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A Look at Canadian Coverage of Bush's Visit; Journalists Facing Jail; Who Will Replace Rather?

Aired December 5, 2004 - 11:30   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice-over): Broken mirror. As the president visits Canada, the media view of George Bush and America is very different up north.

Journalists facing jail. Why should they get special privileges to protect sources anyway?

Plus, Tom Brokaw's farewell and the feverish sweepstakes over who will be the next Dan Rather.


KURTZ: Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES, where today we turn our critical lens on a tale of two countries and their very different media cultures. I'm Howard Kurtz.

When President Bush visited Canada this week, he got the usual U.S. coverage about trying to mend fences with a traditionally friendly country that opposed the Iraq War.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This week, President Bush goes to Canada, where the war in Iraq has not had many backers. He's trying to build diplomatic support for the work that still needs to be done and improve his image among the Canadian public.


KURTZ: But in the Canadian press, the emphasis was on criticism of the U.S. president and why Bush offered nothing on any Canadian issue, including trade disputes.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Four years, three weeks and two days since first being elected U.S. president, and George Bush said hello to Canada, beginning his first official visit here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bush is here for one reason and that is to make war. He's here to build fortresses. He's here to co-opt Canada further into his illegal, immoral and barbaric war on terror.


KURTZ: As viewed through the American media lens, Canada is the land of national health insurance, same-sex marriage, medical marijuana and a polite citizenry, a sort of blue state paradise with maple and moose.

To much of the Canadian press, America is the big, bad, bruising neighbor to the south, cultural imperialist, foreign policy bullies, ruled by red-staters, that barely notices Canada at all.

Of course, Canada does provide some important exports to the United States, from beef to the media meat market. ABC's Peter Jennings hails from Canada, and when Texan Dan Rather steps down, CBS might replace him with a Canadian, John Roberts. That should help the trade balance.

Joining me now in Washington, Jonah Goldberg, editor at large of "National Review Online." And in Ottawa, Andrew Cohen, columnist for CanWest Newspapers and a journalism professor at Carlton University.


Andrew Cohen, does much of the American media, in your view, seem to enjoy smacking Canada around?

ANDREW COHEN, COLUMNIST, CANWEST NEWSPAPERS: Well, Howard, it depends who you ask. I mean, your friends at "CROSSFIRE," Tucker and the gang, surely had a good time last week ganging up on old Canada. And Bill O'Reilly can be relied on regularly to bash Canada. I'm sure your colleague, Jonah Goldberg, will weigh in as well.

But if you read other elements of the American media, if you read "The New York Times" this week and "The Washington Post," both of which did -- which covered the visit, it was very straight.

If you watched ABC News or NBC or CBS, maybe because of the Canadians there, I don't know, but their reporting was quite straight.

I think -- I think the cable news channels seem to like to have a go at Canada. And maybe it's good entertainment. We're happy to hear it.

KURTZ: Well, he set you up, Jonah Goldberg. You wrote a "National Review" cover story about Canada, entitled "Wimps," in which you said, among other things, it was not a normal country. So I guess you'd say that Canadians deserve to be smacked around by ugly Americans such as yourself.

JONAH GOLDBERG, EDITOR AT LARGE, NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE: I do, and thank you for calling me an ugly American. I think -- look, I do think Canadian political culture is largely dysfunctional. I think it makes -- particularly the conservative American media has every good reason to criticize a lot of the things that Canada does. Canada has basically in my view picked up a EU and U.N. sensibility. They're riven with anti-Americanism, it's soaked to the bone in Canada, and it's often reflexive and knee-jerk. GOLDBERG: That said, I have to disagree with a little bit of your opening thing. I think that the Canadian press was actually far more responsible and favorable to Bush than the American press was. The American press was obsessed with very small protests that turned out in Canada against Bush, much smaller than all the predictions. The American press kept -- emphasized how this was a -- a fence- mending mission and all that sort of thing.

Meanwhile, the Canadian press gave Bush a second chance, I thought.

KURTZ: Andrew Cohen, would you agree with that assessment of the Canadian coverage of President Bush's visit?

COHEN: Well, I think Jonah shows great wisdom. I'm kind of surprised to hear him say so many nice things about the Canadian media.

I think he's right. I think that they played it straight. Look, our interests are obviously different from your interests. The White House corps covering President Bush would probably be interested in whether the president was test-driving a speech that he'll give in Western Europe, perhaps early in his second term. They put it in a larger context, perfectly understandable.

