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Zucker Era Begins at CNN; Susan Rice in the Shadows

Aired December 2, 2012 - 11:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: He made "The Today Show" a stunning success. Wound up running NBC and became one of the highest profile executives in television history. Now, Jeff Zucker has been tapped as the next president of CNN Worldwide. Can he revamp a cable network that has rejected the ideological strategy of its rivals but has also been slipping in the ratings?

The hottest political story this week: Susan Rice campaigning to save her job as secretary of state even though she hasn't been nominated.


DIANE SAWYER, ABC NEWS: Tonight's showdown, the woman who could be the next secretary of state walked straight into the lion's den. What happened to Susan Rice behind closed doors today? Why did her critics come out swimming?


KURTZ: And why are some commentators trying to turn this into a racial battle?

The report is in on the British phone scandal and it's not pretty.


RICHARD QUEST, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Reckless, outrageous, inaccurate and unfair. Tonight, the report from a British judge that says the press needs legal regulation.


KURTZ: How much has the investigation tarnished Rupert Murdoch's empire?

Plus, singer Chris Brown launches an ugly and sexually graphic Twitter attack on a female critic.


TIM STACK, ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Chris Brown got in a Twitter war over the weekend with a comedian named Jennie Johnson. NISCHELLE TURNER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Some really degrading comments from Chris Brown who I would just say really needs to learn how to avoid these kinds of things.


KURTZ: Why does a man who beat up his girlfriend have 11 million followers?

I'm Howard Kurtz and this is RELIABLE SOURCES.


KURTZ: Sometimes rumors turn out to be true. After his long career with NBC, Jeff Zucker was a logical choice to be president of CNN Worldwide. So it was hardly a complete shock when he got the job this week.

Zucker, who's living the syndicated daytime show he launched with Katie Couric, talked about the cable news wars and why his cable outlet, MSNBC, was moving left in an interview two years ago with Charlie Rose.


JEFF ZUCKER, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, "KATIE": I think I've always encouraged our folks to watch FOX News and learn from it and not -- nobody should hold their nose at what they've created.

CHARLIE ROSE, PBS: Is that the reason MSNBC, you know decided that it's in our interest and in our future to make sure that we get people like Keith Olbermann --


ROSE: -- who can play in his arena with the same kind of passion they play in their arena?

ZUCKER: I think what you learn in the cable news and information world is that news and information is ubiquitous.


KURTZ: I talked to Zucker the other day and he didn't minimize the challenge he faces at CNN, one that both network insiders and outside critics say is substantial. So, what does Zucker bring to the job and in what direction should he take the network?

Joining us now here in Washington, David Zurawik, television critic for "The Baltimore Sun". Frank Sesno, director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at the George Washington University and a former CNN Washington bureau chief. And Fred Francis, former NBC senior correspondent and founder of, cofounder I should say.

Fred, you spent years at NBC. What was Jeff Zucker like as a leader of the troops?

FRED FRANCIS, 15SECONDS.COM: Very personable. Not uncommon for Jeff Zucker to leave his office for 30, 40 minutes each day, sometimes morning and afternoon and just walk around and chat with people, and not just the stars at the "The Today Show" or the magazine show or "Nightly News."

KURTZ: Workers, the producers, and story editors?


FRANCIS: And know what stories they were working on, OK?

So, that was -- that was his detail, his love for the minutia, knowing his people. That's where people became so loyal to him.

KURTZ: Zucker famously became producer of "The Today Show" at 26 and launched that morning show for a 16-year run at the top of the ratings.

How would you describe his track record has a newsman?

FRANK SESNO, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: His track record as a newsman -- as a producing newsman is terrific. I mean, "The Today Show" led the way.

What he demonstrated there and has demonstrated since is an imagination to know that stories, and I think the most important quote I've seen from him is that CNN needs to know and its news can be more than politics and war, that news goes across the board, touches people in a thousand different ways, engages minds and hearts and imaginations every day in different ways. And you got to find that. You got to do the great storytelling with great people to do it.

KURTZ: So, here's the rap against Zucker, David Zurawik, when he left NBC when Comcast took it over almost two years ago, people said, critics said he took over and left the network in fourth place in the ratings. That on the entertainment side, he had some well-publicized missteps, such as putting Jay Leno on primetime, Conan O'Brien leaving the network.

Your thoughts on his broader tenure in NBC?

DAVID ZURAWIK, THE BALTIMORE SUN: Well, you know, that's the worst thing you can say about him. The analysis doesn't include is any sense of perspective and context. That was an incredible, incredible transformative time in primetime television. To go from one to four is nothing because NBC is suddenly back to one.

And it's -- and, by the way, it's NBC Sunday night football that's carry them back, not any entertainment programming.

