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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Snow Blankets East Coast; King Funeral's Political Overtones; Muslim Protests and Freedom of Expression
Aired February 12, 2006 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice over): No laughing matter. After violent protests around the world triggered by the Mohammed cartoons, should American news organizations be carrying them? Or are they more willing to offend Christians with images mocking Jesus than risk the wrath of Muslims?
Fireworks at the farewell. Why did the mainstream media play down the way Jimmy Carter and others use Coretta Scott King's funeral to slam President Bush's policies?
And the preposterous pomposity of "Newsweek's" new cover boy Stephen Colbert.
KURTZ: Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES on this very snowy morning here in Washington and throughout the Northeast. Today we'll turn our critical lens on the cartoons that spark violence around the world.
I'm Howard Kurtz.
Ahead, we'll analyze the coverage of the Coretta Scott King funeral.
But first, the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed originally published, as you know, in a Danish newspaper, triggered more protests this week in Syria, Lebanon, Iran and Afghanistan. But the Danish editor who first put them in print, Flemming Rose, was standing firm.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FLEMMING ROSE, DANISH EDITOR: I think it is like asking a rape victim if she regrets wearing a short skirt at the discotheque Friday night in the sense that in our culture that does not imply that you invite everybody to have sex with you. But at the same time, I cannot apologize for the publication itself. I apologize for the feelings it has caused.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: The Danish paper put Rose on indefinite leave Friday after he pushed to also run cartoons about other subjects, possibly including the Holocaust, to make a political point.
The Bush administration, meanwhile, said the violence was being whipped up for political reasons.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: Iran and Syria have gone out of their way to -- to inflame sentiments and to use this to their own purposes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: But while the American media have covered the story, most newspapers have refused to run the cartoons. With exceptions such as "The Philadelphia Inquirer," Austin "American-Statesmen," and "New York Sun," most networks, including CNN, have declined to show the drawings as well. They appeared briefly on ABC News and were shown on "FOX News Sunday," all of which has sparked a debate.
TUCKER CARLSON, MSNBC: What's shocking to me is how little this information has been in our daily newspapers, which, again, for the 20th time, are withholding these cartoons, preventing average people from making judgments on their own about how offensive these cartoons are. What a shame. What a -- cowardice on the part of the American press.
BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: They're hypocrites. If you are afraid, write an editorial, say, "We're afraid to run the cartoon."
DAN ABRAMS, MSNBC: Look, if this is about safety or security, I support not showing them. Any other reason seems a bit hollow to me.
LOU DOBBS, CNN: It's my personal belief that you cannot report this story faithfully without showing these images, particularly when they are so widely available on the Internet.
KURTZ: Joining us now to talk about all this, in New York, Harry Siegel, former editor in chief of "The New York Press." He and several colleagues resigned when the weekly refused to publish the controversial cartoons.
In Chicago, Jim Warren, deputy managing editor of "The Chicago Tribune."
And in Atlanta, Mike Luckovich, editorial cartoonist for "The Atlantic Journal-Constitution."
Harry Siegel, most newspapers in this country, rightly or wrongly, have not published these cartoons. Why did you feel so strongly about "The New York Press's" refusal to do so that you quit?
HARRY SIEGEL, FMR. EDITOR, "NEW YORK PRESS": There's no way to cover this story without showing the images that ostensibly have inspired this level of violence, and threats thereof. And to the American media, which is why I think they have been so shy to show these images.
The word's overused, but it seems Orwellian to talk about this at such length without showing the images which are fairly innocuous by most standards, not very impressive editorial cartoons.
KURTZ: All right. For the record, "The New York Press" says in a statement, "We felt the images were not critical for the editorial content to have merit, would not hinder our readers from making an informed opinion, and only serve to further fan the flame of a volatile situation."
Mike Luckovich, you do this for a living, draw cartoons, that is. Does it bother you that we're all talking about this and reporting on it, but that very few news organizations will show these cartoons?
MIKE LUCKOVICH, EDITORIAL CARTOONIST: Yes. Well, you know, I -- I was sued for a cartoon that I did a number of years ago, and because of our freedom of the press, the First Amendment, the -- it was thrown out of court. So I really do respect the ability to freely publish.
However, with that freedom comes responsibility. So I disagree with Harry. I admire Harry for resigning on principle, but I disagree.
I think that -- I think that these cartoons were designed just to tick people off. And I think that you can describe the cartoons without -- without actually showing them and adding, as the quote earlier said, adding fuel to the fire.
KURTZ: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Don't you sometimes draw cartoons just to tick people off. Not necessarily to offend their religion, obviously.
LUCKOVICH: Never. Right -- you know, I do. I do. I like making people angry to make -- to make a broader point. But I still believe there's a line.
And I'm Catholic, and my kids attend Catholic school. I have done numerous cartoons on Catholic scandals, like the pedophilia scandal, and -- but I have never used Jesus Christ to make my point. I feel like there is a line there.
