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Bush Pressures Newspapers Not to Publish Stories; Reporter Persuades Teenager to Become Federal Witness

Aired January 1, 2006 - 10:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice over): Oval Office pressure. President Bush meets with the top editors of "The New York Times" and "Washington Post," urging them not to publish stories he says could hurt national security.

Should the papers have gone ahead? And did they cave in by delaying or diluting the articles?

X-rated dilemma. "New York Times" reporter Kurt Eichenwald befriends a teenager involved in child pornography and persuades him to become a federal witness. Did the journalist cross the line?

Plus, Yahoo!'s Kevin Sites on life as an online foreign correspondent, top newspaper editors on their struggling business, and a look at some of the worst media disasters of 2005.


KURTZ: Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES, now a full hour of media analysis every Sunday at 10:00 Eastern.

I'm Howard Kurtz.

Happy New Year to all our viewers.

Ahead, how far should a reporter go in helping a victim of child pornography.

Plus, a sit-down with Yahoo!'s only online journalist.

But first, President Bush met with "Washington Post" editor Leonard Downie in an attempt to convince him not to run a story disclosing that the CIA was running secret prisons abroad to interrogate terror suspects. "The Post" published anyway, but still drew fire from the left for withholding the location of the prisons in Eastern Europe.

Bush also met recently with "New York Times" editor Bill Keller and publisher Arthur Sulzberger, trying to talk them out of disclosing a secret eavesdropping program being conducted without court orders. After that story was published, the president had this to say...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My personal opinion is, it was a shameful act for someone to disclose this very important program in a time of war. The fact that we're discussing this program is helping the enemy.


KURTZ: But liberals have been hammering "The Times" for sitting on the story for more than a year after earlier meetings with administration officials. So what should we make of this high-level pressure?

Joining me now here in Washington, Dave Folkenflik, media correspondent for National Public Radio, Jonah Goldberg, editor-at- large for National Review Online and Linda Douglass, congressional correspondent for ABC News.


Linda Douglass, no journalist would turn down a meeting with the president, but should Bill Keller and Len Downie have agreed to keep secret the very fact of the meeting itself?

LINDA DOUGLASS, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's the interesting question, because obviously they went ahead and did the stories despite the entreaties from senior officials over a period of time. So there's been this conflict between reporters who've been sitting on stories, such as Bob Woodward, for example, sitting on the leak story, editors who knew about that, and information that gets into the paper.

And I would say no, I think that meetings with the president -- the content of the meeting, the specifics of the meeting didn't necessarily have to be published, but why wouldn't you talk about the meeting itself?

KURTZ: Jonah Goldberg, the Justice Department confirmed Friday that there's an investigation of "The New York Times" over the leak or an investigation of who leaked to "The New York Times," I should say, and the CIA has referred to the Justice Department an inquiry about "The Washington Post" prison story.

So some conservatives are saying these papers should not have published these stories because they damage national security. Do you agree with that?

JONAH GOLDBERG, NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE: I don't think we know enough to be sure about that. I think, personally, they should have published the stories, or at least they were perfectly legitimate stories. And I think President Bush actually got the right balance where he said it was the disclosure of these things to the papers that was a shameful act.

After all if ...

KURTZ: Well, without those disclosures, the papers can't publish. So...

GOLDBERG: Well, sure. But, I mean, in a democracy you have to have these bright lines. And, you know, journalists, especially investigative journalists, are like werewolves. We know they must feed. And so it's the people who feed them that are the problem, and that's what's being investigated.

And I think what annoys a lot of conservatives isn't so much the content of these stories, although some are. It has more to do with the level of hysteria we had over Valerie Plame and the leaking there and how terrible leaking is and all that kind of thing. And these are vastly more important and damaging leaks, and all of a sudden no one seems to care about that.

KURTZ: David Folkenflik -- let me turn to your fellow werewolf.

There is a lot of outrage on the left toward "The Post" for withholding the location of these prisons in Eastern Europe, these CIA prisons, and toward "The Times" for the one-year delay in the eavesdropping story that I mentioned.

Why do some liberals seem to see these papers as in bed with the White House when, after all, they did publish the stories?

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Well, I remember, if you go back a year and a half, I remember doing a story because CBS News sat for, call it, two weeks at the request of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from broadcasting their story about the Abu Ghraib abuses, the prison in Iraq. That was two weeks.

This was a year. And so that is an extremely long period of time to hold back anything. In a sense, by not reporting over the course of the year, you're changing the nature a little bit of the story you're doing.

KURTZ: Because that "Times" story that you're referring to could have come out during the 2004 campaign.

FOLKENFLIK: You can look through the political prism, or you can say, listen, if one concludes -- and, you know, you can view it whatever way you want -- but if one concludes that civil liberties have been violated, you could argue that "The Times" has for a year known that there were some questions about whether there was domestic spying and not shared that with its readers. So I think it's a fair point to raise. I think "The Times" needs to be able to justify, perhaps in a bit more in-depth, you know, the decision it made.

