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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
'Times' Publishes Account of Miller's Dealings With Libby; Interview With Tom Friedman
Aired October 16, 2005 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: The "Times" in turmoil. As Judith Miller testifies for a second time in the CIA leak case, "The New York Times" finally publishes a lengthy account of her dealings with Dick Cheney's top aide and the outing of Valerie Plame. Has the newspaper finally come clean on this tangled tale?
Iraq in the shadows. As Iraqis vote on a new constitution, has the media dropped the ball on this long and bloody war? Has Iraq been overshadowed by Katrina and Tom DeLay and Harriet Miers and the Pakistan quake? A conversation with columnist Tom Friedman.
Was 60 minutes unfair to Bill Clinton in airing Louis Freeh's charges against him? Former Clinton lawyer Lanny Davis in our new "Talk Back to the Media" segment.
Plus that bogus subway terror alert. Why didn't television slam on the brakes?
KURTZ: Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz. You're joining us at our new time, 10 a.m. Eastern, 7 Pacific for a full hour of media analysis every week. We have some new segments we'll be adding in the coming weeks, so stay tuned.
Ahead a wide ranging sit-down with Pulitzer Prize winner Tom Friedman. But first, Judy Miller and "The New York Times" finally go public on the front page this morning with their nearly 6,000-word account of the CIA leak investigation.
In a separate first-person account, Miller confirms that she told the grand jury that "Scooter" Libby, Dick Cheney's top aide, discussed with her as many as three times the role of Valerie Plame as a CIA employee, this as the Bush administration was angry about her husband, Joe Wilson's, role in criticizing President Bush on whether Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
The conclusion by a team of "Times" reporters, the "Times" incurred millions of dollars in legal fees in Ms. Miller's case. It limited its own ability to cover aspects of one of the biggest scandals of the day. Even as the paper asked for the public's support, it was unable to answer its questions. Among the journalistic revelations, Miller, released from jail last month, says she pushed for a story on the outing of Plame back in 2003. She never wrote one. But that her former boss says, no way, that never happened. And the "Times" was so conflicted in covering the controversy that editors killed the story about Libby and pulled their punches in other ways.
Joining us now in Los Angeles, Arianna Huffington, the syndicated columnist and founder of the blog HuffingtonPost.com. In Minneapolis, Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporter's Committee for Freedom of the Press. And here in Washington, Frank Sesno, professor of public policy and communication at George Mason University and a CNN special correspondent.
Frank Sesno, has "The New York Times," belatedly to be sure, finally made an honest accounting of its role, of Judy Miller's role and the tensions she created in the newsroom?
FRANK SESNO, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, an honest accounting, yes, maybe, but not a full accounting, you know. And if the whole bottom line of this mess is that the public has the right to know and that that's what this is all about, the public still doesn't know a lot of things. There are still a lot of questions here.
Why was that waiver that Miller was apparently granted by "Scooter" Libby a year ago, why did it wait until she sat in jail for all that time before she actually took up on it?
Why -- you know, she is referred to in the "Times'" own account as "Miss Run Amuck." She was pulled off of certain stories on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. What are her motives and bottom lines to the secrecy of this whole thing? A lot we still don't know.
KURTZ: Miss Run Amuck was a name that she apparently gave herself, quite proudly, apparently.
Arianna Huffington, the "Times" piece, the lengthy piece acknowledges that Judy Miller is a controversial figure in the newsroom, whose own WMD reporting was wrong. And that, while she claims to have pushed for this story on Valerie Plame two years ago, the paper's managing editor now says no way, that didn't happen. In other words, there's a dispute in the accounts.
Pretty candid stuff for a newspaper to publish about itself. Wouldn't you say?
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Well, as Frank said, there are many unanswered questions, and there are many very devastating comments and conclusions about Judy Miller as a journalist.
I don't think the "Times" had any choice though, Howie, because remember, as I first reported back on July 27, the turmoil in the newsroom has been going on for months about Judy Miller and the way the paper has decided to cover the story and the way they decided to present her as a martyr for the First Amendment. And the main unanswered question here is, why did Arthur Sulzberger, the newspaper's publisher, allow Judy Miller to hijack the reporting of that story and the editorial policy on that story?
And the similarities for the Jayson Blair case, remember, after the Jayson Blair scandal broke, we had a 7,000-word story that did not give a full account of what happened, especially about why is a major institution like the "Times" ignoring so many red flags?
KURTZ: All right.
HUFFINGTON: In the story, one of the things that we learn is that Bill Keller took off Judy Miller off of that WMD beat as one of his first personnel decisions when he took the reigns as editor.
KURTZ: All right. Well, I agree there are some unanswered questions. But I'm willing to give the "Times" a little more credit than you for at least attempting to answer many of the questions.
And Lucy Dalglish, here's the thing that jumped out at me in the story. Judy Miller acknowledges that, at Lewis Libby's request -- this is the Dick Cheney aide -- she recently referred to him in stories not as a senior administration official but as a former Hill aide, because he had once worked on Capitol Hill. Do you have a problem with that sort of thing?