Let me move on to Jim Warren.
There's been growing criticism, as you know -- we heard it from O'Reilly a moment ago -- that many news organizations are simply afraid to run these cartoons in the face of these violent protests around the world.
What's your take?
JIM WARREN, "CHICAGO TRIBUNE": Oh, absolutely gibberish. And with greetings from a virtually snowless Chicago, guys. I have to say that a paper like ours, just like yours, Howie, has a rather admiral record for editorial courage. So the notion that we are sort of exemplars of political correctness or corporate cowardice is just baloney.
Let me just say as someone who oversees cartoons at the newspaper, I can tell folks out there that absolutely nothing generates as much heartache and heartburn as editorial cartoons. The great cartoonists like Mike tend to take a very, very sharp stick and poke you right in the eye. But the great ones like Mike tend to elicit gratitude for doing it in a thoughtful and subtle way.
I don't think that was the case here. And for those who don't know the way we operate, every single day editors at places like ours are making decisions about taste and about inflammatory material. In fact, what is virtually our bible, our so-called style book -- I assume you guys have one, too, at "The Post" -- says, and I believe I quote, "Avoid ethnic slurs and guard against unwitting insults to large groups of people." And I think this is a perfect case of that, and that's what we have avoided.
KURTZ: ALL RIGHT.
WARREN: If, in fact, this had been an expletive-filed torrent diatribe against Islam and Mohammed, we wouldn't be having this discussion about why didn't you run those insults.
KURTZ: Let me come back to Harry Siegel.
You know, why are we not seeing the same kind of hand-wringing in the American media over images mocking Christianity, for example? The most recent case, if we have a picture of it, is that "Rolling Stone" cover featuring the wrapper Kanye West dressed up as Jesus. I mean, that offends some people, too, of a different religion.
SIEGEL: I've got -- I can't quite hear you, but if I understand the question and judge it from the image there, if it has to do with the -- with the standards for...
KURTZ: Yes, exactly.
SIEGEL: ... different groups and shocking images involving Christians, I definitely think that tolerance and decency are very important values. But to me, the question in all these cases is, what's -- is, is this newsworthy?
If those cartoons had been offered to "New York Press," would we have run them? No, there would be no reason to. But when I hear that -- these questions of editorial judgment, what I want to know is, is there a rioter's veto on a free press?
These images are part of a larger story. And they're the ostensible trigger. And I don't understand, then, how one can avoid running them.
Obviously, gratuitous offense to any religious group is not something we should be in the business of. Should we be allowed, though, to poke sharp sticks into someone's eye when necessary and to show all the images pertinent and germane to a story? Absolutely.
KURTZ: All right. Although, you say when necessary. I can see where it's necessary now that it's become a worldwide controversy. Many have questioned whether it's necessary as an exercise in free speech for the Danish newspaper and some European newspapers to do it in the first place.
Mike Luckovich -- again, the only person on the panel here who actually draws for a living -- are you worried at all given the religious and ethnic sensitivities and the debate here that we're now going to enter a new era of self-censorship? Do you -- will you find yourself thinking twice about how far you can go in drawing cartoons for the "Journal-Constitution"?
LUCKOVICH: I -- you know, I self-edit every day, and I try and make my points in a hard-hitting way. And -- but I'm always conscious of -- of trying not to let my point be overwhelmed with my imagery. So that's not going to change.
I think people right now are a little skittish. I know that some of the news outlets, you know, they have the big debate about showing the cartoons we're talking about and showing cartoons that have come out since then on the -- on the topic.
So I think people are a little skittish now...
KURTZ: Mike, let me jump in and show...
KURTZ: ... one that you did in recent days on the very controversy we're talking about. "Meet your new editor" is the caption, and we can see who the new editor is. And I'm sure some people didn't like that either.
LUCKOVICH: No, and -- but, you know, you have to -- you know, I have to make my points and just let the -- let the chips fall where they may. But I still will not use Jesus Christ or the Prophet Mohammed in my cartoons because that's just going to -- that's just going to ruin any message that I'm trying to get across.
LUCKOVICH: I can talk about religion without -- without using the icons of religion to make that point.
Jim Warren, I want to play a clip from a CNN reporter earlier this week about the prevalence of anti-Semitic cartoons in the Arab press, and particularly -- or at least in this case in Egypt.
Let's take a look. All right. We don't have that, but it made the point that every week in some of these Middle Eastern newspapers we have all kinds of terribly offensive anti-Semitic cartoons. And in the process of covering that, these were shown on CNN, these have been shown by other news organizations.
So, some people are saying, boy, a double standard here. You can show that but you can't show these other images that are offensive to some Muslims.
WARREN: (AUDIO GAP) to have shown those. In fact, The Tribune got into a bit of a mess a year or two ago. I don't know if Mike remembers.
