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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES

Interview with James Carville

Aired September 26, 2004 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice-over): The mess at CBS. Was Dan Rather's apology enough, or is CBS' nightmare over its unsubstantiated story on President Bush and the National Guard just beginning? How do journalists decide when to make explosive charges and when to double- check their damaging documents?

And what was Rather's producer, Mary Mapes, doing by connecting her shadowy source, Bill Burkett, with Kerry aide Joe Lockhart? We'll ask "New York Times" columnist Frank Rich, "Newsweek's" Michael Isikoff and other top journalists.

Also, serving two masters? CNN talking head and Kerry adviser, James Carville, in our "CROSSFIRE."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: This is a special edition of RELIABLE SOURCES with Howard Kurtz.

KURTZ: Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES. We're with you for one hour today to turn our critical lens on CBS News, Dan Rather, investigative journalism and the political and media furor surrounding those highly questionable National Guard documents about the president. The week began with a rare apology from an anchor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAN RATHER, CBS NEWS: CBS News and this reporter fully believed the documents were genuine. Tonight, after further investigation, we can no longer vouch for their authenticity. It was a mistake.

CBS News deeply regrets it. Also, I want to say personally and directly, I'm sorry.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: The source of the documents, CBS confirmed, was former Texas National Guard commander Bill Burkett, who has repeatedly tried to discredit President Bush's military service record. He admitted he had lied about the source of the documents.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RATHER: Have you forged anything?

BILL BURKETT, FMR. TEXAS NATIONAL GUARD COMMANDER: No, sir.

RATHER: Have you faked anything?

BURKETT: No, sir.

RATHER: But you did mislead us.

BURKETT: Yes, I did. Yes, I did.

RATHER: You lied to us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Joining us now for our own examination of the CBS fiasco, in Boston, former ABC News correspondent Bob Zelnick, now chairman of the Journalism Department at Boston University. In New York, Av Westin, who spent 20 years at CBS and was later a top executive at ABC News, where he became executive producer of "20/20." He's also the author of "Best Practices for Television Journalists."

Here in Washington, Geneva Overholser, former editor of "The Des Moines Register," who now teaches at the University of Missouri Journalism School's Washington program. And Michael Isikoff, investigative correspondent for "Newsweek" Magazine.

Welcome.

Bob Zelnick, when you were at ABC, did you find pressure on correspondents to break the big story?

BOB ZELNICK, CHAIRMAN, JOURNALISM DEPT., BOSTON UNIVERSITY: There was -- in competitive stories there was pressure. But no correspondent that I'm aware of was ever pressured to cut corners, to go on flimsy information, to go on unreliable sources, to stay with something after it is apparent that the source is less than reliable.

So again, given the evolution of not only ABC, but the other networks towards these prime-time magazine shows, which rely on blockbusters and are borderline entertainment to begin with, I'm surprised there haven't been more of these incidents. And I think a network like ABC is to be commended for having the kind of standards and practices in places that -- that has largely avoided this.

KURTZ: You now give praise for not screwing up.

Michael Isikoff, is there ever a tug of war with editors about how solid the evidence is on sensitive stories?

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, "NEWSWEEK": Of course. That's the editorial process.

And I have to say, if you look at what happened here, this wasn't a mistake. This was a complete meltdown of basic, minimal journalistic standards.

From what we know that this guy, Bill Burkett, who was the source of the documents, told CBS he got them from another guy, George Conn. From all we know, CBS never tracked down George Conn to find out if, in fact, he had given these documents to Bill Burkett.

We know that George Conn had contradicted Bill Burkett in the past. In fact, in February, when Bill Burkett first made his allegations about -- about George Bush's records being sanitized...

KURTZ: To a lot of reporters.

ISIKOFF: To a lot of reporters, including me -- I interviewed Bill Burkett for three hours back in February. The first person I contacted was George Conn, because Burkett cited Conn as his chief corroborating witness.

Conn didn't back him up. And, in fact, I wasn't the only person who tracked down Conn. If CBS had bothered to have done a simple Google search, they would have found that the "Boston Globe" in February did a story, "Doubt Raised About Bush Accuser."

The Bush accuser was Bill Burkett. The doubts were being raised by George Conn. Not only did they not track down George Conn, they didn't even do a simple Nexus search to see if his story checked out.

KURTZ: Let me bring in some of our other guests.

Av Westin, in New York, at CBS and ABC, did management push hard for the big exclusive? Is there often a lot of pressure surrounding these, as Bob Zelnick says, these news magazine shows?

AV WESTIN, AUTHOR, "BEST PRACTICES FOR TELEVISION JOURNALISTS": Well, I think Bob's absolutely right. I think that -- excuse me -- what we see here is the conflict between the ideal world and the real world. And I'm very interested to see what this investigation reveals. For example, did the executive in charge or the executive producer act as the firewall to stop material from going through without the proper checks?