You know, even his worst move with moving Leno into primetime, think of the climate at that time. It was all cut, cut, cut, cheaper programming. The people who were doing reality programming at the networks were the ones who were getting all the praise, and networks wouldn't touch a primetime drama because it was too expensive.

KURTZ: It was a gamble that doesn't pay off.

ZURAWIK: Yes, it was -- yes, exactly. Exactly.

KURTZ: All right.

Now, I interviewed Zucker the other day, Fred, and he told me that he believes that CNN programs need more energy and more passion. Would you agree with that and can he accomplish that?

FRANCIS: Well, what he's going to bring to CNN and what he's going to bring to television journalism -- which is what's really needed -- he's going to bring a vision and a voice. To CNN, he's going to bring a voice. And he'll zero in just like he did in all his years at NBC in the news division.

KURTZ: Is CNN lacking a voice?

FRANCIS: Indeed, it is, I think. And it lacks a vision. I mean, there's a difference between when you watch CNN Atlanta and you watch CNN here in Washington and CNN in New York. It's like you're watching three different networks sometimes. That's going to change.

And he's also going to bring -- a blank check. Jeff knows how to spend money, OK?

KURTZ: Somebody's got to give him the checkbook.

FRANCIS: He wouldn't have taken this job if he didn't have a blank check to change things. And he's going to change. He's going to break some china.

SESNO: Yes, I'm passionate and I'll jump out of my chair doing it if that's what it takes, because CNN desperately needs a voice. And the voice, it's already there. It's built in. It just needs to be amplified through the right the people.

And you know the voice is? The voice is news matters. The voice is journalism is about holding people to account. The voice is stories people are fascinated.

KURTZ: But you know from your years at working at CNN that Zucker will be up against the cautious culture of an Atlanta base network that for years and years have stuck to a traditional news format.

SESNO: I believe -- I believe that he will blow that up.


SESNO: It's going to be scary to some people. And we've been -- CNN, I say we still because I care so much about this place. But I care about this place partly because of what it means for news and journalism. But part of -- largely because what it means to the country. The country needs this information through a broadcaster talking nationally and globally.

ZURAWIK: And, Howie, this money thing that Fred mentioned is important -- somebody who comes from network news kind of money. Because if you get somebody in here that came out of basic cable, say, and wanted to look good and said, oh, I know hold we can make that bottom line jump up, we'll just start slashing the international infrastructure out there. And that will be bad for journalism in this country.

KURTZ: But it's easy to talk about news and information and the role of journalism in democracy. I agree with all that. But cable news is also a business.

ZURAWIK: It is, to make money at it.

KURTZ: I understand. But CNN's problem for years and years and years has been getting people to watch when there's no breaking news, when there's no war, no earthquake, no assassination, no tsunami. And that's going to be part of Zucker's challenge.

FRANCIS: He looks at stories in a different way. Let me give you a perfect example. There were discussions on "The Today Show" about doing some story -- a long form story, maybe over a week, about facelifts. The best producer in Washington pitching the story was the wittiest producer. And you remember, Susan LaSalla. She was "The Today Show" producer in Washington.

So, after everybody heard the pitch, Jeff Zucker said, you do the facelift. That was a $30,000, $40,000 --

SESNO: Can I just -- can I say one thing? Because I --


FRANCIS: She did it on the air, OK?

KURTZ: Some people would call that a stunt.

FRANCIS: It worked.

SESNO: But there's one thing that has to be said, all right, this is CNN now, too, the tabloid. People don't need -- when we went on the air, when CNN went on the air, it was the only game in the town. It is so not the only game in town and television is not the only way to get information now. And, increasingly, it's not.

And that's part of the challenge. It's not just going to be about doing great stories, Fred.

KURTZ: And as somebody who has critiqued the media for year, I try not to fall into the trap of only judging programs by ratings. But let's look at the Nielsen numbers. Third quarter figures, this is total day: FOX, 1.1 million, these are averages. MSNBC, 511,000. CNN, 390,000. FOX does even better in prime time.

Now, ratings are not only the measure of success but they're important one.

ZURAWIK: But, Howie, two things. One, if you talk to people, to ad buyers, they will tell you this an -- CNN is an incredibly attractive ad environment. It's not just ratings.

KURTZ: Because of the reputation and the brand name.

ZURAWIK: Because of the credibility -- yes, and the different platforms.

SESNO: All the different platforms.

ZURAWIK: Absolutely. That's one thing.

And, again, I can't stress this. This is the tricky thing for whoever runs CNN. This is -- CNN is this nation's last bastion of television journalism. You can make money by cutting this channel down to what MSNBC and FOX are. Sure they have ratings in primetime but they don't do anything except spend their money on those ratings. Virtually no --


FRANCIS: And here's the change he's going to make -- I read somewhere this week that he said that he's such a newsy he's going to be like a kid in a candy store. He is the candy store. OK? He's the candy store to what you just said, TV journalism in this country.