GOLDBERG: It also shows that these stories, that these programs were somewhat legitimately classified, because "The Times" took the request seriously that maybe there were some problems with the idea of disclosing this and they say they went back for further reporting.

FOLKENFLIK: And much than the Plame case, this is a classic example of the press having to balance the question of national security concerns and informing the public it serves. The media has to perform a watchdog service. The question is whether sometimes is there a superseding national security case? The president has asserted there is, but he hasn't perhaps convincingly explained why there is.

DOUGLASS: But I would disagree with Jonah just a little bit, because I think the president was aiming some of his criticism about it being a shameful act helping the enemy at the press itself. He clearly tried to get the press not to publish this story. He -- there is the clear suggestion that there is something unpatriotic about going ahead with a story that the White House says is going to damage national security, and it is those accusations of unpatriotic acts that I think may have a somewhat intimidating effect on perhaps "The New York Times" for a period of time.

KURTZ: Although George W. Bush hardly the first president to do that. President Kennedy in 1961 famously convinced "The New York Times" to tone down a piece about the impending Bay of Pigs invasion. He later regretted that.

GOLDBERG: Yes, but if you can hear -- on questioning patriotism and all of that, that's in the eye of the beholder, but -- or the ear of the listener. But the idea that somehow -- you know, if you listen to the more feverish critics on the left, the mere fact that Bush just merely tried to persuade them without trying to shut them down, like Woodrow Wilson did to newspapers, or that kind of thing, it shows that a lot of the sort of, you know, fever out there about the sort of tyrannical nature of this president is not true.

He called the guys in, he asked them, please don't do this, here are my reasons why. The newspapers listened to it. Found it persuasive for a year, at least somewhat, and then they went out and did it. And there was no punishment.

KURTZ: You've been in this partisan crossfire a couple of times yourself, Linda Douglass. What do you make of this atmosphere in terms of the public perception of the press, where either you're accused of being a threat to national security, or a whore for the Bush administration?

DOUGLASS: Right, or too cozy with your sources. I think that there is -- you know, because of the blogs, I think there is increased, as there should be, scrutiny on the mainstream press. And it's the reporters' relationships with their sources, the stories that reporters sit on, the conversations that reporters have with senior officials, which has gone on from the beginning of time, as you say, from presidents way back used to be able to call in editors.

But there is this -- who said it, the new word is going to be transparency? There is some new transparency being applied to these relationships. And while it may damage the reporter-source relationship a little bit, I don't think it's a bad thing.

KURTZ: It would be better, I think, if editors at the time that a big controversial story is published ran a sidebar in which they said, here are the reasons, here is why we held it, here's why we didn't report everything, rather than having to wait days or even weeks for that full story to come out.

Let me turn now to looking back at some of the media highs and lows of 2005, David Folkenflik.

What do you think was more damaging, the Valerie Plame CIA leak investigation -- damaging to the reputation of the press. We've talked about that here for a moment. I mean, after all, you had Judy Miller and Bob Woodward and Bob Novak and Viveca Novak all dragged into this. Or Armstrong Williams and other commentators taking administration money, and more recently we find out money from indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff?

FOLKENFLIK: I would argue the first. I would say the Valerie Plame case sort of sullied almost everybody involved with it on all sides in politics, but definitely in terms of the journalism involved.

You mentioned Judith Miller and Bob Woodward. It also was the institutions for which both of those employees at -- journalists at "The Times" worked. That is, "The Times" clearly didn't have a handle on what some of its most senior reporters were doing, or at least in Judy Miller's case.

At "The Washington Post," the most famous, the most honored reporter there, Bob Woodward, an assisting managing editor on masthead, you know, the editor-in-chief didn't really know exactly what he was up to. I think it speaks both to the journalists, but also the institutions. So in this case I'd say the Plame case.

KURTZ: The saturation coverage you were involved in of the Terri Schiavo melodrama and Congress's intervention in that case, in retrospect, didn't the news business go completely and totally overboard on what was basically a family fight about one brain-damaged woman?

DOUGLASS: Well, I don't know. I would say the Congress went completely overboard by coming in on Palm Sunday to pass a law when they were in recess on Palm Sunday to specifically intervene in this family dispute.

Clearly, it was -- it had all the elements of a great television story. There was terrible human drama. Everyone was before the cameras crying. Congress was in. There were wild charges being made. But I think it's...


KURTZ: But I would argue that despite -- despite the political grandstanding, it wasn't ultimately all that important. It was about one woman, and it was a two-week period where there was nothing else on cable news. But you don't agree?