LUCY DALGLISH, COMMITTEE FOR FREEDOM OF THE PRESS: I thought that was a little bit misleading and I thought it was odd. Her justification was that, well, he had been a former Hill staffer. But that was a strange request, and I think the agreement was strange. I'll agree with you on that.
KURTZ: Frank Sesno, the "Times" was so hamstrung by its passionate embrace of its reporter, who after all, was facing going to jail, did go to jail. One can understand the emotions that were unleashed here.
And yet the editors discouraged stories on the CIA leak investigation, at one time killed a piece written by a reporter about "Scooter" Libby. Was that an abdication of journalistic responsibility?
SESNO: Yes, maybe. And it shows -- what it really shows, Howie, I think is just how difficult it is for news organizations to report on themselves.
News organizations demand total transparency, whether you're General Motors, the United States government. We want access; we want explanation; we want full disclosure. But it's very difficult for them do it themselves.
In this case, the "Times" makes that very point in their story today, they really suffered. They were behind on virtually every mayor aspect of the story.
KURTZ: Even when she went to jail. SESNO: Even when she went to jail.
KURTZ: And when she was released from jail.
SESNO: Yes. At the point that she came out, they didn't say that, you know, until she walked out and the question -- this is a very serious question that's not answered in the article -- were editorial higher-ups and were the corporate lawyers at "The New York Times" in some way leaning on suppressing and in ways distorting coverage from the news section.
KURTZ: Arianna Huffington, in this lengthy piece this morning, "The New York Times" says -- Judy Miller is quoted -- excuse me -- as saying there was another source besides "Scooter" Libby that she dealt with on the Valerie Plame situation. She doesn't recall who that source was. Looking at her notes and seeing the notation "Valerie Flame." She got the name wrong. Do you buy this notion that she doesn't recall who this other source was?
HUFFINGTON: No, of course not, Howie. In fact, I think this is the major unanswered question. We still don't know who her source was when it comes to revealing the identify of Valerie Plame. And to say that she does not recall is really as convincing as having Woodward and Bernstein saying that they do not recall who Beep Throat was.
After all, these notes were just a few weeks old when the Valerie Plame-Bob Novak column appeared and when the whole Washington and the whole journalistic community was talking about it.
KURTZ: Incidentally, there were some questions that Judy Miller would not answer to her colleagues, and she wouldn't share her notes with them, although they've been turned over to the special prosecutor.
Lucy Dalglish, the big news for me was Miller recounting what her lawyer, Floyd Abrams, had said to her about a conversation that he had with Joe Tate, who was "Scooter" Libby's lawyer. Says Floyd Abrams, according to Miller's account, "When I wouldn't give him," Tate, "an assurance that you would exonerate Libby, he said, 'Don't go there'."
Now Tate, by the way, tells the "Times" that that account is false and outrageous.
Does this help justify Judy Miller's otherwise mysterious decision to go to jail, to not accept the waiver of confidentiality that "Scooter" Libby offered and sit in jail for 85 days?
DALGLISH: You know, I've been talking to Judy off and on about this case for the last year. This was a very difficult decision. And, you know, what this all comes down to is you keep your promises when you make a promise to a confidential source.
You'll recall six or eight months ago, Howie, I was on the show, and we were talking about, you know, did Russert and Kessler and all the rest of those guys, did they break some trust by agreeing to testify and observing the waiver? What I think the situation and the turmoil that is obviously going on at the "Times" right now points out is the fact that we have a major problem in this country, is that reporters believe they need to keep their promises to their sources. Reporters will -- will try to do whatever they can, as long as the law allows them to, to protect those sources.
DALGLISH: But that sources these days with the state of our law, the fact that we do not have a federal shield law, we have prosecutors and civil litigants going in there and interfering with the day to day operations of our news rooms. And we just can't tolerate this.
SESNO: I think Lucy -- I think Lucy is on to something here, if I can just say, Howie. And I think this is very important. Because this is an ugly case. And even people close to Judith Miller say this is not the one you'd really like to go to the mat on. You'd love to have a clear whistleblower case. You'd love to have a Pentagon papers case. You'd love to have something where the well being and the sanctity of the republic hangs in the balance. She didn't even report on this.
But it does point out a very serious issue, and that is the whole notion of the use of and abuse of confidential sources, the protections that reporters do or don't have, and the propensity of this government, United States government, to have more secrecy, not less. We've got to figure this out.
KURTZ: Just to clarify, she did ultimately testify about her confidential source. The whole issue was, how voluntary was the waiver of her promise to "Scooter" Libby offered and why was she able to accept it after being in jail as opposed to before being in jail.
HUFFINGTON: You know what, Howie? It's really -- it's really time for Lucy and other Judy Miller defenders to update their talking points. Because what Lucy just said just simply does not wash.
The truth is that, as Howie said, she did testify. The truth is that it's very clear from the stories today that she could have asked "Scooter" Libby to call her so that she could hear the timber of his voice earlier. All of that could have happened. It did not happen because, clearly, Judy Miller is protecting another source that she still has not revealed to the American public. And "The New York Times" is...
KURTZ: Lucy? Let me get a response from Lucy.