KURTZ: You're referring, of course, to the investigation. Two people appointed by CBS, including former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, to look at this mess.

Geneva Overholser, when you were the editor of "The Des Moines Register," did you find yourself having to restrain your most rabid investigative reporters?

GENEVA OVERHOLSER, UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI: Absolutely. You're always having to restrain good journalists. But I think the process is set up to do that.

And I agree with Michael that it really was a meltdown here. CBS is not the only organization that has had one lately. It's important to note that. But they really...

KURTZ: We did note that.

OVERHOLSER: ...rushed this on the air. KURTZ: Five days from obtaining the documents to airing it with minimal checking, in your view?

OVERHOLSER: Not only minimal checking, but a refusal to listen to the people who were raising questions, the people whom they had hired to tell them whether or not the documents were trustworthy.

KURTZ: That may be the most stunning aspect of this.

Bob Zelnick, doesn't an anchor like Dan Rather have to rely mostly on the reporting of others since he's busy doing the evening news and other responsibilities? So how much blame does he get in this particular episode?

ZELNICK: Well, I think, first of all, yes, anchors are known to have lots of help in editorial processes. But I think that's true of all the correspondents on these magazine shows.

They used to call it 60 Producers, only half in jest, because the individual producers took the story so far and then confronted editors and anchors, or correspondents with it. But all that said, I've tried to put myself in Dan Rather's place the past couple of weeks. And I'm not the greatest journalist that ever came down the pike, but I think I'm a good enough one to have blown the whistle on this project long before it got to air for all the reasons that Michael has suggested.

KURTZ: Yes, you were talking earlier, Michael Isikoff, about your own interview with Bill Burkett back in February, I guess it was. You didn't write anything as a result of those interviews.

ISIKOFF: Correct. Listen, I heard Burkett's story, I thought it was potentially explosive, I thought it could make a great story for "Newsweek." I would have loved to have broken the story, if it checked out.

The problem was none of it checked out. There was no corroboration for any aspect of the story.

KURTZ: So it was not a close call for you to say -- to go to your editors and say...

ISIKOFF: No. We even had discussions with "Newsweek." I said, "I got this, you know, guy who's coming forward, he's making some really bombshell allegations." But by the end of the week of checking it out we all concluded that there was no story here.

And so this is the person who CBS, after they got challenged, were describing as an unimpeachable source. How could they, when, you know, not only were his charges -- charges rejected, but people wrote stories about -- about there were doubts about his account?

KURTZ: Of course there were times, also, when you disagreed with your editors, as in the famous Monica Lewinsky story, which you wanted to publish and which turned out to be a pretty solid story in that respect.

ISIKOFF: Well, it turned out to be true.

KURTZ: Turned out to be true.

ISIKOFF: It's a big difference.

KURTZ: Av Westin, what is it about the state of television in 2004 and these news magazine programs, where we get meltdowns of this kind, particularly -- I don't want to lump CBS in with the other examples, or maybe we should, but have we seen a change in the business, you certainly have been a long time, from the days -- could this have happened in the 1980s and the 1970s?

WESTIN: Howard, to be very blunt, I think we're seeing the death spiral of broadcast journalism. I think that ratings have trumped the editorial line every single time. And I think that this is simply one more example of a breakdown in mutable standards.

KURTZ: You know, television, Av, has always been interested in ratings. What leads you to use this rather explosive phrase "death spiral"?

WESTIN: Because, first of all, the flagship shows of the networks are no longer the evening news. They are the magazine shows, or they are the morning shows. Both broadcasts compete in prime-time against cop shows and hospital shows, and therefore the rating have become very, very important. Executive producers of the magazine shows today look at minute-by-minute ratings to see if the audience has stayed with them or gone away. And that's why there is a sort of a drive to be more spectacular. They've moved away from investigative stories on the other -- on the other magazine shows, and I think this is a trend that is leading to the destruction of the business.

KURTZ: In the pantheon of media blunders, an ever-lengthening list, is this CBS/"60 Minutes" error on a par with "Dateline ABC" blowing up a truck in 1993, with CNN's Tailwind story, which was retracted and apologized for, or "The New York Times" being deceived by Jayson Blair? Is it up there?

OVERHOLSER: And "USA Today" being deceived by Kelley, I think, absolutely.

KURTZ: Jack Kelley, yeah.

OVERHOLSER: Absolutely. These are all to me indicative -- I am not sure I agree about the death spiral, but I think all of them show us just how much the media landscape has changed. And in some ways, it takes us something like this to really understand, it is a very rough and untidy landscape these days.

In the old days, when we had the big guns, essentially those we've named, network news, the two or three biggest newspapers, they were the gate keepers. And as others have said, I'm not the only one to say this, there is no fence anymore. I mean, people are piling in from all over the place.