DOUGLASS: Well, I think that there are often two-week periods where there is nothing else on cable news, where there is some other sensational picture or sensational human drama that's the kind of story that the public can understand. Whenever there is a human drama, I think cable will always go crazy with that. But I would also just interject, though, that Congress really stepped over the line on that one.

KURTZ: All of these controversies and mistakes, the CBS National Guard debacle, "Newsweek" on the erroneous report about the Koran being flushed down the toilet, the various plagiarism incidents that continue to plague this business, does this suggest to you that media misbehavior is getting worse or that standards have gotten higher and more people are getting caught?

GOLDBERG: I think a mixture of those two, and a third factor, which is that for the first time, because of technology, and because of the nature of the news environment both on the Internet and on cable, and the celebrity factor of journalism itself, there is a way to double-check what journalism does, what mainstream elite journalism does. And my guess is, if you go back and you look historically, these sorts of mistakes and mess-ups are standard, the norm in American mainstream journalism going way back.

KURTZ: When you say the norm, you're not saying that 95 percent of journalists make these mistakes. You just mean it's not uncommon.

GOLDBERG: Yes. It is common, but you never used to be caught in the same way. You didn't have...

KURTZ: Or it would be caught locally and brushed under the rug...


KURTZ: ... and the rest of the country wouldn't hear about it.

GOLDBERG: You know, despite recent hagiographies, a lot of sort of the Murrow boys and all those kinds of guys did a lot of egregious things from some, I think, legitimate perspectives. But no one fact- checked them. No -- there were no bloggers to say, wait a second, what are you talking about? No one to tell Dan Schorr that Goldwater wasn't meeting up with Nazis in Germany, as he reported on air.

KURTZ: You want to get in on this?

FOLKENFLIK: I mean, I would say simply that -- that the standards have risen and that people are being held to those standards much more rigorously. You know, I think both are the case.

I think unquestionably, having worked in some news rooms, I can think even over the last call it 14 years that standards have risen, you know, in terms of what kinds of attribution do you use, how much do you acknowledge having relied-upon wire service reports or other news organizations, how much do you rely on past language, you know, how tightly do you source things?

I think a lot of these things have risen. I think there's -- it's been a lot tougher. And the bloggers and the media critic and reporters like yourself, you know, are paying much closer attention than I think was ever the case.

KURTZ: And how carefully do you explain why a particular source couldn't be named and why you're taking this on an unnamed basis.

FOLKENFLIK: Oh, absolutely.

KURTZ: Linda Douglass, this is your last week at ABC News. You've been in the television business for 32 years. You'll be consulting at NYU, among other places. Is network news in worst shape than when you joined, given all the pressures and the financial cutbacks?

DOUGLASS: In a worse shape? Well, it's in different shape.

I mean, as you say, I've been a network correspondent or a reporter in local and network news for 32 years. It's a much faster- paced business. It gives you less time to check your sources. The standards have grown and they're very much higher.

I think that the appetite for the in-depth story is not as great as it was when I started 32 years ago. I think there is less investigative...

KURTZ: Too slow? Too boring?

DOUGLASS: Well, I think that the pace of everything, the attention span of the audience, has really changed. The sound bites have gotten so much shorter. We used to have 23-second sound bites. Now they're 10 seconds.

I think there is less investigative reporting on network news because, again, of cost and time demands, so many platforms to service. I think all of those things have changed. And also less crusading for the poor and that sort of thing. I think that's changed, too, with the times.

KURTZ: Well, good luck in your next career.

Linda Douglass, Jonah Goldberg, David Folkenflik, thanks very much for joining us.

Coming up, "New York Times" reporter Kurt Eichenwald dramatically changed the life of a young victim of child pornography during an investigation that led to some arrests. Did he cross the line into active journalism? We'll ask him next.



Online child pornography is perhaps the sleaziest sector of cyberspace. And Justin Berry was drawn into it at age 13, posing and performing sex acts in front of paying customers before a Web cam.

He became the central character in a lengthy expose by "New York Times" reporter Kurt Eichenwald that has led to several arrests. But did Eichenwald get too close to his source and break some journalist rules in the process?

Kurt Eichenwald joins us now from Dallas.


KURT EICHENWALD, "NEW YORK TIMES": Thanks for having me.

KURTZ: Here's what you did for Justin Berry, who's now 19. You referred him to a lawyer, you encouraged him to give up drugs and to get out of the porn business. And you encouraged him as well to cooperate with the FBI, which he did.

Doesn't that go way beyond a reporter's role?

EICHENWALD: I don't think so. Primarily, you have to look at what the circumstances were here.

This was not just me finding somebody who was troubled and saying, "Let me fix your life." Normally I write about corporate fraud. In those circumstances it is not unusual at all that I find someone who is in a business and get him to flip on that business.

