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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Lou Dobbs Leaves CNN; Coverage of Fort Hood Shootings Too PC?
Aired November 15, 2009 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HOWARD KURTZ, CNN ANCHOR: His name has been synonymous with CNN for nearly three decades, but Lou Dobbs has become an increasingly opinionated and divisive figure in recent years. And the more he has crusaded on such issues as illegal immigration, the more he has seemed at odds with a network that tries to define itself, indeed, tries to market itself as a straight news operation that doesn't lean to the left or the right.
Those starkly different approaches cause rising tensions at CNN, even as some liberal and Latino groups were mounting a campaign to force the veteran anchor off the air. On Wednesday, Lou abruptly told viewers that this was his final broadcast.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LOU DOBBS, FORMER CNN ANCHOR: Over the past six months, it's become increasingly clear that strong winds of change have begun buffeting this country and affecting all of us. And some leaders and media, politics and business have been urging me to go beyond the role here at role at CNN and to engage in constructive problem solving.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Dobbs could get riled up on the air as he did three years ago during a clash with a Hispanic anchor and days later in an interview with me on this program.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are sick and tired of being treated as criminals, being treated as racists.
DOBBS: As criminals? Maria Elena they are -- wait a minute, wait a minute. That is precisely what they are, they have broken the law.
KURTZ: You told "The New York Times" this week, "There is nothing fair and balanced about me because there's nothing fair and balanced about the truth, but shouldn't a cable news anchor be fair?"
DOBBS: A cable news network should be fair always. On "Lou Dobbs Tonight," I broadcast, my viewers, my audience, expect to come at them with the unvarnished reality and the truth irrespective of how the chips fall in the political spectrum.
(END VIDEO CLIP) KURTZ: So was this television divorce inevitable and what does it mean for Dobbs and for CNN? Joining us now in Tampa, Eric Deggans, television and media critic for the "St. Petersburg Times." Here in Washington, David Zurawik, television critic for "The Baltimore Sun" who writes the blog "Z on TV." And Chris Plante, host of "The Chris Plante Radio Show" on WMAL. Chris Plante, many liberals cheering Dobbs' sudden exit. A "New York Times" editorial called him close to a right wing ranter who distorts the facts. Is the media being fair to Lou Dobbs?
PLANTE: Well, of course not. Well the reason Lou Dobbs was in trouble is not because he has opinions, it's because of what his opinions were and his opinions are out of lockstep with the rest of the mainstream news media. "The New York Times" in their -- pretty much every report also say that he's a crusader against immigrants, or immigration and that's false. It's a misrepresentation and it speaks to their point of view. And maybe "The New York Times" should be taking a look at itself rather than Lou Dobbs.
KURTZ: Eric Deggans, Dobbs for years was a conventional business anchor, but do you believe in recent years that he became more of a crusader than a journalist?
DEGGANS: I think it's obvious and I could not disagree more with your previous panelist's assertions. It became obvious that Lou was pressing this world view about illegal immigration being at the root of a ton of evils in America, and I think a lot of his conclusions were debatable.
"60 Minutes" exposed that he had said things about illegal immigrants causing a rise in leprosy in the United States that just could not be backed up. And he's also made assertions of the criminality of illegal immigrants that statistics just don't bear out. So opinions are one thing, but to be unfair and to make assertions that are not true or to exaggerate using selective data, that is just not something that's very ethical and very fair or anything that helps anyone.
KURTZ: David Zurawik, whether Dobbs was opinionated on the left or the right, he was a very opinionated guy in recent years. CNN doesn't style itself as that kind of operation. Could they have continued this sort of uneasy co-existence?
ZURAWIK: No, it's impossible. You know, by July I think I was writing he's a liability, you have to get rid of them. And even, Howie, forget the larger sense. Just in a business sense, in terms of the CNN brand, Dobbs was a disaster with the birther controversy this summer, first of all, cut against it.
And secondly, you know, CNN has "Latinos in America" coming out, really fine series that they had with Soledad O'Brien. At the same time, they're being protested by Latino groups because of Dobbs' positions. How can you function that way? Listen, I think Jonathan Klein has made a really important stand with this culture with the kind of news he's trying to do. KURTZ: Just to clarify, CNN president Jon Klein said that he had asked Dobbs several months ago to take the opinion off his program and Dobbs had largely complied. But Lou ultimately was unhappy and decided to cut the cord.
PLANTE: That's why he's gone. Let's boil it down to the facts here. It's not that Campbell Brown is completely neutral. Anderson Cooper is completely neutral. Larry King is completely neutral.
KURTZ: Wait, let me finish the question. Are you suggesting that those hosts lean to the left?
PLANTE: Yes, I am.
KURTZ: In anything like the degree that Lou Dobbs?
PLANTE: So it's a matter of degrees? It's also a matter of bounty. It's also a matter of what the reality -- of course, you're not.
ZURAWIK: Of course I don't because it's a fact, that's why I don't agree with you! I couldn't --
PLANTE: And the news media -- I'm supposed to be the radio talk show host and you're the newspaper guy here. In Washington, we've got a chief White House correspondent for CBS News Chip Reid who was a former employee on Capitol Hill of Joe Biden. We've got a senior White House correspondent of NBC News who was a former staffer for Tom Harkin.
KURTZ: Let's stick to CNN.