We used to have these unassailable media, and frankly I don't know that they were always deserving to be so unassailable.

KURTZ: They had the reputation of being trustworthy, and that reputation has been frittered away.

Just briefly, Mike Isikoff, why do you think it took CBS News nearly two weeks to correct its mistake, when every blogger and other newspaper, news organizations, were saying, this is wrong?

ISIKOFF: It's really inexplicable, because there were so many legitimate questions raised from the get-go. And one of the things that I think is one of the most appalling things about this is you can look at their public statements after the story got challenged, they are just flat out indefensible. They said they can fully account for the chain of custody of these documents. They couldn't. They never talked to the person from which the documents came. They said it came from an unimpeachable source. They couldn't.

I mean, none of it -- you have to say, it was pure stonewalling, that if it had had happened by a government agency, we would be frying them, you know, from here on in.

KURTZ: And the ultimate source of the documents still remains a mystery.

We have to take a break. When we come back, is there too much hand-wringing over media mistakes, or not enough? But first, as we go to break, a look at what Dan Rather told us about his future before the "60 Minutes" document scandal erupted.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RATHER: Well, nobody does it forever, I just every night (UNINTELLIGIBLE) you'd be one more day doing this. And of course, being greedy, I guess sometimes I pray if you do give me one more day doing thins, could you kind of help me along, if there's a big story around, help me get it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. What's ahead for Dan Rather in the wake of the debacle over the National Guard documents? The pundits haven't been shy about offering their views.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAT BUCHANAN: If I were Dan Rather, I would stand up, take responsibility, and resign.

BILL O'REILLY, HOST, "THE O'REILLY FACTOR": I think that Rather will be able to ride this out.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST CROSSFIRE: Everyone at CBS who was involved in this betrayal of the public trust ought to be fired immediately. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Geneva Overholser, is this as big a deal as the coverage would suggest, or there is a certain amount of media self-absorption here?

OVERHOLSER: You know, we can never get enough of ourselves in the media, and of course this is a media show, so it's legitimate we'd be talking about it. But this is an important election before us, and I do worry that partly what's happened on this incident is that we're all focusing on this so much that we may in fact detract, to a certain degree, from coverage of the important questions before the election.

KURTZ: Well, part of that is because in the middle of the campaign, CBS made a charge against President Bush...

OVERHOLSER: Absolutely.

KURTZ: ...which exploded into the election coverage.

OVERHOLSER: Absolutely, and it's a valid thing to focus on that. But again, the public has a sense that we find ourselves endlessly fascinating, and it's sometimes seems we do.

KURTZ: I don't know where they get that idea.

Av Westin, CBS affiliates have been inundated with complaints from viewers, I am told. One Virginia radio station has switched its affiliation from CBS to ABC. Will Dan Rather continue to be a lightning rod as long as he remains in that anchor chair?

WESTIN: Well, I think Dan Rather has always been a lightning rod, ever since he stood up to President Nixon and became the bete noir of the conservative viewpoint. I think we have now seen the landscape of broadcast news become politicized, and we see it with Fox, and occasionally accusations are made against other broadcasters, none more than against Dan. And I think that he will be in fact the focus of a lot of attention, as no matter what kind of a story he does.

KURTZ: Michael Isikoff, "TIME" magazine poll, 43 percent say what CBS did was an honest mistake; 40 percent say CBS was deliberately trying to mislead the public. Not the greatest vote of confidence. How much of all this is Rather's fault?

ISIKOFF: Well, look, he is the managing editor of "The CBS Evening News," and they -- they featured this on "The Evening News." So, I mean, he has to take responsibility, clearly. He is the lead guy in charge.

KURTZ: And just to be fair, he has taken responsibility, and we saw his apology at the top of the show. He's not blaming it on the work of others, but it's a collaborative enterprise.

ISIKOFF: Well, right, but if somebody gets fired, can somebody else be fired without the top guy who is responsible for the broadcast not getting the axe? It's hard to imagine. If this had happened at a college newspaper, and they made -- published a story about fraudulent documents about the college president, and it turned out to be that the documents themselves were completely phony, it's hard to imagine that the entire college newspaper staff wouldn't be fired.

KURTZ: Bob Zelnick, let's look at the bias question. Do you believe that CBS would have gone with the same story with the same level of evidence if John Kerry and not President Bush had been the target?

ZELNICK: Well, holding myself to the same standards that we held CBS to, I know of no evidence, one way or the other, so I am not going to make that allegation. I have in the past expressed concern over liberal bias. I think my concerns have been mitigated by the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine, the proliferation of talk radio and the emergence of a network like Fox News, I'm less concerned about that.