Canadian -- the Canadian media probably is more interested in what Mr. Bush could do for Canada, what -- how he might have addressed our bigger issues. I mean, things like closing the border to our cattle, which is -- may sound like nothing to you, but it's billions and billions of dollars lost to Canadian cattlemen.

KURTZ: If I could jump in here...

COHEN: Other elements...

KURTZ: Andrew Cohen, if I could jump in here, one Canadian columnist in the "National Post," Don Martin, wrote that Bush probably uttered the word "Canada" more in the 27 hours of his visit than in the first four years of his term.

So that gives me the impression that in the eyes of the Canadian media, you feel kind of ignored by a huge country with a huge media establishment.

COHEN: Well, Canadians have, like many small countries living next to big ones, have an inferiority complex. It comes with a mouse living beside an elephant. And sometimes, if you're in the same bed, the elephant rolls over. It doesn't leave you a lot of -- a lot of prospects.

I think that probably Canada has been ignored by the United States. Here's what happened, Howard. After September the 11th, Canadians took in 33,000 Americans when all the planes were diverted. They fed and housed them for five days in eastern Canada.

And when the president got up in Congress on September the 20th, when he gave that speech, he thanked everybody in the world but Canada. It was a small thing, but it introduced himself early in his term to Canadians in a way which wasn't particularly ingratiating.


COHEN: That having been said, when President -- when President Bush addressed Canadians on Wednesday in Halifax, what -- he was actually charming in many ways.

He said, "How does a person thank a nation, well, that's something a president can do." And thereupon, he did, and he talked very glowingly of Canada's contribution in a number of areas which perhaps Jonah may not recognize, like Afghanistan. We've lost people doing hard work, nation building, that your country is not doing.

KURTZ: Let me jump in.

COHEN: So I think the president recognized that.

KURTZ: Let me jump in here. Jonah Goldberg, you seem to judge whether the Canadian media were fair or not, whether the American media were fair or not, as how supportive they are of President Bush. That's a conservative standard, but it's not necessarily the only standard.

GOLDBERG: No, but I think that when anti-Bush, anti-President Bush protests turn out to be much smaller than anticipated, when...

KURTZ: They were comparing him to Hitler. That's pretty vociferous stuff.

GOLDBERG: Yes, but -- it was. But Howard...


GOLDBERG: ... George Bush can't swing a dead cat without hitting someone with a goatee who's comparing him to Hitler. Everyone's comparing Bush to Hitler. It's idiotic. It happens a lot in Canada.

I think -- I think Canadian press, the Canadian left has this outrageous inferiority complex. I think they're taking a lot of cheap shots at the United States of America.

But the mainstream Canadian press did focus with -- on Bush's magnanimity. They focused a lot more on these issues. And supposedly the American press is always concerned about issues in all these things. They're the ones that retread the exact same story line of Bush is unpopular abroad. Well, that story wasn't the real story.

KURTZ: Andrew Cohen, you mentioned earlier in this segment CNN's Tucker Carlson. I want to play a little sound for you from a recent edition of "CROSSFIRE."


TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST, "CROSSFIRE": Doesn't that tell you something about the sort of limpid, flaccid nature of Canadian society, that people with ambition come here? What does that tell you about Canada?


KURTZ: So how does it feel to have your country be besmirched by people like Tucker and Jonah?

COHEN: Well, you know, Howard, I had the great pleasure of -- of chatting with Tucker the other day. And after introducing himself to me and telling me I didn't look like a Canadian, I asked him what a Canadian looks like. I didn't know if he looked like an American in a bowtie. Our former prime minister used to wear bowties all the time.

No, look, when you live in the Republic of Hyperbole, when exaggeration is your currency, when that kind of chatter seems to sell on the cable news channels, that's fine. But is it reality? Is it real? Absolutely not.

KURTZ: I want -- I want you to respond...


KURTZ: Sorry to break in here in an American fashion. I want you to respond to Jonah's point about anti-Americanism. Is there, in the Canadian media coverage of the United States, an element of cultural superiority or downright anti-Americanism?

COHEN: Look, if you want to be brutally honest and frank about Canada, yes, there is a current of anti-Americanism in Canada. Is it reflected in the mainstream media? I would say probably not.

I mean, most of our papers, I think, play it quite straight. We have Washington correspondents. I was one. We make a big effort to cover America, to understand America.