PLANTE: We have a senior Washington correspondent for ABC News who is a Clinton administration official. David Axelrod is a former "Chicago Tribute" reporter. We've got Jay Carney leaving his job at "Time" magazine to go to work for this administration. Look, the pattern is clear, everybody knows it except you guys, you know?
KURTZ: What does it is say about CNN? None of those people work at CNN.
PLANTE: It's the news media as an industry and as a company, the last conservative voice on the channel is gone. They had Glenn Beck, he's gone. They had him, now he's gone. Lou Dobbs is gone.
DEGGANS: Is it possible for someone else to break here?
KURTZ: I'm going to let you break in, but I want to play some sound for you, and then tee it up for you. Zurawik mentioned the birther controversy that really erupted over the summer, was President Obama really born in this country? Lou had some things to say on that, too. Let's roll the tape.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DOBBS: We've been reporting on the accusations widespread on the Internet that President Obama wasn't actually born in the United States and therefore some believe he's not eligible to be president. It's out there. There are those who claim that he was born, Dom, in a different country. The president, obviously, all he has to do is just produce the original birth certificate in Hawaii and be done with it.
(END VIDEO CLIP) KURTZ: And unlike illegal immigration, Eric Deggans, where a lot of people in this country feel passionately against that, this birth thing is pretty fringe stuff.
DEGGANS: Yes, and it's surprising, if you actually look at the ratings for his show, they really took a hit when he started talking about the birther controversy. I think it's obvious that he started to go further and further out on a limb with some of these conspiracy theories and he left some of his viewers behind.
I would also note that the problem with opinionated anchors isn't the opinion, it's when they are not accurate. It's when they say things that are false. It's when they say things that are not fair. That's when there's the biggest problem and we've seen this over and over again with certain news outlets and I think that was Dobbs' biggest problem and what drew the biggest protest. And I'll also say Diane Sawyer is about to become the top anchor on ABC News and she once worked for the Nixon administration.
PLANTE: It's been 30 years.
DEGGANS: It's obvious that there are lots of people in journalism who used to work in politics on both sides of the aisle and what you have to do is look at their work and not look at where they came from.
PLANTE: Right, OK, well, I've got to say, this is an essentially an attack on Lou Dobbs. Let's call it what Lou Dobbs said. Lou Dobbs raised a question. I saw him raise questions that a lot of people are asking out there. Do you know who Chiyome Fukimo is, either one of you?
ZURAWIK: Chris, if a lot of people are asking the question, they weren't watching him. This is not some ratings juggernaut. Lou Dobbs was finishing third in his time period. This was not some great populous groundswell of support for what he was doing.
PLANTE: Based on that standard, there are a lot of other anchors who would be gone, too, aren't they, but they're not gone, are they?
ZURAWIK: Chris, this is also about trying to run a news organization. Jonathan Klein fired a nice shot across his bow back in July. If an editor did that to me, I would stop being a hot dog gas based stop off guy like Lou Dobbs and I might think about reining it in. You can't run a news organization with somebody --
PLANTE: You represent -- you're a media writer for a newspaper, for a Baltimore newspaper and you represent the mainstream news media point of view.
ZURAWIK: Which is what? PLANTE: And this goes right to my point. Howard, you know that every survey --
ZURAWIK: I think that is the mainstream point of view. PLANTE: You know that every survey that's ever been taken involving the politics of the news media finds it between 85 and 95 percent of the news media votes Democratic, goes along with the liberal agenda and newsrooms are stocked with this point of view. Now --
KURTZ: I want to come back to your point, do you contend that Campbell Brown and Larry King and Anderson Cooper, that their programs are built around their personal opinions to the extent that "Lou Dobbs Tonight" was?
PLANTE: Now you're going by a different standard.
KURTZ: It's what you do on the air.
PLANTE: Let me tell you something. I was having a conversation with a friend of mine in Washington, a longtime Washington journalist type and we were talking about a reporter that we both know who is very liberal. And my friend said, yes but I think that he does a great job of hiding it. The idea is not to have a room full of people who are hiding their political beliefs and failing, by the way. Lou Dobbs wore it on his sleeve and he at least put it out there. You knew where he stood unlike others.
KURTZ: Eric, I'm sorry that we have slighted you. Let's move the conversation to you can say whatever you want about Dobbs, but by naming John King, my colleague at "State of the Union" to take over the 7 p.m. slot that Dobbs has now vacated, is CNN doubling down on straight news and is that a good strategy?
DEGGANS: Well, of course it seems obvious that by replacing Dobbs with someone who doesn't present the opinions the way that he did, that there may be a return to more standard reporting and more objective analysis. But one of the things I wanted to talk about is I'm concerned that we're losing the forest for the trees here.
DEGGANS: One of the things that we've seen increasingly in modern -- in present years is the presentation of news that fits the world view of the audience that wants to watch it.
And when the news gets distorted to fit someone's world view, regardless of what that world view is, there's a problem. The problem with Dobbs wasn't necessarily that he was expressing conservative views; it was that he was distorting facts and distorting the situation to fit the world view that he wanted to present to his viewers.
And that's also a problem. You know, David and I have written about this as it relates to Fox News or as it relates to MSNBC, at times. When -- when the news is distorted to fit a world view to draw viewers, that's when we have a problem.