DALGLISH: I think it's very obvious from what Judy wrote today she is protecting somebody else. And one of the reasons that this negotiation took so long is that, not only was she negotiating what she was going to say about "Scooter" Libby, but you've got to keep in mind, I'm a lawyer. There were lawyers involved in this. They had to negotiate with Patrick Fitzgerald what he would not talk about. They also had to negotiate whether or not there would be any type of obstruction charges connected with contacting.
Once you invoke the wrath or the extreme interest of a federal prosecutor, you have to be very, very careful. You don't mess with the feds.
HUFFINGTON: It's very clear in her story that she decided finally to testify because she got tired of jail, because she was threatened with criminal contempt charges, because she wanted to go out and now she's saying, admitting finally, write a book. All these things are there in black and white.
KURTZ: And on that point, Arianna, on that point...
HUFFINGTON: And for you to portray her as a martyr is not going to work.
KURTZ: She says -- excuse me -- Judy Miller says she's taking some time off from the paper. She wants to write a book. She wouldn't share her notes with her colleagues who were writing this story. Do you think she'll ever come back? Do you think she's saving it for the book?
HUFFINGTON: Well, it's very clear that she would not be welcome in the newsroom. And it's very clear, as I reported again, that when Bill Keller took her off of that WMD beat, they were all hoping she would resign. Instead, she threw a fit but she stayed on. This is not a Journalism -- a Journalism 101 course the way she handled both the WMD reporting and Plame.
KURTZ: Frank Sesno, please comment.
SESNO: Howie, I'll tell you what. There's a gigantic shot across the bow of every manager in the news business and every editor and every executive producer anywhere, because you've got to have some control, some connection with your correspondents and your reporters. You've got to know who they're talking to at some level anyway, because you know what? It's about trust with the public and it's about being -- you know, ending up in jail or in court.
KURTZ: The story -- the story says that Bill Keller and Arthur Sulzberger did not press Judy Miller about her conversations with Libby or ask to see her notes...
SESNO: Ask to see her notes.
KURTZ: ... while they were defending her.
And by the way, we invited "The New York Times" to have an editor appear on this program. The paper declined.
When we come back, media speculation run amuck over possibly indictments at 1600 Pennsylvania. And the president's scripted session with troops in Iraq. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES.
As the CIA leak investigation continued this week, media folks did plenty of speculating, with no evidence, about the possible indictment of a certain top White House official who testified before the grand jury for the fourth time on Friday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Karl Rove, his closest aide, the No. 2 man in the White House, the man that has been called Bush's brain, if he's indicted and has to go, it undermines the key source of this president's public support, his character.
BILL O'REILLY, HOST, FOX NEWS CHANNEL'S "THE O'REILLY FACTOR": If Rove gets indicted, that could bring down the Bush administration, I think.
JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: My understanding from talking to somebody quite close to this investigation, is that they think there are going to be indictments. And possibly Karl Rove could be among them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Lucy Dalglish, if Karl Rove is indicted, if Karl Rove is indicted, what if he's not indicted? Isn't this the worst kind of journalistic speculation?
DALGLISH: Yes. You know, I think it's always dangerous to speculate whether or not. You're really besmirching someone's reputation, although I'm not sure you can do that with Karl Rove. But it is very, very, you know -- I would prefer that people keep an eye on what the -- you know, watching him testify and going in and out of the courthouse.
But will it bring down the administration? I don't know. I don't know.
KURTZ: Well, nobody knows. That's the point.
Arianna Huffington, I used to cover the Justice Department. Not everybody who's under investigation winds up getting indicted. But you certainly -- and you're on a blog, so maybe this is a different standard -- have speculated about Rove's fate, as well.
HUFFINGTON: Well, not just Rove, though. What we have speculated is that it might be a much more tangled web that Fitzgerald is after: the whole Iraq White House group, the group that in Cheney's office with Libby and Rove and Mary Matalin and Condoleezza Rice and a lot of administration officials basically sold a war to the American public based on lies. I mean, that is really the web.
But it seems -- and we find out today also from the reporting on the Miller story -- that Fitzgerald is after Cheney, even, in some of the questioning of Miller.
DALGLISH: I think those were fairly routine questions about -- you have Judy Miller there. You ask about Cheney. He was being thorough. I think we're overthinking this whole thing.
KURTZ: Frank Sesno.
SESNO: Karl Rove and the speculation business. You know, it's very easy to sit here and say, we should never speculate in journalism; it's irresponsible journalism. It's really how you speculate, not that you speculate.
The fact of the matter is that Karl Rove has been to the grand jury four times. The fact of the matter is that there are lots of people in Washington that -- believe me, they're not all journalists -- who are speculating what if guy gets indicted. It would be irresponsible, I think, for the media not to reflect what the discussion here is in town. And there are plenty of Republicans, mostly Republicans, who are worried about this.
KURTZ: All right. I want to turn now to the -- President Bush's meeting -- photo op some called it, with U.S. troops in Iraq, whether it was staged. How shocking that would be. Let's take a look at the actual footage.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And in your interactions with the Iraqi civilians in Tikrit, Saddam's hometown, how are they reacting to this political process?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, in the north central area of Iraq, voter registration has increased 17 percent.
GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Can you give us a sense for the reception of the people there in Tikrit?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, in north central Iraq voter registration...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Are you stunned? Are you stunned?