For Justin Berry to flip on the business he was running, to basically reveal the infrastructure, the support systems that were being run by adults that allowed him to do the kind of pornography he was doing, required him to turn on his own business. So from a journalistic standpoint, it was virtually required. He was not going to blow up a business that was bringing him $3,000 to $5,000 a week simply because I asked him to.

KURTZ: But, you know, this may have been for perfectly understandable human reasons. I mean, you had to have some sympathy for this kid who had been drawn into this terrible life at the age of 13. But you became part of the story, and you influenced the outcome.

EICHENWALD: Well, absolutely. But there is a standard here that, you know, is almost like a Star Trekian, non-intervention rule that I don't quite understand.

What happened is, in order -- it was one of those rare circumstances where the human compulsion and the journalistic compulsion lined up. I did need to have Justin Berry out of the business in order to get full cooperation. I did need to have him sober in order to have full cooperation. He was prepared to listen to someone who said, "You need to get out of the business, you need to get sober."

Now I'm not going to deny I was driven in part largely by the fact that I saw a child or a young man who was suffering horrifically. And -- but it was not divorced from journalistic issues.

I couldn't have done the story if Justin Berry remained in the business, if Justin Berry remained on drugs. He would simply have disappeared back into the ether.

Now, getting him to become a federal witness was a very different issue, in that in the course of my interviewing him after he left the business, he revealed the names, locations, ages of other children who while I was talking to him were being exploited, were being molested, were being abused. He showed me evidence online that this was taking place.

Now, I looked at that circumstance. I do not believe that becoming a journalist requires me to abandon my humanity, abandon my citizenship.

These children's lives were at risk. And there was really not very many options. I went to "The New York Times," there was a meeting at the highest levels. And it didn't even take them two seconds to say, this kid has to be a federal witness.


EICHENWALD: And that did become my responsibility.

KURTZ: Right.

EICHENWALD: I don't know what we would have done if he'd refused. But he did agree to become a federal witness. And as a result, these children he identified were saved.

KURTZ: Now, you yourself gave some information to the FBI in the case. But you -- this -- your whole handling of this -- I'll let you come back to it in a second -- drew some criticism from "Slate" magazine's Jack Shafer, who wrote the following: "Will online pornographers and other allied criminals now regard reports as agents of the state?

EICHENWALD: Jack, to make his argument, left out a whole lot of facts. The primary one is that we were dealing with real children at real risk that we knew about, and we knew where they were. You know, that was the -- he just made it seem as if I found a kid who was in trouble and made him become a federal witness. When you take out that one piece, the moral imperative of what we were doing is lost.

What will happen in the future? Truthfully, I don't know, and I don't care.

I had the facts of this situation. We had very few good choices. And we made the one that I am actually the most proud of. I couldn't be prouder of "The New York Times."

KURTZ: Kurt Eichenwald, I mentioned earlier that you did go to the FBI during this case. Was that a difficult decision for you?

EICHENWALD: Well, it actually sounds more -- more than -- more than it actually is. When Justin Berry spoke to the FBI, I was there. I wasn't in the room.

Afterwards, I simply said, "I want to make sure that given that you're talking to a kid going through withdrawal, this fact wasn't lost. These are the kids in trouble. This is where they are. Here is how you prove it."

So I wasn't providing them with additional information. I was simply underscoring what may have been lost in a conversation with a troubled kid.

KURTZ: An interesting series of dilemmas. We'll have to leave it there.

Kurt Eichenwald, thanks very much for joining us.

Coming up, Keith Olbermann versus John Gibson, a good old- fashioned rather nasty cable feud. The gory details just ahead.


KURTZ: Checking now in the world of media news, MSNBC's "Countdown" host, Keith Olbermann, has gotten into a nasty spat with his former colleague John Gibson, now with FOX News. As alerted by the Media Bistro Web site, Olbermann named Gibson one of his worst persons in the world, saying Gibson "revealed a very ugly side to himself while selling his new book about this phony-baloney war on Christmas.

Here's what Gibson said during the November radio interview.


JOHN GIBSON, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: If somebody is going to be -- have to answer for following the wrong religion, they're not going to have to answer to me. We know who they're going to have to answer to.


KURTZ: Olbermann read that quote on the air. And then last week, Gibson responded Olbermann's blast by denying that he had said it.


GIBSON: One of my former colleagues repeated a misquote to justify saying some truly disgusting things about me. Condescendingly, he tisk-tisk'd that he used to like me. I frankly doubt it, otherwise why would he be so willing to believe trash?


KURTZ: Olbermann then escalated the battle, saying the audio clip proves Gibson made the remarks.


KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC ANCHOR: The audio clip is the definitive answer, and I would hope John would now have the self-respect to acknowledge what he said and to leave the airways for good, because between the remark and the denial, he has sadly forfeited his right to stay here.


KURTZ: Just ahead, a look at the headlines from the CNN Center in Atlanta.

And later, are newspapers losing their readers and their edge?

