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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Coverage of Dubai Ports World Deal; Mosque Bombing Raises Questions About Civil War in Iraq
Aired February 26, 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): Turbulent waters. How did the Bush administration's deal with an Arab company to manage six American ports become such a huge story? And are news outlets joining with posturing politicians to pump it up?
The mosque attack. Are journalists finally waking up to a civil war in Iraq?
Back to the Gulf. CNN's Anderson Cooper uncovering the aftermath of Katrina and dealing with his own tidal wave of publicity.
Plus, holding journalists accountable for their indifference during the Holocaust.
And "The Donald" versus Martha: trash talk by two TV tycoons.
KURTZ: Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES, where today we turn our critical lens on the president, the press and the ports.
I'm Howard Kurtz.
That controversial deal between the Bush administration and the United Arab Emirates company to run a half-dozen American ports in such cities as New York, Miami and New Orleans was actually made more than a week ago, but the media were totally focused on the Dick Cheney hunting accident. When news outlets did catch up with the news, it sparked such a huge reaction that President Bush sought out reporters on Air Force One and later headed for the cameras to defend the deal. When the pundits weighed in, a striking number of conservatives, but not all, were on the anti-Bush side, along with the liberals.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": This is a failure of leadership. This is not a failure of midlevel bureaucrats, period.
WILLIAM BENNETT, HOST, "MORNING IN AMERICA": I don't think this is the way to go because we're at war with radical Islam.
BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: There's no reason to fire the Arab company except that they are Arabs. Isn't that racism? Can America afford to send that message to the world?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Joining me now here in Washington, Gloria Borger, national political correspondent for CBS News and a columnist for "U.S. News and World Report"; John Roberts, CNN senior national correspondent; and Frank Sesno, CNN special correspondent and professor of Public Policy and Communication at George Mason University.
Gloria Borger, was this a story, this port story, that the press just dived into, or did the politicians knock you over on the way to the cameras to denounce the deal?
GLORIA BORGER, CBS NEWS: I think we were kind of asleep at the switch at the beginning of this. As you were saying, we were too busy covering a hunting accident in Texas. And I think when this story came out, Chuck Schumer of New York, one of the first politicians to sort of bring it to our attention, we were as surprised as the president of the United States was and as certain members of Congress were. And they were all upset about it, those members of Congress.
We live at the bottom of the food chain, Howie. When they're upset, we cover it.
KURTZ: John Roberts, do journalists have a special affection for controversies where Republicans take on Bush, as opposed to just the usual Democrats versus the White House?
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN SR. NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, yes, anything that's not the normal, you know, Democrats and Republicans going at each other is a really interesting story. What's really surprising about this, though, I mean, talking about the press being focused on other things, this deal first became public back in October of last year, and everybody ignored it.
Unlike the deal where the Chinese oil company that was trying to take over Unocal, and that suddenly, you know, blew up in the press long before it ever got to anything like the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, everybody was kind of just ignoring this. And it wasn't until Schumer came out and then some other Republicans came out and said, hey, wait a minute, what about this, that everybody woke up and paid attention.
KURTZ: So, if this is such a huge deal and a potential threat to national security and all of that, what explains the slow reaction time? It can't just have been the Cheney hunting accident. Was it the fact that there were -- we had to wait for the political fireworks to get into the substance of it?
FRANK SESNO, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: I think it's waiting for the political fireworks. I also, frankly, think it's a little bit of homeland security fatigue. I think there's so much of this stuff out there, and some of it -- so much of it, to some, feels like crying wolf or feels like it's the kind of Orwellian never-ending war, that it's sometimes very difficult to get people to focus on this. But it is the fact, as Gloria said -- I wouldn't exactly say we're at the bottom of the food chain, because we can make plenty of noise and kill plenty of people along the way. But the fact is, we don't make the news. The press doesn't make the news. And it's the responsibility of the political establishment to yell and scream.
KURTZ: Well, of course the press does make the news when it wants to because...
SESNO: When it wants to, but not always.
KURTZ: ... you know, Dick Cheney accidentally shoots a hunting companion and what might have been a one or two-day story was a week- long frenzy. That's making news.