SESNO: Shocked! I can't even believe it.
KURTZ: They rehearsed it.
SESNO: You know something? I remember a long time ago, Michael Deaver, the ultimate image meister for Ronald Reagan, said, "My job is to light the president well and for everything I do to put the president in a good light."
Now look, first of all, this is uncomfortable to see. The problem this now creates for the White House is it plays into the credibility issue that the president has, that everything now is becoming a photo op and a rehearsed event in order to rescue what are tumbling numbers on his performance, on the public support of Iraq, the whole bit.
But the fact that anybody would think that you would do something like this, a remote -- I mean, anybody in television will tell you that's complicated business. You have satellite delay. You have a half-a-dozen people sitting there. Who's going to speak when? You don't want awkward silences. You're going to walk through it. So that it happened doesn't surprise me. Does it hurt the president? Yes, that's inevitable, too.
KURTZ: Arianna Huffington, does the staging here surprise you at all if?
HUFFINGTON: It's not a question of surprising me, Howie. It's the fact that we are talking about war. This is not just any photo opportunity. Of course that's part and parcel of the presidency. But we're talking about a war in which almost 2,000 young Americans have died. And we are also using soldiers as props.
Yes, it is shocking. And I think Keith Olbermann did a phenomenal job of exposing this on MSNBC.
KURTZ: All right.
HUFFINGTON: And think more and more journalists are actually taking a hard look at what this administration is doing.
KURTZ: And we'll have to leave it there, last word. Arianna Huffington, Lucy Dalglish in Minneapolis, Frank Sesno, thanks very much for joining us.
Coming up, we launch our new segment, "Talk Back to the Media." Lanny Davis, former Bill Clinton attorney, takes on "60 Minutes" and ex-FBI director Louis Freeh.
And still to come, "New York Times" columnist Tom Friedman.
KURTZ: Welcome back.
In our new "Talk Back to the Media" segment, someone who believes he or she has been treated unfairly by the press gets the chance to sound off and give their side of the controversy.
Last Sunday Mike Wallace sat down with Louis Freeh, who was peddling a memoir on "60 Minutes." And the former FBI director unloaded on the president who appointed him, Bill Clinton. Among his criticisms, the former president's handling of the 1996 Khobar Towers terrorist bombing that killed 19 U.S. Marines in Saudi Arabia.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LOUIS FREEH, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I was very disappointed that the political leadership of the United States would tell the families of these 19 heroes that we were going to leave no stone unturned and find the people who killed them. To give that order to the director, because that's the order that I got, and then to do nothing to assist and facilitate that investigation, in fact to undermine it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: The Clinton people were furious at the way "60 Minutes" handled the segment. And here to talk back is former Clinton White House attorney Lanny Davis.
Let's deal with the substance first. Louis Freeh says that when Clinton met with Crown Prince Abdullah in 1998, he didn't press for FBI access to suspects in the Khobar Towers bombing, and he hit up the prince for a contribution to his presidential library.
LANNY DAVIS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ATTORNEY: Well, not only is that false and President Clinton has said so, but everybody at the meeting, who attended the meeting, not including Louis Freeh, says it's false.
And my problem with "60 Minutes" is that they never called anybody at the meeting. Until Friday afternoon, we didn't even know the charge was being made. Even then they were unwilling to put somebody from the meeting on the air to contradict Mr. Freeh.
KURTZ: "60 Minutes" says Bill Clinton was offered a chance to come on and give his rebuttal. What's wrong with that?
DAVIS: Well, first of all, it's absolutely amazing that "60 Minutes" think it's OK to air a false and malicious statement. This is a terrible charge that an FBI investigation was thwarted because President Clinton wanted to receive money for his library.
The charge was false. And the only way that that can be countered is a former president of the United States? What about anybody at the meeting who was willing to be on? What about them doing reporting themselves before they air a false and demonstrably false charge? That's my problem.
KURTZ: What about Sandy Berger, the former national security adviser under former President Clinton? He was at the meeting. He was in the room. Did you offer him for an on-camera interview?
DAVIS: Well, on Friday afternoon...
KURTZ: You weren't there. You get on television, but you weren't there.
DAVIS: I talked to Sandy Berger. We issued a statement from Mr. Berger. But this was Friday afternoon when we first learned about it with a Sunday broadcast.
Why didn't "60 Minutes" invite Mr. Berger or other people at the meeting before Friday afternoon? Why did it take us to get "60 Minutes" to do basic reporting to verify facts? It's not enough to have Louis Freeh say something is so based on an anonymous source. That's poor journalism.
KURTZ: On that point, let me read a statement from a "60 Minutes" spokesman. This involves their saying that they contacted Clinton's office back in August with a detailed list of charges.
And then, quote, "In subsequent phone calls the president's people said he did not want to be interviewed. They gave more substantive response to any of the allegations until Lanny Davis launched his P.R. campaign on the Thursday before the broadcast and offered himself as the person from the camp who would merely disparage and attack Freeh, rather than deal with his allegations. Denials from President Clinton and Sandy Berger that did deal with Freeh's allegations were included in the '60 Minutes' report."
