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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
The Woodward Bombshell; Interview With Maureen Dowd
Aired November 20, 2005 - 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): The Woodward bombshell. "The Washington Post" investigative reporter apologizes for failing to tell his paper that he also received information about CIA operative Valerie Plame from a senior administration official.
Why did Woodward wait so long? How could he have criticized special prosecutor Pat Fitzgerald without revealing his role? Has he gotten too close to the Bush White House? We'll ask "Post" editor Len Downie and a panel of top journalists.
Getting under the presidential skin, why "The New York Times" only female columnist keeps poking and prodding public officials and how she feels when the tables are turned. A conversation with Maureen Dowd.
Plus, does Bill O'Reilly really want San Francisco wiped out?
KURTZ: Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES, now a full hour of media analysis every Sunday at 10:00 Eastern, 7:00 Pacific.
I'm Howard Kurtz.
Ahead, Maureen Dowd holds forth on politics, punditry, and sex, or at least the war between the sexes.
But first, a strange new twist in the CIA leak investigation. As Patrick Fitzgerald forces testimony from Tim Russert, Matt Cooper and Judith Miller, who spent 85 days in jail, the nation's most famous investigative reporter seemingly watched from the sidelines. The day before Dick Cheney aide Scooter Libby was indicted three weeks ago, Bob Woodward was asked about rumors that he was about to publish a major story on the case.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOB WOODWARD, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I wish I did have a bombshell. I don't even have a firecracker. I'm sorry.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: But Woodward did have a secret. What he didn't tell Larry King's viewers was that he was part of the story. "The Washington Post" reporter had just informed his boss, editor Leonard Downie, that a senior administration official had talk to him about Valerie Plame working for the CIA more than two years ago, making him the first reporter to learn the sensitive information. But Woodward, who was working on a book at the time of the interview, didn't pursue the story or tell his editors.
On Monday, Woodward testified about his conversations with Libby, White House chief of staff Andrew Card, and the still-secret source, leaving "The Post" in the embarrassing position of belatedly explaining the involvement of its star reporter. That job fell largely to Len Downie, my job boss at "The Washington Post," who joins me now.
LEN DOWNIE, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Good morning.
KURTZ: Deborah Howell, "The Post's" ombudsman, writes this morning that the paper took a hit to its credibility, and that the Woodward episode put "The Post" in a terrible light.
Do you disagree with that?
DOWNIE: Oh, I think that's for other people to judge and for time to tell. But certainly Bob made a mistake, and a mistake that he's apologized for.
And also, he made a mistake going on television, giving his opinions about the investigation, whether or not he was holing this secret. He shouldn't have been expressing those opinions.
Although I can understand the frustration that he and I know a number of other reporters in our newsroom feel about an investigation that is trying to put a wedge between confidential sources and our reporters, particularly investigative reporters. So his feelings were probably those that were feelings of many reporters. But of course he knew something they didn't know that he should have told me about.
KURTZ: You know, the reaction both inside and outside the paper has been, how on earth could Woodward have let two years go by while "The Post" covered this major story without saying he was involved? I still don't fully understand it.
DOWNIE: Well, it began -- he first didn't tell me because, as he says, that this was a casual conversation within a long interview about other subjects. And this was before the column from Bob Novak that first revealed the Valerie Plame situation.
KURTZ: And later he was afraid of being subpoenaed, he says.
DOWNIE: And then later he was afraid of being subpoenaed. And he went on to protect his source.
KURTZ: You mentioned Woodward talking about the Fitzgerald investigation on TV. I want to show you a little bit of some those interviews.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WOODWARD: When I think it's all told, there's going to be nothing to it. And it's a shame, and the special prosecutor in that case, his behavior, in my view, has been disgraceful.
I don't see an underlying crime here. And the absence of the underlying crime may cause somebody who is a really thoughtful prosecutor to say, you know, maybe this is not one to go to the farm with.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Wasn't Woodward being a little misleading by not revealing his role in those interviews?
DOWNIE: Well, he couldn't reveal his role. He should have revealed it to me by then, but he couldn't reveal it publicly because this remains a confidential conversation with a confidential source.
KURTZ: Right. But he can't discuss the source, even today.
KURTZ: We'd all to know who it is.
KURTZ: But he came to you on October 24...
KURTZ: ... and told you about this belatedly. And "The Post" published a story about this without naming the source this past Wednesday.
KURTZ: Why the delay? Why couldn't the paper have come clean sooner?
DOWNIE: Well, because during that time, Bob was approached by the -- by special prosecutor, by Pat Fitzgerald, to testify. And so we needed to help him prepare for that testimony. We needed to consult with our lawyers about how to proceed. And once he had given his testimony, then we proceeded to publish his story.
KURTZ: There is a feeling among a lot of people, including some of your employees, that Woodward gets to play by a different set of rules. He, you know, basically works for "The Post," but he goes off and writes his books.
You've dealt with this before. Have you had any occasion to rethink that arrangement?
DOWNIE: Well, I should put this in context. Many people in our newsroom write books and appear on television.
