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Should Journalists Go to Jail for Refusing to Disclose Sources?; Why Are Media Fixated on Amber Frey?; Trippi Admits Misleading Press

Aired August 15, 2004 - 11:30   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice-over): Journalists and jail. Should "TIME's" Matt Cooper be in prison for refusing to testify about confidential sources in the Valerie Plame case? What about Robert Novak, who blew her cover as a CIA operative?

Or is a special prosecutor trampling on the First Amendment in hunting down Bush administration leakers?

Also, Amber alert. Why are the media so fixated on Scott Peterson's mistress and Kobe Bryant's accuser?

And this just in. Howard Dean's ex-campaign manager admits misleading the press.


KURTZ: Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES, where today we turn our critical lens on the dramatic media question: whether journalists can or should refuse to answer a grand jury questions about confidential sources.

I'm Howard Kurtz.

"TIME" magazine's Matt Cooper is doing just that, and a federal judge this week found him in contempt of court for refusing to name the source, or sources, who disclosed the identity of an undercover CIA operative.

Cooper's story appeared days after columnist and "CROSSFIRE" co- host Robert Novak revealed the CIA role of Valerie Plame, attributing the information to two senior administration officials. Plame was married to former diplomat Joe Wilson, who had accused President Bush of using bad intelligence in his State of the Union when he described Iraqi attempts to buy uranium from Africa.

Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has subpoenaed at least three other reporters in his criminal probe of who leaked the information.

Well, joining us now from New York, veteran First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams, who's representing "TIME" and Matt Cooper. And here in Washington, Terence Smith, media correspondent for "The NewsHour" on PBS. And Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters' Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Terry Smith, for people like us, the knee-jerk reaction is of course reporters shouldn't go to jail. But aren't there more rights at stake here than just a journalist's right to remain silent about sources?

TERENCE SMITH, MEDIA CORRESPONDENT, PBS' "THE NEWSHOUR": There really are. There's a collision here between an obligation on the part of the journalists to protect those confidential sources in order to keep the flow of information going about what happens in government, and...

KURTZ: You've made those promises. I've made those promises.

SMITH: Indeed I have, and I've kept them. And the obligation of a prosecutor to prosecute a crime and to use whatever means possible to do it.

So I see a real collision, not an easy one to resolve. I have admitted prejudice on it, in favor of the reporters' confidentiality, but I recognize that this is not easy.

KURTZ: Floyd Abrams, is "TIME" prepared to fight this all the way, even if it does end up that Matt Cooper does have to spend some time behind bars?

FLOYD ABRAMS, LAWYER FOR "TIME", MATT COOPER: Well, this is, you know, a matter of principle for everybody involved. And absent some change of circumstance, Matt and "TIME" are prepared to -- to continue to fight this and to take whatever punishments may come from it.

This is a very important issue. I mean, it's -- it would be one thing if a source came forward and said, you know, "Look, it's OK with me; talk," and you believed them.

But it's quite another if you have a circumstance in which you have a source or sources that give you information, the only basis upon which they gave it to you is a promise of confidentiality. You know, it's hard to keep being a journalist in those circumstances if you won't keep the promise. And it's hard for the public to continue to get information from journalists like Matt Cooper, unless they're prepared to make those promises.

KURTZ: Right.

ABRAMS: And keep them when necessary.

KURTZ: Lucy Dalglish, Robert Novak is the one who outed Valerie Plame as a CIA operative. Cooper's piece came later, so why is he facing jail?

LUCY DALGLISH, REPORTERS' COMMITTEE FOR FREEDOM OF THE PRESS: You know, that's the question everybody in Washington has been buzzing about for the last week. We really don't know, because grand juries are so secret. But speculation is that the prosecutor thinks he can get enough information from these other sources to either perhaps pressure Novak into talking, or that they think they can piece enough together without going through him, that they can craft a case and then use Novak as an absolute last resort.

KURTZ: Of course, Novak may have been subpoenaed. We don't know.

DALGLISH: We don't know.

KURTZ: Because he's declining to say.

DALGLISH: He's declining.