SESNO: And he's got something else. You said he's going to have a blank check. And you said, can he really? Here's the thing -- this is where all these mergers that CNN has experienced really pays off. Time Warner has a lot of money. CNN had a profit of $600 million.

KURTZ: Worldwide, including the CNN International operation.

SESNO: So, this is about a time to invest.

KURTZ: When you say, Zurawik, it's the last bastion -- you were saying basically that the more ideological approach of FOX News and now, MSNBC, I wouldn't completely agree that it's not journalism. It's commentary. Newspapers do this on their editorial and opinion pages.

But if CNN's brand is going to be essentially built around reporting the news, sometimes the news isn't that stimulating. So, it is a programming challenge.

SESNO: That's why it's about more than politics and war. Our 401(k) system is failing in this country. You may not be able to retire. Wow. I care about that.

Your kids go to school and the schools are crumbling. Wow. I care about that.

We're reinventing our cities. You can make me care about that. There are a whole series of things that people care about. We are still hunters and gatherers and we are still hunters and gatherers of information. So, finding that story and the compelling way to tell it -- guys, it's not brain surgery but it requires a brain.

KURTZ: And Zucker said at the news conference this week where he was introduced by Phil Kent, who's the president of Turner Broadcasting, that our competition isn't only FOX and MSNBC. It's Discovery. It's the History Channel. And essentially, it's any way that people want to spend their time getting news and information. And you're right now, not just on TV but also online.

SESNO: And it's mobile devices where you don't need a linear delivery mechanism like television to tell you when to watch.

FRANCIS: He will give this network a voice. America will hear it. He will promote and polish this brand, like it's never been promoted and polished. OK? And he'll find some talent.

KURTZ: Based on his track record, you know, some presidents of network news operate behind the scenes. He's not like that. He will be the public face in many ways of CNN, in a way that -- in a way -- I'm not making comparison here -- that Roger Ailes is at FOX. Is that an important thing?

SESNO: It's very important. CNN has to represent itself for its troops, for its public. It needs to promote not just by patting itself on the back and saying we're the greatest name in television news, but explaining and yanking people in.

FRANCIS: He knows that CNN is a great news organization that hasn't broken any stories in a couple of years.

KURTZ: I wouldn't say any stories. It doesn't (INAUDIBLE) work and it does good international reporting.

My beef has been --

FRANCIS: It's not been flagged. People don't see it.

KURTZ: My beef has always been, you have 24 hours a day. It's not like the broadcast networks we got a half hour newscast, two hours in the morning, but most of it is not hard news.

Why are the stories that are produced and pro-recorded, why are they a minute and 45? Why aren't some of them five, six, seven minutes? Why are --


SESNO: You have to have a really great story if you're going to hang on to an audience for four, five, six, seven minutes.

KURTZ: Right. That's the thing we live in a culture where everybody has got a hand on the clicker. FRANCIS: Not if it's really good, OK? If you have great producers and great storytellers -- and that's one thing about Jeff Zucker and the 20 years that I worked with him. He found great talent and he brought them up in the ranks.

KURTZ: What about holding people accountable which is something that Anderson Cooper tries to do, that Soledad O'Brien tries to do? But instead, and this is of all the cable networks, you got a lot of partisans that come on, deliver the prepackaged talking points. And I get bored with it.

SESNO: This is where CNN's voice should be in my opinion. CNN will, without fear or favor, go after anybody who is in a position of authority because this is about holding people accountable. That can be a part -- a big part of CNN's voice.

What's happening in Washington today is an outrage. We are playing -- tinkering with the country's future, and on both sides. CNN through its interviews, through it stories, should be grilling people.

ZURAWIK: And that's -- oops, that's part of the news. That's part of the news you can cover.

Howie, you know what? Remember on election night, CNN, when President Obama was reelected, they told a story of his re-election. They went around the world to people reacting to it.

Rachel Maddow went into this hosanna to President Obama. Karl Rove lost his mind. This was a snapshot.

KURTZ: He disputed for a while.

ZURAWIK: I think he lost his mind.

This is a snapshot of what the cable TV and the TV universe because the networks were not CNN is. This is what Jeff Zucker will preserve.

SESNO: And guess what? America cares.


SESNO: People care.

KURTZ: Got to go.

SESNO: They care where their country is going, and they care about -- the friends and neighbors and kids around them. There's lots to do here.

KURTZ: All right. The consensus at this table is that CNN needs a voice and that Zucker will help provide it. We'll see if that's true.

David Zurawik, Fred Francis, Frank Sesno, thanks for adding your voices this morning.

When we come back, the Susan Rice saga. Are the U.N. ambassador and her critics getting fair coverage? And are some commentators trying to gin up a racial controversy?