KURTZ: I've written a few myself.
DOWNIE: Yes. And so have I. And the important thing is, when you're researching books, you should remember that you're also researching for "The Washington Post." You often produce stories that -- about subjects that later appear in your books. And so has Bob over the years.
In fact, a number of his books, most of the content appeared in "The Washington Post." Either his stories while he was doing his research, or later in excerpts for those books.
I think that probably Bob and myself have fallen into the habit over the years of not talking enough about what he was working on. And I think that's what's led to this. So we're going to be talking more in the future. And I think you'll be seeing more of the work product of his research in the newspaper earlier.
Fitzgerald has a new grand jury. So this story is only going to get bigger as he continues to pursue this leak case.
Isn't "The Post" now in an awfully awkward position, not unlike that of "The New York Times," when Judith Miller became such a player, in that Woodward is part of the story? Various officials are denying that they are Woodward's source. You know who it is but you can't tell us.
It seems like a very difficult position.
DOWNIE: Well, of course. I mean, it's not unusual. We get in difficult positions like this in other -- other times when we know something we can't publish yet, or we've published something with sources that we can't reveal.
Dana Priest has been revealing a lot about the inner workings of the CIA of late. And people are concerned about who her sources are. There is an investigation under way about her sources, for example. Not a special prosecutor one, but one within the government.
So we could wind up in that same -- a similar situation, then, too. These are secrets we just have to -- have to keep.
KURTZ: And on that point, another "Post" reporter, Walter Pincus, who had some involvement in the Woodward story in the sense that Woodward recalls telling Walter Pincus two years ago about the Valerie Plame information -- Pincus says he has no recollection of that.
DOWNIE: Right. KURTZ: Pincus held in contempt of court this week in the civil lawsuit brought by Wen Ho Lee, the former Los Alamos scientist. He now joins four other reporters.
KURTZ: Are you worried about the climate here, about reporters being dragged into court? And should reporters as a result be less free in granting anonymity to sources if only because they're going to be at legal risk themselves?
DOWNIE: Well, I am concerned about this. I a concerned about the increasing legal action against reporters to force them to reveal sources. That's some of the frustration you saw Bob expressing, although he shouldn't have been expressing it that way on television.
It's understandable frustration. A lot of our reporters in the newsroom are worried about this, and I'm sure at other newspapers as well. But they nevertheless still need to grant anonymity to sources in government who are risking their jobs, if not more on occasion, to tell us important information that the American people need to know in order to judge how their government works.
KURTZ: You worked with Bob Woodward during Watergate. As you know, there has been a lot of criticism about has he become too cozy with the Bush White House, has he become too much of an insider, is he retelling the accounts of the high and mighty?
Is that criticism fair or not?
DOWNIE: You know, Bob has become very famous. And it's difficult to cope with that kind of fame, I think, for anybody. But it also gives him extraordinary access.
I think if you just look at his books and look at his work product in the newspaper, you will see that he plays it straight. He reveals things about the inner workings of administrations that people need to know, that no other reporter reveals. And he does it in a straight and accurate and fair way.
Now, people on one side or the other may object that he's not telling the story the way they want to hear it, but I think he has a very good track record for fair and accurate reporting.
KURTZ: All right. We'll leave it there. Len Downie, thanks very much for joining us.
When we come back, more on Bob Woodward and his belated disclosure in the CIA leak case with David Gergen, Michelle Cottle and Geneva Overholser.
And later, the world according to Maureen Dowd. Our special sit- down with "The New York Times" columnist on her provocative take on political leaders, why she went after Judy Miller, and her new book on whether men are necessary.
All ahead on RELIABLE SOURCES.
KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES.
Joining us now to talk more about Bob Woodward and the CIA leak case, in Boston, former presidential adviser David Gergen, now a professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and an editor-at- large at "U.S. News & World Report."
In New York, Geneva Overholser. She's the former editor of "The Des Moines Register" and former ombudsman for "The Washington Post." She now heads the University of Missouri Journalism School's Washington program.
And here in the studio, Michelle Cottle, senior editor at "The New Republic"
David Gergen, people at "The Washington Post" were stunned about this. I can tell you that because I work there. How big a mistake did Bob Woodward make in not telling his editor for two years about his involvement in this Valerie Plame matter?
DAVID GERGEN, FMR. PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: I think that was the single biggest mistake he made. I think he made a series of them, but that was the biggest one. And it's a big one.
It is one that -- you know, unfortunately, I think he's now been linked to the Judy Miller case because we have two newspapers that weren't -- you know, that didn't have total supervision or didn't have any real supervision over their -- over their -- some of their top reporters and star reporters. And I think it's hurt "The Washington Post."
I think his second mistake was in going on television in this really uncomfortable situation and not disclosing.
And thirdly, I had thought when he issued his statement as he did, finally disclosing that, when you were taking questions from "Post" reporters right that day so it could report on itself (ph). But having said all that, Howie, it comes against a context in which Bob Woodward does have a sterling record as an investigative reporter. It stretches back over 30 years. And I do think you have to put this in that context.
