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Was Media Right to Report on Secret Spying Program?; Is President's P.R. Blitz Working?

Aired December 18, 2005 - 10:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: Bush in a bubble? As the president battles back on the war in Iraq with a series of television interviews, are journalists giving him a fair hearing?

Will the Iraqi elections help the White House in the P.R. battle?

"The New York Times" reveals a massive government program to spy on American citizens. Why did the paper hold the story for a year at the Bush administration's urging? And should it have been published now?

Plus, Howard in orbit. Howard Stern's final show sets the stage for his move to satellite radio, with Bob Dylan signing on, as well. Are the Times a-changing for pay radio? And is government regulation to blame?

Also, CNN drops Robert Novak and "Time" reporter Viveca Novak is sidelined over the leak investigation of Karl Rove.

And George W. Bush, news junkie?


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES, now a full hour of media analysis every Sunday 10:00 Eastern, 7:00 Pacific. I'm Howard Kurtz.

Ahead, why Howard Stern is fleeing terrestrial radio.

But first, just after Iraqis went to the polls to choose a four- year government, "The New York Times" dropped a journalistic bombshell, reporting Friday that President Bush had authorized a massive domestic spying program, with the National Security Agency eavesdropping on hundreds, perhaps thousands of people in this country without court orders.

The president repeatedly refused to confirm the report on Friday in an interview with PBS's Jim Lehrer, but changed the script for his Saturday radio address inviting TV cameras in for the occasion.


JIM LEHRER, PBS: First, "The New York Times" story this morning says you authorized secret wiretaps by the National Security Agency of thousands of Americans. Is that true?

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Jim, we do not discuss ongoing intelligence operations to protect the country.

Yesterday the existence of this secret program was revealed in media reports after being improperly provided to news organizations. As a result, our enemies have learned information they should not have.


KURTZ: Joining us now here in Washington, Richard Wolffe, "Newsweek's" White House correspondent; Mike Allen, White House correspondent for "TIME" magazine. In New York, Katrina Vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of "The Nation" magazine. And in San Francisco, Debra Saunders, columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle." Welcome.

Mike Allen, "The New York Times" story on Friday comes out the day that Senate Democrats are filibustering renewal of the Patriot Act, very controversial legislation which was then blocked by the Senate.

Critics are saying this was no coincidence. Since the story was a year old. The "Times" had had it for all this time. Do you find the timing curious?

MIKE ALLEN, "TIME" MAGAZINE: I don't know anything about the "Times," but I can tell from the White House response that they had to do a little tap dance there.

First you saw the president stalling for time there as he talked to Jim Lehrer. Scott McClellan wouldn't talk about it at all. Now administration officials say they were checking around to find out what they could say about it.

Then yesterday you had the president, who actually Friday morning taped a radio address about the Iraqi elections. They threw that tape away, came in, surprised everybody Saturday morning with his live radio address, which they've only three or four Times in the presidency.

Now, they insist that they're on the right side of this issue, say that they -- by arguing that this is done is a limited way and fully disclosed to Congress, that this is something that people will support as a tool against terrorism.

KURTZ: A live radio address. Richard Wolffe, the "Times" holds the story for a year. And then, as first reported by Matt Drudge, turns out that the lead reporter, James Rosen, has a book coming out about the CIA. Doesn't that make it look like more of a commercial decision?

RICHARD WOLFFE, "NEWSWEEK": Yes, it does. Although there's something else that's perplexing, and it's not just the delay in publication. The stated reason for the delay is national security. And I can't for the life of me understand why "The New York Times" would buy this idea.

Because quite simply if you're a jihadist operating -- an al Qaeda-type operating in America, you've got to assume that you're under surveillance. And after all, if they'd had a court order there would have been no newsworthy elements to the story. The idea that jihadists care whether or not they have a warrant to eavesdrop them or not seems to me irrelevant.

KURTZ: Let me read a statement from the "Times" executive editor, Bill Keller, and we'll go to our other guests. First the reason why it was delayed.

"First we developed a fuller picture of the concerns and misgivings that had been expressed during the life of the program.

Second, we satisfied ourselves that we could write about this program, withholding a number technical details, in a way that would not expose any intelligence gathering methods or capabilities that are not already on the public record. The fact that the government eavesdrops on those suspected of terrorist connections is well known."

Katrina Vanden Heuvel, this is about as big a scoop as I can imagine, even though the administration urged the delay. What do you make of the "Times" sitting on the story for a year?

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL, "THE NATION": I think you have to understand back for a moment, Howard. I think you have to understand that King George, this administration, has a contempt for the media as a check on unaccountable power, on executive power, the extraordinary concentration of executive power we've seen in these last years.

But "The New York Times" has -- over the years, there's been a history of deference to government requests to withhold information. I'm thinking of the Bay of Pigs. However, there was the courageous stance around the Pentagon papers.

In this case, we need to know more not only about the "New York Times's" reasoning, which is contradictory. Bill Keller in "The Washington Post" story yesterday, Howard, said senior editors had been assured by this administration that there were no legal problems? Please. This administration doesn't know the boundaries, as "The New York Times" editorial this morning says, of where the law is, let alone abiding by the law.