If you're saying is there a Canadian take on America, yes. But you know, there's anti -- I mean, my God, to say a Canadian compared George Bush to Adolf Hitler, you don't think there are a few Americans who don't do that? I mean, 48 percent of that -- of your country voted for John Kerry. I think a lot of Americans have real doubts about George Bush.

And I think that the sentiment in Canada in many ways is no different from much of Europe and the United States itself. I don't think it's that different.

GOLDBERG: I think the problem -- we're getting back to this inferiority complex. When American journalists -- the most reaction I've ever gotten from a cover story of "National Review" was when I wrote this piece about Canada, but it was all about the 49th parallel. They went nuts up there.

When Steven Pearlstein, the "Washington Post" correspondent in Canada, wrote a piece about Canadian identity and the lack thereof, the Canadian elite press went nuts about this. Front page stories, thumb sucking, all sorts of things...

KURTZ: You're saying America doesn't care.

GOLDBERG: And when -- and every single day there are Canadians who say the most idiotic things about America. And we don't care.

KURTZ: Jonah -- Jonah...

COHEN: There...


KURTZ: Just briefly, Andrew.

COHEN: There's now doubt there's an obsession in Canada about what Americans think of us. That's absolutely true. But it can be overstated in the American press.

KURTZ: All right. Well, there are also Americans who say idiotic things every day, sometimes on television.

Jonah Goldberg, Andrew Cohen in Ottawa, thanks very much. Jonah, stay with us.

When we come back, journalists under siege. Should they be forced to reveal confidential sources to avoid jail time? We'll talk about that next.


KURTZ: Welcome back. "The San Francisco Chronicle" reported this week that New York Yankee star Jason Giambi had admitted in grand jury testimony that he used human growth hormone and steroids over a three-year period. A public service? Not in the eyes of federal prosecutors, who want an investigation of who leaked the information to the newspaper.

A number of high-profile journalists are suddenly facing jail time. "Time's" Matt Cooper and Judith Miller of "The New York Times" face a hearing next week after being held in contempt of court over the leaks that led to last year's outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame. Five reporters have been held in contempt of court for refusing to disclose sources in the case of Wen Ho Lee, the Los Alamos nuclear scientist later cleared of spy charges. And last week, a federal judge held Rhode Island TV reporter Jim Taricani in contempt and threatened him with jail for refusing to name the person who gave him a videotape of a city official accepting an envelope of cash. A defense lawyer in the case has now voluntarily revealed that he provided the tape.

Joining us now to talk about this, Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters' Committee for Freedom of the Press. And still with us, "National Review's" Jonah Goldberg.

Lucy Dalglish, is there an anti-press climate that is fueling all of these cases in which journalists are looking at time behind bars? LUCY DALGLISH, REPORTERS COMMITTEE FOR FREEDOM OF THE PRESS: You know, I think that's part of what is going on. I think Floyd Abrams, the noted First Amendment lawyer, kind of called it a perfect storm going on. I think what is happening is that we're seeing an increase in secrecy. An increase in government secrecy leads people within the government to want to leak information to the public. The only way that journalists can get the information from them is to promise confidentiality, and the government gets upset, launches an investigation. Ultimately the only people who end going to jail are the journalists.

KURTZ: You're not in favor of journalists going to jail, are you?

GOLDBERG: It depends on the journalist and depends on what they did. I think that some journalists -- I have no problem with some journalists going to jail if they've committed a crime. And I think, yes, there is this perfect storm, as Lucy calls it, about increased secrecy -- I think that's true. I also think part of that perfect storm is increased media arrogance, where there's this notion -- increasingly from the elite media, that they need to be somehow this pristine priesthood that is immune from the laws that apply to (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

KURTZ: Let me make an arrogant point.


KURTZ: It's easy for you. You're a commentator. When it comes to reporters who are trying to ferret out facts about waste, corruption, you name it, you don't find these things out without sometimes having to promise people anonymity, people who might lose their jobs or be in some kind of jeopardy. You don't seem very sensitive to that.

GOLDBERG: I think it's fine. If you've got to promise people confidentiality, I think they should. I think journalists need to do that. I understand that.

I don't think that you should abet a crime. If it is illegal to leak Valerie Plame's I.D., for example, or if it is illegal to leak IRS records, then by willingly doing something that you know is illegal, abetting someone committing a crime, you should not have carte blanche, a special right not to have to be prosecuted for that.

