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'L.A. Times' Drops 11th Hour Bomb on Schwarzenegger's Campaign; Should ESPN Have Dumped Limbaugh?; Should Novak Have Outed CIA Agent?

Aired October 5, 2003 - 11:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice-over): The October surprise. The "Los Angeles Times" drops an 11th hour bomb on Arnold Schwarzenegger's campaign. A half-dozen women charging he groped and grabbed them over the years. Is the "Terminator's" conduct fair game, and should the "Times" have published the allegations days before the recall election?

Rush to judgment. Should ESPN have dumped Rush Limbaugh for making racially-charged remarks about a black quarterback? And can the radio titan survive "The National Enquirer" report that he is under investigation for buying illegal painkillers?

And the leak that backfired. Should Bob Novak have outed a White House critic's wife as a CIA employee? Are journalists trying to turn a Bush mini scandal into the next Watergate? And why do reporters keep protecting all those shadowy unnamed sources?


ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, this is a special one-hour edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.

KURTZ: Welcome to this special edition of RELIABLE SOURCES, where we turn a critical lens on three major media stories. I'm Howard KURTZ. We'll be analyzing, scrutinizing, and otherwise dissecting these press-driven scandals that have exploded one after the other.

Ahead: the controversy surrounding Robert Novak and Rush Limbaugh. But we begin with the California recall, now just 48 hours away, and the unsavory headlines that are suddenly dogging the front- runner, the man known worldwide as "Arnold."


KURTZ (voice-over): Just when the media were practically declaring the next governor of California, the "Los Angeles Times" delivered a front-page bombshell. Six women in incidents over three decades say the movie star grabbed their breasts, pressed up against them, or harassed them. The rumors have been flying for years, but the "Times" collected a striking amount of graphic detail.

A Schwarzenegger spokesman denied the allegations and the Republican candidate suggested it was a smear.

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: But I know that the people of California can see through this trash politics.

KURTZ: But also delivered an apology of sorts.

SCHWARZENEGGER: Those people that I have offended, I want to say to them, I am deeply sorry about that.

KURTZ: By Friday morning, one of the women surfaced on "The Today Show."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Arnold passed me by and groped my breast. And I was just taken aback. I was so surprised, shocked.

KURTZ: And if Schwarzenegger didn't have enough to worry about, ABC News dug up some damaging words from his past.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE ABC News obtained a copy of an unpublished book proposal with quotes from what it calls a verbatim transcript from an interview Schwarzenegger gave in 1975. He is quoted as saying, "I admired Hitler, for instance, because he came from being a little man, with almost no formal education, up to power."


KURTZ: Joining us now from San Francisco, Debra Saunders, a columnist for the "San Francisco Chronicle." And in Los Angeles, "L.A. Times" columnist Patt Morrison. And also in L.A., CNN senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.

Debra Saunders, what was your reaction when you woke up and picked up the first piece in "he "Los Angeles Times"?

DEBRA SAUNDERS, "SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE": I thought it was a vile story, and I just didn't think it was good journalism. Going back to 1975, two incidents in the '80s, 1990, to make allegations about Arnold Schwarzenegger's present behavior just doesn't work.

The latest allegation was in 2000, and they spent seven weeks on this story. They did a lot of work on it. And they only found one witness, and that witness said the story wasn't true, and that was for the 2000 story.

KURTZ: OK. But since that initial story, nine more women, for a total of 15, have come forward, many of them on the record. Now you're saying you're not concerned about women saying that Arnold grabbed their breasts or their rear ends or pulled up their shirts or pushed himself on them? Or, in one case, one woman said he stuck his tongue down her throat? This seems to be a pattern here.

SAUNDERS: You know I'm concerned about it, Howie. When I interviewed Arnold Schwarzenegger a few weeks ago, I wanted to know what is he going to behave like when he's the governor? But most of these stories are decades old, and I really don't understand how they would be relevant if they're true.

And I believe that there's truth in them. To me, there's no doubt there's truth in them. You can tell from his "Oui" magazine interview he had a pretty crude approach to women. But I don't know that that's the Arnold Schwarzenegger today.

You know a lot of these women said they would behave differently if it happened to them now. Well, maybe he would behave differently, too.


KURTZ: That's a fair point, but let me go to Patt Morrison. Is Arnold Schwarzenegger's personal conduct over the past 25 years fair game for the press?

PATT MORRISON, "LOS ANGELES TIMES": We only have his personal conduct to go on, because this is a candidate who has appeared as a candidate only within the last two months. We don't know very much about his policies. That has been evolving, and yet he has said, trust me, as his campaign measure. We have looked very seriously into these allegations, used every journalistic measure to scrutinize them, and came out with the story as soon as it was ready to be published.

KURTZ: Candy Crowley, a spokesman for the Schwarzenegger campaign has called this attack journalism, gutter journalism. In your view, is this legitimate reporting, or was it, to use a football term, a late hit?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know I think you could argue that it would have been worse for the Schwarzenegger campaign had it come out two weeks ago. Then they would have had two weeks of this. I mean, I don't think there's ever a good time to deliver this kind of news to a campaign that thought it was on a roll.

I find it very hard to believe, and I do not believe that the "L.A. Times" waited so that it was the last three or four days in the campaign. And, again, I think they could have made a better case that two weeks ago would have been worse for the Schwarzenegger campaign, because this would have gone on for two weeks. So I think...

