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Bush Names Rice to Be Powell's Successor; How Do Journalists Cover Iraq?

Aired November 21, 2004 - 11:30   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice-over): Colin and Condi. Powell resigns as secretary of state. Are journalists portraying him as a hero who tried to avoid the Iraq war? President Bush names Rice to succeed him. Are the media depicting her as a yes woman with a blemished record?

Marooned in Baghdad. How could reporters really cover Iraq when it's dangerous to walk the streets?

Plus, ABC gets desperate in the locker room.

And stripped down journalism. The anchor who left her wardrobe behind.


KURTZ: Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES, where this morning we turn our critical lens on one of the most hazardous jobs in journalism, reporting from Iraq.

The battle for Falluja fought during the last few weeks dramatically underscored the dangers and the challenges not just for American soldiers, but for the journalists who accompany them. And with the constant violence in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq, can journalists really give us a full picture of what's going on?

Well, joining us now from Baghdad, CBS News correspondent Kimberly Dozier, and with me here in the studio, "Time's" Brian Bennett, who spent more than a year in Iraq as the magazine's Baghdad bureau chief. He was also embedded with American troops this past summer.

Kimberly Dozier, today, seven more people killed in Iraq as the date for elections were set as January 30th. In an environment where journalists can't go very far without bodyguards and armored cars, how difficult is it for you to give us a full picture of what's going on there?

KIMBERLY DOZIER, CBS NEWS: Well, I fell like I'm doing everything by remote, whereas when I first got here, let's say a year ago, I could drive into the streets, go into a neighborhood, talk to Iraqis, ask what they thought about something. The last time I tried to do that, to go to someone's home and sit down with that man and say, are you thinking about leaving Iraq or staying, the moment he saw me, blonde hair and my two armored vehicles, which are low-key regular vehicles but they still are armored and my security guys, he turned white. He said next door is a man from Falluja. If he sees you, if he sees your guards, he'll kill me.

So, now, we have people come to us for interviews. But that really -- it means I can't go out and hunt a story. I'm having to wait for it to come to me, or I'm having to train Iraqi translators to go out and be my eyes, be my ears, ask the questions that I would ask if I could.

KURTZ: Blonde hair, obviously a disadvantage in Iraq these days.

Brian Bennett, when you went back for your second tour of duty after being there almost for a year, how had life changed for journalists?

BRIAN BENNETT, TIME MAGAZINE: It changed dramatically ever since the sort of spate of kidnappings began this last spring. Effectively, journalists are limited to working inside Baghdad. It's very, very difficult to operate on the roads.

Before, we were able to travel all the way to north to Mosul and all the way to the south to Basra on the roads, without much difficulty, and now, because of the spate of kidnappings and the threats on the roads, it's just very, very difficult to take the temperature of the entire country.

KURTZ: Kimberly Dozier, looking at your reports for the last couple of months, a lot having to do with bombings and attacks and military action, and, clearly, that has been part of the news emanating from Iraq, but is it -- is that a one-sided picture? As you know, there are critics, including those in the administration, that say there despite the violence, there are some good things going on in Iraq, but it's hard for people like you to report it for the reason you just cited a moment ago.

DOZIER: Well, the other thing is, if say I spent the day covering a hospital opening, an American civil affairs project that they had been working on for some time, and then on that very same day there is a massive car bombing somewhere in the country, what do I report? The hospital opening, or the fact that many Americans and many Iraqis just lost their lives? There is that factor going on.

Also, when you look at it from the Iraqis' perspective, you can have, as has happened, 100 different hospitals and schools opened in this city alone. A lot of American money being put to good use, but 10 suicide car bombs that affect their neighborhoods or kill someone they know, that almost erases in their minds a lot of the good that the American coalition is doing. And that's what the American military is up against here.

KURTZ: That's a very apt description of the way in which bad news tends to overshadow even some positive developments even in a place like Iraq.