There was a cartoon that we ran that was deemed potentially anti- Semitic, and a lot of folks in our newsroom thought that was the case. There was tremendous debate. I think if we had to do it all over again, many of us would not have done that. Again, showing this inherent tension between editorial cartoons and many of the values we prize, which tend to be ones of subtly and nuance, and sometimes they sort of come into conflict.
And If I can also say, I do find the argument of the Danish editor on many levels to fall short, and somehow this is a test of censorship or self-censorship. I think ultimately he is making an argument for expression for expression's sake, and I think that sort of falls short.
At the beginning of this show he was talking, you know, making illusions to rape victims and their dress, which reminds us that there are lots of information and lots of seemingly relevant facts every day that we do not put in the newspaper, and they include the identifies of rape victims, juvenile offenders, among others.
KURTZ: That publishers edit.
We do now how that report from CNN earlier this week about the Egyptian and the Arab press.
Let's take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Amaro Kasha (ph) has drawn many cartoons for one of Egypt's biggest selling newspapers. He has no problem depicting Jews, especially Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, with the words anti-Semitic stereotypes: ugly, blood-thirsty killers with hook noses and curls.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Now, obviously, Mike Luckovich, CNN is not endorsing that by pointing out this goes on in the world, so, again, why is everybody being so skittish about these Mohammed cartoons?
LUCKOVICH: You know, I didn't hear you -- hear the last thing you said, Howard.
KURTZ: What I said was that we just showed a CNN story that made reference to the fact that there are anti-Semitic cartoons published in the Arab press all the time.
KURTZ: CNN showed it. And I'm not singling out CNN. We just happen to have this tape. But news organizations seem to be willing to show for illustrative purposes some kinds of offensive cartoons but not others. I don't -- I don't understand the difference.
LUCKOVICH: Yes. Well, first of all, because some groups show vile images doesn't mean that, you know -- somebody's got to be the adult, and a lot of these -- a lot of these cartoonists are sort of, I think, at the mercy of their governments because their governments will not allow them to -- to -- those are sort of safe cartoons. And it's so twisted.
Those are sort of safe cartoons for them to draw. They can hit and defame Jews, and that's OK, so that -- their -- their freedom is very narrow.
KURTZ: OK. I've got to go to break here.
One other difference, obviously, is that those cartoons didn't show a religious figure like the Prophet Mohammed, who in the Islam religion is not supposed to be pictured at all.
We'll talk more about this, including the coverage of the protesters around the country in just a moment.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
Coming up at the top of the hour on "LATE EDITION," the Danish prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, speaks out about his country's role in the controversy over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.
Senators Chuck Hagel and Joe Lieberman discuss domestic spying and more.
And the former Iraqi interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, and the next steps for his country.
All that, much more, on "LATE EDITION."
Now back to Howard Kurtz and RELIABLE SOURCES.
KURTZ: Welcome back.
Harry Siegel of "The New York Press" -- or formerly of "The New York Press," I should say, since you resigned in protest over this, what about the coverage of the Muslim protesters around the world? People have been burning Danish embassies. There have been at least 10 deaths in the violence so far.
Have they been portrayed, in your view, as genuinely outraged religious people or extremists bent on violence?
SIEGEL: Well, the coverage of the rioters is a big part of, as it turns out, of why it made sense to resign over this, is the -- the 12 cartoons that ran were not what inspired so much of this. A fair amount more had to do with three counterfeit cartoons that after the 12 initially ran months ago, several Danish Imams then went on a fund- raising tour.
These three were very amateurish and very vile. And they were used to generate -- to generate spontaneous uprisings and street protests, which is where the money for the Danish flags and a lot of the people that burn them comes from. And because we can't show the images or have a very honest conversation without them, there's this -- whatever the religious equivalent to racist sense is that we're dealing with angry, violent children who become disenraged (ph) over relatively innocuous editorial cartoons, and that puts moderate Muslims in a very bad spot.
Jim Warren, what's your take on the coverage of the protesters, particularly the ones that have turned so violent?
WARREN: I think it's pretty -- pretty good. I mean, in our paper, if you looked at a LexisNexis search, you will find that we have covered this extensively locally, nationally, internationally, and I think have shown a great deal of nuance and not tried to paint with too broad a brush and make clear, you know, this is a faction of a larger Muslim world.
But I also want to, you know, underscore how it just reminds one that, you know, any outside group, terrorists or not, ultimately wins when they get folks like CNN, "Chicago Tribune," "Washington Post," whatever, to betray our, you know, very best principles and practices here, which is why I just ultimately don't agree with Harry's argument that it's incumbent to run these cartoons.
SIEGEL: They weren't a newsworthy part of the story?
KURTZ: Clearly, the cartoons have acted as a spark, tapping into some much -- go ahead, Harry. I'm sorry.
SIEGEL: I just -- I want to ask my colleague at the Tribune if he honestly feels that the cartoons were a newsworthy part of the story. That if you can cover this with nuance without showing the central element.