KURTZ: I've covered plenty of nomination fights in Washington. But can we ever cover one that hasn't made, at least not yet? Just when the media -- much of the media were getting tired of the Benghazi story, Susan Rice went to the Hill this week to meet with Republican senators who've been ripping her over the attack in Libya and could block her promotion as secretary of state if President Obama decides to nominate her.

Benghazi is completed, of course, but the food fight over Rice -- not so much.


SEN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: Here's Susan Rice, misled the American people. She didn't tell them the truth despite all the evidence that we now know to the contrary, that she had available to her.

TOURE, MSNBC: And what's the other big story of the week? Susan Rice, where they are wrongfully attacking a person who has done nothing wrong?

ED SCHULTZ, MSNBC: The Republican smear campaign against Ambassador Susan Rice continues as more senators pile on.


KURTZ: So, was the coverage fair to Rice and to her detractors?

Joining us now in New York, Keli Goff, political correspondent for

And here in Washington, Ramesh Ponnuru, senior editor at "The National Review" and a columnist for "Bloomberg View."

Keli Goff, isn't it odd for the press to be covering a nomination that hasn't happened based on closed door meetings between Susan Rice and Republican senators where we don't actually know what was said?

KELI GOFF, THEROOT.COM: In a word, yes, it's very odd. But it's not particularly odd if you look at it through the lens of some of the partisanship and the partisanism, as I'd like to call it, in the coverage, right?

Originally, we had FOX News really trying to sort of push this cover up and turn it into a big election related scandal. And the Petraeus story blew wide open, which I will agree got more coverage than should have, in an era that we have the economy in the toilet, a lot of Americans out of work, and we were covering, you know, Broadwell, Petraeus, et cetera. This is sort of the next leg of that, with the conservative media really trying to sort of push this angle that there's some cover up. And I think that, frankly, there's some resentment that the story didn't really gain any traction. It made a difference to the election and --

KURTZ: Right. It was overshadowed by Petraeus as you say.

GOFF: Right.

KURTZ: Let me turn to Ramesh.

How is this for classic Washington media controversy? Susan Rice delivered the talking points on TV, but some other agency wrote them. And we get to fight about that.

RAMESH PONNURU, THE NATIONAL REVIEW: Well, yes, that's a big part of the story and any story where you can actually have talking points about talking points which is what we're increasingly --

KURTZ: I hope you didn't bring your talking points today.


PONNURU: I think the media coverage is shaping this, the results here. I think we're reaching a point if Obama doesn't nominate Susan Rice to be secretary of state, it will be seen as his backing down. And a lot of liberal base, which has really gotten upset about what it sees as an outrageous attack on her will be very upset.

KURTZ: Because of the high profile and the nature of the story.

PONNURU: Exactly, because the coverage is treating her as though she were --

KURTZ: As though she's the nominee. I suspect you are right.

I want to play a bit more sound for both of you. This is from MSNBC, where some liberal commentators -- I emphasize some -- are starting to frame this controversy that's getting all this attention, as Ramesh, says, in racial terms. Let's take a listen.


RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC: And frankly it's outrageous that there is this witch hunt going on on the right about these people of color, let's face it, around this president. Eric Holder, Valerie Jarrett, now Susan Rice.

TOURE: He also gave us the horrible optics of he and Lindsey Graham as old white establishment folks wrongly and repeatedly attacking a much younger black woman, moments after an election in which blacks and women went strongly blue.

(END VIDEO CLIPS) KURTZ: Keli, Toure was talking about John McCain and Lindsey Graham. But why steer this in the direction of the fact that the possible nominee, the U.N. ambassador, is an African-American? What does that have to do with this controversy?

GOFF: Well, to be fair, it's actually not the liberal media. It was actually Representative Clyburn, Representative Fudge, and other African-American members of Congress, and not just African-American members who raised this issue. And so, think it would be irresponsible if the media didn't at least cover what a member of Congress is quoting as a potential allegation.

KURTZ: These guys weren't quoting Congressman Clyburn. They were saying on their own authority that they think Susan Rice is being beat up upon unfairly -- and they're entitled to their point of view --

GOFF: Right.

KURTZ: -- because she is a black woman. And that's a pretty toxic charge.

GOFF: Right. But the only thing I -- the point I'm making, Howard, is not as wacky in the context when you have members of Congress saying the same thing, right? So, for a member of the media to say it it's not entirely fair to say that Toure is initiating this, Wolffe is initiating this, when they are members of Congress who think and say the same thing.

The other point that I think is important to say --

KURTZ: Let me get Ramesh to jump in and then I'll come back to you.


PONNURU: Yes. And I think the underlying charge here is patently absurd. I mean, as was actually pointed out in real time to Richard Wolffe, McCain supported Condoleezza Rice's nomination to be secretary of state. He obviously doesn't have any problem with black women being in that position.