KURTZ: But can you see this spiraling into a situation where several high profile Washington journalists end up in jail?

DALGLISH: Absolutely. I think that's why everybody in Washington is so atwitter about this this week. New York, as well.

I think that if the case does not go well in the D.C. circuit with Matt Cooper, and if these subpoenas keep coming down, and if the Supreme Court doesn't intervene in some way, I think we're going to have up to half a dozen very prominent journalists sitting in jail.

SMITH: You know what? This case has been remarkable from the beginning, because most leak investigations go nowhere in this town. They -- they exist for a short while and die a natural death.

KURTZ: Because the reporters -- reporters refuse to say who their sources are. The sources have no great interest of cooperating, and they just quietly fade away.

SMITH: But this one has gone on for months. It's -- it's included questioning the president, the vice president, the secretary of state, numerous other high officials. It's included some of the waivers that Floyd was talking about, where officials have said to reporters, "Go ahead and disclose our conversation." Not in the operative case, but in some of the side cases.

KURTZ: Floyd Abrams, let's talk about some of the other journalists involved here, because you are now representing a second journalist who's received a subpoena in this Valerie Plame case, Judith Miller of "The New York Times." Walter Pincus of "The Washington Post" has also been subpoenaed. And two others have agreed to testify, saying that they didn't have to get into the question of confidential sources. And they are NBC's Tim Russert and Glenn Kessler of "The Washington Post."

So how, to pick up on Terry's point, how do things get to the stage -- this has not happened in Washington for a great long time -- where so many journalists actually are facing contempt of court in a non-murder case, a federal case, a leak investigation?

ABRAMS: That's really unusual, as Terry said, for a leak investigation to get to this stage. I represented Nina Totenberg some years ago when there was a leak investigation by the Senate committee relating to revelations about what Anita Hill had said about now Justice Thomas.

But the Senate committee then was unwilling to pull the trigger and issue subpoenas. And Senator Moynihan, of blessed memory, said, "There'll be blood on the floor of the Senate before this committee will do that."

KURTZ: So what makes this case different? Why is this prosecutor playing this kind of hardball?

ABRAMS: This prosecutor, remember, was appointed by Attorney General Ashcroft when the attorney general recused himself. He bowed out because he, or people in his department, could conceivably have been involved.

He was given full authority over everything, including the decision about subpoenaing journalists. And he has been using it vigorously, so vigorously, in fact, that you know, we now have this situation where we have a bunch of journalists really on the lip of jail. And I would suggest to you we have a lot -- there's a lot more chance of a journalist, and a lot of journalists, going to jail than of any sources going to jail.

DALGLISH: Exactly.

SMITH: And because of course the crime, if there is one, Floyd, is -- is exactly -- is that on the part of the government official or officials?

ABRAMS: Well, that's right. And the -- and there very well may not be a crime. I mean, that would be the ultimate irony here. I mean, I think there's a very good chance that -- that there was no crime committed here, and that there will be no indictments.

And if that is so, and if we wind up with journalists in jail, that would hardly be a great achievement.

KURTZ: There'll be some outraged editorials.

Just to remind our viewers, the potential crime here is that it's against the law to knowingly leak the identity of an undercover CIA or intelligence operative.

What would happen to Matt Cooper's reputation and "TIME's" reputation, Lucy Dalglish, if he agreed to testify, if he said, "You know, this isn't worth it. I don't want to go to jail?"

DALGLISH: It would be extremely difficult for him to successfully be a journalist, particularly in this town. I mean, I've heard several sources, folks around Washington this week, who over the years have been confidential sources, and they're all saying the same thing: "Well, yes, the prosecutor has a right to go after this stuff, but you know what? I would never talk to a reporter who wasn't willing to go to jail for me."

KURTZ: Don't journalists -- excuse me, Floyd. Don't journalists put themselves in a box, Terry Smith, by so frequently quoting unnamed sources and...

SMITH: Of course.

KURTZ: ... and doing it in cases where -- I mean, after all, the traditional, classic source is a whistle-blower, somebody who's telling you about something that's going wrong, corruption, bad government service.