KURTZ: In fairness, Dobbs did correct some of those mistakes. And here is my two cents. I've been on Dobbs's program. He's been on this program. It's not about his opinions. He has a lot of them. He's a smart guy. He can say what he wants. It's about CNN wanted to be. And there increasingly was just a divergent path between Lou's opinionated approach to the world and CNN saying it was going to be -- it was going to market itself as the straight news network.
Now, I think a divorce was inevitable. Now Lou can run around the country, raise money, speak to groups, say whatever he wants on the face of the earth and CNN can get back to journalism.
I think CNN tries to be fair. Chris Plante may disagree -- former CNN correspondent, here -- but we're going to leave it there. David Zurawik, Chris Plante, Eric Deggans, thanks very much for joining us.
When we come back, politically correct? Are journalists playing down the role that Nidal Hasan's Muslim beliefs may have played in the Fort Hood massacre?
KURTZ: Every time there's a major tragedy in this country, the media, the conflict-crazed media finds something to argue about. And Fort Hood is no exception. This time, though, the cable-fueled debate is about the news coverage itself, whether journalists been too reluctant to call Nidal Hasan a terrorist, or they have shied away from the obvious implications when a member -- a Muslim member of the military is in touch with people associated with Al Qaida. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: The evidence was there about Hasan, but political correctness prevented action. To a large extent, the media drives the P.C. insanity in this country, and it's appalling.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINT VAN ZANDT, FORMER FBI PROFILER: He's a terrorist, just like Timothy McVeigh was a terrorist, a domestic terrorist.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(UNKNOWN): I think this is where the political correctness comes in. You know, we don't want Muslims to be discriminated against because 99.9 percent of Muslims are practicing a religion that's honorable and nonviolent.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: There are 10,000 American Muslims who are serving every day in our military.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
EVAN THOMAS, NEWSWEEK: I cringe that he's a Muslim, I mean, because it just inflames all the fears.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So has the coverage of these awful shootings been on the mark or way too timid?
Joining us now in New York, Reihan Salam, a Schwartz fellow at the New America Foundation and a contributor to The Daily Beast.
And in Colorado Springs, Cliff May, columnist for the (inaudible) and president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
Cliff May, have the media been skittish in reporting on Nidal Hasan being a Muslim and the implications that stem from that?
MAY: Yes, I would say skittish in the extreme, and I think the media really need to take a hard look at why they were avoiding the abundant evidence for as long as possible in this case. The evidence suggested that -- that Major Hasan clearly had embraced radical Islamist beliefs, that he was a traitor to his country, that he had embraced the views of his country's enemies.
And if you look at what the media was reporting in recent days, it was everything but that. Maybe it was a mental health problem; he didn't have access to a psychiatrist. Of course, he is a psychiatrist. Maybe it's post traumatic stress, except he had never been in combat. Maybe he had been harassed by his fellow officers for being a Muslim, except there was never any evidence of that, and the fact that there was never any evidence wasn't stated.
KURTZ: Let me come back to that, Cliff, because I want to get Reihan in here and ask -- but aren't there perfectly valid reasons for the media to be cautious about a case like this when evidence is, kind of, dribbling out day after day?
SALAM: Well, we call journalism the first draft of history for a reason. And I think that, initially, what happened -- I have a very simple story.
During the shootings, there was an effort to reach out to Hasan's relatives, to a cousin and to an aunt. And these folks gave what was frankly an account that didn't square with the facts. It was, as Cliff suggests, an account that this was really about stress; it was about fear of deployment. And I think that journalists took that story and ran with it during that initial phase. But over the subsequent days, if you look at the New York Times today, for example, they're describing a litany of events where people should have noted that this guy really was a radical extremist.
But again, it's a slow process. It works slowly. It doesn't happen immediately. And I think that a lot of the folks on the right and the left who, kind of, pressure the media can actually play a pretty constructive role by saying, hey, let's look at this other line of thinking. I think it's very valuable.
KURTZ: Cliff, I don't think that trying to piece together possible clues to Hasan's motivation, whether he felt harassed by other soldiers, for example, is the same as justifying this mass murder that he carried out.
MAY: I'm not saying anybody justified mass murder. What I am suggesting is, had the media simply been cautious? Had they said that there were a number of possibilities here that people were looking at, including the possible they he had embraced radical Islamist views, that would be one thing.
Instead there was -- if you look at the headlines in a lot of newspapers and a lot of the TV shows, what they were saying was either that we'll never know; we'll never know if religion played a part or, frankly, at the New York times, where I used to work, and I'm sorry to say this, it was -- the headline was very clear that he was -- he feared the horror of war. He was such a sensitive soul and he had a fear of that and that caused him to, what, to shoot several dozen of his comrades-in-arms and reload while they were bleeding on the floor?
There was -- there was an avoidance of the most obvious explanation in the first few days. Again...
KURTZ: Cliff, I've got to get both sides in here.
Reihan, do you feel that journalists need to be concerned about fanning the flames of anti-Muslim sentiment?
I had -- one woman wrote a letter to my newspaper, The Washington Post, we've made so much of the fact that he's Muslim and you wouldn't do it if he was Jewish or he was Christian.
SALAM: I think that journalists are fallible, and I think that there are cross-cutting pressures at work here. I actually am sympathetic, in some respects, to Cliff's analysis. I think that it is good and worthwhile for journalists to keep in mind that there is an Islamist threat, that it's something that actually does, kind of, frame an incident like this.