At the same time, I think we who are critical of CBS, very critical, really should make distinctions as we go along. I think there is a difference between "USA Today," which involved intentional, deliberate distortion by the correspondent involved, and a situation like this, or the situation like Operation Tailwind, where there seems to have been a mind-set on the part of the lead producer, and a lack of action on the part of the correspondent, that produced a journalistic disaster. It's a very serious matter...

KURTZ: Yeah, it's a really important...

ZELNICK: ...it is not deliberate deception.

KURTZ: I think that's a very important distinction, and I'm glad you made it. And we unfortunately are out of time. Bob Zelnick, Av Westin in New York, Geneva Overholser, Michael Isikoff, thanks very much for joining us.

And when we come back, "The New York Times'" Frank Rich and "National Review's" Jonah Goldberg take on CBS and CNN.

And later, James Carville, right here, in the hot seat. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Welcome back to this special edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. And joining me now from New York, Frank Rich, columnist for "The New York Times," and Jonah Goldberg, editor at large for "National Review Online."

The fallout over the "60 Minutes" document story didn't take long to reach the late-night talk shows.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY LENO, HOST, "TONIGHT SHOW": CBS now admits they were misled by an unreliable source. I believe his name was a Daniel Rather.

JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW": To see fake journalism taking off like that...

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART: To me, it's very refreshing.

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, "THE LATE SHOW": "60 Minutes," they kicked off the new season with a whole new batch of forged memos.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Frank Rich, once Dan Rather has become late-night comedic fodder, can his reputation really be fully restored?

FRANK RICH, NEW YORK TIMES: Well, I guess it can be, because look at "The New York Times." "The New York Times" Jayson Blair incident was also the fodder for some actually rather funny stuff that even became the basis of a "Law & Order" episode or two. And perhaps "The Times'" reputation isn't completely restored, but I think that when people think of "The Times" a year or two later, they're not thinking so much anymore of Jayson Blair.

KURTZ: Right. Although one difference is, that "New York Times" editors were lied to by Jayson Blair. This situation is a little different.

Jonah Goldberg, speaking of laughs, you seem to be enjoying this. The new issue of "National Review" has like 27 stories on this. So is this driven toward your personal animosity toward Dan Rather?

JONAH GOLDBERG, NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE: I don't know if it's personal animosity in a sense that if I saw him in the parking lot I'd slap him around, but it is -- it's a simple fact that Dan Rather has been something of, you know, a Punch and Judy doll for conservatives for a very long time, and deservedly so.

And I just want to answer your first question to Frank. I think he can never get his reputation fully back. The difference between Dan Rather and "The New York Times" is that "The New York Times" is an institution which could self-correct. Dan Rather is a person who seems completely incapable of self-correcting.

KURTZ: Of course, the institution of CBS News was also responsible here. Go ahead, Frank, you were going to jump in.

RICH: Yeah, I mean, Dan Rather is a separate issue, and I can't answer that, but yes, of course, I am talking about CBS News getting its reputation back, however this investigation plays out about Dan Rather and this story on "60 Minutes."

KURTZ: Frank Rich, is this still about these specific mistakes made by CBS and Rather and "60 Minutes," or has it become part of a larger media culture war?

RICH: I think there is a sort of media culture war going on now, at a time of great destabilization, not only in America with a very contentious election and political climate, but also the fact that what's been called the establishment media are under challenge, from bloggers, from cable news networks, and so on, although you'd still have to argue that even Rupert Murdoch and Time Warner, which own CNN, are part of the establishment.

But yes, it's -- you know, the network broadcasts are aging. We don't know what's going to happen to them over the time being, network news, these -- network news operations are owned by huge media corporations, which regard them really as small nuisances within their firmament. So it's a time of instability, and anything like this causes a larger debate.

KURTZ: Jonah Goldberg, as you well know, back in 1988 Dan Rather got into something of an on-air shouting match with then Vice President George Bush. Let's take a brief look at that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RATHER: I don't want to be argumentative, Mr. Vice President...

(CROSSTALK)

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to talk about why I want to be president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Is this one of the reasons that you say that conservatives have long distrusted Dan Rather?

GOLDBERG: Oh, I think it goes back even further to Richard Nixon and the combativeness that we saw back then.

KURTZ: Oh, wait a second now. Are you saying that it was a mistake for a White House correspondent during Watergate to be combative toward the Nixon White House?

GOLDBERG: No, no. I'm just saying that I think in terms of the combativeness, I think the roots go back even further than the Bush thing. I think the larger issues, the way Dan Rather frames stories, the way CBS seems to think it's only fulfilling its investigatory obligations when it goes after conservatives, or Republicans, but it seems to find a part of its obligation to support liberal causes and Democratic politicians -- you know, sometimes they do good work, sometimes they don't. But I think if you're going to go, if you're going to leaf through the annals of conservative catalogues of liberal media bias, CBS appears quite prominently.