Plus, in the hot zone. Yahoo!'s Kevin Sites on how his online war coverage differs from what he used to do for the networks.

All coming up in our next half-hour on RELIABLE SOURCES.


RANDI KAYE, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Randi Kaye, at CNN Center in Atlanta. Here are some of the stories we're following right now.

Nasty weather this New Year's Day in parts of California. Ice and rockslides have blocked roads in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Meanwhile, heavy rains have flooded streets and homes in lower elevations. Forecasters are warning that a second storm will hit the region today.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is spending the first day of the new year at work. That's despite news today that he'll undergo heart surgery on Thursday. Doctors plan to repair a small hole that they discovered after Mr. Sharon suffered a minor stroke last month.

In Moscow, Russia's state-owned natural gas monopoly, Gazprom, today started shutting down supplies of natural gas to Ukraine. The Interfax news agency says the shutoff follows Ukraine's refusal to agree to a new price agreement. Gazprom supplies one third of Ukraine's natural gas and has quadrupled the price.

And many of you are recovering this morning from New Year's celebrations last night. This was the scene in New York's Times Square. Hundreds of thousands of revelers watched the crystal ball descend on the Big Apple, or counted down to 2006 with big parties.

More news coming your way in 30 minutes.





It's been a tough year for newspapers, with layoffs and cutbacks at major dailies from "The New York Times" to the "LA Times," sinking stock prices and the Knight Ridder chain putting itself up for sale.

Add to that accusations of bias, the Judith Miller and Bob Woodward controversies, and complaints that papers are just too slow to compete in today's wired world. But is the outlook really as bleak as the critics suggest?

Joining me now here in Washington, Geneva Overholser. She is former editor of "The Des Moines Register" and now directs the University of Missouri School of Journalism's Washington program.

Also with me, "Washington Post" associate editor Robert Kaiser. He is a former managing editor of the paper and co-author of "The News about the News."

And Jim Warren joins us from the "Chicago Tribune," where he serves as deputy managing editor.


Jim Warren, the "Chicago Tribune" just cut 28 editorial jobs. A lot of "Tribune" papers having to cut back. "The Baltimore Sun," for example, closing two of its five foreign bureaus.

How exactly is this going to help the business attract more readers?

JIM WARREN, "CHICAGO TRIBUNE" MANAGING EDITOR: Well, I think, let's stipulate, for starters, Howie, that in our industry we are facing an older, declining audience and fragmenting advertising for sure. Add to that the fact that I think traditionally, probably as a result of our success, we have been pretty smug, too hierarchical, very resistant to change, and have not invested wisely when it comes to marketing.

That said, we still have, even with these cuts, the most comprehensive, trustworthy newsgathering operations in our communities, dwarfing those of local TV and local radio, which as you know have really pared things down. And as a result of that, I think the smart papers will now, even now, exploit those strengths, create new niches, get very aggressive on the Internet. And I do think you are seeing that.

If I step back and look at papers such as ours, "LA Times," "New York Times," "The Wall Street Journal," "USA Today," I think they're getting smarter there. They are edited as well as they ever have, and papers like yours and "The New York Times" I think are doing an increasingly terrific job on the Internet. So I think there is actually a bright future.

KURTZ: Be that as it may, Bob Kaiser, our circulation is down at "The Washington Post" and many other papers, and that's a trend that has been going on across the industry for 15 years or more. More alternative sources of information, faster sources of information. And so a lot of people think that this is a declining business.

ROBERT KAISER, "WASHINGTON POST" ASSOCIATE EDITOR: Well, it is a declining business. Literally, you can't debate the point. But how far will it decline? I think that's the import of what's Jim's saying.

I do believe with him that there's a kind of a bottom line here that isn't disastrous, but we have to do a lot of improvising and creativity. We have to find creative ways to solve some of these problems, as Jim just suggested. But a point he made is really important. Newspapers in their communities are so much more ambitious, still, even in their cut-back form in many places than the TV stations and the radio stations in the same communities. We are still unique, and we've got to find a way to make that uniqueness profitable. It's got to become a draw for advertising and for readers in a way that keeps us alive.

KURTZ: Unique or not, Geneva, could you suggest to your daughters that they go into newspapers today?

GENEVA OVERHOLSER, UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI SCHOOL OF JOURNALISM: You know, I would suggest that they go into media. I don't know that I would stress newspapers. I think the change has got to come more quickly. Both Jim and Bob have said this. I think the strongest newspapers will survive.

KURTZ: Why is this business so resistant to change? I mean, we're in the communications business. We're supposedly savvy about every day figuring out what readers want, and yet it seems to be one of the most hidebound industries around.

OVERHOLSER: Absolutely. And I have a theory about that.