At the same time, sure, I think that, you know, when you're looking at the military, and look at General Casey's sentiments, now, you could say that, when General Casey says, we need a diverse military, you could say he's being P.C., et cetera. But you could also say that, look, the military doesn't have enough people who speak Arabic or Urdu or Pashtu. And the United States military needs those folks, to survive, to flourish, to do its job of defeating Muslim terrorists.
SALAM: And so you know, that's one reason why I think that folks like General Casey were trying to say, you know, hey, we don't want to jump to conclusions here.
But again, I think that journalists have done their job over the course of this week, you've seen the story change as we've learned new information. And that story has grown more to be a story of this guy was reaching out to radical imams.
SALAM: We've learned a lot and that's the way it's supposed to happen.
KURTZ: The story has really evolved and you had TIME magazine, which came out just the other day, has got that headline, if we can put it up on the screen, that said "Terrified or Terrorist?".
So, Cliff, let me read something that you wrote the other day about this Fort Hood case, you accuse the media of self-censorship on radical Islam, saying that "so many have imbibed the Kool-Aid of multicultural relativism and political correctness that they candy- coat stories." You are certainly not suggesting that the Fort Hood story has been candy-coated, are you?
MAY: It was for the first few days, absolutely. Now I think the evidence has been so overwhelming, it's beginning to come out, exactly what happened here. And, look, I'm not saying that anybody should be fanning the flames of anti-Muslim prejudice.
On the contrary, one of the lessons of this ought to be that those Muslims serving honorably in the military, those Muslims who are there to serve their country and be patriotic. they're taking a great risk because they know they're going to be accused of turning their back on their religion by putting their country first.
They're very brave and they need to be supported. But you don't -- but it is wrong for journalists to make believe that when they hear hoof beats, it's probably not horses, it's zebras.
KURTZ: All right.
MAY: In this case, if you look at the coverage initially, it was anything but the possibility that he was a traitor who had embraced his enemies' beliefs. KURTZ: Now one area where the media clearly bobbled the ball, Reihan Salam, is in the early reports were about Sergeant Kim Munley, who acted very bravely, that she was the heroine who shot Hasan even after she herself had been shot.
And later we learned that it was actually one of her colleagues, Sergeant Mark Todd, who had fired the shots that took Hasan down. And I was wondering because Sergeant Munley is a woman, you know, it kind of reminded me of Jessica Lynch and the way her story was overblown by the media during the Iraq War. Do you see anything in that?
SALAM: Yes, I think that in general people always talk about media bias, et cetera, but the most powerful bias is we all want a story that makes sense to us and that's appealing. And I think that's going to be the case pretty much regardless, as much as you try to correct for that.
So I think that that's what was going on here. It was a feel- good story coming out of a deeply horrible and tragic and miserable event. And it's hardly surprising to me that that -- you know, you try to get a feel-good story out of it.
KURTZ: Yes, even after Kim Munley and Mark Todd went on "Oprah" together, the media accounts focused on Kim Munley. And I think there was that feel-good aspect, as you say, of a terrible tragedy. The AP and The New York Times did a lot to report what actually as they learned more about this.
All right. Cliff May, Reihan Salam, thanks very much for talking about this difficult subject with us this morning.
And coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, Sarah Palin and Carrie Prejean both claim in new books they're being slimed by the mainstream media. OK, but how come they get so much air time?
Plus David Letterman's sex scandal back in the spotlight as the accused CBS producer in the case gets his day in court.
And the woman who was fired in the ESPN "sexcapade" takes to the airwaves and says everyone is being mean to her.
KING: I'm John King and this is STATE OF THE UNION. Here are stories breaking this suspected morning. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani says it's a bad idea to put alleged 9/11 terrorists on trial in civilian court in New York. Earlier on this program today, Giuliani said those trials will put Americans at risk and cost the government millions of dollars in added security. He says the cases should be tried before military commissions.
President Obama has arrived in Shanghai, China, the next stop on an eight-day Asia trip. Climate change and the strength of China's currency expected to be among the issues on the agenda. Mr. Obama flew to China from Singapore where he met with the Russian president, Medvedev, and also attended a sum wit Asian Pacific leaders. Funeral services today for Michael Cahill, the only civilian killed in the Fort Hood shooting rampage. Funerals were held yesterday for six of the 13 people killed. The accused shooter, Major Nidal Hasan, is charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder.
Those are your stops here on STATE OF THE UNION.
KURTZ: She has been lionized and vilified by the press, and now it's her turn. Sarah Palin is "Going Rogue" this week, releasing her book with that title, and I have got to hand it to her, this is a neat little maneuver, slamming the mainstream media while using the very same MSM to help her sell her book. First up, a sit-down with Oprah Winfrey, who asked about Palin's most disastrous interview of the campaign.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OPRAH WINFREY, HOST, "THE OPRAH WINFREY SHOW": Let's talk about the interview with Katie Couric. Did you think that was a seminal, defining moment for you, that interview?
PALIN: I did not. And neither did the campaign.
