices move up and down.
KURTZ: Let me come back to that point, but Gerri Willis, do you think that editors and producers and news executives personally care as much as, say, the average American about, you know, the price of putting fuel in their luxury vehicles?
GERRI WILLIS, CNN PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR: You know, I've got to say, I completely disagree with Jim. I think we were slow off the mark, because so many editors and producers are here in New York City. They're using public transportation, and often the story does not resonate as much with them.
So I'd say we need to cover it more, not less. This is a critical issue to consumers. This affects their pocketbooks. They're not making their budgets. Other costs are going unpaid because gas prices are through the roof.
KURTZ: If the media was slow off the mark, Gerri, do you think they've caught up now? Do you think it's getting an accurate level of coverage right now?
WILLIS: Well, I think what's interesting now is yes, we're covering the price day to day, and we're watching it intently. We're watching profits of the oil companies intently, but now we're starting to look for solutions. Now we're looking for alternative energy stories. Now we're starting to look for people -- ways for people to save money, finally get the best gas price in town. We're taking the story to a new level.
KURTZ: Right. We were watching the price, even as you were speaking, on a split screen.
Frank Sesno, once members of Congress started holding press conferences at gas stations, I mean, that really helped the media fuel this story, did it not?
FRANK SESNO, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, well, all you need is a picture and you're off and running. The picture makes the story. I'm being facetious, of course.
Look, I think -- I disagree. I think the media have been slow to the story. I think they've been shallow to the story, and I think even now, we're largely missing the story.
You know who I give the truth in journalism award to? And you're going to be surprised at this. It's Chevron. Chevron's taken out these big, full-page ads for quite some time now, saying the era of cheap oil is over. They may be doing it for their own narrow interests or good P.R. to inoculate themselves against their high profits, but the questions, the tough questions they're posing, are the ones we should be asking.
GLASSMAN: People were saying the era of cheap oil was over in the 1980s. They said it in the late -- the 1990s, when the price of gasoline dropped below a dollar. We don't really know whether the era of cheap oil is over or not. What we do know is that the era of cheap coverage, I think, is pervasive.
And it's not so much that it's excessive. I think that's part of it. It's really moronic. I think this is a good time to explain to people why prices rise, why they fall, why, for example, President Bush really has very little to do with the price of oil...
SESNO: Jim, it's not -- it's also a good time to explain to them that the story goes beyond the prices at the pump, and why maybe, in the era of cheap oil is over...
SESNO: ... something is different this time. There's been some fundamental shifts. Back when you were talking about in the 1980s, China was not growing at 10 percent a year and the world's second largest oil importer. So there's a story there.
WILLIS: And if could just...
KURTZ: Jump in, Gerri.
WILLIS: Yes, and if I could just add, too, I mean, the companies themselves have made important decisions about where they're going to reinvest and where they're not going to reinvest that has also contributed to the fact that gas prices are rising.
Look, I think it's a completely legitimate conversation to have about gas prices and figuring out where the problems are, where the bottlenecks are, and what we need to be doing.
KURTZ: But every story that I have read has said that neither the president nor Congress has really much ability to do anything about gas prices in the short term. In the long term, sure, there's lots of things you can do, some of them painful, some of them things that politicians don't want to do. But isn't there sort of an underlying tone in the coverage that, hey guys, aren't you going to fix this problem? We don't want to pay...
GLASSMAN: Sure, and that's the big problem.
WILLIS: Well, you know, it is a non-renewable resource, after all, right? I mean, we understand that, but there are things people can be doing. We have hybrid cars out there now. We have alternative energy forms with tax credits. There are plenty of interesting, compelling stories to tell people about energy that just isn't, you know, the amount of money these companies are making.
But to Frank's point, I think it is important to talk about the structure of this industry and exactly how this money is made, and what this industry could be doing to help out.
GLASSMAN: And, you know, Gerri and Howard, to your point, there is a presumption in a lot of this coverage, and it comes from the folks on Capitol Hill and here in Washington, that we can actually do something about it. The point is, this is the marketplace at work. It's the global marketplace, so get over it. Don't look for a silver bullet. There isn't one.
KURTZ: Well, my favorite image was of House Speaker Denny Hastert there going to one of these press conferences to demand some kind of action and driving off in a hybrid vehicle, and a couple of blocks later, he got out and got into his SUV. And, in fact...