KURTZ: So you can say he's being partisan but not racially motivated.

PONNURU: Yes, that's right. You can say it's unfair. You can say it's partisan. But I think that specific charge is just outrageous.

Yes, I completely agree with Keli that members of Congress have been making this charge and it ought to be reported that they're making this charge, but I think commentators who are adding fuel to that fire are being foolish and responsible.

GOFF: Can I respond a little bit, though, on one place where I really disagree? Is that I don't think anyone is going around saying Senator John McCain hates black people and it's this raving racist. I do think that the questions, though, that they raised are worth exploring, in the context of the fact, it's sort of like, Howard, the only way I can explain this is, is it racist to call someone lazy? Is it racist to call someone cheap? Is it anti-Semitic to call someone cheap?

No, not in and of itself. But in the historical context of our country, someone labeling a Jewish person cheap in a particular context, a black person lazy in a particular context could be perceived as racially inflammatory. So, when you have Senator McCain who tried to convinced us that Sarah Palin was qualified to be president, say that an African-American woman with a PhD, who is a Rhodes Scholar and a former assistant secretary of state is, quote, "not qualified" and not bright for what she said, it can open up questions of a cultural land mine that I think the media would be irresponsible not to cover and asking certain questions about where that's coming from, particular from a white man of a certain age.

KURTZ: Not sure I agree. But let me move on to other big topic here and that's the fiscal cliff as we face this deadline just a few weeks away. The president gave a speech on Friday that really struck me as somebody who follows social media closely.

Let's listen to what Barack Obama had to say.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want you to call, I want you to send an e-mail, post on their Facebook wall. If you tweet, then use the hashtag we're calling my2K -- not y2k, my2k, all right? It's because about your 2K in your pocket.


KURTZ: Now, Ramesh, that's a reference to the administration's argument that if Congress does nothing and taxes automatically rise, the average middle class will lose more than $2,000 a year. I'm just so struck the president is using this Twitter hashtag.

Is than an effective way to try to increase pressure on Republicans?

PONNURU: I guess it's the new call your congressman and let him know how you feel.

I'm not sure that it's actually going to increase pressure on Republicans. It's going to make the president's core supporters I think feel engaged even after the campaign is over.

But I really have a hard time believing that Republican congressmen are going to be worried -- oh my goodness, have you seen the number of tweets we're getting on this?

KURTZ: Well, on the other hand, conservative, Republican organizations have tried to fight back. For example, the conservative Heritage Foundation bought, it's called sponsored tweet, brought from Twitter, this my2k, so when you search for it on Twitter, you get the Heritage Foundation's take on it before you even got Barack Obama's one take.

So, social media platform I would say is not to be minimized, since so many politicians now lived there.

GOFF: No. Look, and the study has proven that Facebook and social media can actually increase voter turn out. So, we can't entirely laugh it off.

I mean, I think my take on this is we will know if the White House has really won the social media fiscal cliff battle if we see a newborn named my2k anytime soon this week. The first baby named hashtag made her debut. So, look, it's taken over the world and it's taken politics. What can we say?

PONNURU: But if I could just add to one point that Howard make, I think it's right to say that a lot of the impact is through journalists. You make these Twitter campaigns in order to influence the cable TV coverage, the network coverage.


KURTZ: It's an echo chamber.


GOFF: It absolutely does --

KURTZ: I believe it's one of the reasons I believe that Twitter is so influential.

All right. Thanks very much Ramesh Ponnuru and Keli Goff this Sunday morning.

Coming up next, FOX News pulls the plug on veteran military reporter Tom Ricks. He doesn't think much of MSNBC either. A look at the war of words in just a moment.


KURTZ: Tom Ricks appeared on RELIABLE SOURCES last week to talk about the David Petraeus saga. The veteran military reporter has been making the rounds with a new book out so Fox News invited him on to talk about that network's favorite subject, the fatal attack in Benghazi.

Let's just say the discussion with anchor John Scott didn't last very long. Scott began by asking about whether Republican opposition to Susan Rice potentially being nominated as secretary of state, made sense. Rice is the U.N. ambassador who, of course, went on the Sunday shows with wrong information about the attack.


TOM RICKS, AUTHOR, "THE GENERALS": I think Benghazi generally was hyped by this network especially.

JOHN SCOTT, FOX NEWS: When you have four people dead including the first U.S. ambassador in more than 30 years, how do you call that hyped?

RICKS: I think number one, I've covered a lot of fire fights, it's impossible to figure out what happened on them sometimes. And second, I think that the emphasis on Benghazi has been extremely political partly because Fox was operating as a wing of the Republican Party.

SCOTT: All right, Tom Ricks, thanks very much for joining us today.