Mistakes, yes. But remember the context.
KURTZ: All right.
Geneva, you tangled with Woodward when you were the ombudsman at "The Washington Post" over anonymous sources, over his role on writing books while still on "The Post" payroll.
Does he get to play by a different set of rules?
GENEVA OVERHOLSER, FMR. "WASHINGTON POST" OMBUDSMAN: I honestly believe he does play by a different set of rules. And I think that that's quite problematic.
What we've seen here, Howie, plays right into public concerns about whether or not reporters are mostly focused on serving the public's need to know, or cozying up with sources. And Woodward is doing now a very different thing from what he did in Watergate.
Where he was the quintessential outsider reporting on people in power and using anonymous sources to do so, now he's the quintessential insider, giving voice to those in power. And also using anonymity, but in a very different interest.
Michelle Cottle, when Woodward went on television and ripped Fitzgerald for disgraceful conduct without revealing his role in this case, was he misleading people?
MICHELLE COTTLE, "THE NEW REPUBLIC": Well, of course he was misleading people. Now, how much he could have said remains to be seen because of confidentiality issues. But journalists hate to feel like that they're being lied to or somebody is being dishonest. So of course we're going to come down with him -- you know, come down on him with both feet for that.
It's just one of the things. It's verboten. It's like hypocrisy, one of the two things that journalists get freaked out about.
KURTZ: What's the other one?
COTTLE: Well, dishonesty and hypocrisy.
KURTZ: Oh, OK.
David Gergen, Geneva describes Bob Woodward now as the ultimate insider. I am sure that you dealt with him when you worked in the Reagan White House and the Clinton White House. Is there something to the charge that he cozies up to people in power?
GERGEN: I dealt with him all the way back to Watergate, when he and I first entered the public arena. And I have to say something. I think that charge is overstated sometimes. And that is, Bob Woodward was a dogged reporter in Watergate, and I remember a lot of people inside just hated him and said everything he was doing was false. And it turned out I think he was -- he was the guy with the lantern looking for truth in that.
And in his more recent books, I do think he's grown more sympathetic to the Bush administration. But his -- in his two books about the Bush administration, the first one I thought was overly sympathetic. The second one, his more recent one on Iraq, I did think he stepped back from his sources, did critique it more, and it was -- I thought it was a fair assessment of how some of the blunders we got into going into Iraq.
And, of course, within the administration, let's remember, there are very conflicting voices inside that say if you say you're giving -- giving voice to somebody inside, you know, you're -- he's really revealing some of the arguments that went on inside, too, which are helpful for people to know.
You buy that?
COTTLE: What? Which part of that?
KURTZ: The part that he -- the part that he -- that Woodward is shedding a very valuable light on high-level conflicts and consultations -- consultations within the...
COTTLE: As opposed to being a tool for the Bush administration.
KURTZ: That would be the plan. That would be the option B.
COTTLE: The option B.
I think that he has access to an administration that no journalists really have access to. And of course, this breeds some discontent. So everybody is going to kind of grumble when he talks about this.
Now, this is also an administration though famous for being misleading. And so do we know that what they're spinning him is the accurate way? I mean, we're not going to know for years as far as like when history sorts this all out.
KURTZ: Right. President Bush himself has sat down for long interviews with Woodward, those on the record.
Geneva, is part of the problem here in comparison to Watergate when the sources, particularly Deep Throat, were kind of blowing the whistle on corruption, that the sources here -- and this is not just in the case of Woodward -- are seen as, you know, using the press to strike back at a critic of the war, namely Joe Wilson, by getting -- by bringing his wife into it?
OVERHOLSER: Absolutely. I mean, when you use anonymous sources because they are risking their jobs to help watchdog power -- as we've seen what Len Downie was telling us about Dana Priest's work, it's a perfect example of how important they are in the public interest -- then that seems to me to be an assurance to the public that reporters are seeking to do the public good. When you allow people to speak anonymously in order to advance their own version of events, I think it's a different thing.
I don't think that what Woodward is primarily focusing on now in his books is not useful. I think it's very useful. But I think it is a different thing from daily journalism and the public interest, which is to present a full an fair and balanced report, and I think the problem here is that he really is mostly serving books. And it's problematic for him to be at "The Post." KURTZ: David Gergen, talk about getting into a box with your sources once you make this promise of confidentiality, Woodward's source, this person who we don't -- whose identity we still don't know, says, OK, you can go to the prosecutor, Bob, you can testify, but can't tell anyone else. So he is not able to do what Judy Miller and Matt Cooper did an testify and then tell the story. He can only tell part of the story.
And I just wonder how you get in a situation where your source can dictate the -- those kind of conditions to you.
GERGEN: Listen, I have to tell you, I object to some of this. I mean, I just disagree with some of the tone of the conversation.
We know that confidential sources have been essential to good journalism in Washington for a number of years now, especially in the national security area. We wouldn't know a lot of things that -- and lot of things wouldn't have been exposed had it not been for -- you know, for agreements of confidentiality.