Now, "Wall Street Journal" correspondent, as you know, Farnaz Fassihi, he wrote an e-mail to friends which became public, in which she said that being a correspondent in Baghdad was like being under house arrest, and that in her opinion, and she wasn't doing this for publication, Iraq remains a disaster. Does it inevitably color your view of the U.S. mission there if you can't go down the street to the local kebab restaurant without fear of being kidnapped, shot at, or worse?

BENNETT: Well, I think it probably gives you -- when you're there on the ground, you have a similar experience as the average Iraqi living in Baghdad. I mean, certainly life is going on in Baghdad. There are people going to the marketplace, businesses are opening, children are going to schools, but over all of this a cloud of fear is hanging over the people. And every time a father puts his daughter or son onto a bus to go to school, he doesn't know and is afraid that that school bus may be the victim of a car bomb.

KURTZ: There was a riveting bit of footage this week out of Falluja, which has been replayed on television many times, narrated by NBC's Kevin Sites, in which -- well, let's take a look. He was with a Marine unit which encountered some wounded Iraqis in a facility there in Falluja.


KEVIN SITES, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Inside the mosque, the same five men that were wounded the day before are still there, but now one of them is dead while three others lay dying. Only one is untouched.

Then a Marine notices one of the severely wounded men is still breathing. He did not appear to be armed or threatening in any way. In fact, there were no weapons visible in the room, except those carried by the Marines.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, he's breathing.

SITES: The Marine then raises his rifle and fires into the man's head. The pictures are too graphic for us to broadcast.


KURTZ: Kimberly Dozier in Baghdad, would you have had any hesitation about showing that footage on the air?

DOZIER: I would not have shown the graphic part of it. I think the right decision was made in terms of -- we all can see what happened next. Now, do you mean showing the footage in general? Well, when we're embedded with the U.S. military, the whole point is to see, warts and all, everything that is happening through the eyes of the soldiers and to report that back. That happened. It's our job to report it. KURTZ: The very criticism, I suppose, has been that it's hard to get the full context just with that bit of footage about the extent to which the Marines there may have felt endangered. You know, clearly, a lot of people blaming the messenger, but a lot of criticism and even some death threats for Kevin Sites over this footage.

DOZIER: If I had been there, I think any other reporter I've spoken to in Baghdad, we all would have done the same thing. You filmed it, you have to show it. That's part of the story. You can't pretend it didn't happen in front of you.

Now I also know that Kevin Sites has been with the Marines almost more than any other reporter out here. He's been embedded for a very long time with them, and he's put out many, many stories about a lot of the civil affairs projects and other outreach projects that they've been doing. So also, just judge his reporting on that one thing that he saw and witnessed, well, that's wrong, too.

KURTZ: Right. Brian Bennett, when you were embedded with a Marine unit a few months ago, did you find there was a great strain between the journalists and the soldiers because at any moment you might report something that will reflect negatively on those folks?

BENNETT: Well, I think -- I think, initially, the soldiers that you're embedded with, they're a little weary. But it just takes them time, like in any relationship with the source, to break down those barriers...

KURTZ: Because you're out there, and eating the same dust, sharing the same meals, taking the same risks.

BENNETT: That's right. And when they see you in action, when they see you going down the street, when they see how you behave under fire, then really a sense of trust between the two of you develops, and -- but that doesn't mean that you don't report the story as you see it, and I think it's very important, for example, in this situation, the images of the Marines shooting this -- this man on the ground, it's very important to show that, show the debate and also to -- but also to give the context and the situation and the strain that (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

KURTZ: That's what NBC tried to do. Kimberly Dozier, we've got about 30 seconds. Why do you stay in Baghdad? Isn't it an awful assignment and what kind of toll does it take on you personally?

DOZIER: You get -- you develop coping strategies, you develop a little cocoon, a place you feel safe. We have an area in our hotel where we feel safe. We have procedures. We limit our risks. I still go out and report the story, but I do it in a way that gives minimum danger to me and to the team of people I'm working with. We're still trying to get the story out. I think if we would pull out, that would be a copout.