Finally, there has to be a lot more reporting on other instances in which this White House has asked media outlets to capitulate, to accede to White House requests to withhold information...

KURTZ: All right.

VANDEN HEUVEL: ... instead of upholding their tradition to provide information to the citizens of this country.

KURTZ: Let me go to Debra Saunders. Do you think that the "New York Times" damaged national security and efforts against terrorism by publishing this story now? DEBRA SAUNDERS, "SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE": I know that there are people in the intelligence community who believe "That the New York Times" did.

You know, Bill Keller sounds more and more like Scott McClellan. I just don't understand what he's trying to say.

But let me note something that maybe is a news flash. We're at war. And when we are at war, I think the media are going to try to not run stories that could cost American lives. I think that's a responsible thing to do. What I don't understand is why "The New York Times" was running this story now.

KURTZ: So if you had been editor of the "Times," you would not have run it at all because we're at war, you're saying?

SAUNDERS: I don't know. I have no idea what I would have done. Frankly, I think most people -- you know, I have to agree with Richard Wolffe. Most people think that that's what we're doing anyway.

KURTZ: All right.

SAUNDERS: There's a part of me that's a little baffled that this is such a big story, because one would assume that they were doing it. Some people have compared this to Watergate. It's pretty clear the administration thought it was on solid ground when they keep signing executive orders to continue this practice.

KURTZ: Right. But the backdrop here is that there were clear abuses of domestic spying during -- against anti-war protesters, civil rights activists and others.

But I want to move on to the president's TV blitz this week. Three network TV interviews, a speech prime time 9 p.m. Eastern tonight. Here's one of the interviews, the president with FOX's Brit Hume.


BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: You've been under withering attack on the use of pre-war intelligence, on Iraq policy itself, and the response in the administration was remarkably passive for a long time. Why was that?

BUSH: No, you're right. And we took a paste -- a blasting. And have begun recently to make the case more forcefully to the American people.


KURTZ: Mike Allen, why has the president, who is not known for his accessibility to the press, suddenly giving all these interviews this week?

ALLEN: Howard, this is an amazing spasm of openness by this administration. In addition to the interviews you cited, as you know, on Monday the president surprised everybody after his Iraq's speech in Philadelphia by taking questions from the audience, something that hadn't occurred since the campaign.

One thing about this administration, everything is predictable. You know what's going to happen on a Saturday morning. You're going to get a tape of the radio address.

They say this is an effort to remain on the offensive, and I guess the word "remain" there would be one that we could quarrel with, because the White House has just been battered by things that they don't control. They're having to cave to Senator McCain on his amendment regarding the use of terror.

KURTZ: Torture.

ALLEN: Torture.

KURTZ: So you're saying they're playing defense and trying to get back on offense by seizing the media initiative.

Now Richard Wolffe, you co-authored a "Newsweek" cover story this past week. "Bush in a Bubble" was the headline. And you called the president -- you say that Bush may be the most isolated president in modern history.

Now NBC's Brian Williams, who also interviewed Mr. Bush this week, asked about that and asked for the president's reaction. Let's take a look at that.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: Cover of "Newsweek," look what they've done to you. "Bush's World: The isolated president. Can he change?" "Newsweek" says you're in here not talking to people. So what is the truth, Mr. President? This says...

BUSH: Well, I'm talking to you. You're a person.

WILLIAMS: This says you're in a bubble.

BUSH: Yes.

WILLIAMS: You have a very small circle of advisers now.

BUSH: Yes.

WILLIAMS: Is that true?

Bush: No, I don't feel I'm in a bubble.


KURTZ: In a bubble? Most isolated president in recent modern history? Those are pretty strong words.

WOLFFE: Yes. And we don't use them lightly. We report these things very heavily.

KURTZ: Sounds like commentary though. This is a news story, isn't it?

WOLFFE: We talk to -- we reflect reporting of very senior people who are around the president, who work with him, who know him personally. This is reflecting what they think. They want to send him a message, too, about the kind of bubble he's in.

I have to say, you know, of all the interviews he did, his responses to these questions were some of the most fascinating, and that's not just because I wrote the story.

KURTZ: They want to send him a message but they don't want to say it on the record?

WOLFFE: They don't want to say it to him. They don't want to say it on the record. We spoke to one official on the record, but you know, the White House doesn't want to talk on the record either. They all want to do it on background.

KURTZ: Debra Saunders, has the press settled on a story line here: Bush is out of touch on Iraq, on Hurricane Katrina, on -- fill in the blank?

SAUNDERS: Yes. I mean, and every president in the second term is in a bubble. Every president is in a bubble. So I think that that is a story line that we're going to keep seeing.

But partly because President Bush has had a tendency to try to lowball his message all along. He just doesn't like having that kind of aggressive fight that we finally saw in this radio address. So when he does come out swinging, well, that is a change in how he behaves.

KURTZ: Katrina Vanden Heuvel, particularly on the war, do you detect a new aggressiveness by journalists in covering the Bush White House? And if so, what do you think accounts for that?

VANDEN HEUVEL: At long last. I mean this is a media, too much of the media was intimidated after 9/11 by the administration, which equated opposition and aggressive journalism with un-Americanism.