RICKS: You're welcome.


KURTZ: That was it, less than 90 seconds. Ricks challenged Fox's rule in pushing the idea of an administration cover up and he got the hook. Interview over. Thank you very much.

But the controversy was just heating up. Michael Clemente, Fox's Executive Vice President tells me that Ricks apologized to a staffer after the aborted interview. Now Ricks flatly denies this saying he told a staff member only that he was a little peevish after a tiring book tour.

Now this little question of Tom Ricks was being a bit provocative, but does Fox News only allow guests who don't criticize Fox? Clemente says Ricks wasn't answering Scott's question. This was a stunt and a bush league one at that.

Ricks says he was indeed answering the question and writes on his blog, what a bunch of wimps. He's also said he turned down an interview on MSNBC telling that network you're just like Fox, but not as good at it.

So why didn't John Scott engage Ricks in a discussion instead of pulling the plug. That's Scott's file comment they says, but it would have been better for the debate over Libya and for Fox News.

I asked Ricks if he wanted to come back on this program, but sounding a little weary of the whole controversy he declined.

Ahead on RELIABLE SOURCES, the investigation into Rupert Murdoch's phone scandal reaches some scathing conclusions about the British press. But is tighter regulation the answer?


KURTZ: An independent British investigation has rendered its judgement on the phone hacking scandal. Rupert Murdoch's London tabloid "News of the World" showed a failure of management and a lack of respect for individual privacy and dignity in tapping into the voicemails of the famous and non-famous alike. The report say the British media generally have shown recklessness in prioritizing sensational stories, imagine that, almost regardless of the harm these stories may cause the victims. So what is the fallout from these findings?

Joining us now in New York is Emily Bell, Director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism and a former digital director at London's "Guardian." Good morning.


KURTZ: How devastating a portrait of the British press is painted by this inquiry, which was led by Lord Leveson?

BELL: Well, it couldn't really be worse if you're one of the tabloid papers in the U.K. It's 2,000 pages long. Lord Leveson describes the press behavior as outrageous, says that editors disregarded their own code of conduct.

He does make a point there are other papers. The "Guardian" Miles Homes (ph) actually broke the story. You know, Leveson is happening because of the investigative journalism that they did. But if you're at the rumbustious (ph) end of the British press in what we call the red top tabloids, this is a pretty damning and uncomfortable report.

KURTZ: All 2,000 pages of it. Wasn't there at the same time partial vindication for Rupert Murdoch because the findings were that he did not know about the phone hacking nor was he implicated in any cover-up?

BELL: Yes. In some ways this is a very good news for him in terms of his News Corp business and because as we know there are all kinds of bits of legislation that can get you into trouble over here if you're implicated in what might be a corrupt or illegal practice in the U.K. or any other territory.

KURTZ: At the same time, Emily, obviously some of Murdoch's former lieutenants are facing charges in this whole matter and he -- it could be said that he presided over since he is the head of News Corp, a journalistic culture in which sensational scoops mattered far more than privacy.

BELL: I think that's definitely true. I think that nobody would dispute that, and as you say you have a number of senior editors who are awaiting trial. We've already had one journalist. His royal correspondent, Clyde Goodman, actually went to jail for this in 2006. This is where this whole thing began.

So yes, I mean, you know, the kind of the cost of the story. The story at any price is the thing, which is really scrutinized here and Leveson says that has to stop. You know, there's a price that's too high. KURTZ: What really caught my eye was the finding and it's probably doesn't come any shock to you or people follow this British journalism closely that British politicians, some of them at least are too cozy with the press.

And talking about the Murdoch empire, the report said it was all unspoken. The politicians knew the ground rule and the prize for cooperation presumably was personal and political support in Murdoch's mass circulation newspapers.

BELL: Yes, so really it's tremendously different culture in the U.K. to how it is here in the U.S. partly because, you know, there are a lot of journalists in New York. Most of the politicians are in Washington. You have the entertainment industry in Los Angeles.

In London, all of those key players are concentrated in a few square miles right in the center of London. So you have this sort of soft network of influences who spend far too much time together. This was something which was hidden in plain sight.

Everybody in the press knew it happened. Everybody really thought about it would know it was very unhealthy for democracy and hopefully that kind of closeness as well. Now it's been put under this kind of scrutiny is going to be something that doesn't happen to the same extent.

KURTZ: Right, now the prime minister did take exception to the main recommendation of this commission and that is to have stricter regulation, legal regulation of the press by creating a body that would be stronger than the existing press complaints commission with no representatives from either the newspaper side or the government. Let's take a listen to David Cameron.


DAVID CAMERON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: The issue of principle is that for the first time we would have crossed the Rubicon of writing elements of press regulation into the law of the land. We should I believe be weary of any legislation that has the potential to infringe free speech and free press.