GLASSMAN: I have no problem, by the way, him being in that SUV. He's entitled to that. It's kind of the basic...
KURTZ: Yes, but where are the stories where somebody looks the viewer in the eye and says, "All you millions of folks who bought these gas-guzzling SUVs, you are part of the problem, and now you're whining about it"? GLASSMAN: Right, and look, people understand that. I mean, Gerri, it's nice to tell people what their alternatives are, but I think they certainly know that they can be driving a car that's smaller and that gets -- that gets better gas mileage. But that's their choice.
Look, there are lots of really interesting stories about energy. One of them is why these higher prices have not affected the economy, if they're so terrible.
SESNO: Yes, yes, yes.
GLASSMAN: Another is ethanol. Ethanol -- that's -- well, we've had high gasoline prices ever since Katrina. They've gone up, they came down, now they've gone back up again, but they were -- they've never gotten below about $2.50 a gallon, $2.20 a gallon.
KURTZ: Go ahead, Gerri.
WILLIS: Can I jump in here? Yes, the last thing I want to do here is blame the consumer. It's true we've been buying SUVs. That's true. But also, hybrids, the number of those cars sold in this country, is doubling. Those numbers are now growing. And you can't blame -- you can't blame.
GLASSMAN: Gerri, hybrids are good but they're not going to solve the problem. OK, they're not.
WILLIS: You can't blame consumers for the fact that we live in a very big country and not everybody has access to public transportation.
KURTZ: I want to come back to...
WILLIS: There are issues here that consumers can't fix on their own.
KURTZ: I want to come back to the media coverage. Frank Sesno, you're a TV guy. Is there a sort of...
SESNO: Sorry about that.
KURTZ: Is there a sort of a populist approach here by the media? "We're mad, too," the president said, "just like you."
Even when millionaire anchors are doing the reading?
SESNO: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. It's like the old movie "Network," "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more, and I'll meet you at the pump!"
KURTZ: Now I want to play something from "The Today Show" this week. You know, there was a lot of publicity at ExxonMobil when Lee Raymond, the out-going chief executive got a $400 million retirement package. And then the new CEO, Rex Tillerson, was interviewed about the role that companies like his play in the rising energy costs. Let's take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATT LAUER, CO-HOST, NBC'S "TODAY SHOW": The critics say, you know what, the big oil companies have gotten together, they're in cahoots, they've crushed the competition and they're manipulating the prices. What's the truth?
REX TILLERSON, CEO, EXXONMOBIL: Well, obviously the truth is that we do not get together and manipulate prices. That would be illegal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Are the media demonizing oil companies, Jim Glassman?
GLASSMAN: Absolutely. Absolutely. And the facts are, for example, that ExxonMobil, which is the largest oil company in the United States, ranks No. 14 in the world, as far as -- as far as reserves are concerned. The top 13 oil companies are all owned by other countries. And that's the -- that's the truth about oil.
Really what these companies have been doing over the last -- ExxonMobil in the last 15 years has invested $200 billion in trying to find oil, in refinery expansion and so forth. But this is -- this is an extremely competitive market, but what's happening is, there's more demand coming out of China, coming out of India. And we're doing better at conservation, but you know, prices are going to go up.
SESNO: My big beef with the media coverage, Howie, is that we don't appropriately challenge conventional wisdom. Oh, conventional wisdom, the oil companies make too much money. Oh, conventional wisdom, conservation will solve everything. Oh, conventional wisdom, ethanol is the solution around the corner. Not true in any of those cases, and the media need to be going in -- the ethanol story is just this side of a fraud, in some ways...
SESNO: ... and really needs to be explored. And so is the fact that the -- that big oil is ripping everybody off.
GLASSMAN: Also we have a big tariff on ethanol.
KURTZ: Let me get to -- Gerri -- Gerri, I want to broaden this a little bit, because I want -- you were among a group of journalists who, just a few weeks ago, met with President Bush, who wanted to talk about the economy. The raw figures show the economy is doing pretty well, but the public perception, and some would say, the media coverage is that the economy is still struggling. Why is that?
WILLIS: That's -- that's really interesting. I think what is interesting and compelling about that is, look, if you work in some of the old line industries -- you're in the auto industry, you work maybe for one of the airlines -- you're having trouble. Those industries are consolidating.