SESNO: We didn't make that up, OK? I mean, it did happen.
BORGER: But Howie...
ROBERTS: But wait a minute. Hang on. Hang on.
Think about what you just said. The vice president of the United States shot somebody while on a hunting trip.
KURTZ: It's a story.
ROBERTS: Shouldn't that be a week-long story?
KURTZ: The White House didn't think so.
ROBERTS: Particularly since...
KURTZ: There were critics out there who thought...
ROBERTS: ... particularly since it was the owner of the property who was the first one to announce it to the press, as opposed to the White House doing it.
SESNO: But there was a -- there was a feeding frenzy on that. I mean, that went overboard. And that's why I would say...
BORGER: I think this says something about the port -- the port issue.
SESNO: I was just going to say, it's not a feeding frenzy on the ports.
BORGER: But on the port issue, it's sort of an eye into Washington about the way decisions get made in Washington, which is sometimes by small bureaucratic committees. Sometimes these decision do not get fed up that food chain, and, in fact, we got caught flat- footed, and the president got caught flat-footed.
KURTZ: Yes, Let me read something from your CBS colleague, Dick Meyer, writing on CBSNEWS.com. I'll toss this to you, John Roberts.
"Never have I seen a bogus story explode so far and so fast... 90 percent of that story is false. The United Arab Emirates is not an Axis of Evil kind of place, it will not own U.S. ports, it will not control security at U.S. ports and there is nothing new about foreigners owning U.S. ports."
ROBERTS: That is the case that the Bush administration is going to try to make, and that is the case that the company is going to try to make. And it may well be that there is absolutely nothing untoward in terms of national security with this deal, but what everybody has been operating on here is perception, the fact that two of the 9/11 hijackers came from the United Arab Emirates, the fact that they were one of only three countries, I believe, to recognize the Taliban, the fact that money destined for al Qaeda has been laundered through the United Arab Emirates and it served as a transshipment point for the AQ Khan network.
People in Congress, Republicans among them, looked at that and said, wait a second here, why didn't we hear about this? And that's probably the biggest problem with this whole deal is why these bureaucrats made this decision in a vacuum and what does that say about the way that this administration operates, that they collectively had the political acumen of a rock and didn't think to say to anybody, wait a second, we've got this deal here, it's post- 9/11, it's the United Arab Emirates. Perception is a lot of what's going on here.
SESNO: It leads to a central paradox, to a central contradiction in this administration. You can't be a little bit at war. Either you're at war or you're not at war.
We've been told for years and years we're at war. If are you're at war, then you look at who is handling the ports, who is handling the goods, who is flying the flags, and who's got access.
KURTZ: But let me bring...
BORGER: And that's why -- and that's why they're changing the process now, because they realize that you have to.
ROBERTS: And let me just raise one little point here just before you move on, is that we talked with a fellow who used to work at the National security Council in the Clinton administration. And they said whenever they got together in these committees, they used to say to each other, "Will this pass the CNN test?" How will it look in the public?
They are not saying that anymore.
KURTZ: Let me bring you back to the coverage by asking this question. Is television, in particular, oversimplifying this story? Because the charge, Arabs controlling our ports, it's great, it's a sound bite. But the explanation, it used to be a British company, it was sold to the UAE company, and the rules don't allow them to deal with security, it's complicated. It's nuance. SESNO: Yes, I think television can and does oversimplify this story and lots of stories like this. If you look in the papers today, in fact, "The Washington Post" has this wonderful spread where it tracks all the different steps in shipping something, and the hands that it passes through, and who owns what, and what they actually do, and what the longshoremen, you know, are doing and who they answer to.
It's much harder to do that on television. It's much easier on television. And it's not about the press, by the way, certainly not exclusively.
Congressman Windbag stands up there and says, I'm going to thump my podium and make a sound bite point. That doesn't have context or complexity in it either.
BORGER: But in this particular case it wasn't just Congressman Windbag. We have Congressman Windbags all the time.
It was the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, Senator Susan Collins. It was a lot of people saying no surprises post-9/11. There should be a no surprises rule.