KURTZ: So now I believe the British press loves David Cameron because he's taking a stand against tighter regulation.

BELL: Well, not all of them do. I mean, again, some of the broadsheets and the serious press if you want to call them that are actually fairly supportive of the findings of Leveson, and they say that even the statutory backed regulation is pretty reasonable.

It allows victims to kind of get a redress when they feel that their privacy has been evaded without having to go to a liable lawyer, which is, you know, not a very, if you like, the most draconian kind of bounds of the U.K. press. KURTZ: In less than a minute we have left, what's your take? Do you think stricter regulation, legal regulation is needed? Do you worry at all about infringement on British press freedom?

BELL: I think you have to worry about infringement on freedom when you get any kind of regulation, which is backed by a statute. So that makes me feel quite uncomfortable. Having said that, I think this legislation particularly looks at the old guard.

It's very restricted to the press. I'm not sure how effective it will be as we go forward in the internet world, if you like, the internet age. So maybe it's kind of something, which is remedy to false of the past and we're hopefully going to see a very different future maybe without the intervention of government and press.

KURTZ: Perhaps the embarrassment suffered by the empire, Murdoch empire, all this phone hacking, won't be as strong as anything that lawmakers could come up with. Emily Bell, thanks very much for joining us from New York.

BELL: Thank you, Howard.

KURTZ: After the break, singer, Chris Brown, uses Twitter to viciously attack one of his female critics. A look at the ugly side of social networking.


KURTZ: Some folks play rough on Twitter, but this was truly vicious. Singer, Chris Brown, ripped into a female comedy writer named Jenny Johnson who has long been needling him for beating up his on and off girlfriend, Rihanna.

It's much too graphic to repeat here, but it involves sexually explicit taunts and explicatory functions designed to humiliate her. Brown later deleted the contents of his Twitter account, but his done that before and come back.

Joining us now to talk about this online warfare is Lola Ogunnaike, a cultural commentator and former reporter for the "New York Times." Hi, Lola.


KURTZ: What was your reaction in looking at these x-rated taunts and attacks that Chris Brown unleashed on Jenny Johnson?

OGUNNAIKE: Well, they're obviously despicable and I don't understand for the life of me why his handlers allow him to control his own Twitter account. The first thing I would tell any publicity or any public figure is that Twitter, Facebook, technology in general is not your friend. You have handlers for a reason. Let them handle that not you Chris Brown.

KURTZ: This guy is a world famous singer and you're saying his people should tell him back away from the Twitter. OGUNNAIKE: Back away from the Twitter. He's obviously a volatile character. He obviously has a temper. It's no surprise that when he was pushed and pushed and pushed he reacted. Now to be fair, this Jenny Johnson character has been attacking him on Twitter since 2009. I think since 2011 I read somewhere she's written about him 97 times. This is a married mother of two.

KURTZ: Sure she has. She started the feud, but she's not a convicted felon. Some people are saying it's her fault that this abuse was showered on her because she started it.

OGUNNAIKE: Well, he clearly has a track record. He's not the type of person that just going to roll over and take it especially if it's been happening for the better part of three years. She shouldn't be surprised when she poked a lion he bit back.

That said, I also think that Miss Jenny Johnson was trying to get her own bit of publicity and I do think -- I find hit hypocritical that a person who is going after Chris Brown for abusing Rihanna then launches her own verbal abuse tirade on Twitter against the person. There's just something that feels a bit disingenuous and off about that.

KURTZ: All right, but on the serious side, she has gotten death threats. She's not whining about being a victim, but she certainly isn't shy about pointing out what he said. And as you say kind of publicize again --

OGUNNAIKE: Did you know who Jenny Johnson was before this?

KURTZ: I do now, point taken.


KURTZ: Here is my question, given the history that Chris Brown has both in terms of the felony conviction and in terms of other stuff he said on the air over the years on Twitter, homophobic taunts in one case. How does he have more than 11 million followers? Is this guy a hero to some people?

OGUNNAIKE: People like his music, you know. In this culture you're always one hit away from a comeback. Chris Brown has had a phenomenal year musically. You don't have to like him as a person. You don't have to like him as a human being, but there's no denying that he has millions of fans who thoroughly enjoy his music and thoroughly enjoy his concerts.

KURTZ: So do you think all those millions of fans are there because they like Chris Brown the performer and are looking past the verbal abuse or maybe some people are attracted by it because they think it is entertaining?

OGUNNAIKE: Well, people always like the bad boy, that's part of the history in this culture at large, I mean, James Dean on down. But keep in mind, Howie, Chris Brown is not the first celebrity to be violent. People are acting as if he broke the mold in this hole. That's not the case and I'm not in any way defending Chris Brown and I'm not in any way defending physical, verbal, or mental abuse at all. But to be clear, he is not the first person that's done this.