KURTZ: All right. Well, stay safe, as you pursue the news there, Kimberly Dozier. Thanks very much. Brian Bennett, thanks to you, as well. When we come back, do reporters have it in for the new secretary of state?

Bill Clinton takes on Peter Jennings.

And later, the news anchor who took it all off. Stay with us.



It wasn't exactly shocking news when Colin Powell said he was stepping down as secretary of state. Everyone knew he was frustrated, and not all that surprising when the president tapped Condoleezza Rice to replace him. But journalists seemed to have very definite views about what it all meant.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was widely seen as the pragmatic moderate in an administration dominated by hawks.

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS: But in contrast to Powell, Rice is expected to closely reflect the president's thinking on controversial policies.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There are many in and out of the administration who say there has not been a weaker national security adviser in recent memory. One reason -- bad manager.


KURTZ: So have the media played it straight on the Powell resignation and the Rice appointment, or been undiplomatically opinionated?

Joining me here in the studio, two opinionated guys, "Washington Post" columnist E.J. Dionne, also a fellow at the Brookings Institution, and John Fund of "The Wall Street Journal's" His new book is "Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy."

E.J. Dionne, Colin Powell has been portrayed largely in glowing terms. He is the moderate, he is the pragmatist, he is the voice of reason who did battle with the hard-liners. How does Powell get such good press?

E.J. DIONNE, WASHINGTON POST: In fact, I don't think Powell did get such good press. He did get some of those sound bites you saw. There was also a lot of people -- there was an awful lot of footage of his testimony, his statement to the United Nations, with the press saying, wait a minute, none of these things panned out.

There was also a lot of discussion of whether Powell actually stood up to his views or eventually gave into the president. In terms of Condoleezza Rice, at a personal level, she is getting great coverage. Everybody admires her personal story and the way she rose. And if you're going to ask the press not to raise questions about her management and not to raise questions about 9/11 and her testimony there, then you're asking the press to be supine and say, oh, great leader, Mr. President, whatever you do is great. And that's not the press' role.

KURTZ: I'm not in favor of the supine press. We'll come back to Condoleezza Rice.

John Fund, could Powell's, shall we say, somewhat favorable coverage have anything to do with the fact that he kind of cultivates the media?

JOHN FUND, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, Howie, there have been five Republican secretaries of state since Ronald Reagan took office in 1980. Al Haig had a very bad press, I think partly deserved. George Shultz did not have a particularly good press. Then you had James Baker, who was the consummate Washington insider, the most skillful leaker probably ever seen in Washington, until Colin Powell. Colin Powell was a skillful leaker. He got his story out, either not necessarily directly, but through minions, and as a result, his coverage I think is very good.

Condoleezza Rice hasn't played that game. Both Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell made foreign policy mistakes, but I think Condoleezza Rice is paying a much higher price in terms of the coverage.

KURTZ: Seems to me that Condoleezza Rice used to be kind of a media favorite, got very good coverage. Of course she ran into problems, 9/11 Commission and so forth. But now we see words announcing her appointment like "loyalist," "yes woman," "not an independent thinker," as if she had very little foreign policy background.

DIONNE: No, but I think the issue here, the issue that the press and both critics and friends of the administration are exploring is whether the president has made a conscious choice for his second term to get rid of the centers and to have people who broadly agree with his policy. If you're a conservative, you welcome that.

KURTZ: Why wouldn't the president of the United States want to appoint cabinet members who broadly agree with his policies?

DIONNE: Because presidents have often been successful who have appointed people who broadly agreed with them, but were willing to raise questions, and I think what is at issue here is whether the president wants such a unitary cabinet that people won't raise the kind of questions that we wish had been raised more forcefully, for example, before the Iraq war.


FUND: Well, all of this philosophy is wonderful, but there is some reality in Washington, which is if you are a good source for journalists and you cultivate them, you're going to get better news coverage. Condoleezza Rice represents the Bush approach to press relations moving to the State Department, which is no leaks and we fire leakers and we shut down all outside communication.