KURTZ: On the other hand, Lucy Dalglish, haven't some reporters so abused this privilege, according to sources, every other paragraph about, you know, White House officials say John Kerry looks French, for example, that they've lost public sympathy on this whole matter of confidential sources?

DALGLISH: I think that that sometimes is the perception, but what I've noticed in recent months with all this going on is that journalists are being far more careful about who they're promising confidentiality to. I know that the media lawyers who are advising them are saying, "Hey, you can still do it in the appropriate circumstances, but be very, very careful about it."

KURTZ: Well, this was in "The Washington Post" the other day. "One senior administration official says Treasury Secretary John Snow can stay as long as he wants, provided that it's not very long."

Isn't this the kind of Washington reporting -- these leaks always go on.

GOLDBERG: I agree these leaks always go on, but I think what Lucy describes is -- is a good thing. It's not a chilling effect. It is actually reporters taking the currency of confidentiality seriously, because they know if they keep abusing it, they're going to get into trouble with it. What's wrong with that?

KURTZ: Jonah mentioned the Valerie Plame case.


KURTZ: And this is a story, as everybody knows, originally leaked to columnist and CNN "CROSSFIRE" host Robert Novak. Judith Miller of "The New York Times" didn't even write a story about it, but her refusal to discuss a private conversation she had, where she promised somebody anonymity, has her now facing jail time.

How can that be when Novak, at least for the moment, isn't?

DALGLISH: We don't really know what's going on with Novak. Obviously, they're just trying to identify who the source was. I don't know how they came up with Judy Miller's name. Probably someone in the White House volunteered that they had spoken to her at some point.

But yes, I think that it's very much a problem when journalists just doing their duty and -- and just doing their jobs, they face the possibility of going to jail.

KURTZ: If anyone is going to be squeezed here, shouldn't it be Novak, the guy who wrote the column? And how can somebody in the news business just say he refuses to comment, even, on whether he's been subpoenaed?

GOLDBERG: Well, my -- it's entirely possible, one report had it that he might have pled the Fifth. I don't know the details about Novak.

KURTZ: Does he have any responsibility to say?

GOLDBERG: I think -- I think he probably should. I have no problem with that. I don't know the details enough, but I -- I agree that this is a thorny issue. I think the problem is where do you draw the line?

Are just journalists who write for hoity-toity places like "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post" supposed to be this sort of the credentialed class that have these rights? Or does any blogger, any guy who puts out a newsletter -- are the new sort of I.F. Stones of today, the one-man-band operations, do they have this privilege?

And if that's the case, don't we all have a right to keep secrets from the government in criminal proceedings?

DALGLISH: No, I think the courts that addressed that specific issue have found that you look at what the purpose is when you're gathering the information. They say, are you collecting the information with the purpose of disseminating it to a broad audience?

In some cases, that means that a blogger who is doing what we would call journalism probably would be covered. Somebody else, who's just out there sort of blasting away on a single issue, may not be covered.

KURTZ: Would you have a different view of the Valerie Plame case, for example, if instead of the leak being to identify someone who was a CIA operative, most undoubtedly in retaliation against her husband, Joe Wilson, who had been criticizing the administration, it was a leak that dealt with corruption in the CIA?

Then would you be in favor of a reporter sticking by the source, keeping the promise that he or she made to the source, because valuable information had been disclosed? Does the motivation count?

GOLDBERG: I think you've reached one of the ironies and one of the weaknesses of the -- of the argument for people like Judith Miller and Mike -- Bob Novak, is that this is not the case of the whistle- blower. This is not the case of someone exposing corruption.

This is the case, allegedly, of the White House punishing somebody. And yet they still think that even -- that is a crime. There was no public end -- and the funny, weird irony is that conservatives are the ones who have been downplaying the significance of what happened with the Plame thing and have an alternative narrative to this whole thing.

And all of a sudden, the liberals who wanted this investigated to the high heavens are all of a sudden saying, "Oh, it's outrageous that journalists might get in trouble." Well, what happened to getting to the truth of the matter?

KURTZ: It's a special prosecutor in this case, Fitzgerald, who was using these what some would call hardball tactics...


KURTZ: ... against journalists. Is he out of control, or is it easier for him as a special prosecutor, in the tradition of, say, Lawrence Walsh and Ken Starr, to make these kinds of threats because he's not part of the political system? He's a special prosecutor.