I mean, Sharon Osbourne has been very vocal about the fact that Ozzy Osbourne almost choked her to death in 1989, and now they're regarded as a loving British couple and dominating the air waves.

So I just don't understand why people are still vilifying this person. Rihanna has clearly moved on, his fans had clearly moved on. Why hasn't Jenny Johnson, a mother of two, moved on?

KURTZ: You know, it strikes me, I was reading a lot of tweets on Thanksgiving Day after NBC's Matt Lauer, you know, was moderator of the Thanksgiving Day Parade. People were ripping Matt Lauer because he mispronounced the name of a song. I mean, it really has become -- I mean, I think Twitter is great, the water cooler, it's the new AP. But it really has become a place where a lot of abuse can get thrown on people who are public figures.

OGUNNAIKE: It's interesting because, first of all, I don't understand why people have nothing better to do on Thanksgiving than to rip Matt Lauer. How bad was the turkey? How bad was the stuffing? All you had to do was rip Matt Lauer.

This man is a veteran. He is one of the best interviewers in the game. I didn't watch the parade. I am sure he did a fantastic job. He always does well. Regardless of the fact, personal attacks, taunts, jibes are not necessary.

People were so below the belt in regards to his performance. I just think it is just cruel. I think is this weird mob mentality and it is easy tore people to dis another person in the comforts of their home and when they are in relative anonymity.

KURTZ: And sometimes anonymously through these screen names. There just about 20 seconds Chris Brown deleting that Twitter account, but you expect he'll be back using that social network to --

OGUNNAIKE: Of course. He will probably be back by the end of this week, Howie, to be honest. He can't stay away and his fans don't want him to stay away. He'll be back -- back by popular demand. He has to have his handlers verify all the tweets before they go out. He misspelled ho. Come on.

KURTZ: I was too polite to point it out. Thank you for noting that. All right, Lola Ogunnaike, thanks very much.

OGUNNAIKE: Thank you.

KURTZ: Still to come, a New York police officer produces a good news story for cynical press, a remarkable young man. News outlets get fooled by a phony story about Google and North Korea's sexy leader. We'll tell you who fell for that one. The "Media Monitor" is straight ahead.


KURTZ: Time now for the "Media Monitor," our weekly look at the hits and errors in the new business.

We haven't talked as much about Glenn Beck since he left Fox News, but look what we have been missing. On his radio show, Beck cooked a Barack Obama doll in a jar of fake urine. I'm not making this up. He was trying to make a point about obscene art and freedom of expression or something. What about respect for the presidency, stay classy, Glenn.

The "Washington Post" reported it so did the (inaudible) and others. Google they said had acquired a Wi-Fi provider named ICOA for $400 million. The source, a press release, the story, a fabrication. ICOA says it is investigating that hoax, which the company suggests was conducted by a stock speculator looking to make a quick buck.

The fake release was posted on PR web and some news outlets decided that was good enough to report without so much as phone call or e-mail to confirm that it was the real deal.

The media over in the People's Republic may be a little humor impaired. China "People's Daily" ran a 55-page photo spread this week on North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un being chosen as the sexiest man alive. Quote, with his devastatingly handsome round face, his boyish charm and his strong sturdy frame, the Pyongyang bred heartthrob is every woman's dream come true.

That honor and the high praise was taken from the "Union," which is, of course, pure satire. "People's Daily" has taken the bogus story offline. Nice work, Comrades.

In the cynical media age, I was delighted to run into Lawrence Deprimo on Friday. He is the New York police officer who didn't know a tourist was shooting a cell phone picture of him as he helped a homeless man in Times Square.

Deprimo told me he almost feels unworthy of the media attention since the woman posted a photo showing him buying shoes and putting them on the barefoot man on the NYPD's Facebook page. It wound up in "The New York Times" and elsewhere and the officer wound up on the "Today" show.


OFFICER LAWRENCE DEPRIMO, NEW YORK CITY POLICE DEPARTMENT: I didn't think about the money. When I went to them, I said there's an elderly man with no shoes and socks on, I said I don't care what the price is, we have to help him out.


KURTZ: Deprimo told CNN "STARTING POINT" that this was news to him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DEPRIMO: When it first came out, I had no idea. One of my friends had a picture, texted me. I didn't expect it. You know, I didn't think anybody was around at the time.


KURTZ: There is something so touching about what this humble cop did, warming the hearts of even cynical journalists everywhere.

Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I am Howard Kurtz. If you miss a program, go to iTunes on Monday, you can check out the free audio podcast or buy the video version just search for RELIABLE SOURCES.

We'll be back here next Sunday morning, 11:00 a.m. Eastern for another critical look at the media. "STATE OF THE UNION" with Candy Crowley begins right now.