But you know, the journalists -- the "Newsweek" story is interesting. But let's not forget that a year ago, Ron Suskind, a very good journalist, was told by a government official that "we create our own reality."

"We create our own reality," this administration says. Bush has told several people he doesn't read the media. He has admitted he lives in a bubble. I think the most interesting thing right now, Howard, is that this is not a story line. This is reality, that public opinion..

KURTZ: Why was the Suskind piece not picked up more widely?

VANDEN HEUVEL: It was picked up...

KURTZ: It was a one-day story, but in other words, it wasn't a theme where you see it hammered on "Newsweek," on news magazine covers and front pages of newspapers.

VANDEN HEUVEL: I leave it to you, Howard, to answer that. Because I think what we saw in these last months is with -- along with the levees that were breached in New Orleans, was the breach of the myth that President Bush is a protector, is a resolute, tough, competent president. When that myth was breached, all of these news stories which have been in the press, in the alternative media, in "The Nation," in other publications...

KURTZ: OK. Richard Wolffe.

VANDEN HEUVEL: ... suddenly became mainstream as they should have been before.

WOLFFE: But let me -- let me jump in. I think, for the White House itself, they see this sort of small circle around him as being a strength in time of crisis. But when you come to the end of a dreadful year, the first year of a second term, you've got to ask the question, is the circle serving the president well? Have they run out of ideas? Are they exhausted? And that's why you come up with this kind of comment.

KURTZ: Just briefly, Mike Allen. You quote a White House strategist as saying, "It's time for the Bush come-back story. We have better news in Iraq. Oil prices are down. Katrina has kind of fallen off the radar screen."

Why couldn't somebody that on the record? They're saying good things about their president.

ALLEN: A lot of times they -- they're concerned about what Bush is going to think. A lot of times, as you know, by not having -- by having to speak without their name you get a more honest look into what they're doing.

What you see with this media blitz is them trying to remind people of why they used to like the president, trying to use that personal appeal. You saw that moment with Brian Williams. I don't know if even Katrina can hate Bush at that particular -- that particular moment.

KURTZ: All right. Let me get a break here. When we come back, more on the press, the president, the war, in a moment.


KURTZ: Welcome back.

Debra Saunders, is the press giving the president adequate credit for fact that the Iraqi elections went so well this week, with millions of Sunnis turning out? SAUNDERS: I think that he hasn't gotten the credit that he deserves. And I think it's an underplayed story. I mean, it's sort of astonishing that we have this wonderful election, this high turnout, Sunnis involved in the government, and we're talking about the National Security Administration story today. So, no, I don't think he's getting credit for it.

KURTZ: Katrina Vanden Heuvel, on the other hand, it was glowing coverage of last January's interim elections, and that was followed by a very bloody year and growing insurgent attacks. So what will it take for the press to say that Bush is indeed making progress in Iraq?

VANDEN HEUVEL: Well, I don't think he's making progress. I think the question, Howard, is to say, yes, it is very good to see millions of Iraqis come out to reclaim their country.

Will we hear in the reporting, Howard, that 80 percent of Iraqis want an end to the U.S. occupation, have we heard about the 100 parliamentarians who sent a letter seeking end to the occupation? Will we hear about the Cairo Arab Summit League?

I'm just thinking that public opinion, Howard, has hardened against this war. And it's just matter of time before there is sensible thinking about how we withdraw and give Iraq back to the Iraqis.

KURTZ: Well, public opinion is hard, but that certainly doesn't mean that the press shouldn't take a balanced approach to the accomplishments.

VANDEN HEUVEL: No, that's right. But I'm thinking of the under coverage of so much. The aerial bombings that is now ravaging Iraq. And the irony tonight, Howard, of when a president will come forward, as I assume President Bush will -- and just to say to Mike of "TIME" magazine, I don't hate President Bush. I hate his policies which have gutted our nation. But he will come forward and say democracy is spreading at the very moment when this administration so cavalierly is undermining the very freedoms which distinguish us from those we are fighting.

KURTZ: Let me move on to the -- you want to respond, Mike?

ALLEN: No. I was just going to point out that tonight, by using the address to the nation format, they hope that they can overcome the sort of other facts that are out there. It will be interesting to see how much the press does fact checking of this speech, where there are 15 to 16 minutes of progress and claims the U.S. is winning in Iraq.

KURTZ: Has the press gotten more aggressive on the coverage of this war because Democrats, like Jack Murtha, who wants to pull out, and Nancy Pelosi, are providing ammunition, whereas before the Democrats were kind of laying low? Has that influenced the coverage?

ALLEN: During the campaign the reporters often said to Democrats, "Look, we're not going to do your work for you." And when Democrats were not making an effective case against the war, they couldn't expect the press to be there for them. You do see more of this.

And interestingly, you see the White House, as part of this new -- the new Bush that we saw this week, engaging with Democrats. You see Senator Hillary Clinton coming in and other Democrats coming in for war briefings.

Now they say that, for senators like her, like they didn't really learn anything. But for rank and file Democrats, they can say, "The president told me." So this is a new way to reach that audience.

KURTZ: And that generates stories.

Now White House communications director Nicolle Wallace was on "The O'Reilly Factor" on FOX talking about the press coverage. Want to show you a little bit of that.