The campaign said, right on, good, you're showing your independence, this is what America needs to see. And it was a good interview. And of course, I'm thinking, if you thought that was a good interview, I don't know what a bad interview was.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Palin's account of her vice presidential run is already being challenged by some former John McCain advisers. But this, of course, is what every author craves, controversy. Joining us now to talk about the Palin marketing campaign and ex-beauty Carrie Prejean, who says she's being "Palin-ized," in Syracuse, New York, Robert Thompson, professor of popular culture at Syracuse University; in New York, Lola Ogunnaike, former entertainment correspondent for CNN and The New York Times; and here in Washington, Amanda Carpenter, who writes the "Hot Button" column for The Washington Times.
Lola Ogunnaike, is Sarah Palin now using the very media establishment she disdains to help turn this book into a huge best- seller?
LOLA OGUNNAIKE, FORMER CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: That's the irony here. She keeps saying, you know, I'm being marginalized by the liberal media, they won't pay attention to me, I'm being vilified by these people. But they keep giving her a platform and she keeps embracing it. So I don't quite understand why she has such an adversarial relationship with the mainstream media, because they seem to love her.
KURTZ: And Amanda Carpenter, you're thanked in the acknowledgments as one of a number of conservatives who, I guess, were fair to Sarah Palin.
AMANDA CARPENTER, THE WASHINGTON TIMES: Well, that hasn't -- I have seen that there is an Amanda that is thanked...
KURTZ: There's an Amanda?
CARPENTER: I don't know -- I've never talked to her personally. I haven't.
KURTZ: OK. Newsweek cover out today. Let's put it up on the screen: "How do you solve a problem like Sarah?" And look at that picture of her. I don't know where they got that from. With all of the media criticism in the book, and in light of that Newsweek cover, is she getting and will she get a fair shake from the news business?
CARPENTER: I don't think she is right. I mean, I saw that cover published by Newsweek, it's coming out in their November 23rd edition. It was a photo taken from Runners World where it makes sense to show someone with their legs. And there were other poses where she is not showing her legs. But they chose that one.
And I don't know what you're supposed to take from that cover, that her looking fabulous is part of the problem? Because that's what the cover says. So...
KURTZ: What is the problem? Or is there a problem?
CARPENTER: You've got to read it to find out. That's the way. They want to buy it, and they're selling her sexy legs to get it.
KURTZ: Robert Thompson, Sarah Palin, on her Facebook page, says that the Associated Press and other outlets were erroneously reporting the contents of the book.
KURTZ: Now the A.P. had a copy, so I think she's just taking issue with the way in which some of the excerpts are being portrayed. What is your take on this back and forth?
ROBERT THOMPSON, PROFESSOR, SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY: Well, they did. I mean, this is a brilliant book-selling campaign and of course it's the best selling book in the country and it isn't even out yet and part of it is that she's managed to deputize the entire entertainment, journalistic industrial complex as part of her promotional campaign. Everybody is talking about this.
David Letterman has been making jokes about this book for weeks before its coming. She has managed to orchestrate a drum roll for this book and, you know, it doesn't really matter. Her narrative here is all about the idea that she's up against gossip and unfair media treatment and all the rest of it.
But Sarah Palin, like so much else, she's like a Rorschach test, how one interprets these stories, how one goes on the media content depends on how you already feel about her. But my guess is, and we've already got the evidence from the pre-orders that all of this thing is really moving units off the shelf.
KURTZ: Right. Right. Let's come back to the Katie Couric interview which we showed you Palin talking with Oprah about that at the top. In the book, Sarah Palin says that the CBS anchor was badgering her and was biased. Let's play a brief excerpt from that. You will recall those interviews from last fall. This was the third time that Katie Couric was pressing her on a position that John McCain had taken or on John McCain's record. Let's show that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS ANCHOR: I'm just going to ask you one more time, to not belabor the point, specific examples in his 26 years of pushing for more regulation. SARAH PALIN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: I'll try to find you some and I'll bring them to you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Lola Ogunnaike, does that seem like badgering by an anchor to you?
OGUNNAIKE: That's not badgering. That's called journalism. Katie Couric was asking a legitimate question. She's doing her job and these people can't get on stage and expect them to throw them softball questions. That's not Katie Couric's job. Her job is to represent the people and ask the questions that the people want to know and she did a very effective job.
KURTZ: And Amanda Carpenter, in this book, it's kind of fascinating. Palin talks about how Nicolle Wallace, who had one been a contributor for CBS, but was a high-ranking campaign official, talked her into doing the interview for Katie Couric. She said she felt sorry for Katie and was having a tough time. And then she goes on to say that the McCain campaign structure kept Palin away from the media, wouldn't let her go back on the plane, talk to reporters. Was this partially her fault? Was she some kind of hostage as the VP nominee?
CARPENTER: Well, I think she was caught in a strange dynamic where she wanted to be her own person, but then again she had to be loyal to the man who put her on the stage. I think you saw that complex playing out over and over again. But this is what the book is about. It's defining her as a person. I don't know if she is testing the waters for a 2012 run, but I think she wants to show people this is who I am. We'll see what happens later.
KURTZ: Is there also a little bit of payback here?
CARPENTER: Absolutely. Absolutely. But I will say I think she's entitled to capitalize on everything that she's able to because she was so unfairly smeared by the media throughout much of this, but I do wonder if there's a little bit -- I hate to be conspiratorial, a lot of liberal media is building her up because she's perceived as being very easy to take down.
KURTZ: All right, since she has resigned as governor of Alaska and I think it's a long shot for her to actually run for president, I don't know, take her down from what?