MORRISON: I agree with Ms. Crowley. And, in fact, I think it serves the campaign better now because there is a smaller window of time. When Mr. Schwarzenegger said, "Where there's smoke there's fire," if we had started this fire earlier by reporting this the fire would have been bigger.

And remember Mr. KURTZ, we are running this campaign in dog years. One week is like seven, because this is such a compressed and truncated campaign. So...

KURTZ: Right. Well, the editor of the "Los Angeles Times," John Carroll, told me that in fact the paper published the story as soon as it was ready, and he would rather be accused of running it too close to the election than sitting on it, which is a point I understand. But, Candy Crowley, we went through the Clinton years, a lot of allegations. For example, President Clinton groping Kathleen Willey in the Oval Office. Those made big headlines. Do you as a woman care about these incidents? Some of them are old, but, again, there does seem to be something of a pattern here.

CROWLEY: Sure I care. I care about it as a woman and a journalist and a human being and all of that. You know, do I think we've gone too far? You know, there's a difference between somebody's personal life and somebody's, you know, assaults on women, alleged assaults on women, be it Bill Clinton, be it Arnold Schwarzenegger, be it anyone else.

But, you know, this is always a difficult case-by-case decision that journalists have to make about what they're going to go after. There's only so much time in the universe, only so much paper space, only so much air space. And so, sure, do I wonder as a journalist every once in a while, you know, should we be spending our time on this? On the other hand, we are talking about, you know, the nature of a human being and what his politics other than who these humans are.

KURTZ: OK. Boy those protesters are loud. They almost drowned you out, Candy.

Debra Saunders, did it bother you that a spokesman for the Schwarzenegger campaign, Sean Walsh (ph), initially denied the allegations the day before Schwarzenegger came out and made his sort of limited apology?

SAUNDERS: Yes. I mean, there were problems with that. And can I say something, Howie? I don't think the timing is suspect.

This has been a short campaign. It takes time to put those stories together. The irony is they spent seven weeks putting the first story together, and now these other allegations are coming out willy-nilly and there isn't really time to vet them.

I mean, it's gotten to the point of absurdity. On the "L.A. Times" Web site I see a story about Joy Brown (ph), a talk show host, who talked about how Arnold brushed his thigh up against him and lured her to his hotel room. But she laughed. I mean, that's a story?

KURTZ: Well, obviously the incidents are of varying degrees of seriousness. But Patt Morrison, one conservative radio host, Hugh Hewitt, was out there in front of a pro-Schwarzenegger crowd saying, "Do you believe the 'L.A. Times?'" And the crowd shouted, "No."

So are you concerned at all about your newspaper being dragged into this and becoming part of the issue here?

MORRISON: Well, I know Hugh Hewitt. And, in fact, the problem is that so many people didn't read the policy stories. They go right for the sex stories.

They didn't read our exposure of Gray Davis' fund-raising and Cruz Bustamante's fund-raising. And all the scrutiny that we brought to this story we brought to those other stories as well.

Look, Governor George Perkins might have been angry at the "Times" 122 years ago when it started publishing. Bill Clinton was angry at the "Times" when we were the paper to break troopergate. And 100 years from now, there are going to be governors and presidents who will be angry at the "Los Angeles Times."

KURTZ: OK. I want to play a clip from Candy Crowley, who is stronger than I thought. She muscled Arnold Schwarzenegger into an interview. Let's take a look at that exchange.


CROWLEY: I want to talk to you about this "L.A. Times" story, because I don't understand what you said, which is, is it true or is it not true?

SCHWARZENEGGER: Well, I would say most of it is not true.

CROWLEY: To be very clear, you don't remember anything that was in the "L.A. Times," any of those instances?

SCHWARZENEGGER: I didn't say that. I just said that I don't remember things that I have done or said 20 years ago. I don't remember things that I've done 30 years ago?

CROWLEY: 2000?

SCHWARZENEGGER: And I said that many of the things today in there are not true.


KURTZ: Candy Crowley, did Schwarzenegger duck your questions?

CROWLEY: Well, I think he answered them every which way. You know, it was really hard. They clearly didn't want to go into -- they're stuck here.

If they answer a specific and say to you, this is not true, then you say, well, what is true? I mean, you know -- so clearly there were some things in there that were true but they didn't want to get into the specifics of, oh, yes, I did grope this woman, but that woman has something in for me. So they were sort of stuck there, and I think it showed in that interview.

KURTZ: Right. A lack of itemization.

Now, another controversy that's bubbled up here in the final days comes from Arnold Schwarzenegger's bodybuilding days in the 1970s. "The New York Times" and ABC News breaking the story about a book proposal in which he was quoted as saying a couple of admiring things about Adolph Hitler. Let's take a look at the candidate's reaction to that story once it broke on the campaign trail.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SCHWARZENEGGER: I don't remember any of those comments because I always despised everything that Hitler stood for.


KURTZ: Debra Saunders, that was 25 years ago. Journalistically relevant or not?

SAUNDERS: Not only was it not relevant, but those quotes had been floating around for weeks. This is the one story where I think the timing is odd. I think the "L.A. Times" story came out when it did because that's how long it took, but I really don't understand why those comments would rate a "New York Times" story.


SAUNDERS: And, of course, there's so many things that he said against Hitler that it is ridiculous to pull out some quotes where he said he admired his speaking style.