If you're in newer parts of the economy -- maybe people on the West Coast, they're seeing more opportunities, more money. I think, interestingly, the media is sort of consolidated on the East Coast here, and we're more in tune, we know more people who are in those industries that are more old line, and maybe our coverage reflects some of that.
But the other flip side of this is, too, that, look, we want to tell the whole story, we're not just going to point a picture -- point the cameras at the rosy picture. We're really going to get underneath what's happening, and show those parts of the economy that aren't working.
KURTZ: All right. OK. Well, we appreciate it. Gerri Willis, Frank Sesno, Jim Glassman -- thanks very much for joining us.
When we come back, a conversation with "New York Times" editor Bill Keller on national security leaks that critics say are hurting the country.
KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. The "New York Times" won a Pulitzer Prize last month in a story that disclosed President Bush's domestic surveillance program. But federal investigators are looking into that report and other national security leaks, sparking fears that some journalists could once again be threatened with jail.
Joining us now to talk about the ethics and the dangers of publishing classified information is the "Times" executive editor Bill Keller.
BILL KELLER, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Thank you.
KURTZ: "Wall Street Journal" editorial page says that journalists at "The "New York Times," the "Washington Post" and elsewhere are teaming up with, quote, "a cabal of partisan bureaucrats to undermine President Bush's war on terror." I'm guessing you're going to disagree with that?
KELLER: Oh, that's a little silly. I mean, you know -- we're used to, you know, getting slammed from the right and the left. And the "Wall Street Journal" editorial page, I'm sure, would like us to be a cheerleader for the president. That's not our job.
KURTZ: Does it matter, Bill, if sources are partisan? In the sense that everybody leaks for reason, has some kind of motivation, and it's the job of journalists, of course, to check it out and make sure that the information is absolutely 100 percent rock solid? KELLER: Well, first of all, in the specific cases the "Journal" talked about, which was our warrantless eavesdropping story and your paper's story about CIA prisons, we pitched, but we don't know who the sources are. So to speculate about their motives is -- you know, there's just no basis for that.
From our point of view, it does matter what their motives are, in the sense that we would like to disclose that information to readers whenever possible so that they can make some judgment about whether the information is reliable.
But, you know, in the case of the eavesdropping story, we had nearly a dozen sources. And from what the reporters tell me, most of them were motivated by a sense of dissatisfaction, uneasiness with what the government was doing.
KURTZ: That obviously had to be a difficult decision for you on that story, because you held it for about a year, at least the original version of it, and you published it after a personal appeal by President Bush not to go ahead. Why did you decide, after waiting that period of time, to go forward?
KELLER: Well, we learned a lot more during the time we were waiting. But, you know, one of the assumptions that was built into the "Journal's" editorial is that, you know, when the president tells you that there's a national security reason for not publishing something, you should take that at face value.
And, you know, we certainly believe that presidents are entitled to respectful, attentive hearing, particularly in matters of national security. And we gave the White House every opportunity to explain why they thought publishing this information would be harmful. We agonized over it. We, as you say, held the story, and we kept reporting.
And over the course of that time, we came up -- our reporters came up with enough information to convince us that it would not damage national security, and also that there was a very, very active debate in all three branches of the government about whether this program was legal or not.
KURTZ: Right. Let me read a little more from this "Wall Street Journal" editorial which came after the CIA fired Mary McCarthy, an officer there, who it accused of leaking classified information. She has disputed that.
The editorial says, "The press is inventing a preposterous double standard that is supposed to help us all distinguish between bad leaks -- the Plame name -- and virtuous leaks, whatever Ms. McCarthy might have done. It would appear that the only relevant difference here is whose political ox is being gored, and whether a liberal or conservative journalist was the beneficiary of the leak."
We do make distinctions between leaks depending on what's involved, don't we? KELLER: Of course we do. Although, I have to say, while a lot of editorial writers and columnists were indignant about the Valerie Plame leak and called for, you know, a special prosecutor, special counsel to investigate it, I didn't. And the editors and reporters who covered the news didn't ask for that. I mean, our, you know, misgivings about those kinds of leak investigations are, you know, broad enough to encompass that one.
KURTZ: But, obviously, Robert Novak, who received that leak on Valerie Plame and her CIA connection, got a lot of abuse in the press. And on the other hand, a lot of people -- you know, there's been a real split of opinion about whether or not, for example, you know, your reporters in disclosing the domestic surveillance program were either doing a noble thing by informing the country of this, or somehow undermining national security.