KURTZ: I'm sure CBS would take issue with that, but we have to take a break. Ahead, hurricane update from the CNN newsroom in Atlanta. Then, more RELIABLE SOURCES with Frank Rich and Jonah Goldberg on the CBS controversy. And later, James Carville in our hot seat. All ahead in the next half hour of RELIABLE SOURCES.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Welcome back to this special, one-hour edition of RELIABLE SOURCES as we survey the wreckage from the CBS document debacle.

The controversy spread to the campaign trail this week, with a disclosure that Dan Rather's producer, Mary Mapes, put Bill Burkett, the former National Guardsman who gave her the documents, in touch with Kerry campaign adviser Joe Lockhart. Even CBS News seemed troubled by Mapes' unusual go-between role. Correspondent Bill Plante offering his analysis on "The CBS Evening News."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL PLANTE, CBS NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Innocent or not, a CBS News producer's assistance of connecting the source with the Kerry campaign has at least the appearance of impropriety, and becomes a political issue in a bitter campaign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: We're talking with "The New York Times'" Frank Rich, and with Jonah Goldberg of "National Review Online."

Frank Rich, what do you make of Mary Mapes, Rather's producer, arranging this -- this phone contact between Joe Lockhart and Bill Burkett, who says it was part of his understanding with CBS that he would get this kind of access to the Kerry campaign?

RICH: Assuming the broad outlines of what we've heard, including from Joe Lockhart, are true, it's utterly unacceptable. I mean, end of story. You cannot, as a journalist, be a go-between between the reporting operations of -- a story you're generating, and a campaign. And it's completely unacceptable, and I assume CBS feels the same way.

KURTZ: On the other hand, Jonah Goldberg, Mary Mapes is still working for CBS News. They are awaiting the outcome, which will probably take at least a month, of this outside investigation involving former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh and former AP executive Lou Boccardi. Do you think that that CBS should move, now that we now about this phone call, should take some disciplinary action here?

GOLDBERG: We're sort of in a PR mode at this point. I think CBS has already -- you know, the ship has sailed on CBS salvaging a lot of this. Firing Mapes, which I think has to come eventually if the facts hold up, and Dan Rather resigning, which should happen eventually, which probably won't, those are all sort of in damage control.

But let me just sort of...

KURTZ: Before you go on, why do you say that Rather should be fired but probably won't be?

GOLDBERG: Well, I think he should resign, and probably won't, because, you know, look, he's going to hold on to his anchor desk with a white-knuckled grip. It's going to take the jaws of life to get him out of there. He should be fired because this -- this debacle sort of demonstrates what conservatives and critics of Dan Rather have been saying about CBS for a very, very long time. Look, was it Thoreau who said some circumstantial evidence is very strong, like when you found the trout in the milk? The idea that somehow this could have happened in -- for a story about attacking a Democratic candidate, it defies plausibility. The idea that somehow all of these safeguards, from the proofing of those documents -- sorry about that -- all the way through to these contacts with the Democratic campaign, those things could only happen with a background of a certain liberal attitude over there. I understand that the defenders of CBS want to say...

KURTZ: OK, let me...

GOLDBERG: ...that ratings were part of it.

KURTZ: ...let me get Frank Rich back. Are you buying this, that this was all some kind of liberal crusade against George W. Bush, and that Rather's 40-year career should be tossed aside because of this one admittedly serious mistake?

RICH: I am not going to take a stand about Dan Rather's future. Let's wait for the fact-gathering being done by people who seem to know what they're doing, one of whom was involved in investigating "The Times" after the Jayson Blair incident.

I don't think that this is a great liberal conspiracy. Assuming this was very sloppy journalism and incorrect journalism, and assuming that the worst case scenario about what happened is true, to me this smells more of a desperation to get a scoop.

And that's the real ideology of professional journalists, I'm afraid. They want to get something on first in their paper, and on the air, and there has to be checks and balances, obviously, to keep from erroneous this material getting there, which still sometimes happens, and happens, and it's happened at my institution and happened at most institutions.

GOLDBERG: I find it frankly inconceivable. I agree there was a race for a scoop, but it was for an anti-Bush scoop. I find it inconceivable that all these checks and balances and safeguards would have been thrown over the side to verify and to put out the Swift Boat Vets for Truth kind of story.

I have not seen a critical piece from CBS about John Kerry. I agree that this is partly about ratings and scoops, but why is that exclusive of a complimentary theory that this was also about the attitude of Ms. Mapes, of Dan Rather and of the people at CBS News, who all seem to sort of share a certain attitude toward the Bush administration.