KURTZ: Patt Morrison, had Schwarzenegger been largely successful until now in bypassing the press and running a celebrity campaign? And is this now catching up with him?

MORRISON: I think Mr. Schwarzenegger, who has a crew of very competent press people from former administrations here in California, Republican administrations, have done a brilliant job with his strategizers. He knew in advance that some of these would be coming out. At the outset, he said with Jay Leno and others, look, I haven't led the most pure of lives. And I think people understood that.

What I think has happened is that some of these questions have begged answers, as Ms. Crowley's interview showed. There's only so much you can do to avoid these sorts of questions when they're raised. And I don't know that he's done an entirely successful technique in addressing them.

KURTZ: Candy Crowley, got about 20 seconds here. Does it at least look between the women and the Nazi stuff that the liberal media is ganging up on the man who could become governor in two days?

CROWLEY: Well, look, that's clearly what he's going to say. But let me just meld these two worlds of politics and journalism. This is a very good selling point for Arnold Schwarzenegger among the people who support Arnold Schwarzenegger.

They don't like the "L.A. Times," they don't like the media, they don't like -- they think it's liberals. And when he goes out there and says that, it gets them riled up and it gets them to the polls. And that's what this is about in this stage of the game.

KURTZ: All right. We need to take a short break.

When we come back -- hold on -- we'll talk more about the recall and why the candidates who aren't major league movie stars are still having problems being heard. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


GOV. GRAY DAVIS (D), CALIFORNIA: ... and his professed admiration for Adolph Hitler is beyond the pail. I don't see how anyone could express admiration for someone who killed 10 million people.


KURTZ: Governor Gray Davis speaking out about reports that Arnold Schwarzenegger harassed women and once told an interviewer that he admires Adolph Hitler. Welcome back to our special one-hour edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.

Patt Morrison in L.A., have things gotten so bad that reporters now only pay attention to Gray Davis and the other candidates when they talk about Arnold?

MORRISON: Well, I don't know about other reporters, but we've been paying attention to Gray Davis and his rivals and compatriots for a long time. The fact is that one of the gaps in this campaign has been a gap of policy. And I think the other candidates are trying to address themselves to it.

They're having a very difficult time competing with the fact that "Entertainment Tonight" is out there, that "Finnish Television" (ph) is here. All manner of attention that is going to Arnold Schwarzenegger that's not going to them because they don't have the star power.

KURTZ: Right. It is an unbelievable presidential level intensity in terms of coverage.

Debra Saunders in San Francisco, has this Arnold mania become so overwhelming that some of the other candidates, for example, state Senator Tom McClintock, simply haven't gotten a fair shake from the press, haven't been able to get their ideas out?

SAUNDERS: Well, I think actually Tom McClintock has been at the debates, he does a lot of interviews. I think people are well aware of his positions.

I want to agree with something that Patt said. The truth is, the "L.A. Times," the "San Francisco Chronicle," we've been dogging Gray Davis for a long time, we've been looking at his policies. And that's what brought us to this point.

I think a lot of readers look at newspapers and think they're only hitting Arnold, they're not hitting Gray Davis. Well, if there hadn't been negative stories, we wouldn't be at this recall. The problem that we have in journalism is, all the stuff about Gray Davis is now old news.

But now the old Arnold news is becoming new news, and that is the thing that just doesn't work. And I think people look at newspapers and they don't understand.

KURTZ: But, of course, different standards get applied when you are a Hollywood star versus a suddenly reborn politician who wants to be the governor of the state. Then a lot of things get swept up and people re-examine it in a very different light.

SAUNDERS: Well, we also have a tendency when there are newcomers to politics we feel that we can just pick through their personal lives like it's trash. And we don't do that to incumbents. We just don't.

MORRISON: But Mr. Kurtz, I think Ms. Saunders has a point, that we have been covering this for a long time. But you know yourself that many people have only started paying attention to California politics because of the recall, and to the recall because of Arnold Schwarzenegger. So all that went before, all the reporting and scrutiny, is not something that they're aware of.

KURTZ: Right. For a national audience that is largely true.

Candy Crowley, you have been covering the Schwarzenegger bus caravan with nearly 200 reporters. I mean, that's far more than usually show up, even at presidential campaigns. Does this kind of breathless worldwide round-the-clock coverage inevitably distort the campaign?

CROWLEY: Does it distort the campaign? You know, look, the only reason, you know, the overseas journalists are here is because it is Arnold Schwarzenegger and he's known worldwide and it's something their audience can connect with.

We wouldn't be covering Arnold Schwarzenegger if he weren't also looking like the front-runner here. I mean, there are, after all, other quite interesting characters in this race that we're not covering. But, yes, obviously because of his name and because of his position in the polls and because, by the way, Gray Davis says this is a race between me and Arnold.

KURTZ: OK. That's why you have California residency, Candy.

I have got to get out of this segment. My thanks to Patt Morrison, Debra Saunders, Candy Crowley. We'll be seeing more of you on CNN.

When we come back, will the king of talk radio be dethroned? We'll talk to the editor of "The National Enquirer" about the drug allegations he published against Rush Limbaugh.

We'll talk to a top investigative reporter and two commentaries about the CIA leak that's rocking the Bush White House.

Stay with us.


KURTZ: Welcome back. Rush Limbaugh resigned this past week from ESPN in the wake of his on-air comments that Donovan McNabb of the Philadelphia Eagles is overrated because the media want black quarterbacks to succeed. We'll talk more about that controversy in a few moments.

