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Are Media Minimizing Anti-War Movement by Booking Celebrities?; Why Is Press Not Reporting Ritter's Arrest?

Aired January 26, 2003 - 11:30   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: The stars speak out against war in Iraq. Are the media minimizing the movement by booking Hollywood celebrities instead of anti-war organizers? Actress Janeane Garofalo says absolutely. And the stand-up coming believes the corporate media are rooting for a war against Saddam Hussein. She tells us why.
Also, Scott Ritter, the former U.N. weapons inspector, arrested in an Internet sex thing. Why don't most media outlets think that's news?

And Jesse Ventura wrestles his way into the talk show wars.

Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES, where we turn a critical lens on the media. I'm Howard Kurtz.

You've probably seen some pictures of anti-war demonstrators in recent weeks, but for the most part the talk on the airwaves is about preparations for war with Iraq. So who's doing the protesting on the chat shows? On cable, more often than not, it's the celebrities.


SEAN PENN, ACTOR: And as long as we don't, really don't have evidence of imminent threat and we have inspectors in there, let's see what the Iraqis do about their situation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is inappropriate, it seems to me, for the United States to take preventative action.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What I believe is that what we should do is to have dialogue and diplomacy, just as the United States decided with North Korea.


KURTZ: But are the media using the stars as a substitute for other, lesser known opponents of this war? We put that question to one prominent actress, whose latest role is that of anti-war activist.


KURTZ: Janeane Garofalo, welcome.

JANEANE GAROFALO, ACTRESS: Thank you. KURTZ: You've been all over the tube, from "Good Morning America" to CNN, MSNBC, Fox, speaking out against war with Iraq. Are the anchors taking you seriously, or are you just the entertainment?

GAROFALO: No, I don't think that they are taking me too seriously. I think they use actors to marginalize the anti-war movement. They have them on, and then sort of are slightly condescending.

I mean, not all the interviews have been like that, but historically the mainstream media has never been particularly friendly to any socially progressive ideas, you know. The mainstream media is hostile to the civil rights movement and the suffragist movement and abolitionists, and, I don't know why, but the mainstream media seems to kind of always take a somewhat hostile approach, or dismissive approach, to dealing with any socially progressive ideas. The peace movement...

KURTZ: So why are you putting yourself on the firing line if you feel you are being condescended to?

GAROFALO: Well, I actually -- it's a drag. I would much rather they talk to Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn. I think that would be fantastic, and they certainly know a lot more than I do, but I have access to the media. I have been asked to be on some of these shows, and I for one am not going to let the Bush administration and the mainstream media roll right over me. And I'm not going to go quietly into this war, if we're going into the war, because I vehemently disagree with it and I disagree with a lot of Bush administration foreign policy.

And I feel like if I can give a voice to the millions of Americans who are in the -- who advocate peace and diplomacy, then I feel an obligation to do that.

KURTZ: Now, obviously, you open yourself up to a little bit of criticism of being a cause celeb, since you're not famous as a Middle East policy expert...


KURTZ: But that has not deterred you.

GAROFALO: No. You know, I don't know that I would need to be famous as a Middle East policy expert to see that unilateral imperialism is bad policy.

But I also -- if I am uninformed, like a lot of citizens in this country are, that is the fault of the White House and the mainstream media. We don't get enough information. We don't get enough news with our news. And how can we function as a democracy without information?

We are given disinformation and White House propaganda all the time. We have no history to our news, no context to our news, no global perspective. We don't see people outside our borders as humans. And if I am uninformed, which I'd like to think I work very hard not to be, uninformed, it is the fault of the White House and the mainstream media.

KURTZ: I want to pick that point up in a moment, but first I want to do this very annoying thing of reading back to you some past words of yours.


KURTZ: In an interview with "Mother Jones" magazine two years ago, you said, "I think people are very cynical with actors trying to tell them what to believe in or lobbying for any kind of changing of government policy. Even I get cynical about it, like why is Sharon Stone telling me this?"

Change of heart?