KURTZ: Republicans, as well as Democrats.
I want to turn now to what's been a very bloody week in Iraq. We had the bombing of a Shiite mosque in Samarra which led to violence on both sides.
Let's take a look at how the broadcast networks handled the explosion of violence earlier this week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: The worst fear is that Iraq is sliding towards civil war.
ELIZABETH VARGAS, ABC NEWS: One of the great fears of the American mission in Iraq has always been the prospect of civil war. Tonight those fears are particularly real.
BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS NEWS: Some are saying Iraq has been plunged into civil war.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Were people in the media, some of them, at least, too quick to use that term, "civil war"?
BORGER: I actually don't think so. I think this is a turning point, if ever there were any over in Iraq. And when a religious symbol, Howie, is blown up, I -- and you have to impose a curfew, I don't think that "civil war" is really too strong a word at this point.
KURTZ: But, you know, Iraq fades in and out of the news. When you have the bombing of a mosque, when you have the death toll like we've had this week, you get a lot of coverage. And then it kind of goes on to the back burner for a while.
Do you think three years in that there is a certain amount of Iraq fatigue?
ROBERTS: Oh, yes, absolutely. Certainly there is. But, you know, it's on the front burner more often than it's on the back burner.
And this is what people have been warning about since months before the actual invasion, that this was a country that was -- has historic divisions that go back more than a thousand years, that has been successfully held together by strong men, kings, dictators, whatever they may be, and very much like the Balkans. You take away that central figure who wields power through...
ROBERTS: ... you know, authoritarian and brutal means, and the place is going to start to spin apart.
SESNO: I think that there's a problem here, is that the media didn't talk more about civil war, a lot more, a lot more vocally earlier. This is an issue that has been put on the table in the last Gulf war, when Brent Scowcroft and others said we go there, we break it, we own it. And one of the reasons that they've talked about and they've talked about publicly since that they didn't go in is that they saw these centrifugal forces that could pull Iraq apart and destabilize the region.
KURTZ: Why you do you think the media shied away from that kind of frank discussion?
SESNO: Because this has been framed as part of a 9/11, post-9/11 war on terrorism kind of response because -- and I will tell you, I have been on the blogs, I have been on a lot of the media content Web sites, especially by conservative groups over the last several days, and they see guys like Schieffer and Ed Wong of "The New York Times" and others as sort of doom-and-gloom pessimists who are quick to jump on the civil war bandwagon and have been over time.
It's perfectly legitimate.
BORGER: But here's the problem as a journalist, because, on the one hand, you had the administration talking about progress in Iraq, that the news media is not showing all the progress.
KURTZ: Right, the focus is just on the suicide bombings and the death toll and all the negative sides.
BORGER: Right. And democracy is progress, obviously.
BORGER: That we focus on the -- on the bad stuff. And then you have a mosque being blown up. And so there's kind of, you know, this -- two sides to this, and the American public says, well, what is the truth here?
SESNO: But that's the point.
BORGER: And it's very hard to get at what the truth is.
SESNO: The point is that the truth, not unlike the port story, is complicated.
SESNO: There are all these shades of gray.
Is part of the story the possibility of civil war? Yes. Is part of the story rebuilding Iraq? Yes. Is part of the story trying to plant democracy? Yes.
So you have to do all those things. But you don't shy away from using a nasty term if that's the reality.
ROBERTS: But also, if there hasn't been a low-level civil war going on in Iraq for the last two and a half years, what has been going on?
KURTZ: Well, what has been going on is an awful lot of people shooting at American troops, but also killing Iraqi civilians.
But another thing that happened in Iraq this week is that three journalists for "Al-Arabiya," including a well-known female correspondent named Atwar Bahjat, were kidnapped and killed. In fact, there was even violence at the funeral. And this comes in the wake of Jill Carroll, of the "Christian Science Monitor," still being held y kidnappers after almost two months, Bob Woodruff of ABC seriously wounded by a roadside bomb and in recovery now.
Isn't this getting impossible or nearly impossible for journalists to cover?