But Limbaugh may have a bigger problem as the media spotlight goes to his off-air behavior. Hours after his ESPN resignation, a blaring headline in "The National Enquirer," "Rush Limbaugh Caught in Drug Ring." The paper alleging that Limbaugh is addicted to painkillers and that his name has surfaced in a drug trafficking investigation in Palm Beach County, Florida.

Well, joining us now from West Palm Beach, Florida, is David Perel, the editor of "The National Enquirer." Welcome.


KURTZ: What exactly did "The Enquirer" find and how did you beat the mainstream press on this story?

PEREL: Well, we had a tip about two years ago that Rush had an addiction to prescription pain pills. And we worked it but we couldn't prove it. A couple months ago, we got back on to the story. And because it's of course in our backyard -- we're based down here -- we had some very good sources and we were able to nail this story down.

He's in the middle of a drug investigation. He's been addicted to narcotics for four years. And his drug suppliers turned state's evidence basically, got immunity and turned him in to a multi-agency taskforce.

KURTZ: Now, are you going after Rush Limbaugh because he's a conservative moralizer, in your view, who you can kind of kick around for hypocrisy because he apparently has a drug problem?

PEREL: Well, actually, we're not going after anybody. And I've heard that charge. But I'll remind you that a couple of years ago "The Enquirer" broke the story about Jesse Jackson's love child. So at that time we heard that we were conservatives and told (UNINTELLIGIBLE) conservatives. So now we're hearing the exact opposite.

KURTZ: But you did run a sidebar of various disparaging things that Limbaugh has said about drug users. So it seems like you are pointing out a question of alleged hypocrisy.

PEREL: Well, there's no question that his hypocrisy is relevant to the story. The man has said that anybody who is addicted to drugs should be sent out of the country. Now we reveal the truth behind his personal life that he's got a severe addiction to narcotics. And I thin in his own words, "irrelevant."

KURTZ: Rush Limbaugh talked about this whole matter on Friday on his syndicated radio show. Let's take a listen to what he had to say.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I really don't know the full scope of what I'm dealing with. When I get all the facts, when I get all the details of this, rest assured that I will discuss this with you and tell you how it is.


KURTZ: Now, he didn't even address the question of whether he uses painkillers, leaving aside any legality or any investigation where probably lawyers have told him to be cautious. Isn't that the kind of non-denial for which he would have savaged Bill Clinton?

PEREL: I certainly think so. I thought his comments were clever, but disingenuous.

KURTZ: Disingenuous?

PEREL: Yes. He certainly may not know the scope of the criminal investigation, but he certainly does know the scope of his own drug use and addiction.

KURTZ: Now, this story rests heavily on an account and e-mails from Limbaugh's former housekeeper, Wilma Kline (ph). You paid her a lot of money for her account, right?

PEREL: Well, we do pay for exclusive information and documents, and we make no bones about that, as long as we can verify it's true. I don't comment specifically on who we pay and who we don't. However, the story is extremely well documented with multiple other sources. So...

KURTZ: Well, talk about non-denials. I mean, if you're not embarrassed about paying for information, why not just acknowledge that that's the case here?

PEREL: In this case, I think it's completely irrelevant. So it doesn't matter -- if you want to assume that we did pay her, that's fine. I don't think it changes the facts. And, as you know, other news organizations have confirmed the existence of the criminal investigation.

KURTZ: Right. Well, here's why it's not completely irrelevant. Because how do we know that this woman, I'm going to assume is getting a nice payday from "The National Enquirer," that she doesn't have a grudge against Rush Limbaugh, that she isn't exaggerating her account? In other words, people sometimes sweeten their stories, particularly if there is a financial incentive.

PEREL: Well, we were very careful to stick to the documentation that was provided to us. And we listened to the phone messages of Rush ordering drugs. We looked at the e-mails, which we verified were correct, and our investigative sources within the multi-agency taskforce were able to fill us in on the rest.

KURTZ: OK. Well, clearly, this is a story we have to learn more about. And I think that Rush Limbaugh will have to discuss more in the days and weeks ahead.

Now, I'm told that you are just hours away from posting a story online about the subject of our last segment, Arnold Schwarzenegger. What can you tell us about that?

PEREL: Well, the Schwarzenegger campaign certainly is one that interests us. And, as you know, it was "The Enquirer" that broke the story last year about Arnold's seven-year affair with another woman. Now we've been looking into allegations that he may have a child with another woman, and we're going to shed some light on that later today.

KURTZ: You say allegations, but are these just allegations or is this something where you have solid evidence?

PEREL: Right now these are just allegations. And we're going to publish what we know later today. We've been investigating it for about three months.

KURTZ: Clearly, you're trying to beat the deadline. That is, get this story out there before the election on Tuesday.

PEREL: Well, it's something that we've had to hurry up and finish up our investigation. And we're going to post because the rest of the press is obviously on to it, as well, so timing is important to us.

KURTZ: You'll have to come back and do another show. David Perel, "National Enquirer," thanks very much for joining us.

PEREL: Thank you.

KURTZ: Well, we're just halfway through this special one-hour edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.

Coming up in the next half hour: we'll continue our discussion about Rush Limbaugh's terrible week with sports journalist John Feinstein and the "New York Post's" Robert George.