RICH: Well, this is a story -- the general outline of the story and Bush's National Guard record, or lack of it, has been out there during this entire election cycle, and I still would argue this -- without knowing, because I don't know, I want to wait and read the report, quite frankly. We can wait several weeks to hear what actually happened, the republic will still survive. But I think what it may show is that they thought they had the one smoking gun that would take the story that essentially we already knew, and add one more little turn of the wheel to it, and went slap-happy with the light.

KURTZ: OK, in fairness -- go ahead.

RICH: And I just want to make one other point. These are huge organizations that don't march in lockstep, and that do make mistakes. You know, they're not just Rather doing -- responsible for its own work. There is a whole group of people in the bureaucracy, and I've seen it screw up at my place, so I can imagine it would elsewhere.

KURTZ: Although, in fairness, the bloggers, they did a lot better fact-checking on these documents, as it turned out, than did CBS News.

Jonah Goldberg, former Attorney General Thornburgh, as I mentioned, one of two people investigating this now, hired by CBS, in a move that a lot of people thought CBS should have taken two weeks earlier. But Frank's newspaper reports that Thornburgh in a book has been highly critical of "60 Minutes'" coverage of when he was in the government and calling it a "sensational program." Can he really be fair here?

GOLDBERG: I don't know. I mean, Dick Thornburgh always struck as a sort of eat-your-spinach kind of, you know, Republican, a nice guy. I think he'll probably be very professional. Why not be fair here? I mean, it's in his interests.

But I don't know. I mean, this commission -- I am not exactly sure what it's supposed to be finding out. I assume that they'll do a good job, but it doesn't -- it's not nearly as interesting to me as the actual CBS story.

KURTZ: If we're going to talk about CBS, Frank Rich, as part of the liberal media, certainly Jonah seems to enthusiastically endorse that description, do you think the same standards aren't being applied, for example, to Fox News, which in your column last week you called, kind of dismissively, just GOP TV?

RICH: No, of course not. Of course, you know, look, the paper, the newpaper which is owned by the same company that owns Fox News has been leading the charge and vilifying Dan Rather as the one that put on some page that Dick Gephardt was going to be John Kerry's running mate this year.

No, of course there is a double standard. But fine, you know, it's a free society, people are allowed to attack CBS for a perceived liberal bias, and CBS is entitled to defend itself. But of course there is a double standard.

KURTZ: But when you used the phrase "GOP TV," it seems to me you may have more in mind that people like Hannity or O'Reilly. Is that fair to correspondents like Carl Cameron and Jim Angle and Major Garrett, who used to work at CNN, who are trying to do a straightforward job? RICH: I feel that it is somewhat fair, because I think that a lot of decisions that are made at Fox have to do with what is allowed to be reported, the spin that's put on it, even the mis-en-scene in terms of flags draping everything, and the use of language.

So of course it has an agenda. We all know that. We can be adults about it. And if people want to make the same case about CBS or "The New York Times" or anyone else, let them do it, and let's look at the evidence.

KURTZ: Jonah Goldberg, is Fox News a conservative network with an agenda?

GOLDBERG: I think it's definitely to the right of the other networks, and I think certainly guys like Hannity and those guys that you mentioned are partisans. I don't think there's any secret there.

I think, you know, it's funny, getting back to something that Frank was talking about at the beginning of the show, I think one of the things that people don't appreciate about Fox is that its success has less to do with the fact that it is ideologically conservative than it is populist. It really does tap into this vein that the establishment media is a bunch of pointyheads who condescend to real Americans, and they really play that up, and that is less conservative than it is a sort of a brilliant marketing strategy, and I think it gets left out of the mix.

KURTZ: OK. This pointyhead has to jump in because I want to ask Frank Rich about CNN. You wrote again last week in "The New York Times" CNN becoming more liberal, in your view. As evidence you cite, James Carville, Paul Begala remaining co-hosts of "CROSSFIRE" while also serving as informal advisers to the Kerry campaign. So how do you reach the conclusion that therefore, CNN is more dependent on Democrats?

RICH: What I was saying was not they're more dependent on Democrats. In fact, given CNN's ratings right now, they're really dependent on the kindness of strangers. What I was simply saying is that when you have people who are working -- expressly working, even informally, even unpaid, for a political campaign in a hotly contested presidential election, even if they're on an opinion show on a cable news network, they are part of the branding of CNN.

And to me, it gives an ugly taste to a network that was founded not to have any political ideology. That's the kind of news I think -- I hope we all crave, don't have liberal or conservative networks. We just have straight news, and my hope for CNN had been that it would be that.

KURTZ: Jonah Goldberg, I've got 20 seconds. If it was you in that situation and you decided to provide some informal advice for the Bush campaign, would you take a leave of absence from CNN?

GOLDBERG: I don't know. My relationship with CNN is much less ambitious than James Carville's. I think...

KURTZ: If you were a full-time person?