GAROFALO: Right. Yes, yes, yes. No, no, no. Not change of heart. I said that. I even said that on "O'Reilly" the first time I was on it. People recoil when actors tend to try and throw their hat in the ring when it comes to policy making or socially progressive agendas.

Now, what the article doesn't continue to say is what I said is, that's unfortunate that that's the idea that people have initially, is why is Charlie Sheen telling me about something, or Martin Sheen telling me about something.

But then again, I went on to blame the mainstream media to a certain degree for marginalizing actors as some kind of annoying special interest group that are like little gnats that fly around.

Now, if I as an actor come out for the war, if I am for the war, and very pro-George Bush, I'm a hero. You know, nobody holds my feet to the fire, whether I'm a Mideast policy expert or not. No one asks me to defend my character, my patriotism.

If you are against the war or anti-establishment in any way, you must make an accounting for yourself. You must defend to the n-th degree your standing as an American citizen.

Now, patriotism is defined as love of country. It's not defined as love of militarism or love of government edicts of any kind. You know, unexamined, unintelligent patriotism, you know, my country, right or wrong, love it or leave it, gets us nowhere and results in bad country and western songs.


KURTZ: Well, on that point -- on that point, let's take a look at some of the kinds of questions you're being asked.

For example, you were interviewed recently by CNN's Connie Chung. Let's take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CONNIE CHUNG, CNN ANCHOR: You talked about this family with three children who are all soldiers. But the reality is, don't you feel a bit of a responsibility in the sense of being supportive of them...

GAROFALO: Yes, I do.


KURTZ: Unfair question?

GAROFALO: Yes, in a way it is, but it's just typical nonsense. You know, if we were going to use her logic, which says don't you support the troops, that just is a way to shut down the debate. It shows a hostility to the debate.

So by that logic, I should just say to people, so, you advocate the death of the troops? You would like the troops to die? You're pro-war? So, Connie Chung, so you're telling me you would like the troops to die?

You know what I mean? It's the same exact thing.

Now, another thing I'd like to bring up, if I may, that is a glaring hypocrisy. George W. Bush is vehemently pro-life, seeks to overturn Roe v. Wade -- well, not -- seeks to ban scientific research as pertains to stem cell research, cloning, because of the sanctity of human life.

Yet at the same time he is asking us to drop bombs on Iraqi civilians. According to the United Nations, up to 1 million people will be killed and/or wounded in this war.

So, apparently, if you are pre-sentient mass of cells, this country will protect you and your rights to the n-th degree. If you have made the mistake of becoming an Iraqi citizen, apparently we can just drop bombs on you with impunity.

KURTZ: Well, obviously the Bush administration would argue that it is concerned about Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction. But I want to comeback to the question of the media coverage.

You said earlier, "filled with propaganda." You used the word "disinformation." But for example, last weekend, big demonstrations in Washington and San Francisco. Didn't that get an ample amount of media coverage? Did the media...

GAROFALO: Oh, no. Ample? No, no, no, no, no. Not ample at all.

KURTZ: Under-covered in your view?

GAROFALO: I say that it was touched upon. It was touched upon. In some markets, the numbers were under reported. They never deal with why people are there, why people are motivated to go. They tend to marginalize it by only interviewing the guy dressed as a carrot on stilts or Wavy Gravy. You know what I mean? Like some guy with no teeth and a tie-dyed Grateful Dead shirt, because they want to marginalize it.

But the thing with this anti-war movement, it is huge. It is mainstream. It's growing every day. And it's also unprecedented that there's an anti-war rally prior to a war. Also, there were anti-war rallies internationally.

Another thing that the media -- actually, Friday's "New York Times" deals with it quite a bit. Internationally, we are so disliked at this point. We -- the Bush administration's tactics and rhetoric and belligerence and unilateralism has totally isolated us. We are...

KURTZ: But here's a story in "The New York Times" making that point, and they're part of the mainstream media.

GAROFALO: Yes, yes. No, I was going to say, "The New York Times," the Friday "New York Times" is doing a pretty good job today of talking about the world economics and...