I think we learned to change during those years when change seemed to be thrust upon us in ways that did aim to dumb down the product. Instead of having a newspaper that would do real research and development and training and get better and reach more people, we were having bean counters. Too many newspapers across the country, as you say in your book with Len Downie, who were trying to reshape newspapers in ways that provided less. And I think we grew to resist change.

KURTZ: Jim Warren, is it a significant factor that more people apparently see newspapers as biased? People on the right think we're communists, the people on the left think we're in bed with the Bush administration. And some of them, at least, turning to blogs or FOX News or Air America, where they get their news that they consider more compatible with their outlook.

WARREN: Yes, I mean, there is no doubt that what seems to have been the increasing fragmentation is unavoidable, irreversible. But at the same time, I still think there is a market for folks who over time are seen as giving information to folks in a straight, comprehensive, trustworthy fashion.

And I do see an industry which belatedly, very belatedly, is finally get scared straight. It's not a very sexy subject, but take classified advertising, which has really been our economic mother load. After seeing that frittering away, a lot of the industry has gotten together, led by the "Tribune" and others. We have something called Career Builder, which is really giving a hard time to what had seemed to be the big monster; namely,

And if you look at Chicago and you see the way the "Tribune" is trying to create a variety of mixed products, Howie, we've got a Spanish-language paper. We've got a tabloid for a younger audience which is doing quite well. We have an online entertainment site called which is doing terrific.

Even in Davenport, Iowa, as old Iowa resident Geneva may know, the "Quad City Times" is doing some fascinating things in trying to get a younger audience not only with a Web site but with a very small printed product that you can put into your pocket called "My Mom," which is actually largely produced by kids. It's an innovation that comes a little bit late, but I think it is a sign of the times, and which is why I am quite optimistic.

KURTZ: The rap on some newspapers, Bob Kaiser, and some of our "Washington Post" colleagues agree with this, is that the stories are too long, often too dull, and often too much involved with inside baseball that don't touch readers' lives.

How much of that indictment is correct?

KAISER: I think we can overreact to that indictment, because if we give up at "The Washington Post" what has made us unique and special, which is definitive reporting on complicated, important subjects, than why should anybody want to buy us?

I -- you know, we think of the paper as a supermarket. People come into the supermarket. They go to the meat market, the front page, or they go, some, to the sports page or to the comic page. Whatever they come to, we don't mind, just so they come into the market. I think we have to maintain that notion.

But Jim mentioned marketing. This is a big problem. People don't realize that you can take, for example, in Chicago, take the staffs of the news departments of every TV station in Chicago and fit them easily into a small corner of the "Tribune's" newsroom.

KURTZ: She's laughing.

Geneva, you mentioned the phrase "bean counter" as a phrase that journalists that don't like because it conjures up images of greedy corporate owners cutting back. But even struggling newspapers, even those that Wall Street isn't happy with, they have profit margins of something like 18 percent.

So -- and Knight Ridder, the papers mostly make money. And yet it's put itself up for sale.

So is there unrealistic expectation about how much money -- you know, when people hear layoffs, they think these papers are losing money. They're not losing money.

OVERHOLSER: Right. These "failing newspapers" are making their eight, 10 percent net income before taxes. But we have -- it's not just about greed, really. It's that a system has developed, and I think Wall Street's expectations have been trained to expect profits from the newspaper world that they don't from other retailers.

Something has got to change about that, because as these important newspapers shift much of their weight onto online, where the revenues are growing, they still -- those revenues don't compare to what newspapers make in the old-fashioned way.

KURTZ: Jim Warren, though, bloggers, as you know, have a grand old time kicking around the MSM, the mainstream media, but if newspapers went away tomorrow, where would they get their information?

WARREN: Oh, where would your local TV or radio station get your information? Particularly that morning drive time radio newscasts which basically rips off the local paper?

That said, I think bloggers and all this other competition aside, that for the new year and for the next decade, I think the big question for the industry will remain, will it reinvest in actual journalism? I think the companies that ultimately succeed will be those which reinvest, put more money, not less, into the actual journalism and then figure out different ways to exploit -- exploit that core, on the Internet and elsewhere.

And I also suspect -- here is one prediction I'll throw a dollar down on -- that within the next five, six years, a large number of papers, broadsheet papers like us, will either go tabloid or have a tabloid counterpart. Because that's what a younger audience wants.

KAISER: Howie, keep in mind, you know, we talked about declining newspapers. "The Washington Post," where you and I work, has got many times more readers today than it has ever had at any time in its history. We have two to three million people a day reading your journalism and mine online.


KURTZ: My conversation with the three guests the other day took place before I broke the story that "Post" editor Len Downie met with President Bush before publishing the report about the CIA secret prisons. Downie has refused to confirm the meeting, which was described to be by several sources.

Up next, from war zones around the world to your home computer, Yahoo! online correspondent Kevin Sites on his new line of work, photo blogging, straight ahead.