BILL O'REILLY, HOST, FOX'S "THE O'REILLY FACTOR": "Washington Post" doesn't like the president. "L.A. Times" doesn't like the president. "Atlanta Constitution" doesn't like him. "Boston Globe" doesn't like him. What's going on?

NICOLLE WALLACE, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Well, thank God 65 percent to 70 percent of the American don't get their news from any of those places. They get their news from the local paper that they look at.


KURTZ: Thank God. Well, Richard Wolffe, how much does the White House resent the press?

WOLFFE: Oh, I don't know. Not nearly as much as Nicolle says. Nicolle has a great relationship with lots of reporters, and you know, there's a lot of that. That was for show. That was for Bill O'Reilly, for heaven's sake. And she -- I think, to be honest, she was playing along with him. Listen, he's the top-rated guy on cable. You think that people don't get their news from him?

KURTZ: I know there's got to be a lot of resentment, just briefly, against "The New York Times" for dropping this bombshell about the spying program just as they were trying to get momentum on this whole question of the war.

WOLFFE: The frustration they have with the media is not uniform. It goes through cycles. They like you, they hate you. And it's not unique to this administration. I mean, we get a lot of heat right now for "Bush in the Bubble." But the Clinton folks didn't like us either.

KURTZ: We'll see one day whether they like you again.

I'm sorry, we are out of time. Mike Allen, Richard Wolffe, Katrina Vanden Heuvel, Debra Saunders, thanks very much, all, for joining us. Coming up, bought and paid for. A columnist takes cash from a lobbyist.

And the passing of one of the legendary muck-raking journalists.

And later, he's headed for outer space. Will regular radio listeners follow him? We'll talk about the man who calls himself the king of all media, Howard Stern.


KURTZ: Checking now on the world of media news, indicted Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff wasn't only trying to influence Congress.

Doug Bandow, who writes a syndicated column for Copely News Service, admits having accepted money from Abramoff, as much as $2,000 a pop, to write between a dozen and two dozen columns favorable to Abramoff's clients. Bandow wrote of one such client, Mississippi's Choctaw Indians, quote, "The Choctaws offer a model for other tribes."

Bandow's column has been suspended by Copley News Service, and he's resigned from his day job with the Cato Institute. He told "Business Week," which broke the story, that he had a, quote, "lapse in judgment." A pretty major lapse, if you ask me.

Jack Anderson, who died yesterday, will be remembered as one of Washington's premier investigative reporters. A columnist who once appeared in 1,000 newspapers, a "Good Morning America" contributor, a Pulitzer Prize winner, a man who, first as Drew Pearson's leg man and then on his own, used his courtly manner to expose government secrets long before that was fashionable in journalism. And he was capable of some spectacular blunders, as well.

But Anderson's office served as a low-wage training ground for dozens of young journalists: FOX's Brit Hume, NBC's Jack Cloherty (ph), novelist James Grady and, a long time ago, me.

Jack Anderson was 83.




For more than two decades, Howard Stern has been pumping up his fans and infuriating his critics with a radio show that bounces from sex to politics to celebrities and back to sex. And guests ranging from Donald Trump to a parade of porn stars.

But now, after more than $2 million in FCC fines forced him to tone down his act, Stern did his final radio show Friday for Viacom's Infinity Radio, celebrating with his fans on the streets of Manhattan.

Early next month Stern jumps to Sirius Satellite Radio and a five-year, $500 million contract, an event he's been trumpeting in his usual low-key fashion.


O'REILLY: Who is your primary audience?

HOWARD KURTZ, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: You know as well as I do, my primary audience are strippers, hookers and crack whores. And I love them all.

JON STEWART, HOST, COMEDY CENTRAL'S "THE DAILY SHOW": Are you excited? When I came to do the radio show a week ago to say good-bye to Howard Stern on terrestrial radio, I saw fire in the eyes. I saw passion like I haven't seen from you in quite awhile.

KURTZ: Well, actually, that day it was gas.

Let me tell you something. Tune into it. It is the funniest thing. We have...

KATIE COURIC, CO-HOST, NBC'S "THE TODAY SHOW": If you do say so yourself, right?

STERN: It's great. I'm telling you, you'll end up working there. "The Today Show's" a real drag.

COURIC: Oh, God, I hope not.

STERN: You will.


KURTZ: But how many of Stern's fans will follow him when they have to buy a subscription and a new radio just to listen? And are Sirius and its bigger rival XM Radio on the verge of hitting it big?

Joining us now in New York, Jeff Jarvis, veteran magazine and newspaper editor, who now blogs at Also in New York, Michael Harrison, editor and publisher of "Talkers" magazine, which covers the talk radio industry. And with me in Washington, radio talk show host Blanquita Cullum. She chairs the Talk Radio First Amendment Committee. Welcome.

Michael Harrison, Stern told me in an interview he was totally depressed about doing his show in recent years, because he felt the FCC fines had led to censorship. Now, will a raunchier program on satellite convince people to pay $12.95 a month to Sirius?