KURTZ: Do you believe that most anchors and correspondents, reporters, are at least trying to do a fair job in covering the debate over Iraq?

GAROFALO: No, I don't. I -- if it -- you know, the argument isn't really should we or shouldn't we. It's sort of when and how. There's "Target: Iraq," "Countdown Iraq"...

KURTZ: "Showdown with Saddam."

GAROFALO: "Showdown with Saddam." It's great ratings, and I would say that the argument isn't even between the left and the right. It's between the center and the right.

KURTZ: You say it's great ratings. Does that mean the media are pro-war?

GAROFALO: It's great ratings.

KURTZ: That they want a war? That they want a war so they can exploit it as a dramatic story? You're not suggesting that, are you?

GAROFALO: Oh, am I suggesting that? I guess I am suggesting that. I guess I am saying, actually, they're pro-ratings. They're pro-easily-packaged-stories. They're pro-sensational-headlines. They're pro-ratings grabbers. They like their graphics.

You know, there are anchors that sometimes put in a voice of dissent occasionally. Also dissent is not a dirty word. But I would say for the most part it's not a very open debate. You have anchors saying all the time, well, we know Saddam has weapons of mass destruction. No, we don't. We do not. We do not know that. So...

KURTZ: What about the media polls that you've raised questions about, showing that a majority of Americans, if the United States acted with its allies, would support military action? Are you skeptical of those polls?

GAROFALO: I'm skeptical of all polls, no matter, you know, pro and con. I'm skeptical of who's asking the questions, who's sponsoring the poll.

Let's go back -- polls are sort of a silly thing to keep basing everything on. You know, if you have people calling and asking certain questions of people, and you don't know how people are answering or what they think really they're being asked. I think most Americans are anti-war. That's why you need propaganda. That's why you need to create the threat of Saddam.

Now, Saddam may be a very evil guy. That's not really a debate. He was an evil guy when we were allies with him and when we armed him and supported him. But I think a lot of people agree that Saddam has been largely defanged. Iraq is not a threat to us. They are not a threat to their neighbors. They've got 26 million Iraqis dying of starvation and no access to clean water.

KURTZ: I've got to break in because we've got about 30 seconds left. The fact that you have had access to the airwaves to make these very arguments would seem to suggest that at least some of the media are open to hearing the other side. Or are you continually frustrated?

GAROFALO: Yes, yes. They are open to hearing the other side, and at the same time they're open to criticizing the other side much more than they will criticize the establishment viewpoint.

If I was an actor for war, I'd be a hero. Since I'm an actor against war, I am to be -- I am suspect. You know, I am to be questioned. So...

KURTZ: But you're going to keep speaking out?

GAROFALO: I will. I will keep speaking out. Yes.

KURTZ: All right, Janeane Garofalo, let's leave it there. Thanks very much for joining us.

GAROFALO: Thank you.


KURTZ: Janeane Garofalo.

When we come back, a controversial sex sting involving a former U.N. weapons inspector who now argues against war with Iraq. Are the media ignoring the story? That's next.


KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. For months, U.N. -- former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter has been all over the airwaves, blasting the administration's Iraq policy, but now come reports of his two-year-old arrest in upstate New York for pursuing what he thought was a 16-year-old girl over the Internet. And just today, CNN is reporting that federal prosecutors are reviewing the file from police and district attorney to determine if a federal case regarding Internet commerce can be made against Ritter.

The former U.N. staffer told CNN he is aware of the story, had no comment except to say that timing stinks. The case has been sealed so the details are not public. But does the incident make it more difficult for the media to use him as an anti-war spokesman? A combative Ritter talked to CNN's Aaron Brown about his arrest.


SCOTT RITTER, FORMER U.N. WEAPONS INSPECTOR: I stood before a judge, and law -- you know, the due process of law was carried forth. And now we have a situation where the media has turned this into a feeding frenzy. This is not an extra judicial proceeding, Aaron. I do not stand before you, where I have to testify to anything. The case was dismissed.


RITTER: The file was sealed.