ROBERTS: I haven't been there since the war itself, but I've certainly talked to a lot of my colleagues who are there. It's very, very dangerous for a journalist, an American journalist, a Western journalist, and now it would seem even Arab journalists to be operating in that country. Very much like what happened in the Balkan wars, journalists are becoming targets.
KURTZ: And doesn't that contribute to the difficulty, what Frank Sesno was talking about, which is getting these shades of gray when it can be dangerous to leave the Green Zone or even your hotel?
BORGER: Right. And I also think it's, in a way, more dangerous to be an embedded journalist because now...
KURTZ: As we have seen.
BORGER: As we have seen with Bob Woodruff, because if you are embedded with Iraqi troops or American troops, you are a target, and that's much more difficult for you.
SESNO: Once upon a time, the journalists were seen by all sides, hostile sides, as the way to get their story out, the way to reach the world. Now they're seen as apparently targets.
ROBERTS: But this problem with the embeds, though, I mean, that's gone on since we first started this during the war, because you travel with a military unit, and while they may not be directly targeting you, you become a target by association.
SESNO: Embeds are good, though. I mean, that's an important thing. It's an important tool.
ROBERTS: Oh, absolutely, yes.
KURTZ: We need to leave it there.
Frank Sesno, Gloria Borger, John Roberts, lately of CBS, now with CNN, thanks very much for joining us.
Coming up, the port security flap, violence in Iraq, and some pointed comments from the secretary of defense about the media. Two of the nation's top online commentators weigh in.
And later, CNN's Anderson Cooper on the Gulf region six months after Katrina.
KURTZ: Time now to delve into the online media world.
Joining us in New York, Walter Shapiro, Washington bureau chief for salon.com. And in Knoxville, Glenn Reynolds, law professor at the University of Tennessee who blogs at instapundit.com and is the author of a book out this coming week, "An Army of Davids."
Glenn Reynolds, you wrote yesterday in "The Wall Street Journal" that bloggers, including yourself, were at first overwhelmingly negative towards this Dubai Ports deal, but then began to have second thoughts. So is this a case of blog first, ask questions later?
GLENN REYNOLDS, INSTAPUNDIT.COM: Yes, I'm afraid so, and I'm guilty, too. The deal sounded bad, and the first media story on it that I read, which was a "New York Post" story from February 12 was pretty negative.
Then, you know, I looked into it, and I talked to Jim Dunnigan and Austin Bay of StrategyPage and some other people and it just seemed like there was a lot less there than there seemed at first.
And I am now reasonably comfortable with it. At least having looked into port security in general, I would say that our ports are so insecure everywhere that this isn't likely to make much of a difference. KURTZ: Walter Shapiro, is this media firestorm over the port story justified or not?
WALTER SHAPIRO, SALON.COM: Well, I think to some extent the entire parameters of the story were set by the initial AP story that Glenn Reynolds linked to on February 12. And what that was, was very simply an AP story that said the ports are being taken over by a Dubai company -- a Dubai-based company and that in the lead it said that two members of the -- two of the 9/11 hijackers had United Arab Emirates passports. And the same AP story had the attacks on the deal from Chuck Schumer.
KURTZ: So you're saying that that was a loaded piece of journalism by The Associated Press?
SHAPIRO: Well, I admire The Associated Press. What I am saying is it certainly set the bumper sticker -- the print set the bumper sticker standards that television then emulated, as did the blogosphere.
KURTZ: On the other hand -- excuse me for jumping in -- on your site, salon.com, Joe Conason had a piece about this deal was related, perhaps, to the Bush family's personal ties to Middle East oil producers and leaders in that region.
SHAPIRO: Joe is a columnist, and this is one of his hobbyhorses. Personally -- you know, personally, I thought that the entire story was a bit overrated. I personally thought about writing about it, but by the time I got around to writing about it, the corrective of the media, the late-in-the-cycle corrective of, oh, we goofed on the story, now we'll run so many inches of copy telling everything you wanted to know about the ports in the world, was setting in, so I thought that I would save a few electrons by not writing on it.