Great thing in the book where she said she had to sneak calls away from the prying eyes of McCain officials to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham and so forth.
Robert Thompson, when Palin says in this book that the campaign stuck her with a $50,000 bill for vetting her, for checking her background and whether she was suitable to be the running mate, McCain aides now denying it. Does this undermine the credibility or does it just add to the buzz about the book? THOMPSON: I think it just adds to the buzz. And you know, people feel one way or another about Sarah Palin and it tends to be very, very strong feelings on one side or the other. I don't think this book is going to change anybody's mind. I don't think the discussion is going change anybody's mind.
However, I do think there are places we have to take her up on some of what she says. That badgering, I've watched those Katie Couric interviews probably 30 times and that wasn't badgering any more so than I think journalists are supposed to be. Woodward and Bernstein were badgering the Nixon administration. I suppose if journalists were going adopt a mascot, a badger wouldn't be a bad one to take. That's what they're supposed to take.
KURTZ: There was a great e-mail "The Huffington Post" got written during the campaign by Palin. She initially didn't want to go on "Saturday Night Live." You remember when she went on and appeared with Tina Fey. Those folks are whack. Even though it wasn't as bad as it was, she didn't like the portrayals naturally of her and her family.
All right, let's talk about Carrie Prejean who kind of -- it's almost like in the same category as Sarah Palin. She has a lot to say about the media. She, of course, is the former Miss California who ended up in a lawsuit with pageant officials who took away her title. She's been making the rounds and look at what Carrie Prejean has been saying to various interviewers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MEREDITH VIEIRA, NBC NEWS: Do you believe that somebody said -- pageant officials got their hands on this tape. How'd they get it?
CARIE PREJEAN, FORMER MISS CALIFORNIA: I have no idea. All I know is there's been a campaign against me to try and silence me.
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: How hard is it to be in the middle of a national controversy?
PREJEAN: You know, we have the freedom of speech and I was punished. I was fired. I was brutally attacked.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: She was referring there to a sex tape that she made when she was young which has leaked out. She keeps talking about free speech. She's on this TV tour. She's got a book. Who exactly is stopping her from speaking her mind?
OGUNNAIKE: I don't understand. She's been on "The View." She was on "The Today Show." She's been all over FOX. She's given countless interviews to Christian outlets and people are trying to silence her. And then what does she do when she gets on Larry King? She tries to silence herself by ripping off the microphone and throwing a temper tantrum.
KURTZ: We're going to show that in just a moment. We're going to show that classic moment in just a second.
OGUNNAIKE: But Howard, she tried to silence herself. She's had countless outlets, people can't get enough of her. If she walked on your show, you would put her on air. So I don't understand what Carrie Prejean's problem is.
KURTZ: I would kick you off and put her on. I initially felt sorry for Carrie Prejean because she was asked that question by Perez Hilton about gay marriage. I thought she gave a perfectly reasonable answer, she did get vilified. But as she has head to explain the breast implants and the sex tape and the lawsuit, she does seem to blame everyone else including the media.
CARPENTER: Well, I'm somewhat sympathetic. She is a young girl. I think she's 22. I sort of blame the publicity people handling her. She goes on "The View," the Hannity, Larry King, these are intense, high-profile interviews and I think she's in a little bit over her head and a lot of people made bad assumptions about her. Just because she's against gay marriage, they thought she was a nun on both sides of the aisle. Not true.
KURTZ: All right, let's show what's become an instant classic which of course is just the other night, Carrie Prejean on Larry King, she did not like Larry's questioning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LARRY KING, CNN HOST: So the agreement discusses the motive behind why each party agreed?
PREJEAN: Larry, you're being inappropriate. You really are. So I'm not going to talk about --
KING: What? I'm asking a question.
PREJEAN: I'm not going to talk about anything that was discussed in mediation. It's completely confidential.
KING: Did you hear the question, Carrie? Does she hear the question? You took the mike off. If you put the mike on we can hear you.
PREJEAN: Yeah, I think that you are being extremely inappropriate right now and I'm about to leave your show.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Robert Thompson, was Larry King, the most gentle of interviewers, being inappropriate?
THOMPSON: Well, what's so funny about that is this woman cannot make an exit. If you're going to rip off your mike and storm out, you've got to storm out. She ripped off her mike and then she kept sitting there. She really needs to kind of study her showbiz timing if she's going to pull this kind of stuff off. No, I mean, Larry King wasn't being any more inappropriate than when he asks anybody questions like this. I think she went on there. I think she actually expected when she went on that it was likely she would walk off and this is very different than Sarah Palin.
Sarah Palin was a vice presidential candidate of a major political party. This is P.T. Barnum time. This is a beautiful woman, a beauty queen and it's got everything and it never stops.
KURTZ: By the way --
KURTZ: I've got to go, I've got to go to break, but I just want to make one quick observation, which is that she yelled, Carrie Prejean yelled at a young staffer her in the CNN bureau, why did you let Larry ask me these questions? It didn't have anything to do with the interview or the questions. And I don't think it was her best night. After the break, stick around, lawyers for David Letterman and the man accused of blackmailing him hit the morning shows. Could this case turn even uglier?