Have some -- have they been used -- have reporters occasionally been used? Yes, WMD they were used, in my judgment.
But look at -- just said about these prisons that the CIA has apparently been -- been involved with. We wouldn't know about these were they not for confidential sources. So I think when you strike that bargain, it is a bargain you have to keep.
So I don't -- I guess I am -- get off the boat when it sort of says something like, well, we shouldn't have these confidential sources, or maybe there is something too cozy about them.
KURTZ: I agree that...
GERGEN: You know, I think they're too essential.
KURTZ: Sources are the lifeblood of investigating reporting. I also happen to think they've been overused and abused by journalists.
But I want to turn now to all of this speculation. We'd all like to know who is -- I'm calling him "Shallow Throat," who is Woodward's source.
Let's take a look at some of this on television.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE SCARBOROUGH, ANCHOR, MSNBC: You have Bob Woodward obviously protecting his source, who is...
CHRIS MATTHEWS, ANCHOR, MSNBC: You think it's Cheney?
SCARBOROUGH: I certainly do.
BRIT HUME, ANCHOR, FOX NEWS: And we know it wasn't Card.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But that means it's not Cheney and it's not Rove, who are...
HUME: Most people say it wasn't Rove.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have the denial for Powell. We do not have the denial for his deputy, Richard Armitage. I would point out even the first lady's office has not formally issued a denial.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Michelle Cottle, what do you make of all of this media chatter?
COTTLE: I just like to think it's Cheney. I think everybody wants to think that it's Cheney.
KURTZ: Why, because it's a better story?
COTTLE: Because it's the better story! Come on, a sitting vice president, going out there trying to do this undercover-type covert smear campaign, or whatever. Of course that would be the best story ever.
KURTZ: Well, I want to save you from falling into the trap of speculating about this.
But Geneva, it's fine for reporters to try to find out who the source is, but sitting around saying, oh, I think it could be so and so, isn't that problematic?
OVERHOLSER: Human nature.
KURTZ: Human nature? You're willing to give journalists a pass on that?
OVERHOLSER: Oh, sure, because the public is interested too. But this is a little like waivers, right? The last person not to grant a waiver must be the one? Now we're hearing denials from so many, we're going to figure it out.
KURTZ: And Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld denying this morning on various talk shows that he was Woodward's source.
We need to get a break here.
Just ahead, how the press is playing up Congressman John Murtha, the Vietnam vet who called for a pullout of U.S. troops in Iraq this pat week. And how the conservative media are hitting back.
KURTZ: Welcome back.
The media's coverage of Iraq ratcheted up this week as Democratic Congressman John Murtha of Pennsylvania, a Vietnam veteran and strong Pentagon supporter, called for an immediate withdrawal of American troops and took a swipe at Vice President Cheney, who avoided service in Vietnam.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: I like guys who have never been there to criticize us that been there. I like that. I like guys who've got five deferments and never been there and send people to war, and then don't like to hear suggestions about what needs to be done.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: White House spokesman Scott McClellan called Murtha's position extreme and compared the congressman to filmmaker Michael Moore. And Fox anchor Sean Hannity, interviewing former Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark, made clear he was out of patience with critics of the war.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN HANNITY, "HANNITY & COLMES": I have had it with members of your party undermining our troops, undermining a commander in chief while we are at war, calling the commander in chief a liar, saying that he hyped, saying that he misled. They have done all of this without any evidence or proof.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Michelle Cottle, that Murtha story led all the newscasts front pages. Some conservatives say, look, Murtha has been criticizing the where for two years and the media sort of hyped this.
COTTLE: Well, of course we're hyping it, because now we have the House of Representatives getting nasty and name calling. Any time you have flat-out conflict, it's going to be a huge story.
KURTZ: David Gergen, leaving aside whether a pullout is a good or a terrible idea, was John Murtha's press conference big news, or are the media kind of behind the country on this in that there are significant numbers of people who think that we should get out of Iraq?
GERGEN: Well, I think both are true, Howie. But it is a big story in and of itself.
As you know, Jack Murtha is not just a decorated veteran, but he has been -- and not just close to the Pentagon, but he's given voice to Pentagon generals, Army generals, for a long time. And so when he breaks this way, one has to believe that behind that are a series of conversations he's had with people at the top of the Army who are really beginning to question the war. And that makes it a big, big story in my judgment.
KURTZ: Right. Potential turning point, at least for the debate. Geneva, some Republicans accusing Murtha of a cowardly plan, and surrendering to terrorists. There was a lot of heated invective on the House floor on Friday.
Will this make media commentators perhaps more wary of supporting a U.S. pullout for fear that those -- that kind of rhetoric could be turned at them?
OVERHOLSER: Oh, I don't think so. I think we've reached a real tipping point about news about the war. And there is a very strong "anything goes" atmosphere here.
But what we saw on the House floor with the junior representative talking about Marines don't cut and run to Murtha, who is a Marine, who could not have made a lot of such a story?
KURTZ: But you're saying it's a tipping point in terms of the coverage? Because after all, up until now, Geneva, it seems that the press has regarded a pullout as kind of a far left position.