DAVIS: Well, first of all, it's false to say that I was asking to disparage Freeh. I was asking to talk about facts that Freeh was saying that were not true.
KURTZ: You don't mind disparaging Freeh, from my observation.
DAVIS: In fact, I disparage any man who, as FBI director has a personal pique rather than doing his job. That's disparaging.
Second, it is absolutely a misrepresentation that they told us before -- just before the week before when Mr. Carson, the representative, spoke to Mr. Wallace. Mr. Wallace agreed that they had never verified what Mr. Freeh has said, they never talked to Mr. Freeh. And in fact it wasn't until that Friday that we learned the substance of Mr. Freeh's charges. So "60 Minutes," I think, has just said something that is false.
KURTZ: When did the Clinton team find out that "60 Minutes" was going to report that Louis Freeh, with his new book, would have a specific allegation, specific allegation, about Clinton's handling of the Khobar Towers investigation and the business about the presidential library solicitation?
DAVIS: When somebody named Howard Kurtz wrote a story in the "Washington Post" on Friday morning is the first time that the Clinton forces learned about that false and demonstrably false charge that good reporting by calling people who were at the meeting, which they could have done, would have verified that Mr. Freeh made a false charge.
And even since that interview, Mr. Freeh has backed off and has not told people who his source is. And he hasn't even insisted that it was true. He just said somebody told him it was true.
KURTZ: Hold on. "60 Minutes" spokesman Kevin Tedesco said in this statement I just referred to that the Clinton office was contacted in August with a detailed list of charges.
DAVIS: That's false.
KURTZ: That's false?
DAVIS: They were never told -- at least I'm now basing this upon what Mr. Carson has told me.
KURTZ: Jay Carson is the spokesperson for former President Clinton.
DAVIS: Jay Carson is the spokesperson for President Clinton, was not informed about the specific charge about the Khobar Towers which happens to be not true. President Clinton at that meeting did press the crown prince to cooperate with the FBI. So what Mr. Freeh said was false.
That was not understood by the Clinton people until it was read in the "Washington Post" in the story that you wrote, because "60 Minutes" put a press release out.
KURTZ: Now look, Lanny Davis. "60 Minutes" gave Bill Clinton one hour last year to push his own $10 million autobiography. He criticized people. He criticized Len Starr. They didn't have Ken Starr on to rebut.
Now the former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who can't stand Clinton, clearly, writes a book, gets one segment for his book, and you cry foul. Nobody was complaining about when Bill Clinton was getting all this air time on CBS.
DAVIS: Look, this is a program about good journalism. Let's about "60 Minutes" journalists to say, do you have an obligation to verify a charge made by a former FBI director as to whether it's true or not? Is it good enough just to air it because he says it, or should you do reporting? Good reporters would hear that charge and say, that's an extremely serious charge to be leveled against former President Clinton. Let's see whether it's true and start making phone calls. They didn't do that. That's a fact.
KURTZ: All right. Lanny Davis, thanks very much for coming on to talk back to the media this morning. We appreciate it.
Ahead in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, "New York Times" foreign affairs columnist Tom Friedman on whether the media are suffering from Iraq fatigue.
Plus, that heavily-hyped subway threat that wasn't. After all, an update on the hour's top stories from Atlanta.
KURTZ: Welcome back to the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES. Our new time, for those of you just tuning in, is 10:00 a.m. Eastern, 7:00 on the West Coast, and we'll be bringing you a full hour of media interviews and analysis each week.
The Iraq story, which the media seemed to have placed on the back burner in recent months is simmering again, as voters in that war-torn country went to the polls yesterday to vote on a new constitution, with results yet to be counted. But are journalists getting the real story there? To help us scrutinize the coverage, I sat down with the foreign affairs columnist of "The New York Times," three-time Pulitzer winner Tom Friedman, and the author most recently of "The World is Flat."
KURTZ: Tom Friedman, welcome.
TOM FRIEDMAN, NEW YORK TIMES: Good to be here, Howie, thank you.
KURTZ: The other day you wrote that if you were the editor of "The New York Times," you'd have put on the front page, led the paper with the news of recent days, that a Sunni suicide bomber on Ramadan had attacked a Shiite mosque.
Now, in reality, the world that you don't rule, "New York Times," "Washington Post" made that part of a larger story on Iraq. Nobody put it on the front page. Bad news judgment?
FRIEDMAN: I think so in a way, Howie. I'm not here to make a news point -- I'm really making a larger point, which is about the war on terrorism. I am a firm believer, how are we ever going to win this war? We're never going to win it by way of American intelligence finding this terrorist or that terrorist. We get lucky every once in a while, but there's only way we win this warm, Howie, is it takes a village. It only happens when the Sunni Muslim world basically turns people in and when the Sunni Muslim world restrains their own.
And what was so shocking to me about this story, a Sunni jihadi suicide bomber blows up a mosque, number one, on the first day of Ramadan. What that tells you is that there is no controlling moral authority today in the Sunni Muslim world, and that's a huge story.
KURTZ: (INAUDIBLE) story?
FRIEDMAN: I think it should have been a big story.
KURTZ: Why wasn't it? Is it because of Iraq fatigue?
FRIEDMAN: I think it is, yeah.