KURTZ: Well, of course bloggers have no such luxury. They've got to file every 20 seconds or so.
Let me turn now to the situation in Iraq. Donald Rumsfeld this week said at first that the United States, because of negative media coverage, had stopped this propaganda campaign of paying off Iraqi news organizations to run these positive stories, and then he was asked about it again a couple of days later.
Let's take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Secretary, were you mistaken or misinformed Friday when you said that you ordered the stop to the process by the U.S. military to pay for positive stories?
DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Mistaken.
(END VIDEO CLIP) KURTZ: So the program is still going on, Glenn Reynolds. Does it bother you at all?
REYNOLDS: Well, I don't know. You know, this is an -- terrorism is an information war disguised as a military conflict. And I think it's sort of odd that we have all these terrorists kidnapping and murdering journalists and blowing up mosques and, yet, we seem to save an equal and opposite measure of outrage for something like this.
I hate to tell people, but there are a lots of bribed journalists out there in all kinds of areas, so let's keep some perspective. That said, if they asked my advice, I would have told them not to do it.
KURTZ: Walter Shapiro?
SHAPIRO: Well, I think against the backdrop of all the things that are happening in Iraq, this is fairly minor. I think in terms of the number of times Rumsfeld has been mistaken on Iraq, this is particularly minor. But still, I really like -- hate the idea of the United States paying journalists to write stories.
KURTZ: Glenn Reynolds, in terms of the heavy coverage this week, of course, of the mosque bombing and the sectarian violence that resulted, the administration has often contended that the media play up too much of the violence and, therefore, present an unduly negative picture of the conflict there. But this week, at least, the violence is the story, is it not?
REYNOLDS: Well, somewhat. But, you know, the best reporting on Iraq, and even the potential fragmentation of Iraq, didn't come from big media. It came from a blogger named Michael Totten who took donations from his readers and went and traveled around and talked to people. And I thought, you know, gave a pretty good portrayal of why the Kurds are not real happy about the rest of Iraq and how the tensions are going on.
And it was very nuanced and interesting reporting. It wasn't just boom and bang stuff.
You know, I wrote back in my blog -- back in 2004, I noted that there was a civil war going on in Iraq. That's not really news. And I think by presenting it as if it is news now, it's really an admission of how people aren't following what's going on all along.
KURTZ: Certainly "civil war," that term being thrown around a lot more in the media this week as opposed to even in recent months.
Walter Shapiro, with all the dangers for journalists in Iraq, killings, kidnappings, and the like, is it -- are we really able to get a good picture of what is going on there?
SHAPIRO: Well, I haven't been to Iraq, and the reporters I know who have been to Iraq, I am awed by their courage in trying to cover this story. That said, I said to a top editor, a major newspaper, a couple of months ago, and I believe it, that I think "The New York Times," "The Washington Post," the "LA Times," should run every day in their Iraq coverage a little box explaining what parts of the country it is possible for reporters to cover in and what parts of the country it's impossible to cover in, because I think you have to bring home to readers every day the constraints under which reporters operate, because I think every reporter will admit that we're only getting part of the story.
And this is not a media conspiracy. This is basically a choice of go and try to get the story and risk being killed, or what happened to Jill Carroll, versus sitting in the Green Zone and being really frustrated about what you can and cannot report.
KURTZ: Right. Or what happened to Bob Woodruff.
Glenn Reynolds, blogging question for you before we go. "Chicago Tribune" editorial this week scoffing at the importance of blogs, saying -- citing a survey that only 9 percent of Internet users frequently read them. I have a feeling you make a different argument in your book, "An Army of Davids."
REYNOLDS: Well, absolutely. And, of course, part of it is perspective.
You know, I think that when 9 percent of Internet users do something, that's really kind of a lot of people. You know, it's a lot more than read "The Chicago Tribune," for example.
I think that the blogosphere is growing, and it's growing because it's fun. And I think a lot of the big media critiques -- and this is a point I make in the book -- the big media critiques of blogging tend to focus on economics because they come from people who are worried about their own subscriber base.
REYNOLDS: People do this stuff for fun. They don't have to make money.