KURTZ: Well, on that point, I discovered deep in a "New York Times" story this very telling sentence about Rice. Says that she has delivered 15-nonstop scoldings to reporters about articles that displease her. That would seem to reinforce your point.

FUND: That's not a leak, that's a lecture.


DIONNE: The administration uses leaks all the time to further their own policies. They just don't like leaks that hurt them. So it's not like they don't try to use the press.

FUND: I'm shocked in Washington that people don't like leaks that hurt them.

DIONNE: No, but the assertion was that they don't leak. Well, yes, they do leak, but only in a very narrow way.

KURTZ: But you would agree with E.J. Dionne that the criticism of Rice by the 9/11 Commission, how she downplayed that report that said bin Laden determined to strike within U.S., also needs ample coverage for a State Department nominee.

FUND: Oh, and it has gotten them, and we're going to get confirmation hearings that are very heated.

Colin Powell has been a very cautious secretary of state. Condoleezza Rice has taken a lot of risks. She's also made some mistakes. Confirmation hearings are going to be very heated. But Condoleezza Rice also brings to the table a lot of management skills. She dominated Stanford University as its provost. That's something you don't easily do. So she may change the State Department in ways that journalists I think will be very entertaining to cover.

KURTZ: How much of the coverage of Powell, particularly, as journalists viewing everything through the prism of Iraq, if you were opposed to that war or thought it was badly bungled, you say, well, of course Powell was right to be skeptical, maybe he should have even resigned in protest, Rice was wrong. So how come he's out and she's in? Isn't Iraq what is really driving the debate here?

DIONNE: Well, the premise of your question is somehow journalists were all against the Iraq war, and as you know from the stories you have written, the press was actually rather soft in the lead-up to that war and didn't raise all the questions they might have raised earlier. But you know...

FUND: But now, they're almost all are against the war.

DIONNE: No, I think most of the press looks at what's happening in Iraq and, says something has to be explained here. It was supposed to be much easier than this. We didn't send enough troops. These are practical questions. Whether you are for or against the war -- a lot of conservative journalists I know are very upset with the way in which this war was carried out.

KURTZ: But don't you think that even journalists who were either supportive or respectful of the war effort before it happened now feel they were bamboozled by the administration on WMDs, and, therefore, that colors their coverage of Powell and Rice?

FUND: One thing we can say after 9/11 is, almost no one ever got fired who was accountable -- held accountable for those disasters. I think right now we're going to see some house cleaning at the State Department, we're going to see some house cleaning at the CIA, some house cleaning at the Defense Department. The disagreement is on who should go. A lot of journalists think it's Condoleezza Rice and George Bush who should have gone. A lot of people inside the administration thinks it should be the people who actually misread the analysis in the CIA and Defense who should pay for it.

KURTZ: Well, that's why we have elections.

I want to turn now to an extraordinary bit of television footage from an interview this week that former President Bill Clinton had with ABC's Peter Jennings. It was a low-key affair in which the former president was showing Jennings around his new library in Little Rock, the new presidential library, until the subject turned to impeachment and Jennings asked about critics and historians and how they would view that episode in Clintons' second term. Let's take a look.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will go to my grave being at peace about it, and I don't really care what they think.

PETER JENNINGS, ABC NEWS: Oh, yes, you do.

CLINTON: They have no idea...

JENNINGS: No, excuse me, Mr. President. I can feel it across the room.

CLINTON: No, no, I care...

JENNINGS: You feel it very deeply.

CLINTON: You don't want to go here, Peter. You don't want to go here. Not after what you people did and the way you, your network, what you did with Kenneth Starr. The way you people repeated every little sleazy thing he leaked.


KURTZ: John Fund, what do you make of that Clinton reaction? FUND: I guess Bill Clinton is not going to be kindler, gentler in retirement. If you go to the library, the Clinton library, it's a little different than the Nixon library. The Nixon library at least lets you listen to the smoking gun tape. It mentions Watergate very prominently. Bill Clinton's library does not mention Travelgate, does not mention the FBI files, does not mention any of the pardons, the Marc Rich pardon. It has one mention of Whitewater, and it has two mentions of Monica Lewinsky, all in the context the Republicans are trying to get him, the vast right wing conspiracy.