KURTZ: Jim, just briefly.
WARREN: Yes. I mean, I think we can easily have done it by many, many, many times characterizing the cartoons in great detail.
KURTZ: Mike Luckovich, a brief final word from you on this. LUCKOVICH: You know, I just think it's interesting that with all technology -- with all the technology we have today, the big argument is over cartoons. I mean, I still sit at my desk every day and hand draw these things the way they've been drawn for hundreds of years, and now these are -- you know, this is what everyone is talking about. I think it's -- I just think it's amazing.
KURTZ: Another difference, of course, is you can see them around the world on the Internet, which would not have been possible...
LUCKOVICH: That's exactly true.
KURTZ: ... 10 or 15 years ago.
All right. Mike Luckovich, Harry Siegel, Jim Warren, thanks very much for joining us.
Just ahead on this snowy Sunday morning in Washington, the farewell to Coretta Scott King. Did the media botch the real story?
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES.
You can see from that shot there is a lot of snow here in Washington and across the Northeast.
Let's go to Chris Huntington in Brooklyn, New York. He's standing in Prospect Park.
So, Chris, how do you cover a snowstorm of this magnitude when you are surrounded by the white stuff?
CHRIS HUNTINGTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You're running around, you're rolling. And you can ask people what they're doing, and you look at the poor folks who just don't know how to drive in this stuff, and you just try and drive around them. Frankly, it's a good thing it's a Sunday morning, Howard, because, of course, that lightens up the traffic and the need for people to get places, because, indeed, it's -- nobody is going to get anywhere quickly this morning.
Here in New York City, of course, they've got a hugely robust snow removal operation, but it's really barely keeping pace. In fact, not keeping pace right now with the snow that continues to come down. And the wind is blowing it around. It's going to be well into tomorrow before the city streets are cleared here in the New York area -- Howard.
KURTZ: Chris, I'm going ask you the question my relatives always ask me when they see somebody like you standing out there in bad weather, which is, what are you accomplishing journalistically by getting snowed on and blowed on the way you are?
HUNTINGTON: Howard, I'm so glad you've asked me that question, because every time we get assigned to do these stories, I always say to whoever will listen, how -- "Why in the world should anybody at home believe me or think that I'm an intelligent person if I'm going to stand out here in the bad weather and tell you at home that there's bad weather out here?" It seems to me that there's a certain sort of oxymoronic exercise that we carry out, but, indeed, we just try and do the best we can, have fun with it.
And indeed, if there is serious stuff to report, we'll tell you about it. But right now in this area in New York, things are -- things are calm.
HUNTINGTON: We're in a park, a beautiful park, and people are already out having fun. There's some kids sledding over here. There's some folks walking their dogs. So...
KURTZ: Well, you've convinced me -- you've convinced me there's bad weather just from looking at you. Of course I was convinced when I opened my door this morning.
Chris Huntington, thanks very much. Get to a warm place when you can.
HUNTINGTON: You got it.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: Turning now to the political scene., when political leaders earlier this week joined thousands of others at the funeral of Coretta Scott King, the media largely reported it as a straightforward celebration of her life.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHARLES GIBSON, ABC NEWS: There are few people in this world who could bring presidents, senators, stars and thousands of Americans together in a single place. Coretta Scott King is one of them.
BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS NEWS: So it was that as she was laid to rest today, people from every level of American society and every corner of American life came to say good-bye.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: What they failed to focus on was the extraordinary spectacle of a former president and others criticizing the incumbent president on the stage behind them.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We only have to recall the color of the faces of those in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi...
CARTER: ... those who are most devastated by Katrina to know that there are not yet equal opportunities for all Americans. REV. JOSEPH LOWERY, CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER: We know now that there were no weapons of mass destruction over there. But Coretta knew and we know that there are weapons of misdirection right down here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Conservative commentators were quick to express outrage.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: Can you not see attacking a president while he and his former president, father are there to honor this woman is inappropriate? Do you not see the lack of decency in that?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: A day later, some news organizations belatedly covered the controversy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: Yesterday's funeral service for Coretta Scott King, the six-hour celebration of Mrs. King's life included quite a few political statements, including criticisms of President Bush's domestic and foreign policies.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Joining us now to talk about coverage of the King funeral, Eugene Robinson, associate editor and columnist for "The Washington Post," and radio talk show host Blanquita Cullum.
Gene, before we get t whether this was appropriate or not appropriate, did the media initially blow this story by failing to note this extraordinary nature of these anti-Bush remarks?
EUGENE ROBINSON, "WASHINGTON POST": Well, I think it might have been worthy of mention, but...
KURTZ: Worthy of mention?
ROBINSON: Well, it wasn't the lead of the story, Howie. Or I wouldn't have thought it was the lead of the story.
KURTZ: Was it the second paragraph the third paragraph or the fourth paragraph?