KURTZ: That's right. And a lot of them don't, and a lot of them write a lot of provocative stuff.
We've got to leave it there.
Walter Shapiro in New York, Glenn Reynolds in Tennessee, thanks very much for joining us.
Coming up, a cable feud between two evening anchors turns ugly, and New York gossip columnist Cindy Adams stirring the pot and dredging up controversy in New Orleans. That and more in our "Media Minute" just ahead.
KURTZ: Time now for a look at the news world in our "Media Minute."
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) EMERIL LAGASSE, NEW ORLEANS CHEF: Bam!
KURTZ (voice over): Emeril Lagasse, the famed New Orleans chef and Food Network star, got some bad publicity back home when he seemed to be adding bitter ingredients to the debate about the city's hurricane recovery.
"New York Post" gossip columnist Cindy Adams quoted Emeril as saying, "The mayor's a clunk. The governor is also a clunk. They don't know their (backsides) from a hole in the ground."
"I've reopened Emeril's, but only a few locals come. There's no tourists, no visitors, no spenders, no money, no future, no people. It's lost. It will never come back."
Chris Rose, a columnist for the "New Orleans Times-Picayune," barbecued Lagasse, writing, "You should try serving a clue at your restaurant and then take a bite."
But Emeril has now told Rose that he never made the offending remarks and that Adams made them up.
KURTZ: As for Cindy Adams' side of the story, she didn't return multiple calls from Rose or from CNN.
Finally, FOX's Bill O'Reilly must really be annoyed with his MSNBC rivalry Keith Obermann taking all those shots at him. He would prefer the very liberal Phil Donahue.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
O'REILLY: In the interest of fairness, we have a petition on BillOReilly.com to bring Phil back.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: And how upset is Olbermann?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC: Bill O'Reilly has launched an on-air campaign and an online petition to get this newscast canceled.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Not very. Olbermann loves this feud.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN (SINGING): Happy days are here again, the skies above are clear again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Maybe both of them just can't help themselves.
Ahead in our next half hour, we'll talk to CNN's Anderson Cooper back in the Gulf Coast region sick months after Hurricane Katrina.
Plus, Martha Stewart versus Donald Trump. Just listen to what these two zillionaires have to say about each other.
All that after a check of the headlines from the CNN Center in Atlanta
TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning, everyone. I'm Tony Harris at the CNN Center in Atlanta.
"Now in the News," violence in Iraq. A rigged minibus in Hilla wounds five civilians. A roadside bomb in Baghdad kills two U.S. soldiers. And gunmen attack three mosques in the capital.
The white powder at the University of Texas may not be ricin after all. A medical spokesman says new tests are negative for the deadly poison.
And folks will be camping out along the streets of New Orleans later today. This time it's to claim prime spots for Super Parade Sunday as a Mardi Gras to remember rolls on.
More headlines in 30 minutes.
RELIABLE SOURCES continues after the break.
KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES.
It's been six months now since Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast region. CNN's Anderson Cooper spent six weeks there after the storm and has returned to the region 10 times since then.
I spoke to him earlier from Waveland, Mississippi.
KURTZ: Anderson Cooper, welcome.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks for having me.
KURTZ: How does it feel six months later to go back to Mississippi and see what everyone seems to agree is an appalling lack of progress?
COOPER: That's the thing. It doesn't feel much different, and that is what's so shocking. You know, if you're in Waveland, there's a big difference between the part of the city that the Army Corps of Engineers has been working on, trying to clear debris, and private contractors have been working on. The place private contractors have been working on seems pretty clear, actually, and people have been able to start to rebuild. This is part of the area where the Army Corps of Engineers is working and, frankly, there's still, you know, debris as far as the eye can see.
It's a strange thing to, you know -- to keep coming back, you know, month after month and not see change and not really -- you know, here in Waveland there is a plan. You get in New Orleans, it doesn't feel like there's much of a plan for -- for when -- when things actually will change, when decision will be made.