OVERHOLSER: I know. But I think to that degree, your previous statement, Howie, about how we're a little behind the times is exactly right. We are now observing things that were already happening that we weren't giving as much credence to, in my view.
KURTZ: All right.
Michelle Cottle , the White House went after "The New York Times" for an editorial that was titled "Decoding Mr. Bush's Denials." It was tough editorial about the war.
The White House statement says, "We were greeted by an editorial from the newspaper that gave us Jayson Blair." It went on to talk about half-truths, misstatements and false statements.
What do you make of that kind of attack on "The Times"?
COTTLE: It's very important to remember that this administration has made basically a policy of attacking personally the credibility of anybody who disagrees with it. And so, you know, the idea that somebody who questions the wisdom of how they've -- you know, what has turned out to be a terrible war, how they've conducted that, is not unusual for them. But increasingly, people are saying that it's just a ploy.
KURTZ: David Gergen, if you were a White House adviser, would you have approved such a statement? In other words, it's fine to go after "The Times" on the position on the war. What has Jayson Blair got to do with it?
GERGEN: Well, listen, I think it was a terrible mistake. It was a mistake to go after "The Times" on that basis. Would somebody say that on backgrounds of confidential source? Yes, they probably would.
"The Times" have made themselves -- look, in part, they've become part of this whole controversy. But I do think that the statement against Jack Murtha, comparing him to Michael Moore, is an outrage.
And the statement on the floor -- Geneva just called attention to it by the congresswoman of Ohio -- is one that has made the atmosphere very toxic. And that in itself is an important national story. And whether "The Times" gets attacked or not, everybody ought to be pursuing this story of a Washington where people are at each other's throats in the midst of a war.
KURTZ: In other words, just briefly, the press has no choice but to cover the heated rhetoric. But of course, there is also the question of what to do about the situation in Iraq. We don't want to lose sight of that, do we, David?
GERGEN: No, we don't. But, you know, we went through this in Vietnam.
These are -- when the country starts to question in the midst of a war what we're doing there, and top generals speaking through Jack Murtha perhaps are beginning to say -- then that's an important national story. We need to have this -- we're a healthy democracy. We can withstand a robust debate in the midst of a war.
It's a good thing. It's happened in other wars.
GERGEN: And we shouldn't be afraid of this at all.
KURTZ: I think we're about to get one. David Gergen, Geneva Overholser, Michelle Cottle, thanks very much for joining us today.
Ahead in our next half hour, my conversation with Maureen Dowd. The usually secretive "New York Times" columnist talks about why people are so interested in her private life and why she has such tough words for her embattled former colleague, Judith Miller.
And Bill O'Reilly in the hot seat over an explosive comment on his radio show.
All that coming up after a check of the hour's top stories.
KURTZ: Welcome back to the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, now a full hour of media analysis and interviews each week 10:00 Eastern.
There are hundreds of columnists out there but only one Maureen. Some folks love her, some hate her. But Dowd's take on the personal foibles of public figures is unlike anyone else's and won her a Pulitzer for her coverage of the Bill and Monica melodrama.
She has just ventured on to the sexual battle with the new book, "Are Men Necessary: When Sexes Collide."
I sat down with her the other day.
KURTZ: Maureen Dowd, welcome.
MAUREEN DOWD, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Thank you, Howie.
KURTZ: Appears in a recent Dowd column, "Cheney and Rummy are in a cabal running the country and the world into the ground, driven by their poisonous obsession with Iraq, while Junior is out of the loop, playing in the gym or on his mountain bike."
Now, here's what a lot of people ask about your column: Why are you so personal toward Bush and his crew?
DOWD: I don't think that's personal at all.
KURTZ: You call him the "boy emperor."
DOWD: Well, he uses nicknames with people. And it's just fun to play off of that and use nicknames about him.
KURTZ: But you are somebody who -- I mean, you went up to John Kerry during the campaign and asked him if he used botox. I mean, you look at the personal side of our nation's leaders.
KURTZ: Why did you ask him that? What did you think he was going to say?
DOWD: Well, it was a question. His face was kind of changing a lot during the campaign. And his wife was a botox aficionado. And just everybody was wondering about it.
And in fact, there was a dermatology convention in Washington where they were showing pictures, before and after. So I actually did that as a humor column, because I thought I had had a friend, a TV producer in Hollywood, who had to go once when he was thinking of doing a TV show with Cher and ask her questions to see if her face could still move, just to try and alarm or surprise her.
So I thought it would make a funny humor column, actually.
KURTZ: But the rap on you is that you don't write about issues, that you psychoanalyze these people.
Is there a method to this madness?
DOWD: No, I don't think that's true at all. I think when you cover politicians who are going to have life and death decisions over Americans, you've really got to figure out who they are.
James Reston said that. Once, you know, you got the bomb, you have to figure out who are these people, what is their judgment, can we trust them, what is their behavior, because that's a more reliable indicator than just looking at their policies. Because Bush Sr. promised no new taxes, and then raised taxes. And then Bush Jr. promised no nation building, and now we're nation creating in Iraq.