KURTZ: Welcome back.

Kevin Sites is a veteran network foreign correspondent who has covered conflicts in Colombia, Afghanistan and Iraq for CNN and NBC. But in September, Sites abandoned television for the Internet, becoming the first news correspondent for

Now he's spending a year filing multimedia dispatches from hot spots around the word. He writes a blog, posts video and photographs, and holds live chats with his readers. He's been to Sudan, Somalia, and Iraq, and still plans to travel to Chechnya, Kashmir and the Korean Peninsula, among others.

Kevin Sites joins us now from Beirut, Lebanon. Welcome.

KEVIN SITES, YAHOO NEWS: Hi, Howard. Thanks for having me.

KURTZ: Why give up the power of TV to run around and post things on the Internet?

SITES: Well, when you think about it, the Internet has incredible power itself. I went to working for a network that had about 10 million viewers a night on a very good night, "Nightly News With Brian Williams," and now I have the potential of reaching 400 million people every month. And it's transnational.

You know, my audience comes from everywhere in the world, and it also transcends boundaries by age, by country, by gender. The impact that I can have using the Internet and using the multimedia platform could be huge.

KURTZ: Well, the move certainly seems to have liberated you in the hair department, but tell me a story...

SITES: Thanks very much.

KURTZ: ... that you've done that you couldn't have done for a network because there wouldn't have been any market for it.

SITES: Well, just the very idea of covering every conflict zone in the world within one year is something that the network executives probably, you know, would have shied away from completely or laughed me out of their office. The fact that Yahoo! has decided to go ahead with this project says a lot about the medium, as well as their interest in really shedding some light on under-reported stories, stories that just aren't getting told anywhere else.

So the very project itself, the places that I've been, the first stop I made was Somalia. When's the last time anybody reported from Somalia? It's been a long time. But there is so much going on there, so much that impacts U.S. and world interests, that we can't afford to ignore these places.

KURTZ: Which leads me to this larger question. Do you think that the network news divisions today really care about international news other than Iraq?

SITES: Not to a great degree. I think there is certainly...

KURTZ: Why is that?

SITES: ... self interest.

Well, you know, first of all the medium itself has a limited amount of time. You can tell a two-minute story, but you're competing with all the other stories in the world that day. So you want to take the most important, you feel, to your viewing audience. And that doesn't necessarily explain the background of that story, it doesn't explain the other events that happen in there. That's why we've been subjected to so much criticism in Iraq about covering just the bombings those days or the deaths that occurred, rather than looking at the full perspective. There's a lot of things that happen in Iraq, a lot of negative things, obviously. But there are some positive stories, smaller stories, and that's the idea with the "Hot Zone," is that we cover the story in front of and behind the conflict. The small stories that when strung together, I think, create a more accurate picture.

KURTZ: Right.

SITES: And that, added with a multimedia dimension, the fact that we use video, text dispatches, still photos, audio and interactivity, all of those things, if you get one aspect of the story, maybe more nuance to the text side, but you can also get the visual image through the video side. Basically, we're providing all the broadcast mediums.

KURTZ: On a personal basis, what draws you to these war zones and places of heartrending poverty? It sounds like pretty depressing work in some ways.

SITES: Well, you know, you can look at it that way. You know, there is a lot of gloom and doom in what I have to report. Human suffering is a horrible thing to face every day. But I am also seeing an incredible triumph of the human spirit everywhere I go.

There has been a common thread in the stuff that I have been reporting out there, and the common thread is that people do overcome the harshest conditions that they experience from Sudan to Somalia to Iraq. Despite the fact that horrible things happen in their life, hardships that are unimaginable for us in so many ways, they can overcome them. We can all overcome them. And these are important lessons for us as human beings.

KURTZ: Now, you recently went back to Falluja, where one year ago, while working for NBC, you shot some pretty controversial footage which we'll put up on the screen here of a wounded Iraqi dying inside a mosque. The Marine in that case was ultimately not charged.

Did you get a lot of adverse reaction from the public over your role in that shooting?

SITES: Oh, incredibly so. You know, I received 500 death threats, you know, on a daily basis for almost a year after this happened. And it was astounding to me to some extent. And part of that was our problem in the media.

We haven't done a very good job at educating the American public about our role in society. Our role is to find and report the truth. To minimize the harm, yes, that's a possibility that we can do, but also to be independent.

We are not organs of the government, we are not organs of the media. We are independent. And we're to provide this perspective to show both the good and bad that happen in war. And both happen in war, especially in Iraq. It's a very complex situation.

KURTZ: Did you have...

SITES: And we need to be able to do this because people have to take responsibility for all aspects of what goes on in their name, both good and bad.

KURTZ: Just briefly, did you have a hard time finding work after that incident?

SITES: No. I had lots of offers.