ROBINSON: Well, the fifth or sixth paragraph. I mean, it -- what is unusual about political sentiments being expressed at the funeral of a woman who was a political activist through her entire life until the day she died? Her friends, the people she worked with, the people she -- who she respected and who respected her were deeply involved in politics. It was -- it was not an apolitical occasion, in my view, and I don't -- so I don't see why it would be that unusual.
KURTZ: Of course there would be some political talk, but there was some fairly pointed shots at President Bush, who did, after all, go and spoke.
Did you find that the initial media coverage basically didn't dwell on that very much, if at all?
BLANQUITA CULLUM, RADIO AMERICA: No, but then again this had a longer shelf life, and right now we're here on your great show not talking about Coretta Scott King. We're talking about Jimmy Carter.
And, you know, the sad thing of that was Jimmy forgot -- Jimmy thought he was in there working the room because probably there were more liberals and Democrats in that room than there were Republicans and conservatives. But it was a bad mistake because it was just bad taste. And the fact of the matter is...
KURTZ: Is it also a bad mistake for all of us then to cover and talk about it even belatedly? I mean, that became the story, did it not?
CULLUM: Well, no, but -- I think what it -- is in good taste because I think we learn from it. You know, Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King, they changed the world. They didn't just change part of the world. They changed the world.
And they brought people to the table. They brought people they agreed with and didn't agree with. They had a long shelf life.
So it was kind of an insult to not let that be he day, not Jimmy's day. It was her day.
KURTZ: If President Bush had made some political remarks, say, defending his civil rights record at the funeral, don't you think that that would have made news and more so than perhaps Jimmy Carter and Reverend Lowery making their criticisms?
ROBINSON: Well, sure, because he's president. And Jimmy Carter is no longer president, and Reverend Lowery never was.
I mean, it's -- of course, it's, you know, kind of de facto more news if the president does it than if anybody else does it. But, you know, the president is -- you know, he is a big boy. He has thick skin. And he also is not given to sitting for five or six hours in a place where his opponents can talk to him and can express views that are counter to his views.
So, you know, I can certainly understand the temptation to -- you know, express one's self in that sort of setting where, basically, he can't get up and leave.
KURTZ: But do you think that many journalists either ignored or downplayed these remarks initially because they agree with the criticism of Bush? So it didn't strike them as being anything particularly inflammatory?
CULLUM: Well, I also think that maybe some of them didn't write about it because they really didn't want that to be the focus of the eulogies that happened for this great woman. They were exercising... KURTZ: So they made an editorial or a political judgment?
CULLUM: Yes, I think they were making more of an editorial than political because, frankly, it was all about -- it was supposed to be about her.
And you're right, Gene. The president is a big boy. I mean, he sat there and he kind of took it. But I mean, a lot of people just felt uncomfortable about it because even if they didn't like the president, they didn't think that was the venue.
If there was a venue, certainly they could have created a town hall. Or if Jimmy Carter wanted to go over there and meet at the White House or stand in front of the White House and criticize the president, or go to some other location, but this became his Janet Jackson moment. This became Jimmy Carter's Janet Jackson moment that everybody says he exposed a part of him that should not have been exposed, and we remember that more than we remember...
KURTZ: That is an analogy that never would have occurred to me.
ROBINSON: Me either. And it's a little frightening, actually, Blanquita, to think about that image.
But let's back up. I mean, the funeral lasted how many hours?
KURTZ: Six hours.
ROBINSON: Six hours.
ROBINSON: There was music. There were -- there was prayer. There was -- it was -- it was, I thought, a very rich ceremony.
How much time did these supposedly completely off the wall...
KURTZ: Well, a relative amount of time. But we all...
CULLUM: There you have it. There you have it. There is my case in point. We can't remember the teams that played that day, but we can remember Janet Jackson.
We can't remember the speeches that were said at Coretta's funeral. But we remember what Jimmy Carter said. It was inappropriate.
KURTZ: The New England Patriots won that Super Bowl.
But do you believe -- and we went through a little bit of this after the funeral for the late senator Paul Wellstone -- that people like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly are whipping this up into a controversy after the fact, or is it a legitimate public debate about whether this was consistent with what you should do at a funeral?
ROBINSON: I think the -- I think there's a lot of whipping. I think the egg whites are stiff now.
It's -- that's just my view. But I do think it's been whipped up into something larger than it was.
Now, Jimmy Carter. Jimmy Carter has issues with this president that seem to be personal issues, and to the extent that his remarks seemed to reflect a personal animus, that's kind of between the two of them. But Reverend Lowery, you know, other...
CULLUM: The Reverend Lowery had a lot more taste even how he did it, I will tell you.
KURTZ: Let me jump in, because I want to get to a broader point in our time remaining, the way the press covers civil rights and this president.
Is there an acceptance in the mainstream press, Blanquita Cullum, that the NAACP and Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton basically represent African-Americans, and if they don't support Bush and if Bush is not getting along with them, then he's not connecting with that constituency?