GOLDBERG: But I basically agree with Frank. I think it's a bad look more than anything else, and I think it undermines the case from people who want to make Sean Hannity into a journalist at Fox rather than a commentator. The fact is that Carville and Begala are commentators, as are most of the people that people complain about at Fox, and we should have a clear line between the commentators and the reporters, which is getting blurred, which I think is a shame.

KURTZ: All right. We may have a rare moment of agreement here between Frank Rich and Jonah Goldberg. Thank you both very much for joining us.

Still ahead, we'll hear from James Carville, who takes on the critics who say that he should give up his CNN gig if he wants to advise John Kerry. Carville joins us next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Welcome back.

"CROSSFIRE" has never exactly covered up the political leanings of its moderators, but now the show's resident liberals, former Clinton strategists Paul Begala and James Carville find themselves in the crossfire of criticism, because they're serving as informal advisers to John Kerry's campaign, while also holding forth on CNN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES CARVILLE, CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE": (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Kerry served his country with great honor and distinction, by winning a Bronze Star and a Silver Star. We also know that President Bush got into the Air National Guard as a result of political influence.

PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE": John Kerry still has shrapnel in his leg...

(UNINTELLIGIBLE)

BEGALA: ... throwing spitballs is an insult.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Joining me now is James Carville, who's also the author of a new children's book, called "Lou and the Swamp Ghost." Welcome. You're already laughing.

CARVILLE: Thank you.

KURTZ: CNN is a news network. You're a commentator, but this is a news network.

CARVILLE: Right.

KURTZ: How can you be a part of a news network and advising John Kerry? CARVILLE: I don't advise John Kerry. I don't know what an informal adviser is to anything...

KURTZ: Do you talk to the campaign?

CARVILLE: Of course I talk to the campaign. I talk to all kinds of campaigns.

KURTZ: Do you give them your opinion?

CARVILLE: I give my opinions on air. I gave you my opinion at a CNN party when I said that there were perpetual committee meetings (UNINTELLIGIBLE) perpetual focus group.

(CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: ... the way the Kerry campaign operates.

CARVILLE: Absolutely. And I've told the Kerry campaign again and again and again, you need to get a stronger command structure that makes decisions. They've done that. And you've got to talk about the war in Iraq. It's ludicrous -- and I've said it on TV, and I've said it to them. I have no idea what an informal adviser is to anybody or anything.

KURTZ: But don't -- you're a savvy guy. Don't you see that it looks bad? Even your liberal pals, Frank Rich, "The New Republic," are not defending you on this.

CARVILLE: I don't care. I like being -- it is all -- the silliness of it. My wife worked at "CROSSFIRE" in 2000, with way more involvement with the Bush 2000 campaign than I was in the Kerry campaign. Dennis Miller goes out and campaigns for Bush. He has a show all to himself. Same thing with Joe Scarborough. Newt Gingrich serves as an adviser to the Pentagon, and is a commentator for Fox News, and comments on defense issues. Roger Ailes writes a memo giving political advice to President Bush.

What all this is is -- and I kind of enjoy it -- is just a pack of silliness. At the end of every "CROSSFIRE," I say, "from the left." And they're out there, all out of breath and they say, "James Carville is a Democrat." "The New York Times" runs a picture of me -- they caught me at the Democratic Convention.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: I'll tell you, they might win the Pulitzer Prize for getting a picture of me at the Democratic Convention.

KURTZ: I don't think that CNBC should let Dennis Miller be a talk show host and at the same time appear at Bush events. But he's a comedian. You like to be taken seriously.

CARVILLE: I don't care if I'm taken seriously or not. I'd rather be taken as a comedian. You know what, I take what I do seriously. No one will ever accuse James Carville of taking himself seriously. But at any rate, there is nobody -- I'm going to vote for John Kerry, I am going to do everything I can. I'll do whatever I can. I support John Kerry. I want him to be president. Campaigns call me all the time. If they call me, I'll call them back. I don't have any -- that's just as simple as it can be. It is no different. George Will was a commentator, and he was helping President Reagan on debate prep.

KURTZ: And was widely criticized of it in 1980.

(CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: Let's take a more modern example. Peggy Noonan. She was a "Wall Street Journal" columnist. She was a Reagan speechwriter. She was very pro-Bush. She took a leave of absence from the paper in order to advise Republican National Committee. Why shouldn't you and Begala take a leave of absence? You don't need the money.

CARVILLE: I like doing my show. I do it once a week. And I would take the leave of absence for what? People out in the country ask me, what (UNINTELLIGIBLE), I don't understand it? And I said, well, the question is, is that -- and I have no idea what an informal adviser is. The only idea -- the difference between an informal adviser...

(CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: You're not on the Kerry payroll.

CARVILLE: Right.

KURTZ: But you are somebody that the senator and his aides turn to for advice about how they should run their campaign.