MICHAEL HARRISON, EDITOR/PUBLISHER, "TALKERS" MAGAZINE: Not because it's raunchy; because it's Stern. Stern doesn't have to be sexy or raunchy to be successful. He's a brilliant satirist. He's a fearless interviewer. He has a magical charisma that can't really be quantified or formulated.

And he also likes to use occasional words and talk about sexy subjects, which the media gloms onto. But the fact of the matter is that's not why Stern's fans listen to him. It's not the sex, but that's all we seem to talk about. There's so much more to Stern than sex.

And I think people will pay to hear Stern. And of course, people are also paying to get satellite subscriptions for all the other services they have, and Stern is just one of the attractions.

KURTZ: Sure.

HARRISON: So it's not all on his shoulders.

KURTZ: Of course. It includes music and sports and news and talk and all of that.

Jeff Jarvis, you've been on Stern show. Was there a concerted campaign by the FCC and Stern's critics to drive him off free radio and did it succeed?

JEFF JARVIS, BUZZMACHINE.COM: Yes, he still turned this into a victory because he's going off to $500 million and freedom. But we lost. We, the public lost.

I think media did a terrible, terrible job of covering this story. We just bought this line from the so-called Parents Television Council that there was an uproar when there was not. We stood back, as media people ourselves, as beneficiaries of the First Amendment; we watched as Howard Stern merely farted on the air. But the FCC and Congress are pissing on the First Amendment. And it's really, really, really a tragedy that Howard Stern is now not on free TV and free radio.

KURTZ: Right. And he will be on pay TV on something called In- Demand Networks. But don't hold back, Jeff. We want your unvarnished opinion.

Blanquita Cullum, you run the First Amendment Committee for Talk Radio. Do you defend Stern's -- do you defend Stern's First Amendment right to interview strippers and spank lesbians and pay women to take off their clothes?

BLANQUITA CULLUM, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Yes, I do. Because I mean, if I can't defend him, I can't defend you. I've got to defend everybody.

And it's not -- when you talk about the First Amendment, it's not speech that you like that you necessarily have to defend; it can be speech that you don't like.

What I think is so brilliant about this, though -- in fact, I was thinking about this, this morning. Back in the '70s, it used to be head-banging rock 'n' roll screaming music used to be on FM. It was young; it drew in young listeners. And at that time the people on AM radio used to say, nobody will go for FM.

Well, now you've got Howard Stern, who's not your kid's mom and dad image. He's the head-banging, screaming rock 'n' roll kind of image that FM used to have. And if you're going to bring a wave of success to a new technology that's going to happen anyway, you've got to have the young demographic. And I think it was a brilliant move.

KURTZ: Michael Harrison, could all the hype and buildup about Stern's move to satellite, much of it generated by Howard itself, wind up disappointing some of his fans if the show is not all that different from what he's been on -- he's been doing all these years?

HARRISON: I don't think it's going to disappoint them if it's all -- if it's not different, because they want him for what he is. The whole idea that it's got to be different is a distortion. All Stern has to do on satellite is continue to be himself, and his fans will be delighted. And they'll think it's worth the money because satellite radio is just an extension of where radio as a technology and medium is evolving. And it's going there with or without Stern.

KURTZ: Michael, you keep saying that the coverage is distorted. Is that because the media liked to use the Stern controversy as a backdoor way to write about sex and lesbians and all of that?

HARRISON: Without question. It's the very hypocrisy that Stern is famous for, popping those bubbles. Stern cuts right through hypocrisy, and we're seeing tremendous hypocrisy.

Every time you watch these things on TV, you see the strippers, you see the girls. You see all the stuff, and it gives so-called mainstream television a chance to get a little titillating action there, making it look like Stern is some kind of a bad boy. But they're the bad boys.

Stern is honest. He's credible and he's an entertainer. The rest of our society is awash in sexuality, pornography. Children have access to the Internet. Stern is a mild-mannered old man compared to what the average kid can get today. It has nothing to do with sex.

KURTZ: All right. All right. Control room, I want you to kill that stripper's tape so we don't fall into the trap here.

Jeff Jarvis, if Howard Stern is as outrageous and tasteless as some his critics believe, then why did, for example, Rudy Giuliani go on his show and Christine Whitman, who he helped elect governor...

JARVIS: Howie, you're buying -- you're buying a standard line about Howard Stern. And I did, too, until I was a TV critic at "TV Guide" and reviewed his show and I watched it and I listened to him. And I discovered that Howard Stern is greater than the sum of his farts.

He is best taken in large doses. He is charming. He is a brilliant entertainer. He's phenomenal. And if you really get to know him, you see that he really is about the future of media, which is about relationships and not just about plastic content, me staring on the camera. I just got airbrushed to look OK on HDTV. That's false. Howard is honest, more than people want him to be. And that's why he was successful.

KURTZ: I was actually just setting you up to make that point. Blanquita Cullum, how much of a chill did those FCC fines put into other radio hosts, shock jocks, people who deal with racy material? People have toned it down, haven't they?

CULLUM: Some. But some have also -- excuse me -- pushed the button to be able to do the same thing to get the notoriety. After all, it's trying to be able to get -- break through to become the top dog and saying I'm so bad I'm great; you want to listen to me.