Plus we'll talk to radio talk show host Laura Ingraham, author Joe Conason, and "Newsweek's" Michael Isikoff about the leak that's shaking Washington. That's still all to come on this special edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.


KURTZ: Welcome back to a special one-hour edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. Just ahead, Robert Novak and the CIA leak.

But first, we've been talking about the radio talk show host who's been blitzed by the media this week. It started with some highly provocative comments last Sunday on ESPN's pre-game show about Philadelphia Eagles' quarterback Donovan McNabb.


LIMBAUGH: I don't think he's been that good from the get-go. I think what we've had here is a little social concern in the NFL. I think the media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well.


KURTZ: By Wednesday, Limbaugh had quit the ESPN gig as a media furor swirled around him, but said he had no regrets or apologies.


LIMBAUGH: I offered an opinion, in my opinion it was not a racial opinion. It was an opinion about the media. What happened was that some of my cast members began to be made to feel uncomfortable by the press and others who couldn't believe that they had not responded to what I said. So the path of least resistance became for me to resign.


KURTZ: Joining me here in Washington is sports journalist and author, John Feinstein, the author most recently of "Open: Inside the Ropes at Bethpage Black." And in New York, Robert George, editorial writer for the "New York Post."

John Feinstein, here's one right over the plate. Should ESPN have hired Limbaugh in the first place?

JOHN FEINSTEIN, SPORTS JOURNALIST: No, absolutely not. I mean -- although they did it for one reason, ratings, which is why most people get hired in television. So they're not that different than most networks in that sense. But what did they expect when they hired him?

You know, if you plant a tomato and you end up with a tomato, you shouldn't be surprised. The guy has a political agenda. That's how he's made his fame and his fortune.

He is not a football expert by any means. This is supposed to be a football show. So they brought him in because he has a huge audience and because they were trying to boost ratings.

KURTZ: But Robert George, sports is also about entertainment. I mean, "Monday Night Football" didn't hire comedian Dennis Miller because he's great with the X's and O's.

ROBERT GEORGE, "NEW YORK POST": No, that's absolutely true. From what I understand, Limbaugh was supposed to be the voice of the fan or something like that. I mean, they could have probably just gotten Vinnie from Queens.

I think the big problem that Rush had, he wants to talk about how the media, I guess, shows sports in a wrong light. And so a couple of times on the show he's talked about, the media does this, the media does that. But in this time, he just threw out a gratuitous comment on race which was inappropriate to McNabb, and that's what started the whole problem. KURTZ: You say it was inappropriate. Was it in your view racist?

GEORGE: No, I don't think it was necessarily racist, but I think, as a conservative, Limbaugh likes to show how the media doesn't play fair when it comes to racial issues. And he decided to use part of the expression, a racial football in the context of Donovan McNabb. But as a number of people have shown, McNabb was the wrong person to talk about. And, also, the issue that he was talking about, black quarterbacks in the NFL, there are so many of them right now that McNabb not doing well wouldn't really have affected the issue at all.

KURTZ: Right. Now, John Feinstein, Limbaugh didn't say Donovan McNabb is good or bad because he's black. He said that black quarterbacks, in effect, are hyped by the media.

FEINSTEIN: Well, first of all, he said McNabb was overrated.

KURTZ: Well, that's a...

FEINSTEIN: And he said he's overrated by the "liberal media" because they want to push this social agenda. As Robert points out, there are nine starting African-American quarterbacks in the NFL. This is old news. He's 30 years behind.

Second of all, he's wrong about Donovan McNabb. The players voted him to the Pro Bowl three years in a row. Not the media, the players, who know the most about football. And most of them, by the way, are probably conservative politically, if they have any politics at all.

KURTZ: I'll leave that argument to the sports shows. But, look, sports shows are...

FEINSTEIN: No, no, no. It's not an argument, Howie. The players voted this guy to the Pro Bowl.

KURTZ: OK. The point is, I don't want to talk about how great or not great Donovan McNabb is.


KURTZ: Sports shows are about argument. You come on and you say so and so is good. I say he's terrible, we go at it. That's a lot of what sports shows are today.


KURTZ: So why is it an illegitimate opinion, whether you agree with it or not, for Rush to come on and say, look, this guy is getting quite a nice ride for political reasons in the media?

FEINSTEIN: Well, because I think, first of all, Donovan McNabb is an excellent quarterback, number one. Number two, it is a racial comment to me given Rush Limbaugh's past. If Rush Limbaugh did not have a past the way Howard Cosell did not have a past when he made the unfortunate comment about Alvin Garrett (ph) being a little monkey, he would not get burned for it this way. But he does have a past in racial issues that is not very good, and that's the reason he got burned for it.

GEORGE: And Howard?

KURTZ: Yes? Go.

GEORGE: Just to jump on your point before, as you said, sports discussions are all about, you know, who is the best. You are always arguing statistics and so forth back and forth. If you throw out in a sense the racial card, that's something that's unquantifiable.

I mean, how can anybody say this person is overrated or not if you're starting to talk about race? For example, you've got Jake Plummer (ph) out there. Some people think that he -- originally with Arizona, now with Denver -- some people think he's overrated as well.

KURTZ: OK. I want to go to a different point, because I want to quote something you wrote this week in "Salon" magazine. You said that "If conservatives seriously wonder why it is so difficult for either the movement or its political manifestation, the Republican Party, to attract African-Americans, this incident should be exhibit number one."