KURTZ: There's a lot of debating about the plans, and this week, because of Mardi Gras and because of the six-month anniversary of Katrina, all the big anchors and news organizations will be there: Brian Williams, Bob Schieffer, Charlie Gibson, and others. But do people -- but most weeks they're not there. So do people there feel, is it your sense, that the national media have kind of abandoned them, or just kind of look in on them every once in a while?
COOPER: I think people certainly in New Orleans feel not just abandoned by the national media, they feel abandoned by the rest of the country, by politicians, by just about everyone. I mean, I think -- you know, every time I go down to New Orleans -- and I have been going down every couple of weeks now -- you know, people literally stop you on the street and just say, "Thank you."
And, I mean, it's -- you know -- and I never know how to respond, because to me this is an obligation. This is something -- I feel privileged to be there, and I can't imagine not being there.
I am surprised more people aren't there on a more regular basis. I think -- I understand why a lot of people there just feel like people have moved on, people have forgotten about them.
KURTZ: Is the story of rebuilding houses, schools, hospitals, infrastructure, all of that, a less compelling TV story than a hurricane and a flood, and, therefore, harder to cover?
COOPER: I don't think it's harder to cover. I don't think it's less compelling.
I think -- I don't think it's a story that viewers are clamoring to see. I think there is, you know, that -- this term, which I refuse to use, just because I think it's so sort of horrific, but "Katrina fatigue." You know, I do think people have that or feel that, even though I don't think anyone has a right to feel that unless you're a survivor of Katrina and you are someone from Waveland or from, you know, the Gulf Coast or from New Orleans.
Those people have a right to talk about Katrina fatigue. The rest of us don't.
But yes, it's not a story that -- you know, it's not a huge ratings booster. You know, you are not going to see -- people don't come -- you know, people don't seem to be tuning in to try to see, oh, what's the latest today that's happening in New Orleans?
I think there's a sense of, like, oh, it's another day, and it's the same story over and over and over again. And that may be, but, frankly, that is a story, the fact that it is the same story day in and day out.
KURTZ: And the fact that hundreds of thousands of people remain displaced.
You have done a story several times now on CNN about 11,000 mobile homes in Arkansas that people in Louisiana would like to use for at least temporary shelter that can't seem to get there because of FEMA rules. Why do you keep coming back to that?
COOPER: I know. I feel like "Rain Man." You know, I'm just sort of obsessed with these trailers or the mobile homes.
I mean, it's -- because, you know, it's one example of something that people here see all around them. And it's one of those things that's just so frustrating. You know, because of a bureaucratic rule, there are 11,000 mobile homes that you and I and every viewer out there has paid for, $34,000 roughly for each trailer, about some $300 million of taxpayer money sitting in Arkansas being jacked up on -- by 85,000 jacks. I think that FEMA just now has spent another $2 million to build a gravel parking lot to put more of them on.
COOPER: It's just one of those things. It's just sort of boggles your mind, and there are many examples like that.
KURTZ: Nothing like government red tape.
I want to play for you two pieces of tape. The first one is days after the storm. You interviewed Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu and got a little agitated at one of her answers.
And then, we're going to look at Ted Koppel on this program a few weeks ago, saying that, while he liked your work just fine, he questions what he called the kind of emotional approach to journalism.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: I haven't heard that, because for the last four days I have been seeing dead bodies in the streets here in Mississippi.
TED KOPPEL, FMR. ABC "NIGHTLINE" ANCHOR: When we go and cover a story, we're on the scene to try as dispassionately as possible, dispassionately, to present the facts. And if we become emotionally involved in every story, then eventually I think the public is -- very quickly, I think, the public will tire of that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Do you have a different approach than Ted Koppel when it comes to letting your feelings show on stories?
COOPER: I actually don't believe in, you know, injecting emotion into stories artificially. I think that is something that people will tire of and should tire of because I think it's inappropriate.
I do think that there are some times when, look, you know, I'm a human being. We're all human beings. And to pretend that you are not feeling something or to pretend that you're not even there or that you are not, you know, covered in the stench of death, or that you have seen these things all day long, to pretend that you are just this dispassionate, you know, automaton, I think is -- that seems false to me.