CULLUM: I think that is a relevant point, but I will tell you that more and more people are saying that Jesse Jackson and the people that you mentioned don't necessarily represent them.
One of the great things that happened because of Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King, how many people do you know -- many of us, myself included, come from multiracial families. They don't speak for all of us. They're speaking in terms that are archaic, and that movement, while very valid, is changing.
KURTZ: Is there a litany in the media -- Bush had 2 percent popularity among African-Americans, the first president not to address the NAACP -- that maybe misses what's going on here?
ROBINSON: Well, I wrote a column last week about black leadership and about how the -- you know, our notion of what black leadership is it should have changed along with the times that Martin Luther King was, you know, the product of a moment, a moment he helped shape in which you could talk about unified black leadership.
That said, 2 percent popularity. No matter who the leadership is, no matter what you think, whether you think Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton or Condoleezza Rice is black leadership...
CULLUM: I was going to say, the black leadership, according to the press, they'll give more credibility to a Jesse Jackson than they will to a Colin Powell or to Condi Rice, where they will let Condi Rice be labeled as an "Aunt Jemima."
I mean, at some point I think that the press itself doesn't quite understand the involvement of the civil rights movement. ROBINSON: But you hear from all of the people all of the time 2 percent, 2 percent.
KURTZ: All right. That's a great subject for another segment, but right now we've got to take a break.
And when we come back, we'll look at the president talking about a 4-year-old plot of terror in Los Angeles, the coverage of Hillary Clinton, and some other political subjects in a moment.
KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. You see a picture of the snowy Capitol there.
Still with us, Eugene Robinson, columnist for "The Washington Post," and Blanquita Cullum, radio talk show host who made it through almost a foot of snow to get here this morning, and we appreciate it.
So, the big political news, "TIME" magazine finally getting a hold of one of those photos of convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff at the White House. Let's see if we can take a look at that.
If you've got your magnifying glass, all the way on the left there -- we've circled it for you -- is Abramoff. The president meeting with the Kickapoo Tribe of Indians, who Abramoff represented.
My question, Gene Robinson, is, we already know that Abramoff and Bush, you know, had several of these grip (ph) and grin photos. Why is just having the picture such a big deal?
ROBINSON: I love the story because, in fact, having the picture is important. You know, the whole -- the old picture worth a thousand words kind of thing. There's something about the picture that makes it more real, I think.
So, of course, the White House doesn't want you to have the picture, everybody else is -- you know, every news outlet in the world is trying to get the picture. But that's really not quite the money shot yet. What you want is the handshake.
KURTZ: No, you want Monica on the rope line is what you want.
KURTZ: What do you make of this intense media scavenger hunt to get these pictures? Is it -- is it to make President Bush look bad?
CULLUM: Abramoff is supposed to be the evil demon. OK? So, if can you try...
KURTZ: Well, he has pleaded guilty.
CULLUM: All right. He has pled guilty...
KURTZ: Right. CULLUM: ... and he made some bad, bad, bad, bad mistakes. No doubt. No question. We're all in agreement.
But now you want to try to link everybody who could have even touched him, seen him, had a lunch in the same building with him, was on the subway with him, lives two blocks down the neighborhood from him. And this is not like the situation if we go back to the Clinton era where you had all those communist Chinese that were coming in, shaking hands with the president and giving money through people, where they went back and gave $2 million back, you know.
KURTZ: Go ahead, Gene.
ROBINSON: Well, but there is -- you know, the president basically has said, Abramoff, never heard of him. Gee, the name vaguely rings a bell, but, of course, you know, I would have shaken hands with him just like I shake hands with, you know, eight million people a year.
And so, Abramoff, on the other hand, says...
CULLUM: I'm taking you to the Christmas next year.
ROBINSON: Well, no, no. I know what...
CULLUM: We're going to the Christmas -- well, then you know what it's like.
ROBINSON: I know what it's like, but...
CULLUM: There are people there that you don't even know them yourself.
ROBINSON: Right, but a picture, you know, would tend to contradict that if it shows the two of them, you know, huddled together over, you know, over some issue.
KURTZ: The only thing that is somewhat newsworthy about this picture is that it's not a Christmas party picture.
KURTZ: It's a picture of a meeting with a client that obviously not everybody can get with the president.
Let me move on to some other news the president made this week.
On Thursday, he had said in a speech that -- he gave more details about a foiled terrorist plot to blow up the tallest building in Los Angeles, the Library Tower. We see it there.
We already knew about this. The administration had mentioned it four months ago. The "LA Times" reported it a couple of years ago. But this became big news everywhere. Obviously in California, but everywhere as well. So, is this a case, Gene Robinson, of the press kind of being used by Bush so he can turn the conversation to terrorism, which is seen as one of his political strengths?
ROBINSON: Well, we knew that such a plot had existed. We didn't know as many details of it as the president had revealed.