So it's much better to kind of look at the whole person.
KURTZ: Is that also why you had so much fun writing about Bill Clinton's personal life?
KURTZ: A lot of material there for you.
DOWD: Yes. I mean, I think his personal life was actually being examined by the special prosecutor. So...
KURTZ: Are you a liberal columnist?
DOWD: No. I saw myself referred to that way somewhere. No, I am not a partisan columnist. I just tweak power, whoever it is.
KURTZ: Do people in the Bush White House make any attempt to persuade you of their point of view, or are you just a lost cause in their view?
DOWD: Well, I have to say this is maybe the first week in Washington when I'm glad I don't have any sources. You should change the name of the show to "Unreliable Sources," because these sources are getting all these reporters in trouble.
KURTZ: In other words, you don't want to risk getting subpoenaed.
KURTZ: Now, you've said that "The New York Times" gave you an op-ed column 10 years ago basically because you are a woman.
DOWD: No, not all the way. But I...
KURTZ: But that was a factor?
DOWD: Oh, sure.
KURTZ: So, in some sense, you benefit from affirmative action, they needed a female voice?
DOWD: Yes. Then they need more female voices now.
KURTZ: That was my next question. Does it bother you that -- a lot of newspapers have this problem, a lot of male columnists.
DOWD: Yes, your newspaper.
KURTZ: My newspaper, the "Los Angeles Times," and we can give you a long list. But in the 10 years since you starred right writing opinions, you remain the only woman on the op-ed page.
DOWD: Well, Gail Collins had a really good column. But she's the boss now.
And yes, I think that there are a lot of woman right at "The Times" and at other newspapers across the country who would make fantastic columnists. And I really wish it were 50 percent women, at least, if not 100 percent. But we do seem to keep getting guys.
KURTZ: When you write about Bush the way that you do, and when you wrote about Clinton and Al Gore, who you were not a huge fan of, do you get a hot of hate mail from people who like them and don't like you?
DOWD: Well, I don't really see it as being a fan of them or not a fan of them. I just see it as describing are they having a good day or a good week, or are they, you know, getting caught up in stupidity or abuses of power, or are things going well for them? So...
KURTZ: When was the last time you said Bush had a good week?
DOWD: Let's see. He did have one at some point.
KURTZ: You'll get back do me on that.
DOWD: Yes, I will.
KURTZ: Now, a column that got an awful lot of attention that you wrote recently, of course, was the one about your colleague, Judith Miller...
KURTZ: ... in which you said, among other things, that she had printed bogus stories about WMD, that she was sorely in need of...
DOWD: Well, actually, she said that.
DOWD: I was just -- that was -- she said that in her story at one time.
KURTZ: But you said she was credulous in her reporting.
DOWD: No, no. But she said that "I got it totally wrong on WMD, and I'm only as good as my sources." So I was commenting on that.
KURTZ: Well, you made the case against her, and you ended up by saying that it would be a danger to "The New York Times" if she returned to the newsroom. This, of course, before she left the paper last week.
Let's take a look at what she had to say about your column.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JUDITH MILLER, FMR. "NEW YORK TIMES" REPORTER: It's painful because she had come to see me in jail and had not written anything about that. It was painful because I hadn't expected it.
It was painful because I had always admired her reporting and praised her work. And all of a sudden, I was taken once again by surprise by an attack on me and my reporting, and I was disappointed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: You didn't warn her this was coming?
DOWD: Well, as a columnist -- you know, when Anna Quindlen criticized "The Times" for revealing the William Kennedy Smith rape victim's name simply because the tabloids at the supermarket, "The Globe" did, and then I wrote about the need for more female columnists, I mean, when columnists criticize "The Times," it's -- I think it's better in a way to not be checking with people, because then you might get in some sort of collusion with them as colleagues. You know, they may influence your column.
So that's just my opinion.
KURTZ: Now, as you well know, this got an enormous amount of publicity. And a lot of people use that "C" word, cat fight, two women columnist or two women journalists.
DOWD: Right. Right.
KURTZ: Did that bother you that it was portrayed that way? I mean, you -- you -- it was a serious column.
DOWD: Yes, it does bother me. But I thought that factored in before I decided to do it. I knew it would be, you know, cast as WMD cat fight. But you can't not do something you think is right because of that.
But at the same time, you do wonder if it were David Brooks and Tom Friedman. You know, there is no equivalent. There is no dog fight. You know?
KURTZ: Now, Judith Miller obviously got caught up in the Valerie Plame leak investigation, as did Matt Cooper, as did Tim Russert. Bob Woodward of "The Washington Post" the latest to be ensnared, revealing belatedly, two years late, to his paper that he also had heard this from a senior administration official.
What do you make of that, given Woodward's sort of special standing in the capital?
DOWD: Well, it's funny because of all the hats he has at "The Washington Post." So you can envision Bob Woodward, assistant managing editor, getting upset at Bob Woodward, star reporter.
KURTZ: Maureen Dowd on Bob Woodward.