You know, the funny thing is, Howard, I remember going to conference back and convention back around 1984 in San Antonio, Texas, with a cable convention, where there were like about five cable companies, one of which was CNN. And I have to think that, you know, you've got to have the person that is powerful enough to be able to bring people over to try to listen, like CNN had that great news lineup.

I have to tell you, I think the wave is happening. The stars that will be attracted, they're going to go there because they know they can carry that way.

KURTZ: Do you and your colleagues in terrestrial radio feel threatened by the fact that this is considered the hot new medium that's getting all this attention?

CULLUM: I think some do. But I will tell you, it is the visionaries who are going to pick it up and say, "I'm going to take a chance on it." Because it is going to happen anyway. The technology is going to happen anyway. So if you're good, you're still going to be good and you're going to be better and have more opportunity. There will just be more choice.

KURTZ: Michael Harrison, we have Bob Dylan going to XM Radio for a one-hour a week show. XM already has Bob Edwards, who went there after he was demoted by NPR. Martha Stewart and Bill Walton have satellite shows, I believe, on Sirius. So what do you make of this trend, and could this ultimately draw more and more listeners away from commercial-heavy terrestrial radio?

HARRISON: Well, there's no question it's going to draw listeners away. I think it's darn good radio.

But let me say something that you just said to Blanquita Cullum. You said do the people in terrestrial radio see satellite radio as a threat?

The only people in terrestrial radio who should see satellite radio as a threat are licensees, the owners of terrestrial stations...

CULLUM: Right.

HARRISON: ... because the people in broadcasting, the programmers, the talent, it's just another extension of radio.

CULLUM: Right.

HARRISON: Terrestrial radio and satellite radio, it's like AM radio, FM radio, satellite radio. We're going to have pod radio. We have Internet radio. It's all radio. It's not a different medium. CULLUM: Right.

HARRISON: It's not in competition on that basic level.

KURTZ: Well, of course...

HARRISON: It's an expansion of our industry.

KURTZ: Right. But the key difference, just like cable versus broadcast, is that you've got to pay for it.

Jeff Jarvis, if -- if listeners are fleeing terrestrial radio, who's to blame for that? It can't only be the FCC.

JARVIS: Well, the FCC takes first blame because they've dulled out mass media. They've hastened the decline of mass media by making it dull. It was happening anyway. They just made it faster.

I think Michael is absolutely right. This is not about the medium. It's not about which toy you happen to use. The Internet shows us that we're in the age of the un-platform. I'll get my content wherever I want it. I want to listen to Stern in my car, on my walkman, on my iPod, on my laptop. I should be able to listen to Stern wherever I want. The nightmare of many but migraine (ph).

And I think that's where we have to go with all media. With CNN, as well. CNN should have its segments up on Internet for people to link to and send around and do all kinds of good stuff. That's where we go.

KURTZ: I -- I'd be happy to do that with this program.

Blanquita, you wanted to make a point.

CULLUM: But Howard, I have to tell you, the bottom line goes back to now we'll have more choices, more selection. And it's still going to be based upon who is talented. You know, even with the wide variety of cable programming, it's still the great talent that rules. Who do people really want to watch and listen to? It's kind of an exciting time in our -- in our business.

KURTZ: Now I see while you all like it, because it means possibly more negotiating room and better salaries for people in the media.

CULLUM: Absolutely.

KURTZ: OK. You admitted it.

Blanquita Cullum and Michael Harrison, thanks very much for joining us. Jeff Jarvis, stick around. Next, our "Blogger Buzz Segment" on CNN's decision to drop Robert Novak and "TIME's" suspension of Viveca Novak in the same tangled investigation.

And later, President Bush tells one interviewer how he really gets his news. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Welcome back. Joining us now for our "Blogger Buzz Segment," Jeralyn Merritt, a Denver defense lawyer who blogs at And John Hinderaker, an attorney in Minneapolis and a co-founder of And Jeff Jarvis of still with us in New York.

Jeralyn Merritt, CNN has refused to renew Robert Novak's contract after 25 years. Novak says, fine with him; he wanted to leave anyway. He's going to be a commentator for FOX News. Do you believe this is directly related to his role in outing Valerie Plame as a CIA operative and remaining silent about that role?

JERALYN MERRITT, TALKLEFT.COM: I do. I think that Robert Novak's credibility has been an issue since the beginning of the Plame investigation.

And one of the reasons is because he would never say what his role with special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald was. Everyone else has come out, all the other reporters, and said, well, they've testified, been subpoenaed, they've cooperated or they've fought the subpoenas. Robert Novak has always maintained a complete silence. And I think that silence has hurt his credibility because he's a player, as opposed to just a reporter now.

KURTZ: John Hinderaker, Novak has been the most prominent conservative voice on CNN through his now-canceled shows, like "Capital Gang" and "Crossfire" and "Evans and Novak." And Tucker Carlson, another conservative, left the network within the past year. Does CNN have an obligation now to replace Novak and bring in another high-profile conservative?

JOHN HINDERAKER, POWERLINEBLOG.COM: Well, I'm not sure it's an obligation, but I certainly think it is a good idea.