Now, why are you going from a sports controversy to reach these conclusions about blacks and politics?

GEORGE: Well, because Rush Limbaugh is not just a commentator. He's a member of what is considered the conservative movement. He has a voice literally within the context of the Republican Party. And the Republican Party of which I've worked for in the past has always been trying to attract African-Americans.

Here you have a leading conservative in a forum where in a sense he has an opportunity to, in a sense, present himself to an audience that has not seen him before. But then they hear him say this and they think, oh, so this is how conservatives feel, that it is not -- he may not be a racist, but he wants to resort, in a sense, to using race or using a successful black sports figure as a political tool.

KURTZ: Right. Has ESPN been tarnished by this episode?

FEINSTEIN: Absolutely, they have been tarnished by this episode.


FEINSTEIN: Because, first of all, as I said in the beginning, they shouldn't have hired him in the first place. It was nothing more than a ratings grab.

Secondly, their initial spin on this -- and spin is part of politics, as we know -- was Mark Shapiro (ph) saying, oh, no, it's no big deal on Monday, the guy who hired Rush Limbaugh. Then when the furor grew, they had to jettison him, and now they're backpedaling as quickly as they can to try to say, oh, yes, we had to get rid of him. So, yes, absolutely they're tarnished by it.

KURTZ: So you think that once they threw in their lot with Rush Limbaugh, bringing on a controversial guy just to attract attention, that they should have stood by him (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

FEINSTEIN: Yes. If this is the guy you hired, he did what he was hired to do. He drew attention to the show. He was the tomato that he was planted to be initially. And then they say, no, we don't want you to be a tomato; we want you to be a potato.

KURTZ: All right. I'm going to blow the whistle right here. John Feinstein, Robert George, thanks very much for an enlightening discussion.

When we come back, the story that's taking Washington by storm. The roll of the press in publishing leaks and the columnist caught in the middle, Robert Novak. Joe Wilson and the leaks next.



Let's face it, reporters love leaks, they live for leaks, they thrive on leaks. Careers are made on leaks.


KURTZ (voice-over): It was a big leak when Daniel Ellsberg gave "The New York Times" the Pentagon papers, and when Woodward and Bernstein started getting secret information about the third-rate burglary known as Watergate they wound up the stars of a major motion picture.

But leakers often have self-serving motives. And journalists can wind up being used.

Why did two senior administrations officials tell columnist and CNN commentator Robert Novak in July that Joe Wilson's wife worked for the CIA? Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that Wilson ended up contradicting the president on Iraqi weapons. Wilson complained in interviews that the administration had smeared and outed his wife.

JOE WILSON, FMR. AMBASSADOR: It is of keen interest to me to see whether or not we could get Karl Rove frog marched out of the White House in handcuffs.

KURTZ: He now admits he went too far.

WILSON: I have said openly and perhaps in excess of exuberance in a speech in Seattle, I mentioned Karl Rove's name. It was not to suggest that I thought he was either the source or the authorizer of the source, but really to just kind of say that I think it comes out of the White House political office.

KURTZ: Bob Novak, for his part, defends his reporting. ROBERT NOVAK, COLUMNIST: ... that if the request had been made by the CIA not to put this information in for the fear of the safety of Mrs. Wilson or anybody else, I certainly would not have used the name. But that request was not made.

KURTZ: Now there is a Justice Department investigation, Washington is scandal-crazed and Bush is promising to cooperate.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And if there is a leak out of my administration, I want to know who it is.


KURTZ: Well, joining us now to talk about Washington's newest scandal in New York, Joe Conason, national correspondent for "The New York Observer." He's also the author of "Big Lies: The Right Wing Propaganda Machine and How it Distorts The Truth."

And joining us here in Washington, Michael Isikoff, investigative correspondent for "Newsweek" magazine, and radio talk show host, Laura Ingraham. She's the author of the best-selling book "Shut Up and Sing: How Elites From Hollywood, Politics and the U.N. are Subverting America."


Joe Conason, our first question. Should Bob Novak have allowed two "senior administration officials" to out Joe Wilson's wife?

JOE CONASON, AUTHOR, "BIG LIES": I don't think he should have. I think Novak is an experienced person who knows enough about the Intelligence Identities Act and the risks that are involved in outing a clandestine service employee who is involved in the kind of work that Valerie Plame does or did to know better than to do that.

I don't know what the CIA asked him to do, but he shouldn't have done that. And what's interesting is that these journalists often seem to feel that they can pick and choose who they reveal in terms of their sources.

Bob Novak outed his source Robert Hanssen not so long ago. He admitted that Hanssen had been his source for information about the Clintons. And then after Hanssen was found guilty of treason, Novak wrote a column saying, oh, Bob Hanssen was one of my sources. So under some circumstances you do reveal a source.

KURTZ: Right. Well, in rare circumstances most journalists would say was Novak used in what appears to be a kind of active revenge by White House officials?

LAURA INGRAHAM, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, he's gone back and forth. But I think most recently Novak said it was an offhanded comment. It didn't seem to him at first that this was some effort to intimidate Joseph Wilson when the name was first mentioned. He went on "Meet the Press" today, though, Howie, and he used Karl Rove's name again, linking again Karl Rove to the release of this information. KURTZ: You're talking about Joe Wilson?