KURTZ: It's still not clear how far it got.
ROBINSON: Exactly. It's not clear that it was ever really put in motion. So why -- why else would the president now just say, oh, by the way, there are there was this awful plot a while ago, and therefore -- you know, it seems to me, once again, designed to build and maintain support for his anti-terrorism policies, which includes a system of -- a program of surveillance, electronic surveillance, that a lot of people don't like.
KURTZ: So, in other words, the president is on the defensive. He is trying to get off the defensive by saying, hey, folks, there are real people out there who are trying to kill us every day. And in doing so, he brings up a 4-year-old story that we already knew about, and the press all runs with that.
Is a president's prerogative, or is that the media just being pliable?
CULLUM: Well, look, first of all, he is not going to talk about anything that's going on now if you are trying to foil any kind of sleeper cell that's in this country.
KURTZ: Sure. Why was this news?
CULLUM: This was news because the president can say, look, these things happen. There are people who come into this country that we are watching because they tend to hurt civilians in this country.
KURTZ: And we knew about this particular plot in L.A.
CULLUM: Oh, yes, because -- and also, it's important because, as I pointed out, you can't talk about if they're watching anyone now because you can't compromise any kind of investigation. I mean, frankly -- I mean, the president is going to be criticized if he does and if he doesn't. If 9/11 happens, they're going to say what did he know and when did he know it?
KURTZ: I understand the media. If you were running the "CBS Evening News," or ABC's "World News Tonight," would you have put that speech and the 4-year-old plot at the top of the newscast?
CULLUM: Would I have put it -- yes, I would have put it up there. I think it was important.
KURTZ: Would you?
ROBINSON: Well, I think, you know, he's the president. And he is talking about a terror plot. CULLUM: Right.
ROBINSON: You've got to put it at the top, but you have to do it with, I think, context and, frankly, in this case a bit of skepticism...
ROBINSON: ... and say that this is an old plot. We knew about it. Why is the president telling us about it again now?
CULLUM: But the question I have is, why don't we even have journalists out there who are trying to find out where sleeper cells are? Why are we not having investigative reporters who are trying to find out, really, is there any threat?
KURTZ: But we don't have subpoena power. We're not law enforcement.
CULLUM: Yes, but...
KURTZ: I should mention that some journalists, NBC's Brian Williams, and there was George Stephanopoulos, Charlie Gibson and others, did raise questions about the timing. Why was the president choosing this day -- there was no breaking news here -- to disclose this?
And I want to get a little bit into campaign politics.
Last Sunday on ABC's "This Week," Ken Mehlman, chairman of the Republican National Committee, had this to say about a certain senator from New York who might be thinking about running for president.
Let's take a look at that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KEN MEHLMAN, RNC CHAIRMAN: I don't think the American people, if you look historically, elect angry candidates. Hillary Clinton seems to have a lot of anger.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Now, since then we've had a bunch of stories, "Hillary Clinton: Is She Really Angry or Just a Little Bit Angry?"
Now, is the press letting the RNC chairman kind of, you know, set the agenda with that kind of sentiment?
ROBINSON: I think absolutely. I think it's a preview of an anti-Hillary campaign theme that we're going to hear between now and the election.
KURTZ: But therefore, it is newsworthy. ROBINSON: Well, it's newsworthy in that context. This seems to be, you know, the theme, the way to get at Hillary. If Hillary Clinton were so angry, would she still be with Bill Clinton? So she can't be so angry.
KURTZ: Was this -- was this a real story, or a nicely trumped-up story by the Republicans that wants us all to debate Hillary Clinton's character?
CULLUM: Oh, it's colorful. And listen, let me tell you something...
KURTZ: You're not (INAUDIBLE).
CULLUM: ... as a conservative and a Republican, I hope Hillary wins. It's going to make politics fun. It's going to just be a blast.
KURTZ: You're coming out for Hillary Clinton for president on this program?
CULLUM: No, I'm coming -- I'm coming out to say -- actually, I hope Condi runs against her. I think that would be fun.
I think it would be like the match of the century and it will make politics fun because Hillary is colorful. Yes, she's angry. Obviously she's angry. She gets out there and says stuff right off the top of her head and you go, woe, you go, girl. That's going to help our team.
KURTZ: But this reminds me of when John McCain ran in 2002 and people who were running against him said, you know, he came back from Vietnam and maybe he had a few screws loose. In other words, you put out the character issue and then we all debate it, and we get sort of sucked in.
ROBINSON: It takes a life of its own, and once you get that started, you don't have to keep it up, you know. I think that's why it's out now.
ROBINSON: The fire is lit. It's going to smolder. And it's kind of there.
CULLUM: You said that he had a few screws loose. A lot of people have come out there adamantly and say, well, how dare you, because he was at the Hanoi Hilton. You spend that much time and come out and he was a hero. So, I mean, people are -- and people are -- you know, you want to have candidates, first and foremost, that you have a passion for. And you either have a passion for or against Hillary.