You know, with all due respect to Mr. Novak, I don't think he's all that effective on television. And I think that his hiring by FOX ranks in importance a couple of notches below FOX's hiring of Geraldo Rivera. You know, I don't think it's that big a story. But I hope CNN will hire a good conservative to replace him.

KURTZ: Jeff Jarvis, is it enough for CNN to say we wish him well and that this departure was by mutual agreement? Is there some obligation to be honest about the reasons why you cut a guy loose who's been with you since 1980?

JARVIS: Absolutely. I mean, the most newsworthy thing about Novak now is not what he says but what he doesn't say, of course. And for CNN, Time Warner has had issues with this whole story at "TIME" magazine, but it is a time for transparency in our industry and a time for transparency on this story. And yes, absolutely.

The other trouble is at the "New York Times," and full disclosure, I consult for a division of "The New York Times," but the -- the Judith Miller episode. I'd like to know the full story there still. We still need to know the full story on Novak. It's time to just come out and tell it all to all of us.

KURTZ: But unlike Novak, Judith Miller did write a first-person piece about her testimony before Fitzgerald.

JARVIS: But we don't know the full circumstances of the -- of that farewell agreement. We don't know who has a "shut up clause" about what. We should just know it all.

KURTZ: All right.

Jeralyn Merritt, by coincidence I guess, Bob Novak gave a speech this week in which he said he's sure that President Bush knows whom his source is on the Valerie Plame leak investigation -- he actually had two sources -- and that reporters should just go ask the president. What did you make of those comments?

MERRITT: You know, I thought it was another attempt of Bob Novak to deflect attention from him.

You know, everyone is saying to him, why won't you tell us who your source is? You know, why won't you tell us what you told Patrick Fitzgerald? Why won't you give us a first-person account? And what he's trying to do now is say, "Why should I do that when you should just go ask President Bush?"

KURTZ: John Hinderaker, "TIME" magazine has put the other Novak in this case, Viveca Novak, on a leave of absence, supposedly by mutual agreement. Not only did she let slip to Karl Rove's lawyer, Robert Luskin, that Rove had talked to Matt Cooper, her colleague at "TIME," about Valerie Plame, she didn't tell her bosses even after she had hired a lawyer and was interviewed the first time by the special counsel, Patrick Fitzgerald. Should she be able to keep her job in your view?

HINDERAKER: You know, Howard, with all due respect, I can't believe that we're still talking about Valerie Plame. I mean, I think this must be one of the most over-hyped stories in the history of journalism. There is...

KURTZ: But doesn't it also say a lot about the journalists involved: Judith Miller, Bob Woodward, Viveca Novak, Bob Novak, the way they dealt with the administration, the promising of anonymity? We do obviously have an indictment of Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney's former top aide. It's certainly not a non-story.

HINDERAKER: Well, let's talk about the important story, where newspapers are granting anonymity and are dealing with government bureaucrats. The huge story involving leaks in the CIA. The CIA is...

KURTZ: We're going to -- we're going to do that in just a minute. But I want your take on Viveca Novak and whether she should have told her employer she'd been interviewed by the special counsel.

HINDERAKER: Well, I think she probably should have.

KURTZ: All right. We will come back. I'll give you a full chance to answer that.

Jeff Jarvis, Viveca Novak says that she wrote the first-person piece about all of this in "TIME" magazine against Don Luskin's wishes. He's a friend of hers. He's Rove's lawyer. But she believes that he breached their confidentiality agreement by going to the prosecutor in the first place. Is she right? And if she is right, should Bob Woodward and others who haven't told their stories go ahead and tell them?

JARVIS: First, I want to agree with John, I'm Plamed out. This story has gone on and on and on and on. I think it's one of the new issues of new media, is that we can stretch these stories out ad nauseum.

In terms of this bigger case, again, it's a case of not only transparency but of people in Washington believing they are players, too. And they're no longer the grungy voice of the people.

There was a case at the "Washington Post" this week with the Dan Froomkin column, where the people at a paper were concerned about what the White House would think of them. We've got to get over that and get over it.

Yes, sources matter, relationships matter. But the relationship to the public matters a lot more than any relationship with the power elite of Washington.

KURTZ: All right. You're referring here to a blogger for, Dan Froomkin, who writes a more opinionated column that is not necessarily popular in the newsroom.

We're going to get a break here. Coming up, the war in Iraq and that "New York Times" expose that John referred to on the government's domestic spying. These are hot topics in the blogosphere. Our guests will weigh in next.


KURTZ: Welcome back.

John Hinderaker of, coming back to that "New York Times" story on eavesdropping in the United States by the National Security Agency without court orders, you write that you have a theory that "The New York Times" wanted to give cover to Senate Democrats who on Friday, the day this story was published, were filibustering an extension of parts of the Patriot Act.

So you believe that, after holding this story for a year, "The New York Times" deliberately planned this for the day of that Senate battle?

HINDERAKER: Well, that's my guess. It certainly was seized upon by Democrats, including Senator Feingold, for one specifically said that that story made him think that he should not vote to extend the Patriot Act. KURTZ: But there's an awfully big difference between opponents of a law seizing upon a newspaper report -- that happens every day in Washington -- and a newspaper trying to manipulate a public debate by -- by changing the timing.