KELLER: Well, sure. The debate really is not about leaking per se; it's about the value of the information that was leaked. In the leak of the Joe Wilson, Valerie Plame case, I guess the people who were criticizing that suggested that it was part of a P.R. kind of smear campaign.
In the case of the NSA eavesdropping or the CIA prisons, it was -- I mean, those were issues that kicked off a serious, national debate about the balance between our liberty and our security.
KURTZ: Now, CIA director Porter Goss unexpectedly announced his resignation on Friday. He had been leading a crackdown, trying to plug some of those leaks through the news media. Do you think that the climate at the CIA, as far as leaks are concerned, might be any different with him gone?
KELLER: I have absolutely no idea. I think the climate was certainly not unique to the CIA. I mean, this is -- this is an administration that has been pretty aggressive in its protection of its secrets.
You know, there are people in our business, or in the pundit business anyway, who refer to a Bush administration war on the press, and I think that's melodramatic. You know, I think all administrations are uncomfortable when the press starts probing too deeply. But I do think that this administration has been more aggressive than any in recent memory in trying to...
KELLER: ... fend off that sort of accountability.
KURTZ: This is not a theoretical argument for you, because Judith Miller went to jail for 85 days for refusing to disclose her source, who turned out to be Scooter Libby in the Valerie Plame case.
KURTZ: With the benefit of hindsight, do you feel like if -- if the "Times" had taken a more cooperative approach to the special prosecutor that maybe a needless confrontation would have been avoided?
KELLER: I don't know. It wasn't all in the times (ph) of the newspaper. To a large extent, it was in the hands of the reporter and her lawyers to decide how to handle that.
I do think because that was a case that was hard to understand and hard really for people to decide where right lay, that it may have muddied the waters a bit in terms of, you know, more kind of clear-cut and serious leak investigation cases, like the NSA and CIA prison cases.
KURTZ: And just briefly, could it have undermined public support for the media, which as you know is not exactly at high levels now when it comes to publishing some of these controversial stories?
KELLER: It may have. I have a fair amount of faith in the American public, and I think they can distinguish between the case like the one we went through last year and the one we may potentially go through this year.
KURTZ: All right, Bill Keller, we'll have to leave it there. Thanks very much for joining us.
KELLER: Glad to do it.
KURTZ: Still to come, from the press to politics and back again. We'll take a look at who's been riding the Washington merry-go-round.
KURTZ: When Tony Snow reports to work at the White House tomorrow, some people might find it a bit strange. For 10 years now he's been sounding off on FOX News, occasionally even criticizing President Bush, and now he's the president's spokesman.
But Snow is just at passenger on the great Washington merry-go- round.
(voice-over) Step right up and get your ticket. Here's Tim Russert, who worked for Mario Cuomo and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, now meeting the press for NBC.
And here's Chris Matthews, who worked for Jimmy Carter and Tip O'Neill, now playing "Hardball" for MSNBC.
But they've been out of politics for awhile. More recent passengers on the merry-go-round, George Stephanopoulos, from the Clinton White House to ABC's "This Week". James Carville and Paula Begala, from Clinton operatives to CNN commentators. Joe Scarborough, a Republican congressman turned MSNBC host, Newt Gingrich, the House speaker turned FOX analyst. Bill Kristol moved from Dan Quayle's staff to FOX News and the editorship of "The Weekly Standard". And then there are the folks who ride that carousel so many times it's a wonder they don't fall off. Pat Buchanan worked for CNN's "CROSSFIRE", ran for president in '92, went back to "CROSSFIRE", ran for president in '96, went back to "CROSSFIRE", ran for president in 2000, and this time turned up at MSNBC.
David Gergen of "U.S. News and World Report" has worked for presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton. Mary Matalin went from Bush 41 to CNBC to CNN, "CROSSFIRE" again, to Dick Cheney's staff.
(on camera) So what do we make of this dizzying ride? Journalists undoubtedly learn something from a stint on the inside, and political insiders learn a thing or two about the media. But when they keep going back and forth, you start to wonder, are they telling us what they really think, or as media analysts, are they spinning us on behalf of their former political colleagues?
And just wondering, will FOX welcome back Tony Snow when he leaves the White House podium?
Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz. Join us again next Sunday morning, 10 a.m. Eastern for another critical look at the media.
"LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER" begins right now.
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