In this particular case, this source or sources were trying to blacken somebody's reputation.

SMITH: Absolutely. The use of anonymous sources has mushroomed in the media generally in recent years and decades and become -- in effect, we're creating the problem.

Now, there are certain categories of stories and certain categories of sources that are not going to do business with you any other way. And I would argue the public interest is served by getting those stories out, if they involve government malfeasance or serious problems that confront the country.

But we have -- we journalists have a hand in creating this problem.

KURTZ: One person -- go ahead, Floyd.

ABRAMS: I just wanted to add, Howard, that next Wednesday in Washington we have a contempt hearing coming up in the Wen Ho Lee case, which is a civil case brought by Wen Ho Lee against the Department of Energy, the Department of Justice and the FBI, in which five journalists, including two in "The New York Times," are in the searchlight in terms of potential finding of contempt. And that there may well be five Washington journalists, or some amount of them, held in contempt as soon as next Wednesday.

KURTZ: All right. Journalism has suddenly become a very dangerous profession.

Now, for all of the importance of these cases and Matt Cooper, what's getting the most attention on TV, particularly cable TV? It's the Scott Peterson trial. It's Amber Frey's testimony.

What makes this so fascinating to at least the television media, compared to this other stuff, which, arguably, is more important than a local murder case?

DALGLISH: Maybe it's because you can put a face on it. You've got some attractive young people here involved. You have a sympathetic victim, a woman who was pregnant. You've got a very pretty mistress. You've got a good-looking guy who seemed to have everything going for him.

And let's face it: a story like this is pretty easy to tell. It's -- there's not a lot of work involved in it. You don't have to explain some arcane point of law. You don't have to explain economics or something. It's easy. And the public grasps it. And the media finds it to be an easy story to tell.

SMITH: I hate to say it on CNN, but it's -- it's sexy; it's cheap; and it's summer. And cable still is on 24 hours a day in the summer.

KURTZ: When Kobe Bryant's accuser, who's now filed civil suit, says the publicity is harming her, is that the press' fault, or does it come with being caught up in a case involving a famous person?

SMITH: That's a fair question. I mean, indeed, the press coverage has been much too great and has created a problem. But she's created it, too.

KURTZ: Floyd Abrams, you get a pass on this question, because we're out of time. Thanks for joining us.

ABRAMS: Thank you.

KURTZ: Thanks. My thanks, as well, to Lucy Dalglish...

DALGLISH: You're welcome.

KURTZ: ... Terry Smith. We appreciate it.

When we come back, we'll hear from former Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi about facing down the press corps in the heat of a campaign and how he misled some journalists in the process.



No strategist got more press or was more controversial this election year than Howard Dean's former campaign manager. We recently sat down with Joe Trippi, whose new book is called, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Democracy, the Internet and the Overthrow of Everything."


KURTZ: Joe Trippi, welcome.


KURTZ: You knew early last fall, according to this book, that the Dean campaign was in serious trouble. But you continued to tell reporters that things were going great. A little creative deception?

TRIPPI: Yes. I mean, well, there were a lot of people in the campaign who didn't think we were in trouble, and I, you know, I started to think, well, maybe I'm being a little paranoid about how things were going.

But no, I mean, it doesn't do you any good to tell the press, "Hey, we're losing our -- our ones, you know, Daisy Felilar (ph), our strong supporter... KURTZ: The ones meaning the strongest supporters.


KURTZ: ... that you expected to show up at the Iowa caucuses?

TRIPPI: Yes. I mean, you want them to show up. You're hoping the organization's going to be there, and even though they're eroding, it doesn't do you a whole lot of good to talk about it. That just creates more erosion. So...

KURTZ: I'll keep that in mind when I see future campaign managers telling me how great their campaign is going.

Now, you also write that taking a call from the press, many reporters it was like having a .357 Magnum pointed at your head. Now, Joe, that's a pretty violent image. We're not usually harmed.

TRIPPI: Yes, you are. I mean, there's usually five blanks in the chamber, but there's a hollow point in there somewhere. So when one of these reporters is on the line with you, you misspeak, you do something wrong, and you can launch a firestorm against the campaign.