HINDERAKER: Well, sure, and I'm guessing here. But "The New York Times" said that they'd had this story for a year. So they chose the moment to publish the story. And it seems obvious to me that one possible explanation is they chose the moment to coincide with the vote on the extension of the Patriot Act.

KURTZ: What do you think, Jeralyn Merritt?

MERRITT: You know, I think that's too farfetched. This was a 10-page story that had been in the works. I think that there were issues as to when they were going to publish it that had to do with wanting to make sure that they weren't going to be compromising national security by doing so. And I think it was just completely coincidental typing.

Right before the Patriot Act vote, there wasn't even certain whether or not there would be enough votes for a filibuster. This article was not going to change that particular vote one way or the other.

KURTZ: Just to clarify, the "Times" said that it held off for a year at urging of the Bush administration on national security grounds, but then developed more information and thought the time was right to publish.

Jeff, does the timing here raise any questions for you? And also, a broader question: has the blogosphere become so polarized over George Bush and the war that left and right positions have become rather predictable?

JARVIS: Well, in media, they're far more predictable in the media than they are in the blogosphere.

I, for one, don't know what I think about this yet. I do believe we are at a war -- at war with terrorists. And if we found out that the Enigma machine, would we have told the world? No. It would be harmful. We are at war now, and I don't know what I think about this. I love transparency; I love telling all. On the other hand, some secrets are necessary.

I don't believe that it's necessarily sinister timing. I don't tend to believe in conspiracy theories, because the world isn't that well organized.

But Howard, no, I don't think we're that polarized as it seems. I think that there are efforts to put people in camps, but there are surprises. John surprises me; Jeralyn surprises me. I hope I surprise them on what we think, because we're individuals with our own thoughts

KURTZ: There certainly were surprises on the Harriet Miers nomination when conservative bloggers were among those leading the opposition.

John Hinderaker, you write, again on Powerline Blog, that the people who leaked this story to the "New York Times" should be tracked down, criminally prosecuted and sent to jail. Do you draw the line at journalists? In other words, the "Times" reporters, James Risen and Erik Lichtblau, you wouldn't send them to jail over this story?

HINDERAKER: Well, there's legal issues there. You know, my understanding of the law is the things that they can't be. But the leakers can be.

And this is one of the great unreported stories of our time, Howard. For three years, high officials of the CIA have carried on a covert war against the Bush administration. Other intelligence agencies, as well. They've done it by leaking to the "Washington Post" and "New York Times."

What I want to do is to take the precedent of the Valerie Plame case and I want to refer those leaks out for investigation and criminal prosecution.

KURTZ: OK. Got to jump in.

HINDERAKER: Some of these leaks have serious national security implications.

KURTZ: Jeralyn Merritt, I've got 15 seconds. Is it a public service for newspapers like the "Times" to publish stories like this and tell people what the government is doing?

MERRITT: Absolutely. Absolutely. Absolutely, it is a public service. It's necessary. And this is what whistle blowing is all about. And that's what the employees are doing.

And it's interesting that Mr. Hinderaker doesn't want to talk about Valerie Plame unless -- unless it's to compare it to this and to say, "Oh, if we're going to prosecute..."

KURTZ: All right.

MERRITT: "... the leakers in Plame we should prosecute..."

KURTZ: John -- John, I'd give you a chance to respond, but we're out of time. So we'll save it for the next show. Jeralyn, Jeff, John, thanks very much for joining us.


KURTZ: How does the president of the United States get his news? George Bush on his media diet next.


KURTZ: If George W. Bush is in a bubble, as this "Newsweek" cover says, it may be because of the notion that he doesn't read newspapers or watch TV news, that he is, in short, insulated from reality, or at least media reality.

And who is the unreliable source who spread that rumor? Actually, it was the president himself, telling FOX's Brit Hume two years ago there is too much opinion mixed in with the news and that he prefers his information from, quote, "the most objective sources," White House staffers like Andy Card and Condi Rice.

Now, though, Bush has changed his tune, telling NBC's Brian Williams this week that he does check out the daily headlines.


BUSH: I see a lot of the news. I -- every morning I look at the newspaper. I can't say I've read every single article in the newspaper, but I definitely know what's in the news.


WILLIAMS: And how about television news like, say, the network newscasts?


BUSH: Occasionally, I watch television. I don't want to hurt your feelings, but occasionally.


KURTZ: As for the opinions that Bush so dislikes in his media diet, he made a point of telling Williams he doesn't spit them out, either.


BUSH: It's a myth to think that I'm not aware that there's opinions that don't agree with mine. Because I'm fully aware of that.


KURTZ: Why is this important to anyone but journalists? Because, with all due respect, getting your information filtered by Andy and Condi and other loyalists is a great way to ensure that you're really not in touch with public opinion.

So it's comforting to hear the president say that he does monitor what's in the media. Unless he was being candid two years ago. And you don't think that Andy and Condi told him to say -- is it possible Bush is just spinning the media on how he follows the media? Well, there's only one way to find out.

If you're watching, Mr. President, send us an e-mail and give us your thoughts. That's We promise to put yours at the top of our next program.

Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz. We're off next Sunday for Christmas. Please join us again New Year's day, 10 a.m. Eastern for another critical look at the media.



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