BROWN: Scott, I'm trying to give you an opportunity, if you want to take it, to explain what happened. And here's the point of that. And you know this is true. You are radioactive until this is cleared up, until people understand what this is about. No one is going to talk to you about the things that you feel passionately about.


KURTZ: Well, joining us now in Albany, Fred Dicker, the state editor for "The New York Post." And here with me, Daniel Klaidman, he's the Washington bureau chief for "Newsweek."

Fred Dicker, your newspaper had a front page story the other day, furor over U.N. kiddie sex prober. Why haven't "The New York Times," "Los Angeles Times," "Washington Post," "USA Today," CBS, NBC, ABC carried anything on this arrest?

FRED DICKER, STATE EDITOR, NEW YORK POST: Well, they haven't told me, Howard, but I do have my suspicions saying...

KURTZ: What would those be?

DICKER: ... the question of why the AP took four days to get to it. This broke on a Saturday initially in the "Schenectady Gazette," a little newspaper that not a lot of people pay attention to. So it may have been a day when they were understaffed, they were reluctant maybe to get into it, because it's a little dicey, this story, trying to source it out, and it may be a weekend editor wasn't quite sure who Scott Ritter was, but the excuse for the national networks, for the "New York Times," I can't fathom. It's a significant story, and I don't know why they haven't picked it up.

KURTZ: Dan Klaidman, how many words is "Newsweek" going to devote to this story in a new issue?

DANIEL KLAIDMAN, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, NEWSWEEK: In this new issue, none. I can't speak for "The New York Times" or the networks. I can speak for "Newsweek." You know, we're a weekly news magazine. We have a limited amount of space, and every week...

KURTZ: Wait a second...

KLAIDMAN: ... every week, we make tough judgments about what stories to do or not to do.

KURTZ: You did a page this week on the sweet potato queen. No room for Scott Ritter?

KLAIDMAN: Look, the issue here is we do stories that we think are important, we do stories that we think are compelling. We do stories that we think serve our readers, and we do stories that we think are entertaining. And not every story gets in. If the reporters in my bureau could get all their stories in, they would be very happy. That just can't happen.

This is a case -- this is a story about a guy who, you know, a marginalized voice, already marginalized voice on the periphery of this debate. The fact that he's become further marginalized by a two- year-old sex scandal just doesn't strike me as a story that we needed to do this week.

Having said that, we will watch it.


KURTZ: I would say that for a marginalized voice, Scott Ritter is quoted all the time in newspapers, is on cable TV a lot. And Fred Dicker, I thought the media loved sex scandals? So...

DICKER: Well, some of us do. I thought the media loved the truth, too. If there was a leading figure outside the administration rallying public support for President Bush on Iraq and that figure was picked up in a kiddie sex scandal, I guarantee you "The New York Times" would do a story on it. They've done it before, they would do it again, and that would be fair. But it seems to me to be fair we should be doing stories about people like Scott Ritter, who would have us believe he is credible on international issues, but lied repeatedly about this incident, not to mention the specifics of it, which is an ugly, predatory on children kind of story.

KURTZ: But let me throw that question back at you. Would "The New York Post" have given front page play to Internet sex thing arrest of somebody who was a strong pro-war voice, somebody who the newspaper agreed with ideologically?

DICKER: You know, I can't answer that, Howard. I guarantee you we would report it. We report significant stories, especially if they involve sex, I would have to concede, but certainly we would report it. We may not have given it the same play. I just don't know. But "The Times" would have reported that, and it seems to me "The Times," as well as other news organizations, should be reporting Scott Ritter as well.

KURTZ: Is there an argument that there should be a distinction made between Scott Ritter's alleged fondness for 16-year-old girls and his expertise when it comes to Iraqi weapons and the whole Iraq debate?

KLAIDMAN: Look, I think at a certain point, depending on what he actually did, what he was actually -- first of all, he was not convicted. And it may be...

KURTZ: Nor was he acquitted.