And I did that on "CROSSFIRE."

KURTZ: How was that?

TRIPPI: You know, I think it was Tucker Carlson asked me if we -- "Do you have a lot of great endorsements? Who's next, Jimmy Carter?"

And I said, flippantly, "Tune in Sunday in Plains, Georgia, and you'll see." I knew that Jimmy Carter wasn't endorsing us on Sunday.

KURTZ: He was just appearing with Howard Dean.

TRIPPI: He was just appearing with us.

KURTZ: So why did you shoot off your mouth?

TRIPPI: It was -- I shot off the .357 Magnum at exactly the wrong time, four days before Iowa. We were already losing momentum. And no, so I made my own share of mistakes. I -- you know, I don't make apologies for it. I was out there doing the best I can -- could. But even I -- I screwed up, so...

KURTZ: Now, during the campaign you were on the cover of "The New Republic." You -- I wrote about you. Other reporters wrote about you. Everybody wrote about Joe Trippi. Some say that you got more press than the candidate, and you loved it.

TRIPPI: Well, I didn't -- I don't love it. But you know...

KURTZ: Not even a little bit?

TRIPPI: No. No. KURTZ: But you cooperated with all those interviews.

TRIPPI: Yes. You know, back when we were 432 people, I was trying to get any press we could and also trying to make sure everybody understood we were a different kind of campaign and that, you know, go to the Internet. I was basically trying to trick reporters into saying, "" any way I could.

I -- it was much easier for me to do that than Governor Dean. I mean, if he -- you don't want your candidate out there trying to trick reporters into saying, "" So I did it, and I think, you know, it was part of the reason that people, when you thought of Howard Dean, you thought personal empowerment and go to the Net and help him. And that's what I was trying to do.

KURTZ: Roger Simon of "U.S. News" reports that you sometimes refused to take Governor Dean's calls. How did the press miss that?

TRIPPI: That's not true. I mean, it's not, and there's no -- there's no time where I refused taking the governor's call or didn't call him back as soon as he called me. Never. That never happened.

KURTZ: But you had a strained relationship with the candidate. You've talked about that. You've written about that.

TRIPPI: Well, no, we didn't -- we didn't have the kind of trust that's there when you have a 20-year or 12-year relationship. The governor only knew me from four or five visits, and actually, you know, the first 90 days we worked together were the first 90 days we'd worked together.

So I don't think there was the kind of trust that -- that like John Sasso, who managed Mike Dukakis' campaign and Dukakis had, or some of the other campaigns that have been out there. But that's just the way it was.

KURTZ: Was the press, looking back, unfair to Howard Dean when he became, or was anointed by all of us as the frontrunner? Or was it he who took the .357 Magnum and kind of blew up his candidacy?

TRIPPI: No, I mean, I think -- I think the process was the other candidates realized they had to kill us, and they had to do it right then and there. And I think the press was basically doing what it always does. "This guy is going to be the nominee. We've really got to put him through the ringer. That's our job."

And it's the first time both of those things happened at once. Usually, a guy like Jimmy Carter pops as second or first in Iowa, and the press is doing "what a miracle" while the other -- while the opponents start going -- going to work on him.

KURTZ: You already had the coverage that said "what a miracle."

TRIPPI: Right. And so we -- it all sort of came together. It wasn't a conspiracy, I don't think. It came together at the same time. And yes, the governor made some mistakes. I made mistakes. But you know, we were a Little League baseball team out there. I mean, that's -- that's how I view that.

KURTZ: It was your job to convince everyone else that you were major league. That you were a pennant contender.

TRIPPI: We had to do that to -- to get to where we were. And I mean, you -- no one would go up to -- to Burlington and work for us. I mean, no -- none of the Donna Braziles, the James Carvilles, I mean, the Jim Jordans, the big people in the party who had -- know how to do this. They didn't go.

So you have a 22-year-old kid show up. And you ask them, "Have you ever played shortstop?" And the kid says, "No, but I have a mitt."


TRIPPI: And you know, that's what I -- that's all that happened.