When we come back, Dowd's take on men, women, feminism, and why she hates being on television.
KURTZ: Welcome back. More now of my interview with Maureen Dowd.
KURTZ: Let's talk about your book. And I want to play for you what one esteemed commentator had to say about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHEN COLBERT, "THE DAILY SHOW": "New York Times" columnist Maureen Dowd has published a new book "Are Men Necessary?" A series of essays defending her inability to get a date.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Your reaction?
DOWD: Oh, gosh. I have to go on his show, I think. I love him. He can say anything he wants. I just think Stephen Colbert is fantastically talented.
KURTZ: Your pick on the president of the United States, but you're not going to pick a fight with Stephen Colbert?
DOWD: No way.
KURTZ: All right.
But you do write in this book how successful men don't want to marry high-powered women.
DOWD: Right, but I'm not talking -- the book is not about me. I mean, I'm worried that people think it's some whining or something. But I save my whining for my girlfriends. I don't expect people to pay for it in a book.
It is not a memoir. It doesn't have a lot of stuff about my personal life.
I only make -- I think there is just a few -- there is like one graph (ph) where I say that this Broadway producer once told me he was going to ask me out between marriages but decided not to because he would prefer a woman who would be more awed by him. But I wasn't -- I wasn't complaining about that. Why would you want to date someone who, you know, needed to be with a woman who wanted -- you know, was awed by them?
KURTZ: But I happened to be watching when you were interviewed on the CNN morning show. And, you know, they put these little captions underneath, and you don't know what it says.
DOWD: Oh, I know! KURTZ: And it said, "Maureen Dowd, 53, has never been married."
DOWD: I know. I know. Alex Kazinsky (ph), my colleague, said, "Oh, you've got to get a picture of that."
And yes, I know. It's weird.
Well, it's been such a personal focus that, you know, if I ever had any desire to write a memoir, which I don't, I certainly wouldn't now. And I'm not even sure I want to write a novel unless I have a prenup that says I don't have to go on book tour.
KURTZ: I am getting the impression that you don't particularly like talking about your personal life.
DOWD: Oh, my gosh, no. It's so painful.
DOWD: Well, because I think a private life is much sexier if it's kept private.
KURTZ: But you've got out with some well-known people.
DOWD: Yes, but...
KURTZ: Gossip about you and Michael Douglas. Did that bother you? Did that bother you?
DOWD: Yes. But -- well, you have to expect that if you go out with someone well-known. But that is not the majority of my personal life. That's a small, small minority.
KURTZ: But when you write a book like this about the relations between women and men and about feminism, and you use some examples from your own life...
DOWD: Right, but it's a reported book.
DOWD: It's not, you know...
KURTZ: But you had to expect -- I mean, you know how the media works, that people were going to ask a lot of questions about Maureen Dowd.
DOWD: Well, actually, I didn't expect so much. I mean, there was a lot I didn't expect with this book.
I thought that men would be bristly about it. But as it turns out, men seem to be dying to discuss the topic of men and women and where they stand today. And I didn't realize women would be so bristley about some points in it, because I thought they already knew that.
I think I single-handedly revived feminism. They've been revivified to vivisection me. But...
KURTZ: Now, you're referring here to some women who have written columns challenging your view of the world...
KURTZ: ... and this notion that successful men would rather marry, you know, shopkeepers.
DOWD: But I don't...
KURTZ: Or fact checkers.
DOWD: Yes. I don't say that at all. It's not a pessimistic book about strong successful women at all.
I'm just saying that a lot of the things that we thought we were doing to be fascinating when feminism started, when we were at the start, when we started together, actually, you know, having high- powered careers that were as high-power as your mate's, and, you know, this Tracy-Hepburn banter, actually it ends up that some men find that a little draining.
Sarah Silverman, the comedian, has an interview in "Radar" that's out now where she says when she was at stand-up clubs, she wanted to date the comics because they had a shared passion. But the comics wanted to date the waitresses, because they were in awe.
So it's just a passing comment. It's not -- I'm not judgmental about it at all.
KURTZ: But are you feeling a little bruised by some of your sisterhood with some of the tough pieces?
DOWD: No, I'm proud that I've brought feminism, which seemed to be dormant, alive.
KURTZ: You know, you started at "The Washington Star" in the 1970s as a dictationist, somebody who listened to other reporter's stories over the phone and typed them into the primitive computer system.
KURTZ: Now you're a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist. But one senses some disappointment at the way the relationships between the sexes are these days.
DOWD: Oh, no. It's supposed to be -- I have covered this as much as politics. I've written about men and women at work, at play, in movies, and in politics for 30 years. And I just wanted to get together all the fun morsels about men and women that could make interesting sexy conversations between them.
KURTZ: As a journalist, when people don't -- people in the political world don't like something you've written, do they go after you in a more personal way than they would go after a male columnist?
DOWD: Well, no. I just noticed a lot of them seemed to be reviewing the buzz about the book, or me as a columnist, rather than the actual book. Because the book is breezy (ph) and fun.