KURTZ: Are all the editors and producers and news executives feeling, another day, another bombing, 10 killed, 20 killed, 15 killed, and it doesn't rise anymore to the top of the newscast or the front page.
FRIEDMAN: Yeah, and I think that's right. There is Iraq fatigue. And there is so much fatigue that we don't sit back and say, wait a minute. What happened today? A Sunni Muslim fundamentalist went into a mosque on the first day of Ramadan, their holiest day, and no one says boo. This is civilization that when we accidentally or deliberately -- I don't know -- abused a Koran, people rioted in Pakistan. Yet their own houses of worship and holidays are being defiled. And I think it is a measure of how much we've kind of lost -- been numbed by all of this that we don't sit back and say, wow, wait a minute, that really crosses a line, and we have to call them on it, even if they don't.
KURTZ: You are recently back from Iraq. And you write about driving in from Kuwait. You were guarded by the U.S. Navy. And yet it was kind of a harrowing experience. Why so?
FRIEDMAN: Well, you know, the south of Iraq, which is where I was...
KURTZ: So, this is in the safe part.
FRIEDMAN: Right, exactly, I was in the safe district. I was guarded by the British Royal Marines, actually. Because, unfortunately, they've had now roadside bombs down there, not suicide bombs. And it's part of the general continuing insecurity of Iraq that I'm afraid has plagued this story from the very beginning. And it's been, I've always felt, the Achilles' heel.
My criticism of the Bush administration, as you know, Howie, we've talked about this before, is not that this war is not important. I believe it is important. Much more important than I think the left has ever fully recognized. But it's so much harder than the right has ever been willing to acknowledge.
KURTZ: But on that trip, you put on body armor, the rifles were out. How does that affect your perception as a journalist? You're there and you're being protected. You must have been a little bit nervous of what the safety situation is there.
FRIEDMAN: Well, I'll tell you what's really frustrating from a journalist point of view, as one who's lived in Beirut for nearly five years, covered that war. When I worked in Lebanon, you could go anywhere on that story. You could cross lines. Journalists weren't for the most part, until the very end, with Terry Anderson and the kidnappings, targets.
Therefore, by the end of the Lebanon story, I thought that the best journalists there knew more than the Lebanese. I always thought the best compliment you could get as a journalist is when you told the Lebanese something they didn't know. Because you were moving around so much.
What's so frustrating about the Iraq story, Howie, no one has a bird's eye view. I care passionately about this story. I'm so interested in it. But because of the security situation, you can't move around with the freedom you want.
KURTZ: And the brave reporters who are there every day don't have that freedom of movement either. And therefore, it's limited. And in fact, as you know, the administration says because of the security situation, and maybe because of some biases in the media, there are a lot of good things going on in Iraq, there's a lot of progress being made, we're not seeing it reported by the press. Do you think that is a credible argument at this point in the mess there?
FRIEDMAN: No, because I don't have a bird's eye view. I wish I could say -- I wish I could be so sure. But General Casey doesn't have a bird's eye view. And that's why we get surprises in Iraq. That's why we had an election where 8 million people suddenly turn out. And maybe we're going to see more surprises in the coming future there. But because no one can move around with the freedom that you need to talk to everyone, you don't have that bird's eye view.
And as a reporter, as a columnist who really cares about this story, I find that really frustrating. I cannot report it the way I'd love to.
So I've been there five times, but it's episodic. It's here, it's there, it's never really putting your arms around the story.
KURTZ: Pulling back the camera a bit. In recent months, you'd have to say that the Iraq story has been overshadowed by Katrina, by Rita, by Tom DeLay, by Harriet Miers, by Valerie Plame, and now by this Pakistan earthquake. Inevitable, with a war that drags on and on and on? These are also important stories obviously, but do you feel it's getting the attention it should?
FRIEDMAN: No. Because to me, this is the whole ballgame of the Bush administration. Katrina and Rita, they will come and go, but at the end of the day, the Bush administration made a very big claim, that it could go to Iraq and produce a decent, forward-looking government there. If that happens, then I think President Bush is going to have a very huge quiver in his legacy there. If it doesn't happen, I think the administration will be seen as a complete and utter failure.
So everything rides on this, not just for the administration but for the American people. These are huge stakes involved. And so I don't think it's gotten the attention it deserves.
KURTZ: And going back, again, to one of your Iraq columns, you observed the Iraqi military there, which after all is supposed to be increasingly shouldering the burden of this conflict. "The slightly ragged quality left you feeling," you write, "that if you pulled the U.S. and British advisers out tomorrow, the whole Iraqi navy would collapse."
That's a pretty pessimistic assessment, and clearly at odds with what the White House and the Defense Department say every day.
FRIEDMAN: Not at odds, though, with what actually the military commanders have been saying, which is that the number of really trained Iraqi units are far fewer than sometimes suggested by the administration.
KURTZ: So you're saying there is a gap between what real-time military commanders on the ground are willing to tell you -- not necessarily on the record -- you quoted one U.S. senior official. And what the president of the United States and the vice president and the secretary of defense are saying to reporters every day. Are we calling them on that?
FRIEDMAN: Right. I don't think enough. Because there has been a lot of happy talk around this, Howie, basically. And a lot of numbers are thrown out -- 80,000 this week we've got trained, 120,000 next week.