I had offers from all three networks, to be honest with you, both as a freelancer and a staff position. But the fact is, part of what happened to me with that mosque incident made me take the Yahoo! job. I had to explain myself through my blog at the time. I had a blog,

And I was able to provide the nuance and further aspects and details that weren't part of my television report. And in doing so, a lot of people began to understand exactly what happened in that mosque and began to understand what the actions were that I took in reporting that.

KURTZ: Kevin Sites, I suspect you'll soon have some competition on the photo blogging front if this becomes more popular. Thanks very much for joining us.


KURTZ: Still to come, from the botched CBS National Guard story to Plame game, from pundits taking government cash, to a 30-year-old journalistic secret finally revealed, we'll look back at the media's ups and downs during the past year.


KURTZ: Welcome back.

2005 was a year of highs and lows for the news business. Mostly lows, unfortunately. And plenty of high-profile media folks talked about the issues on this program.


KURTZ (voice over): It began with a blistering consultant's report blaming CBS News for Dan Rather's botched report accusing President Bush of receiving favorable treatment from the National Guard.

Bob Schieffer defended his predecessor.

BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS NEWS: Frankly, he's compiled a list of work, a body of work that is just unparalleled. No one can match it over these last 40 years. Right now, a lot of the attention is still focused on the National Guard story. But I think in time that that will pass and he will be remembered as a great reporter.

KURTZ: Commentator Armstrong Williams apologized for secretly accepting $240,000 from the Bush administration while the "Detroit Free Press" suspended columnist Mitch Albom for writing about a college basketball game as if it had already taken place.

TONY KORNHEISER, ESPN: Yes, it is a mistake. But I don't think he has to be killed over the mistake. And he's being killed by the people in journalism who like to eat their young.

KURTZ: No matter what stories came and went, there was always Iraq. As "Times" Michael Ware reminded us from Baghdad.

MICHAEL WARE, "NEW YORK TIMES": Well, look, I think the difficulties for journalists trying to report this particular war have been pretty well documented. And those circumstances continue. I mean, literally, just driving here today to the CNN studio, we had an incident with a pickup with four armed gunmen, and we had to elude them. So that continues.

KURTZ: Another subject that would not fade, at least on cable, missing women such as runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks and Alabama teenager Natalee Holloway. Or as some critics called them, missing white women.

EUGENE ROBINSON, "THE WASHINGTON POST": In fact, black and Latino women go missing every day in this country, yet have not, to this point, received that sort of 24-hour, seven-day-a-week coverage that the damsels in distress have received.

KURTZ: The Valerie Plame leak investigation mushroomed into a full-fledged embarrassment for the press with Judith Miller spending three months in jail and being forced out at "The New York Times" and TIME's Matt Cooper narrowly avoiding jail for initially refusing to disclose his sources.

MATTHEW COOPER, "TIME" MAGAZINE: I don't think we as journalists can sort of pick and choose which sources and which obligations we're going to honor and say, well, this source doesn't seem to have good motives, I'm not going to take his.

KURTZ: The biggest source of them all finally admitted his role in Watergate as former FBI official Mark Felt told "Vanity Fair" that he was Deep Throat.

BEN BRADLEE, "THE WASHINGTON POST": And when the press says that they will protect a source, they will in fact protect a source. And when -- you know, it's awfully hard to beat the truth, to beat being right. And the fact of the matter is that Woodward and Bernstein were right, Deep Throat was right.

KURTZ: But Woodward would later get caught up in the CIA leak case as well. When I sat down with him, he had yet to acknowledge that an administration official had told him that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA. In fact, Woodward, who would later testify before prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, scoffed at the importance of the investigation.

BOB WOODWARD, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Again, I'm not sure there is any crime in all of this. The special prosecutor has been working 18 months, 18 months into Watergate we knew about the tapes. People were in jail.

KURTZ: Some of the year's most emotional journalism took place in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, which left its mark on the likes of NBC anchor Brian Williams.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: When your countrymen who have been killed in a storm float by you in a -- in the 25th largest city in the United States, when you watch people and witness people dead or dying, for lack of help and assistance, it has a profound effect on you.

KURTZ: It was a time of transition for the networks, with Ted Koppel stepping down from "Nightline" and the sad death of Peter Jennings, who was eventually succeeded by Bob Woodruff and Elizabeth Vargas.

In the end, it took an actor who had just made a film about Edward R. Murrow to remind us that journalism can still be a force for good.

GEORGE CLOONEY, ACTOR: There's still is bunch of kids getting killed in Afghanistan and Iraq, and really good reporters doing as good work as I've ever seen, sticking their necks out and doing -- bringing us important news. I'm not at all -- I'm a fan of news. I am the son of an anchorman who spends his days and nights still fighting to get good news out there. I believe in it.


KURTZ: Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.

I'm Howard Kurtz. Have a safe and happy new year.


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