INGRAHAM: Joe Wilson -- sorry -- went on "Meet the Press" and also mentioned Karl Rove's name again. I think it's a fine line you walk here. You are a journalist, you have a private duty as a journalist to protect sources. But also, you write in the public interest as well, to some extent. And is this supporting the public interest?

KURTZ: Michael Isikoff, you've used a lot of unnamed sources over the years. You also write about this controversy this week in "Newsweek." If this administration official had given you this information, would you have done it? Would you have blown her cover?

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, "NEWSWEEK": Well, certainly the conversation that Novak had with the CIA would have been key to making that. And I would have had the same conversation. And I would have wanted to know exactly...

KURTZ: How strongly did they say don't use this?

ISIKOFF: That's key. I mean, I've had many instances where you check where you've had concerns on your own. I remember writing last year about an FBI informant, and it was key this was an FBI informant who was living with two of the hijackers, raising questions about whether the FBI might have had information before September 11th that might have led them to the plot. And the question came up, should we identify the fact that it was an FBI informant.

I had close conversations with the FBI before publication asking them if it would endanger somebody's life. And in the end, we didn't use the informant's name, but we did put in the fact that there was such an informant. So that's an analogous situation.

KURTZ: OK. Bob Novak was on "Meet the Press" earlier this morning, got a question from Tim Russert. Let's take a quick look at that.


TIM RUSSERT, "MEET THE PRESS": Just say, pick up the phone, call the Justice Department, go on television and say, this is who committed this crime.

NOVAK: Well, there is a code in this -- in the business I'm in. And I have made my life's work that you do not reveal confidential sources.


KURTZ: Joe Conason, does Novak now have some responsibility to cooperate with this Justice Department leak investigation?

CONASON: I think it is a close call, Howard. I think you could -- journalists could disagree about whether he ought to cooperate or not. I think the president perhaps ought to release him from the promise of confidentiality to anybody in the administration and say, you are not bound by that anymore, because this is an important national security issue and I want to really get to the bottom of it.

KURTZ: You know what people out there are saying, Laura Ingraham? They' re saying...

INGRAHAM: They can't follow this, first of all. This is such a confusing Washington scandal. I think most people are like, what -- who said what? Was she undercover, what was her status at the CIA?

Joe Wilson is giving speeches against George Bush, yet he's working for the CIA. This is a muddle. This whole thing is a total muddle.

KURTZ: Except I think they can follow the idea that the White House was ticked off at a critic and went after his wife. But leaving that aside...

INGRAHAM: No, the White House -- it was not clear that it was a White House source. It was a senior administration source, and Bob Novak has specifically said that it was not a White House source.

KURTZ: But when people...

CONASON: The public seems to understand that they need a special counsel.


ISIKOFF: Yes, I would just like to say, whoever Novak's source was, it is clear, and I think we make it clearer in this week's "Newsweek," that White House people were fanning the flames and pointing people to...



ISIKOFF: In fact, we say -- we report first -- we quote Andrea Mitchell saying White House people were telling her about...


INGRAHAM: But it is out there in the public interest, Michael.

ISIKOFF: And Karl Rove called Chris Matthews of CNBC's "Harball." According to Matthews, Wilson (ph) told him, I just got off the phone with Karl Rove and he told me that Wilson's wife is fair game.

INGRAHAM: It's already out in the public domain, Michael.

ISIKOFF: It was also out in the public domain that David Korn had written a column two days earlier for "The Nation" saying that this may well have been a violation of law. So there was the question -- no, no I'm saying that Wilson's wife's identity may well have been a violation of law. So the White House had reason to know that this might have been a problematic issue.

KURTZ: Go ahead, Joe Conason.

CONASON: I can just imagine what the Republicans would be saying about this if this were happening in a Democratic White House. You would have calls for more than a special counsel. You know, you would have a few people on the right drawing up impeachment documents and all the rest. So let's have a real investigation here and see how this happens. That's all the Democrats are asking for.

INGRAHAM: I think Joe is right. There should be a major investigation. I think it would have been better for the president to come out and say, we will get to the bottom of this, period. Whoever is doing this will pay.


KURTZ: Hold on, Joe.

INGRAHAM: Oh, I disagree with that. I think the Bush administration could have been stronger from the very beginning. This is not in their interest to have this out there in the public domain, and I don't think this is going to help them.

CONASON: But, Laura, this happened in July. And this is October. And they still haven't...

INGRAHAM: All right. But there are leak investigations all the time in Washington.

CONASON: They've done no investigation of this.

INGRAHAM: No one cared when information was leaked out of the Senate Judiciary Committee when Clarence Thomas was up for confirmation. Democrats didn't care about that at all.

CONASON: Now you have to change the subject.

INGRAHAM: No, I'm not changing the subject, but it is selective moral indignation. I'm saying the...


CONASON: The president ought to be protecting the identities of people like Valerie Plame.

KURTZ: Joe, hold on.

ISIKOFF: If I can weigh in. The way I think this is going to play out -- and you can already sort of see it if you watch the bouncing ball closely -- Novak's original story identified Vicky Plame as an operative for the CIA, not an undercover operative. And it may well be that whoever leaked the information to Novak did not know her undercover status and that Novak may not have known that when he wrote the column. Actually, it was not until a week or so later in the Tim Phelps story in "Newsday" in which he is writing that Novak blew the cover of an undercover operative quoting a senior administration official. That was the first time the undercover status -- so I think that is going to be very important legally as to whether or not there was a violation of law.