She's great for us.
KURTZ: Just to be clear, I was repeating the campaign attacks or innuendo against Senator McCain.
CULLUM: Of course.
KURTZ: We are out of time. Blanquita Cullum, Gene Robinson, thanks for joining us.
Up next, a new magazine for the "Gossip Star" (ph).
Then, Al Michaels traded for a rabbit? All the details just ahead.
And later, you don't want to miss my word on TV funnyman-turning- windbag Stephen Colbert.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: Time now for a look at the news world in our "Media Minute."
KURTZ (voice over): When "Chicago Tribune" managing editor James O'Shea appeared on Tucker Carlson's MSNBC show, "The Situation," he and the host had a spirited debate about the newspaper's refusal to run the incendiary Mohammed cartoons. After the interview was over, Carlson had this to say...
TUCKER CARLSON, MSNBC: Because newspapers and mainstream news outlets are cowardly and run by corporate worms like the man I just interviewed.
KURTZ: That prompted a blistering letter from O'Shea to Jim Romenesko's media Web site. "Who wants to deal with someone whose backbone is as flimsy as his bow ties?" O'Shea wrote. "Your personal and derogatory comment about me after my taped appearance on your show to discuss why the "Chicago Tribune" decided not to publish cartoons offensive to Muslims was cowardly."
Now a word about a controversial "Vanity Fair" photo. No, not the actresses on the new cover.
The magazine recently ran a picture of a reunion of Vietnam War correspondents in Ho Chi Minh City. Look, there's Peter Arnett. Only, it turns out Arnett wasn't there. He was photographed separately and digitally inserted into the group shot. The magazine blames a mistake by an overly zealous graphics person.
Oprah Winfrey is now $55 million richer. The talk show queen has signed a deal with XM Satellite Radio to create an "Oprah and Friends" channel focussing on fitness, health, and self-improvement. But it will be mostly her friends with Oprah on the air half an hour a week.
Not getting enough gossip? Is that possible in today's world. Well, "The New York Post's" page six has just given birth to "Page Six" the magazine, filled with the likes of Jacko, Jennifer Aniston, Heidi klum, Victoria's Secret models, and lots of women in skimpy bathing suits. The issue is just a test.
Finally, last week we poked fun at "Washington Post" sportswriter Tony Kornheiser, who has now gotten that dream job as the third anchor at "Monday Night Football," replacing Al Michaels, who is jumping to NBC. Kornheiser, the only sports pundit to hold the job other than Howard Cosell, says the new ESPN gig "seems daunting. I could be a disaster."
But at least he will be a funny disaster.
KURTZ: As for Al Michaels, "Monday Night Football" didn't let him go to NBC Sports for nothing. He was traded for a rabbit.
That's right, ESPN's parent company, Disney, will obtain the rights to Oswald the Animated Rabbit, a cartoon that Walt Disney drew before Mickey Mouse back in the 1920s.
Way to go, Al. Talk about market value.
Coming up, Stephen Colbert used to be a funny guy, but now he seems a bit full of himself. Will pop his balloon next.
KURTZ: Time now for "The Kurtz Word," and that word is pomposity.
Now, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking this is a cheap rip-off of what Stephen Colbert does on his show. Like that guy he hasn'tripped off everyone else on cable. O'Reilly, Scarborough, he's copied them all.
But you know, there was a time when this Comedy Central clown wasn't a walking, talking embodiment of pomposity. That was when he was willing to come on this show.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHEN COLBERT, COMEDY CENTRAL: We have no desire to make anybody look like a blithering idiot. But we do love it when they do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: But now that he's not just Jon Stewart's spear carrier, now that he sits behind a big, fat desk at "The Colbert Report," it has totally gone to this man's head.
Here, look what happens when he brings on a guest.
Pathetic. He invented one measly little word, "truthiness," and he got all huffy when the AP used it without crediting him, the great Stephen Colbert. And he got full of himself when, in a fit of temporary insanity, "Newsweek" put his mug on the cover.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COLBERT: We have changed the media. You may recall that for years now "Newsweek" magazine has not had a picture of me on the cover. Well, now it does. Take a look.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: And then he was named to deliver the laughs at the upcoming White House Correspondents Dinner. And he refused to comment about this alleged honor. Got that? Mr. fake journalist couldn't be bothered to talk to real journalists who actually have to practice truthiness.
I guess America really loves pomposity. What's next, a phony journalist hosting the Oscars?
And by the way, I am not bitter that Colbert has not invited me on his show. No way. He would have to beg to get me on that thing, or at least be really nice to me, or at least place the call himself, or maybe shoot me an e-mail, or have his guy call my guy.
And that's "The Kurtz Word."
Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.
I'm Howard Kurtz.
Please join us again next Sunday morning, 10:00 a.m. Eastern, for another edition and another look at the media.
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