Here is what you learn when you go to Iraq. Where you have an Iraqi commander who is a real leader of soldiers, OK, you have a unit. And where you don't have that commander, you don't have a unit.
So the numbers, the macro numbers don't mean anything. So I went down to the -- to see the navy there. The navy of Iraq has a terrific commander. So the people around him, they'll follow him into battle. But you take that one guy out, there is no Iraqi navy. And it's true of units all over the country. That's really the key.
KURTZ: You say that you are angry that Bush has fought the war as though it would be easy. Are you particularly angry as somebody who supported the war?
KURTZ: And took heat from some of your liberal friends for doing so?
FRIEDMAN: Absolutely. Because I believe this is important. I believe that something very big is at stake. We're dealing with a Muslim-Arab civilization right now that's in decline, that's heading in the wrong direction, in ways that are dangerous for them, and I believe dangerous for the stability of the world. There is something really important here at stake. And what makes me so angry at the Bush administration is not that they didn't frame the stakes -- it is important! -- but they never, ever appreciated how difficult it was. They never prepared the army or the American people for how difficult it was.
KURTZ: I mentioned the devastating earthquake in Pakistan, a region you're familiar with. Clearly, it's become a pretty big story, but for the first couple of days, I noticed it wasn't that much of a television story, and the reason was no pictures, no video.
KURTZ: But also maybe, was there a little bit less coverage because it's in a remote part of the world? Westerners are more interested in New Orleans than in Pakistan?
FRIEDMAN: I think all of the above. We're so numbed also after Katrina and Rita, and now another earthquake. It's just become one natural disaster after another.
KURTZ: So to hear 10,000, 20,000, 40,000, it's almost hard for journalists to process.
FRIEDMAN: And it was remote, and people are exhausted. I think both viewers and reporters. (END VIDEOTAPE)
KURTZ: Ahead, has "New York Times" columnists been asked not to write about Judy Miller? More of my interview with Tom Friedman next.
KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES, now a full hour each week here in our new time slot, 10:00 to 11:00 Eastern.
More now of my conversation with "New York Times" columnist Tom Friedman about his book, the new online charge to read him, and Judy Miller.
KURTZ: Now your new book, "The World is Flat," I've got it here, a monster best-seller, more than a million copies, better than any book you've ever written before. You were recently profiled about this in "Fortune" magazine. Pretty -- let's just say that it didn't say that you walked on water, but it came close. But one of the criticisms...
FRIEDMAN: What's wrong with that!
KURTZ: It says that you were the composer of the nation's talking points, which was news to me.
One of the things it said was that you in your book and in your writing, that CEOs play a very central role. And the suggestion was, well, CEOs love you, you are asked to speak at all these corporate events, maybe because you give them a very large share of the narrative. Is that a reasonable observation?
FRIEDMAN: Yeah, it is a reasonable observation. And my reaction to that is, look, if I want to understand the underlying technology that's flattening the world, who do I go to? Do I go to -- I don't know -- Central America? Do I go to the factory floor? Or do I go to the innovators and entrepreneurs who actually put all this together?
So I make no apology for that at all. In fact, I would make a criticism of it. There aren't enough people during the last few years who actually went out and talked to the innovators who were doing all of these things, who were actually reshaping the world. Just the opposite. We kind of had an Enron effect. And the Enron effect was, all CEOs are guilty unless proven innocent. Therefore, who wants to talk to them? Therefore, I would argue...
KURTZ: Wait a second.
FRIEDMAN: ... that journalists...
KURTZ: Journalists subscribed to stereotypes because there are a few crooks in major corporations? We're just, you know, they're all bad guys?
FRIEDMAN: Yeah. I would say...
KURTZ: That's a pretty harsh assessment.
FRIEDMAN: I would say that there was a lot of ignoring -- there were several things that happened basically in the last three years. I would call it a perfect storm.
One was 9/11. That distracted us. OK? The other was the Enron effect. No one wanted to be sort of seen with CEOs. And number three was the dot-com bust, which made everyone think, well, all this globalization technology stuff is really over. And as a result, I'd argue, that really masked what is actually a fundamental inflection point, the flattening of the world. We're going from a vertical value creation model of command and control to a much more horizontal one of connect and collaborate.
The argument of this book is that that shift is actually going to be as big -- have as big an effect over time as Guttenberg and the printing press. And I would argue a little bit that it got missed because of all of these other distractions.
KURTZ: But it's already had a big effect on Tom Friedman's career. In fact, you were the "Playboy" interview...
FRIEDMAN: Hey, put that paper down!
KURTZ: I bought it for the articles and I enjoyed the interview. And you said in there that your wife edits all your columns.
FRIEDMAN: Yes, she does.
KURTZ: If she says don't publish it, you go back and rewrite it.
FRIEDMAN: I'm afraid I do. My wife Andrea (ph) edits them all, and when she says -- when she gives me thumb's down, Howie, I have to put it in a ball, throw it in the circular file, and start over. And she is a tough editor.