KLAIDMAN: But it may be that the case will be expunged, that as the law sees it, that if after six months he doesn't get in trouble again, the case essentially goes away, which doesn't mean it didn't happen. But there are, you know, as we know, there are lots of second acts in American history. I would not be surprised to see Scott Ritter back at some point if there aren't more incidents like this, and that may be legitimate.

My view is that he's -- my view is that he is already not a particularly credible figure on this subject. He's had this weird conversion from being very anti-Iraq and all of a sudden he is the biggest war, you know, anti-war guy out there.

KURTZ: You keep saying he is not credible. You keep saying he is not credible, but television keeps putting him on. Newspapers keep quoting him.

KLAIDMAN: Well, that I can't explain. We haven't quoted him in "Newsweek." And I can't explain why he keeps going on...

DICKER: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) this was his second arrest, not his first arrest on the same kind of charge. He lied about the arrest, he lied about his restrictions about discussing the substance here, and, frankly, you know, you're mentioning the flip-flop, as Dan did on his position on Iraq, there may be something related to it. There is a certain narcissism associated with this kind of crime. He was charged, according to repeated reports, with wanting to perform a sex act in front of someone, a child or a woman under the consenting age, who would watch him. And when you watch him now, he's a bit of a preener, he's a bit of a prima donna. It could very well be an insight into his psyche.

KURTZ: Well, let me go to the question of -- let me go to the question, Fred Dicker, where do we go from here? Does Scott Ritter need to come clean? Does he need to apologize in order for it to get back on the media circuit and resume talking about Iraq?

DICKER: I think he's irretrievably damaged. If he comes clean and admits that he has this proclivity, and professionals will tell you it's a repeating proclivity, I think his credibility is shot. That's why he hasn't admitted it to this point.

So I think he's damaged goods. He will trying to do what he's doing, but he's damaged goods. And he's going to lose a lot of money. Scott Ritter speaks for money. He has got $400,000 from an Iraqi- related businessman, as you know. This is going to damage his earning potential.

KURTZ: Dan Klaidman, can Ritter continue to go on programs as he did with Aaron Brown and say, I am not going to talk about this case, I just want to talk about Iraq, or can he not get away with that?

KLAIDMAN: Well, I don't think he can continue to do that, because I don't think Aaron Brown is going to continue asking him that question. The story just goes away, unless something happens again or unless he continues to be put on the air. And you know...

KURTZ: So you think he can go...

KLAIDMAN: ... I agree with Fred. I think he is right now, anyway, damaged goods.

KURTZ: So you think he can go away for a week or two, come back and everyone will have forgotten about this?

KLAIDMAN: Not a week or two, not a week or two, but I wouldn't be surprised if in a few months he is back again.


DICKER: Speculation that maybe Ritter's flip-flop has to do with him being blackmailed because the Iraqis knew about this proclivity and had evidence of it.

KURTZ: Well, that's speculation on your part.

DICKER: Absolutely. And it's been speculation on the part of a lot of people.

KURTZ: This is a pretty interesting subject about a guy who's pretty well known -- not worth two paragraphs in "Newsweek"?

KLAIDMAN: Not this week. Maybe next week.

KURTZ: OK, well, maybe we'll have you on next week to talk about it again. Fred Dicker in Albany, Dan Klaidman here, thank you very much.

When we come back, can Jesse Ventura body slam the competition in prime-time? That's next.


KURTZ: Turning now to the world of media news. It's official. Wrestler turned Governor Jesse Ventura is climbing into the talk show arena, launching a prime-time program for MSNBC. Will anyone watch? I've interviewed the gravel-voiced Minnesotan, and let me tell you, this guy is never dull. He's candid and funny and politically incorrect and loves to skewer the press. This is his chance to get even. I think he'll make plenty of waves. You certainly can't call him another blow-dried anchor. Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. A reminder that for now, the program will be seen only on Sunday mornings at 11:30 Eastern, 8:30 Pacific. So please join us again next Sunday morning for another critical look at the media. I'm Howard Kurtz. Thanks for watching.


Celebrities?; Why Is Press Not Reporting Ritter's Arrest?>

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