DALGLISH: Well, I think they have put him in place because he's not part of it. He -- what's not clear to us is whether or not he's subject to the attorney general's guidelines on when to do this.

My understanding from the lawyers who've been dealing with Mr. Fitzgerald, say that on a personal level he's pretty decent to deal with. But you know, this is a very tough issue, and the journalists just feel that they have to uphold the public's right to get information about government.

KURTZ: Just briefly, in this case, in the Wen Ho Lee case, in other cases that you're familiar with, is it likely that we will see some journalists behind bars in the coming months?

DALGLISH: I think it's likely we'll see some journalists behind bars as early as next week.

KURTZ: And you would not lose any sleep about that, because you think that they are accessories to a crime, even though it's not a crime for journalists to receive information from a grand jury or from a prohibited source?

GOLDBERG: Not to say that I wouldn't be troubled by it, but I think that these are all things about balance, and I don't think journalists have an indisputable, complete, 100 percent right to ignore the law and have this sort of special status out there. Lawyers aren't allowed to further a crime. Why should journalists be allowed to?

KURTZ: Well, there is a thing called attorney-client privilege. We'll leave the rest to...

GOLDBERG: But you can't further a crime.

KURTZ: We'll leave that argument for another time. Jonah Goldberg, Lucy Dalglish, thanks very much for joining us.

Just ahead, with all these cabinet secretaries and TV anchormen resigning, everyone has a theory about who'll get these coveted jobs. We'll take a trip through the "Spin Cycle" and speculate, next.


KURTZ: Welcome back. Time now for a trip through "The Spin Cycle."

When a public official resigns, say Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, it is time for otherwise careful journalists to play the speculation sweepstakes. Reporters began floating names of possible successors.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Among them, Francis Townsend, who is currently the White House homeland security adviser.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, HARDBALL: Is this a big enough job for Governor Pataki?


KURTZ: Also on the list, former New York police chief Bernard Kerik and, bingo, Kerik got the job.

The sweepstakes is easy to enter and free of charge, and no one remembers if you're wrong.

The same goes for famous anchors. Who will be the new Dan Rather, now that he's announced he's stepping down? Matt Drudge picked White House correspondent John Roberts, Rather's chief substitute, against "60 Minutes" correspondent Scott Pelley. A bakeoff already? And lots of pundits are placing their bets.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: CBS could go for a while with venerable folksy Bob Schieffer of "Face the Nation." Unidentified posters to the TVnewser Web site have suggested Julie Chen of CBS, Anderson Cooper.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The speculation points to the leading candidates as John Roberts, the current CBS White House correspondent, and Scott Pelley.


KURTZ: Some of the guess work gets pretty absurd. "Newsweek" says -- makes that speculates -- it might be Tim Russert or Matt Lauer. Great choices, but they're both on a long-term contract to NBC. Other suggest ABC's Diane Sawyer. Small problem? She says she's not interested.

CBS President Les Moonves told "Variety" that the anchor job may not go to one person. Really? Could network be thinking about such illustrious male/female pairings as Dan Rather and Connie Chung? Or Harry Reasoner and Barbara Walters? OK, scrap that.

Hey, I can buy a ticket to the sweepstakes, too. The new CBS anchor could be this guy, or someone with an upper crust accent, or him, or him, or her. Or this guy. What about this talented journalist?

All right, so, no one has called, not even a mention in the gossip columns. Life is full of disappointments.

When we come back, a broadcasting giant signs off.


KURTZ: Before we go, a look at the changing of the guard at NBC.


TOM BROKAW, FORMER NBC NEWS ANCHOR: Well, the time is here. We've been through a lot together, through dark days and nights and seasons of hope and joy. Whatever the story, I had only one objective -- to get it right.


KURTZ: Tom Brokaw stepped down this past week after 22 years at the helm of "Nightly News," capping a career that included stings at the White House and as host of "The Today Show."

The farewell from folks at his old show included a champaign toast and an emotional moment.


BROKAW: It's been a great, great privilege. Thank you. Cheers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Cheers. Congratulations, and all the best.


KURTZ: NBC's Brian Williams took over the anchor chair, with a nod to the man who preceded him.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: It is now our job, from this day forward, to endeavor each evening to put the finest work of this organization on the air. We can do that best by working harder than anyone else, just the way that Tom did for so many years.


KURTZ: Can Williams fill Brokaw's journalistic shoes and keep "Nightly News" on top of the ratings heap? We'll be watching.

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


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