KURTZ: David Letterman seemed to have put the scandal behind him, but weeks after the late-night comic being admitted having sex with women on his late show staff, the story burst back into the news this week. CBS news producer Joe Halderman, who was under indictment, had his first day in court and then his lawyer and Letterman's lawyer made the morning show rounds. The Halderman attorney says his client wasn't trying to extort $2 million from Dave, he was legitimately trying to sell him a screen play.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VIEIRA: Now you say that this was not blackmail, it was a business transaction, a commercial transaction. Are you concerned that a lot of people out there listening to this are going say, give me a break?
DANIEL HOROWITZ, LETTERMAN'S ATTORNEY: Who negotiates a business transaction at 6:00 in the morning in the shadows of somebody's apartment building who says your world's about to collapse?
GERALD SHARGEL, HALDERMAN'S ATTORNEY: I'm not -- it's not a question of me smearing anyone. David Letterman himself got on TV on I think October 1st, Thursday night and said that he did creepy things and he had sexual relations not with a woman, this isn't about some elicit affair. This is by his own admission, a hostile work environment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Amanda Carpenter, that was Gerald Shargel, Joe Halderman's lawyer who says he is not going to smear David Letterman, but it is not clear that Dave's reputation is going to be dragged through the mud in this case.
CARPENTER: Oh, yes. From a media perspective, I like seeing the lawyer v. lawyer action on TV and having them fight it out in television rather than court, but David Letterman is going to have -- every time they see him doing his late-night stand up, they're going to think of the people fighting out during daytime TV.
KURTZ: Lola Ogunnaike, have the media basically accepted Letterman's version and the prosecutor's version? Because we haven't heard very much from the defendant in this case, Joe Halderman. Is it possible that he does have a case and that he wasn't trying to blackmail David Letterman?
OGUNNAIKE: It may be possible, but in the court of public opinion, I do believe that people have already sided with Letterman and his lawyer Horowitz was very convincing. Shargel's explanation rang a little hollow and I don't even think the journalists that were interviewing him were actually buying it. So it's going to be an uphill battle for Shargel.
KURTZ: Robert Thompson in Syracuse, does this case still have the potential to tarnish Letterman further and what explains the media fascination where all three morning shows booked these lawyers the very next day after this hearing?
THOMPSON: Well, the media fascination, I think, isn't hard to explain. It's an interesting story and this new wrinkle in it was really even more fascinating. You know, I remember when Letterman first came on his show and confessed to this whole thing and what really surprised me about that was when he said that what he got in his car was a screenplay.
And I immediately thought, you know, if you're going to blackmail someone, you usually have blurry black and white photos through the blinds of a hotel room or all this kind of thing and you generally don't give someone a screenplay and my guess is that from the very start, one of the ways that this guy, and I think it was blackmail, but one of the ways he kind of covered himself was, OK, I'll put this information I've got in the form of a screenplay. And if this thing goes bad, I've got this defense available. I've got a feeling this was planned from the very beginning and that makes this a really fascinating story.
KURTZ: Well, it's definitely fascinating and Halderman is presumed innocent. There's a lot we haven't learned about the case.
To complete our sex scandal coverage this morning, we have talked on this program about the ESPN mess where the baseball analyst Steve Hundley (sic) was fired -- excuse me, where Steve Phillips was fired. He was having an affair with 22-year-old Brooke Hundley, a production assistant who then had a lot of interaction, shall we say, with Phillips' wife. Brooke Hundley spoke to ABC's Kate Snow this week. A very emotional interview. Let's show you some of that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BROOKE HUNDLEY, MISTRESS OF PHILLIPS: I've been called things by the public that no woman should ever be called.
KATE SNOW, ABC NEWS: Saying what?
HUNDLEY: I've been called the "c" word. I've been called a whore. I've been called a home wrecker. I was in a situation where I felt like if I didn't do what was asked of me, then everything I had worked for the past six years, everything I had done to establish myself as a successful media professional could be gone like that.
(END VIDEO CLIP) KURTZ: Amanda, to a large extent, I believe Brooke Hundley brought this on herself, but when you watch that, it reminds you she's a 22-year-old kid.
CARPENTER: She is a 22-year-old kid and that's why he had to go. He clearly used his influence, and she was attracted to her influence and felt her career was at risk.
KURTZ: She said she felt pressured there.
CARPENTER: Right, but she also, she is an adult. She did confront the married woman at her home.
KURTZ: She drove to Steve Phillips' house. She wrote him a letter.
CARPENTER: So that's why they both had to go. They both got fired.
KURTZ: Right. ESPN dragged its feet on that, but eventually did get rid of both of them. Lola Ogunnaike, Kate Snow asked the right questions there. Was she a stalker? What would she say to Steve Phillips' wife Marty? You brought it on, Kate Snow said. And Brooke Hundley said she couldn't discuss the case, but she denied harassing anyone. Anyone who has listened to that 911 tape might reach a different conclusion about what she did.
OGUNNAIKE: Absolutely and anyone who got a hold of the letter and actually had a chance to read the contents of that letter would think differently.
KURTZ: This is the very taunting letter that she wrote to Steve Phillips' wife.
OGUNNAIKE: Exactly, making clear that she's sleeping with her husband, making clear that she knows specifics about parts of his body that only a women who visited him in certain areas would know.
She also reached out to this man's son on Facebook and was speaking disparaging about his wife to his own son. I mean, this are really scary things.