KURTZ: Leaving the book aside, when you write something about George W. Book or Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld, and some of your critics out there decide to take you on, whether it's Rush Limbaugh or Bill O'Reilly or anybody else...
KURTZ: ... do you feel it's on a more personal way than if you were Tom Friedman or David Brooks or one of the male columnists?
DOWD: Oh, right. Well, I write about this in the book.
I do -- it does bother me when I write about WMD or serious issues, or even the problem that "The Times" had in the case of Judith Miller, and then -- and then (INAUDIBLE) or Rush Limbaugh just immediately switches and says, well, she stated so and so. That is not a logical transition.
I don't care if they take me on and disagree with my positions. But, to go straight to my love life, when I'm writing about, you know, issues of war and faking the war, it's not really logical.
KURTZ: All right. Now you can tell us, why is it that over the years you've been so reluctant to appear on television?
DOWD: Oh, my gosh. I know. I still want to faint. I just want to faint right now and crawl under the table.
KURTZ: That would make good TV. In fact, "60 Minutes" once wanted to profile you. And you said no. What did you say to Don Hewitt?
DOWD: Oh, yes. I wrote Don Hewitt a letter and said I would rather be tied to a stake in the desert and have red ants eat out my eyes. But I guess if you -- if you like the work you've done, if you like your book, then sometimes you have to do things you don't like to promote it.
But when I first was promoting "Bush World," you know, I did Brian Lamb. And afterwards he told me I really need to loosen up. And when Brian Lamb tells you to loosen up, you know you're bad at TV.
KURTZ: All right. We'll review the tape here and see whether we can invite you back.
KURTZ: Maureen Dowd, thanks very much.
DOWD: Thanks a lot, Howie. Thank you.
KURTZ: The world according to Maureen Dowd.
Up next, investigators find political manipulation in public broadcasting.
Plus, some viewers take aim at me -- me -- over my interview with former CBS producer Mary Mapes on that National Guard story.
That's just ahead.
KURTZ: Checking now on the world of media news, it was no secret that Ken Tomlinson wanted more "political balance" when he became head of the corporation for Public Broadcasting. But an inspector general's report this week says he violated the law by helping push the conservative "Wall Street Journal" editorial report on to the PBS schedule.
Tomlinson also sent e-mails threatening to withhold federal funds from PBS if the network didn't balance its schedule, the report says. And Tomlinson, who consulted with Karl Rove and other White House officials, is said to have imposed a political test in hiring a former Republican Party co-chairman as president of the broadcasting corporation.
Tomlinson, who was recently ousted from his job, called the IG's report "malicious and irresponsible."
Turning now to our viewer e-mail, plenty of heated reaction to our interview last week with former CBS producer Mary Mapes, who was fired in the wake of George Bush National Guard controversy.
Scott in Miami, Florida, writes, "Mary Mapes clearly hates G. W. Bush. It's also clear this hatred clouded her judgment at the time and it clouds her journalistic integrity even now."
But some of you e-mailed to take issue with me.
Walter in Oakland, California, writes, "Mapes proved, Howard, that she is a far better journalist than you are. You had a clear and transparent agenda to blame and browbeat rather than to inform. The substance of the Rather report was right, but the media are more interested in jabbing each other than getting to the truth."
Edwin in Woodbridge, Virginia, seemed to agree. "I contend Mapes is the real investigative journalist and the rest of you are either scared of the Bush White House or you are controlled by your corporate bosses in their desire to destroy competition. Who can trust anything they see or read in the media today? No one."
By the way, my corporate bosses don't tell me what to say. And my only agenda is to ask journalists hard questions and give them a chance to respond.
Just ahead, Bill O'Reilly in the hot seat over some explosive words on the air.
KURTZ: Bill O'Reilly says some pretty bombastic things, but even my his standards talking about blowing up San Francisco was rather explosive. On his radio show, the FOX News host was slamming the city, promoting to ban military recruiting in high schools, and said the federal government shouldn't give the city another nickel.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
BILL O'REILLY, "THE RADIO FACTOR": And if al Qaeda comes in here and blows you up, we're not going to do anything about it. We're going to say, look, every other place in America is off limits to you except San Francisco. You want to blow up -- blow up the Coit Tower, go ahead.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
KURTZ: This, as you might expect, sparked a bitter reaction, including from O'Reilly's MSNBC competitor, Keith Olbermann.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC: The man who has been to all but about one percent of the population, an obnoxious and perverted, but fundamentally buffoonish character, is in the deep woods now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: O'Reilly defended the remarks at first, then said he was being unfairly pummeled over what he called satire.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
O'REILLY: Predictably, some far-left Internet smear sites have launched a campaign to get me fired over my point of view. I believe they do this on a daily basis.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So I'll take O'Reilly at his word. He thinks San Francisco should be spared. But he's been around long enough to know, when you sprinkle your talking points with words like "blowing up," the situation can blow up on you.
Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz.
Join us again next Sunday morning, 10:00 a.m. Eastern, for another critical look at the media.
"LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER" begins right now.
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