CARVILLE: I talked to Senator Edwards when he was running -- any -- I have a policy. I have not taken out a new client since President Clinton was elected, in 1992. Any Democrat that calls me -- and I get calls all the time -- do you know this person, we're thinking about hiring this person for press secretary. I say, you know what, if it's a good idea or bad idea. Or do you know this? Or, God forbid this should happen -- the Kerry campaign actually sends me, like, stuff, talking points, what happened today. I know that's going to shock the entire Washington press establishment that a campaign actually sends somebody on television ideas of things they can say. Most of the time, I throw it away.

KURTZ: Do you use...

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: I like my own (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

KURTZ: Let me read you a quote from James Carville. "We either pull out all the stops over the next few weeks, or we will live to regret it." That was a Democratic National Committee fund-raising letter that bore your signature. How can you be a player, even helping to raise money, and also a commentator on the (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

CARVILLE: Easy. Get my (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and listen to me on TV. I said, all these people that somehow think that this is sort of the end of days, when no one criticizes Gingrich or Dennis Miller or Joe Scarborough or Mary Matalin. You know what I like? I like to be a lightning rod. And it's just the hypocrisy of the whole thing is just stunningly amusing to me. Everybody knows that I'm a Democrat. And if the DNC calls me, or the DCCC, or whatever the alphabet soup they got, and they'll say, James, would you sign a letter for us? I'll make sure I kind of look at it and see if it didn't say anything libelous, if it helps the cause, I'll send it out.

KURTZ: Since you invoked your wife, Mary Matalin, let's take a look at when she was the co-host of "CROSSFIRE," from the right, of course, back in 2000 during the Bush campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARY MATALIN, CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE": You know what this election is about? It's about leadership, stupid. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) leadership, and president (UNINTELLIGIBLE). That's what George Bush will bring to the White House.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: So why...

CARVILLE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I mean, she got an opinion, she voices it.

KURTZ: So why is it -- why are you -- why is it an issue involving you? Why are you the lightning rod, if "CROSSFIRE" has that other guest -- or excuse me, co-host, who's also been involved in politics?

CARVILLE: Again, same with Dennis Miller or Newt Gingrich. I think a lot of these people just like to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- and you know what, as opposed to most people, I don't mind it. It's fine. Look, if I didn't like -- if hypocrisy bothered me, this would be the last place in the world I'd choose to live. I'm actually kind of amused by it. I mean, if you -- if you -- if you allowed hypocrisy in this bright-wing clap trap to bother you, I would have gotten out of here a long time ago.

KURTZ: Bill O'Reilly says, and you did his show yesterday...

CARVILLE: Yeah.

KURTZ: ... that if anyone at Fox was caught, admitted, acknowledged giving advice to the Bush campaign, they would be barbecued far more than you've been.

CARVILLE: Speaker Gingrich is a correspondent of Fox...

KURTZ: He doesn't host a show. He's a commentator. CARVILLE: But that doesn't matter, so he doesn't host a show -- so I'm on the show or not -- he is on the Defense Policy Board. I give speeches, and he's always telling me, "I told the Bush people we needed to do this, and I told them they needed to do that." And that's fine. I don't have a problem with that.

Look, when people watch a political television show, one of the things that they actually for in the host is somebody that might know a little something about politics, or somebody that has some experience in it, or somebody that has participated in the process. An idea they can be qualified to be sort of chin-scratching hmmm, if they don't know anything about campaigns, is silly. And I think, and you know what...

KURTZ: You won't even concede it's a real issue.

CARVILLE: Oh, no. It's (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- it's the sillification of criticism of what people do. It's so silly that I don't even -- it's amusing. I mean, I actually like to talk about it.

KURTZ: How much has Kerry taken your advice?

CARVILLE: Some, but not you know what I mean, (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I think my advice has been pretty consistent, or my observations, I think. They're a little bit more involved now, so that's it.

KURTZ: All right.

CARVILLE: But I don't think my advice is hard to do, we've got to focus on the war and we've got to get a better -- and they're doing better, by the way, and I congratulate them.

(CROSSTALK)

CARVILLE: And I'm going to vote for him. I'm going to vote for him.

KURTZ: You've said it right here. James Carville, still defiant. Thanks very much for joining us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Don't you hate it when a controversy erupts and some self proclaimed expert is all over the air waves blathering on to anyone who will listen? Doesn't it get annoying when one of these loud mouths keeps invading your living room and there's no escape?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: The controversy...

CBS has 2 black eyes...

Dan Rather...

Dan Rather... A CBS...

In rushing this story...

Bill Burkett...

The shaking source...

Document experts...

1972 government typewriter...

An irresponsible report...

Apologize...

CBS should have been far more careful...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Yeah, I can't stand those people either.

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

CNN's continuing coverage of Hurricane Jeanne is just ahead.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com


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