KURTZ: But why shouldn't Clinton...

DIONNE: And you wonder why Bill Clinton doesn't get a little ticked off? I mean, there are people who simply won't let go off that. And you talked about leaks earlier. It's true that all kinds of stuff that Starr was investigating had leaked out, whether it was true or not, and I think Clinton's frustration reflects the fact that if some conservative group put out a statement saying Bill Clinton arrived on Earth in a UFO and he is actually a Martian, they'd be out there saying, let's investigate the Martian allegation. So those were tough times.

Would he be better off to let it go? Sure. I think can you understand why he didn't? Yeah, I do.

KURTZ: We have about 20 seconds, John Fund. It seems like conservative media people are still -- don't have a kindler and gentler view of Bill Clinton, the way both President Bushes did at that library ceremony.

FUND: I haven't talked about him for three years until now. I think we all wish we could move on. Unfortunately, Bill Clinton is trying to rewrite history and airbrush history. And his library is the latest example of it. I don't think we can let that pass.

KURTZ: Seems to be there's always a battle over writing and rewriting history. John Fund, E.J. Dionne, thanks very much for joining us.

DIONNE: Thank you.

KURTZ: Still to come, two stories about the media and sex. What more do you need to know?


KURTZ: How desperate is ABC? Desperate enough to promote its raunchy soap, "Desperate Housewives," by having one of the housewives, Nicolette Sheridan, stage a locker room scene before the kick off to "Monday Night Football." Sheridan tries to seduce Philadelphia Eagles star Terrell Owens, drops her towel, and everyone gets a salacious chuckle. But many parents of young football fans aren't laughing. The NFL is ticked off. The FCC is investigating, and ABC Sports says it's sorry.

Do these folks somehow nap through the whole Janet Jackson boob baring, which resulted in more than half a million dollars in government fines against CBS stations? The only ones more desperate than ABC are the other television networks that keep replaying the towel-dropping scene, while doing their tut-tutting again and again. I guess we just did that, as well.

And in other sex news, some local anchors, it seems, will do almost anything during sweeps. Take Sharon Reed, a news anchor at Cleveland's WOIO. She decided to tackle the Naked Truth, a downtown event with more than 1,000 people taking off their clothes for a photographer. Reed uncovered the event, you might say, and her action news recorded the action when she slipped out of her bathrobe and joined the sea of nudity. WOIO even ran promos of its newsperson shedding her inhibitions.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Recently, thousands posed nude for one man's artistic vision. And I was one of them.


KURTZ: Talk about having to grin and bare it. Sharon Reed says she did it for art, and viewers must be very artistic minded, since the 11:00 newscast got its biggest ratings in history.

A programming note: Despite the pressure for ratings, I plan to continue doing this show fully clothed.

And still to come, a Rhode Island reporter facing possible jail time. That's next.


KURTZ: A veteran Rhode Island television reporter was convicted this past week of criminal contempt of court, for refusing to reveal who leaked him an FBI videotape. Jim Taricani faces up to six months in jail when he's sentenced in early December, in a case related to widespread government corruption in Providence. Mayor Buddy Cianci, along with his top aide and other city officials, were convicted in the federal investigation. WJAR's Taricani addressed the press Thursday after the judge's verdict.


JIM TARICANI, WJAR: I made a promise to my source, which I intend to keep. Although I'm willing to go to jail, I think it's wrong that journalists should face this type of threat simply for doing their jobs.


KURTZ: "The New York Times" editorial page said yesterday that Taricani, the survivor of a heart transplant, fell victim to a widening judicial assault on freedom of the press, and that his imprisonment could have a chilling effect on journalism's ability to expose corruption. Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz. Join us next Sunday morning at 11:30 Eastern for another critical look at the media. "LATE EDITION" with Wolf Blitzer begins right now. Thanks for joining us.


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