KURTZ: Let me jump in. I want to read something from your book.

"Every time I see John Kerry on television, whether he is snowboarding or playing hockey or wearing his leather, sitting on a Harley Davidson motorcycle, the message seems to be the same: Aren't I amazing?"

Not exactly a ringing endorsement of the current nominee.

TRIPPI: Well, it's -- I used him as an example, but I believe that's the problem with 99.9 percent of all public officials or people running for office. George Bush does this, too.

I think the difference between -- the thing that was different about Howard Dean was he went out there every day and said, "Look at you. Aren't you amazing." And that's why hundreds of thousands of people came to his -- his aid.

And I think Kerry's doing a much better job of doing this. In his convention speech, he said, in his acceptance speech, he said, "The outcome is more in your hands than in mine." He really is, I think, understanding that there is a difference in the way he's -- he's talking right now.

KURTZ: Just briefly, how do you go from being a presidential campaign manager to an MSNBC political analyst in about two hours?

TRIPPI: Well, you know what, I don't know. I -- I -- I had been on Chris Matthews' "Hardball" quite a bit. I enjoyed doing it. And I was sort of trying to figure out what I should do with -- I knew I wanted to write the book. But I was just trying to figure out what should I do with the rest of my life right now?

I knew I didn't want to go do another campaign right now. And...

KURTZ: An offer you couldn't refuse.

TRIPPI: They -- they -- they gave me a shot, and I'm having a blast. I'm over there, and...


TRIPPI: ... it's fun.

KURTZ: Joe Trippi, TV star, thanks very much for joining us.

TRIPPI: Thank you.


KURTZ: Joe Trippi.

Up next, arrested in search of meatloaf? The scoop on a "60 Minutes" veteran, handcuffed and hungry. That and much more in our "Media Minute."


KURTZ: Welcome back. Time now for the latest from the world of media news.


KURTZ (voice-over): Want an interview with Tom Cruise? "The Boston Globe" says reporters chatting up the Hollywood star for his new movie "Collateral" are having to sign statements promising not to use bloopers or other misstatements by Cruise, and get this, not referring to the artist or the interview in a derogatory manner. Hey, Tom, they're interviews. You don't get script approval.

President Bush may prefer getting his news from top aides instead of newspapers, but John Kerry tells "The Madison Wisconsin Capitol Times" that he reads four or five a day, including "USA Today," "The Wall Street Journal," "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post."

After 15 years and 800 authors, C-SPAN's Brian Lamb will soon be calling it quits as host of "Booknotes." He says the amount of time he spent reading books for the show adds up to almost two years, and he wants his life back.

"The Miami Herald" killed its feature section Tuesday over a story on Olympic athletes using drugs. The piece, headlined "How They Will Cheat," used an illustration of a bulked up figure with a dark complexion. Editor Tom Fiedler says he thought the combination could be misinterpreted by readers as racially insensitive.

Finally, Mike Wallace was led away in handcuffs after getting too aggressive with taxi inspectors questioning his double parked driver while he was picking up takeout meatloaf in New York.

"I'm an 86-year-old man," Wallace told them. He later denied lunging at one of the inspectors. Double parking in Manhattan. Now, that calls for a "60 Minutes" investigation.


KURTZ: Still to come -- frank admissions at "The Washington Post" about the paper's pre-war coverage. That's next, when I go "Behind the Headlines."


KURTZ: In the runup to the Iraq war, "The Washington Post" consistently gave front page play to the Bush administration's claims about Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction, while delaying or relegating to the inside pages more skeptical stories on the weapons issue.

How do I know? Because I spent a month examining my newspaper's performance for a page one story this week. Editor Len Downie told me his failure to put more of the critical stories on the front page was a mistake. Bob Woodward too says he blames himself mightily for not pushing harder.

This was difficult work, based on shadowy sources, but "The Post," like much of the media, fell short by allowing some of its best reporters to be drowned out by the White House drumbeat for war.

Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz. Join us again next Sunday morning at 11:30 Eastern for another critical look at the media. "LATE EDITION" with Wolf Blitzer begins right now.


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