That said, I'm not one to side with the mistress, but I did walk away from that interview feeling a bit sorry for her. She has been called horrible names. Everything from pudgy paramour to -- another one was a shlubby seductress. Those things are awful and no one should have to go through something like that. KURTZ: Right.
OGUNNAIKE: But like you said, Howard...
KURTZ: It's impossible not to feel some sympathy. Let me try to elevate this a little bit by turning to Professor Thompson. Do you see similarities to the Letterman case? High-ranking men and young women and that has helped elevate this to the level of a network story?
THOMPSON: Well, I think there are a lot of similarities. I think the Letterman case, the Monica Lewinsky case, this, I mean, it's once a warning tale that people in really high positions of power should not be having sexual relationships with younger subordinates and to some extent the sympathy goes to the subordinates no matter how crazy they may be or no matter what they do simply because of that power differential.
What changes this now, though, is the fact that we now all have access to so much of this stuff. It used to be the story would be covered and you would hear the other side. Now you can go on the Internet and you can read the letter. You can see a facsimile, you can hear the 911 call.
KURTZ: We are out of time, but yes, I've heard the 911. Robert Thompson, Lola Ogunnaike and Amanda Carpenter, thanks very much for joining us.
Up next, making history. A look back at how the media covered the crumbling concrete of communism and how it holds up 20 years later.
KURTZ: Journalism has famously been described as the first rough draft of history. We scramble. We throw things on the air. We don't have all the pieces. But there are times when you know you're witnessing something that will be remembered for a long time to come.
KURTZ (voice over): I grew up at the peak of the Cold War, with fallout shelters and bomb drills at school. Whether it was Kennedy and Khrushchev and the Cuban missile crisis or Nixon and Brezhnev negotiating over nuclear weapons, we automatically assumed that the Soviets would rule their empire forever, that half of Europe would live under Communism.
And then, 20 years ago, journalists found themselves covering a story in a city divided by concrete and barbed wire, that not too much earlier seemed unimaginable, even when Ronald Reagan uttered these famous words.
FORMER PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.
TOM BROKAW, NBC ANCHOR: Good evening. Live from the Berlin Wall on the most historic night in this wall's history, what you see behind me is a celebration of this new policy, announced today by the East German government, that now, for the first time since the wall was erected in 1961, people will be able to move through freely.
DAN RATHER, CBS ANCHOR: In Berlin, this is definitely the "in" place to be, the sights and sounds, all the joy and the history in front of the Brandenburg Gate with West Berlins partying literally on top of the Berlin Wall.
PETER JENNINGS, ABC ANCHOR: Thousands and thousands of West Germans, comes to make the point that the wall has suddenly become irrelevant, something, as you can see, almost to party on. How do you measure such an astonishing moment in history?
KURTZ: Think how much we didn't know, as television carried pictures of those first East Germans streaming into the western side of the city. We didn't know that night would lead to the reunification of Germany and the demolition of the wall, its pieces shipped off as souvenirs of a darker age.
We didn't know that other countries in Eastern Europe would overthrow communism and turn to democracy. We didn't know that, in two years, Mikhail Gorbachev's Soviet Union would collapse, freeing its long-suffering satellites in the Baltics.
So what Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings and Dan Rather reported in 1989 is even more important in retrospect than it seemed at the time.
News organizations often find themselves reporting dull stories or tabloid stories or tragic stories or ephemeral stories that are quickly forgotten. Only once in a great while do you get to cover an exciting and uplifting story that literally changes the course of history. The fall of the wall was such a moment. And two decades later, the reporting still looks pretty good.
Still to come, Fox's Sean Hannity is nailed by a very tough media critic. No kidding.
KURTZ: Television news revolves around pictures, and you have to trust that those pictures are real, that they are what we say they are. Sometimes that's not the case. But as the images fly by, it's difficult to prove.
It calls for a seasoned investigative reporter, someone like, say, Jon Stewart.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW": Wow. That was actually from Glenn Beck's 9/12 rally two months ago, his much bigger 9/12 rally. It seems Sean Hannity used footage of a bigger crowd from a totally different event to make last week's GOP health care rally appear more heavily attended.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So was Stewart just having some fun, playing the situation for laughs?
The answer came the following night on Fox News.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HANNITY: Although it pains me to say this, Jon Stewart, Comedy Central, he was right. We screwed up, we aired some video of a rally in September along with the video from the actual event. It was an inadvertent mistake, but a mistake nonetheless.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Talk about your moment of zen. Holding media people accountable is serious business, even when the comedian has to step in and do the job. Maybe the rest of us can learn a few tricks from the righteous wrath of "The Daily Show."
And John King, congratulations to the news this week that you'll be moving to weeknights early next year taking that 7 p.m. Eastern slot just vacated by Lou Dobbs. As you know, the big ratings in cable at night seem to be gotten about opinionated hosts. You're all about reporting. Is that a challenge for you?
KING: You know Howard, we're going to do our best. We're going to try to give people an interesting, provocative show, with an anchor who tries to stay in the middle of the road. I'm sure I'll catch some harpoons for that. But looking forward to it.
KURTZ: You've traveled to 44 states. You going to keep traveling in your new role?
KING: I'll travel as much as I can. It will be a little more difficult when you're on Monday through Friday, but we'll get out as much as we can.
KURTZ: All right, back to you, John.
KING: Howie, you take care. Have a great Sunday.