KURTZ: Now, your international readership on "The New York Times" Web site has gone down because of this new experiment "The Times" has, where it costs $49.95 a year for non-subscribers at home to read "Times" columnists. That's got to be disappointing for you.
FRIEDMAN: You know, I'm torn. And I've said this to my bosses. I want my paper to thrive. And if we have a situation where young people grow up in a world and think that newspapers are things you read for free online, who is going to -- who is going to pay my travel expenses?
And at the same time, one of the greatest things about "The New York Times" online is I got to reach an audience that just was exponential to what you got in the dead-tree edition of "The New York Times." And I particularly -- because I write about international affairs, so I got a lot of young people in India and Egypt and what not. And for them, $50, that may be their -- that may be their tuition for half a year. So I honestly am torn. I really hope this works, because I want "The New York Times" to have a platform that is sustainable. But at the same time, I hope we can eventually find a way to re-engage those people, because definitely, we've lost some of them.
FRIEDMAN: In the Valerie Plame leak investigation, there is an allegation bouncing around the blogosphere that I just would like to address with you, which is that have "New York Times" columnists somehow been told not to write about this because of Judy Miller's involvement, and being in jail and now being out of jail? Anybody tell you not to write about it?
FRIEDMAN: Absolutely not. I mean, they don't tell me not to write about anything. Howie, we have the best job. We are home alone. OK? I mean, I'm going to China on Monday, and there is only one person who knows I'm going, and that's my assistant. So...
KURTZ: You don't even tell the bosses.
FRIEDMAN: That's right. So there is no edict out there. Why people haven't written about it, I don't know. I'm focused on other things.
KURTZ: There is a lot we don't know, obviously, about the Judith Miller situation.
KURTZ: But why do you think that she's gotten so much criticism? After all, whether you agree with her or not, this is a woman who believed in her convictions and went off to jail for 85 days.
FRIEDMAN: You know, Judy has always been a pioneer and an agent of change, you know. And has been at the forefront of a lot of stories, and people like that in our business engender a lot of attention, a lot of criticism and a lot of jealousy. And that's the only way I can really explain it.
KURTZ: Tom Friedman.
Up next, did the media get carried away with last week's subway terror alert? We'll ride the rails into "The Spin Cycle" next.
KURTZ: When New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg announced last week that there was a possible terror threat against the city's subways, I thought, here we go again. And television was all over the story.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here in New York tonight, officials say they are increasing security on the city's massive subway system because of what they call a significant and credible threat. BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS ANCHOR: The threat to attack the subways in coming days comes from overseas, and the police here will be searching bags, briefcases, even baby strollers, to try to stop it.
KURTZ (voice-over): It was, let's face it, irresistible. And since it was right there in the Big Apple, cable anchors and correspondents could provide almost non-stop on-the-scene coverage.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: The threat concerns the New York City subway system, behind me, around me, literally beneath our feet here in Times Square.
ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST, "HANNITY & COLMES": This is a FOX News alert. New York City subways are on a heightened state of alert this evening after what officials are describing as a specific threat.
KURTZ: And the city's tabloids weren't far behind.
The problem, as with so many previous terror alerts, is that allegations from informants are inherently shaky. And some correspondents offered caveats, of course.
MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann couldn't help but notice that on that day, October 6th, it was news that Karl Rove had been called back to testify in the CIA leak case, and the White House was being assailed by conservatives over the Harriet Miers nomination.
KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC: Events that have been politically disadvantageous to the current administration have been occurring simultaneously or followed quickly upon with something related to terrorism on a big scale.
KURTZ: By the next morning, "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post" were reporting that federal authorities were playing down the threat as noncredible. But the TV coverage kept rolling down the track like the number 4 express.
Finally, last Tuesday, some newspapers and then the cable networks reported that the whole thing was a hoax. "The CBS Evening News" gave that three sentences.
SCHIEFFER: Well, Jim Stewart of our Washington bureau quotes government sources tonight as saying the Iraqi man who gave that tip to U.S. intelligence agents in Iraq now says the information was simply not true.
KURTZ: But that's a lot more than the "NBC Nightly News" and ABC's "World News Tonight," which didn't mention the great subway hoax at all.
KURTZ: In an age of terror, such threats obviously need to be reported. But given the unreliability of intelligence, television ought to learn a lesson here about not going on high alert and scaring people. When we come back, one network up the river without an explanation.
KURTZ: Reporters are tired of the usual stand-ups, you know, Howard Kurtz, Oshkosh, Wisconsin. They want to be riding on a train or walking in the rain or something to get attention. So when NBC's Michelle Kosinski was covering some flooding in New Jersey for "The Today Show" Friday, she set out in a canoe, and everything was going smoothly until, well, take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, NBC NEWS: Good morning! Well, obviously we're getting a nice break from the rain, but not the flooding. This is essentially now a part of the Passaic River in this neighborhood.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Two guys walk into the shot, and we see that the water is only maybe four inches deep. Talk about shallow reporting.
And as the Media Research Center pointed out, this was right before "The Today Show" accused President Bush of staging his conversation with soldiers in Iraq.
Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. Join us again next Sunday at our new time, 10:00 Eastern, 7:00 Pacific, for a full hour of critiquing the media. "LATE EDITION" with Wolf Blitzer begins right now.
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