KURTZ: There's this big investigation going on. There are at least six journalists who know the answer to this. People out there say, well, if it is potentially a crime for somebody to leak this kind of information, why is it OK for journalists morally, if not legally, to print this kind of information? Isn't the press looking pretty bad here?

INGRAHAM: Well, I think that the media and the public's relationship has been soured over the years. I think this is going to sour it more

It is not the media's fault, I think, that this happened. Someone shouldn't have released this information and have been aware of her status, period. And I think right now you could save the public millions of dollars in a special prosecutor investigation if this person's name was released. That would be in the public interest, and I think that would increase the press' rating with the public.

KURTZ: Joe Conason, you seem to believe that conservative commentators, "The Wall Street Journal" editorial page, for example, are a lot less exercised about this than they were about leaks during the Clinton era.

CONASON: I have noticed that, Howard. And what's interesting about this is, you know, we have to see whether journalists are being very selective now about how they deal with sources. I mean, clearly, from the coverage that I've read in "The Washington Post" and elsewhere, some people have been gossiping about who talked to them about this in the White House.

If you have a confidential source as a journalist, I'll tell you, you don't tell anybody except your editor and possibly a lawyer who has a confidential relationship with you as a business matter. Otherwise, you don't talk about it.

KURTZ: And possibly your spouse. All right. We need to take a break.

CONASON: But if you do talk about it to other people...

KURTZ: You can't spread it around town. OK. Got to cut it right there.

When we come back, we'll talk about the coverage of Joe Wilson, the latest media darling, and why it took the press so long to wake up to this story.


Laura Ingraham, Joe Wilson, the former ambassador, has been all over TV since this thing broke. He's even talking about a book deal this morning.

INGRAHAM: I saw him on last week.

KURTZ: One journalist who got the leak from the administration, who I of course can't identify under the ground rules in which we spoke, told me that administration officials were upset, they feel the media were treating Joe Wilson as a saint. That this was a possible motivation. Is that true?

INGRAHAM: I think he's gotten a little bit of a free ride on some of this stuff. I mean, he was working for the CIA as a consultant. Meanwhile, he had this very anti-war in Iraq sentiment that pretty much everyone was aware of. So "The Wall Street Journal" and other newspapers were writing, you know, who is Joe Wilson? What was his motivation to keep the flames fanned in this case?

I think that is a legitimate question. I think Russert was pretty tough on him today, though, and I think, as time goes on, it will get tougher and tougher.

KURTZ: Easy ride for Joe Wilson, Joe Conason, or is the coverage starting to turn a little more skeptically?

CONASON: Well, I'm not sure what Joe Wilson's beliefs about Iraq have to do with any of this or about the outing of his wife, except that the administration used this tactic apparently to take revenge on a critic, which seems to me totally out of bounds no matter what he believes, or whether he gave money to this president, which he did, or was praised by this president's father, which he was, or whether he is an anti-war Democrat. I don't see how that's relevant, how that justifies what the administration did to him.

INGRAHAM: But, Joe, it was relevant enough for him to talk about it for the first 10 minutes of "Meet the Press" today. I mean, that's what he was talking about. I mean, I don't think Russert was probing him on Iraq.

He said, well, before we get to that, Tim, let's get to the points about Niger. So he's the one who continues to make the case.

CONASON: Well, now he wants to talk about why he has the positions he did, because he's been attacked over it, which is totally legitimate.


KURTZ: All right. Let me go to Michael Isikoff. As Joe Conason noted earlier in the program, Novak wrote this on July 14th. It took about two months until word leaked oddly enough about the Justice Department investigation for this to become a major media story. Was the press kind of napping in those intervening weeks? ISIKOFF: Sure. Some people were on it. As I mentioned before, I think David Korn wrote the first piece on July 16th by saying this may well have been a violation of law. There were some Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee who began raising questions about it.

KURTZ: "Newsday." "Newsday" wrote about it.

ISIKOFF: "Newsday" wrote about it a week before, right. Yes.


KURTZ: But why do you think it achieved critical mass?

ISIKOFF: Well, look, what gave it critical mass was the fact that CIA filed a crimes report with the Justice Department and the Justice Department launched a criminal investigation. That is news. You know, there's the sort of status of official action. That's the kind of thing we jump on.

But, yes, it probably should have gotten more attention at the time. No question about it.

KURTZ: Do you think it's going to become more difficult for reporters like you to get anonymous sources to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) investigation looming?

ISIKOFF: I think that is a downside of this. And we all ought to be careful about it, especially in this administration, where so much is classified, so much is conducted under the cloak of secrecy. They try to keep everything secret, telling you it is national security, and that makes it very hard to ferret out information. One of the unfortunate aspects of this is a leak investigation into the leak of classified information is going to make it more difficult to get information that is valid and is of public interest.

KURTZ: Ten-second rebuttal?

INGRAHAM: Well, I think reporters are always going to walk this difficult line. They want the story. They love leaks. Reporters exist on leaks, and now everyone is outraged that there are leaks. So there are going to continue to be leaks.

KURTZ: No dispute about that. Joe Conason, Michael Isikoff, Laura Ingraham, thanks very much for joining us. And we will be right back.


KURTZ: Well, that's it for this special edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz. Join us next Sunday morning at our regular time, 11:30 Eastern, for another critical look at the media.


Campaign; Should ESPN Have Dumped Limbaugh?; Should Novak Have Outed CIA Agent?>

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