And yes, I don't think you should be, you know, pushing, you know, yourself into things, but, you know, it's -- there is a line you've got to walk. I think, you know, sometimes -- you know, I don't regret anything I did here in Waveland in those terrible days after the storm.
KURTZ: All right.
COOPER: You know, to me, it's interesting, on television, especially on cable news, people have no problems with anchors expressing emotion as long as it's anger or phony outrage, but if you express an actual emotion, an actual feeling, that seems to surprise people and people seem to talk about that. I think that says more about the person who is surprised by it.
COOPER: I mean, why is anger an OK emotion?
COOPER: Why is, you know, some other emotion not OK?
KURTZ: Let's talk a little bit about all the attention that you have been getting. Gail Shister in "The Philadelphia Inquirer" says you are "cable's 'it' boy." John Klein, the president of CNN, says that you are the anchor as a kind of missionary. There's a PR campaign that says you hold the people in power accountable. You've just finished a book.
Is there any chance here that you are getting too much of a buildup?
COOPER: You know, I don't pay attention to any of that. So, I mean, I didn't -- you know, I can't control what Gail Shister writes. You know, she writes very well. I can't control what she says, nor can I control what other people say.
You know, I do think -- I view my job as holding people accountable for their -- for their words and their deeds, and I think that's every reporter's job. I'm not painting myself to be anything other than what I am, and especially on this story, you know, I do believe very much in keeping the story alive and in continuing to come down here, not just for the six-month anniversary, but, you know, every night to have this story on our air.
KURTZ: Right. Right. But you have gotten an enormous amount of publicity, and you go back to that Gail Shister column -- and I am just using her as an example -- she writes that, "Some see Cooper as a journalistic light weight whose Katrina-driven celebrity unfairly pushed him past the thoughtful pause-loving Aaron Brown."
Any reaction to that?
COOPER: Not really. I mean, you know, again, I'm not -- I have been doing the same thing for 15 years now, and I started in Somalia, and I worked a lot in Africa, and I have been doing the same kind of story-telling for 15 years. And, you know, I guess, you know, Gail Shister discovered me this year, and so have some other writers, and that's fine if they want to write stuff.
It's not anything I have control over. You know, I'm doing the same thing I have always been doing, and will continue doing the same thing as long as, you know, I -- someone will employ me.
KURTZ: All right.
Let's talk a little bit about what gets on "ANDERSON COOPER 360," the types of stories. Not everything you do is hard news. Some of what I'm about to play, some people might even call a little bit tabloid. Let's take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: We begin with shackles and a hint of a swagger for the British man accused of shooting his wife and baby girl to death. Take a look at how Neil Entwistle entered the Massachusetts courtroom today.
XXX images that are now available on a tiny screen and are fully mobile. Pocket porn it's called, and it's a big business that is hiding in plain sight.
Someone told her she was stunning, but she couldn't see it. Now she is addicted to plastic surgery.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So how do you decide to do some of those kinds of stories as opposed to others?
COOPER: Well, I mean, it's kind of unfair for you to pick three stories out of -- you know, we're on two hours every night, which is a massive amount of television to be putting on the air every day. So to pick -- you know, to isolate those three stories is interesting to me. I mean, last night I can tell you I spent, you know, the entire hour on the Dubai ports at 11:00 and a hostage situation in Phoenix. Be that as it may, look, I don't think the day Neil Entwistle returns to the United States, I don't have any problem -- and shows up in court for the first time, I think that's a legitimate story.
Would I do Neil Entwistle today and tomorrow and the next day, as a lot of other people would? No, I wouldn't. And, in fact, you know, I don't have any plans on doing it again until, you know, there's some major development in it. I cannot tell you the last time...
KURTZ: You do an awful lot of hard news, also, but I was just picking out these other stories as examples of the range of topics you cover.
COOPER: Right. Look, I think -- I think there's nothing wrong -- there's a lot of different things I'm interested in.
I think it is interesting that this woman has had, you know, an insane amount of plastic surgery. Perhaps not insane amount, but a certainly eye-opening amount of plastic surgery. I think that's an interesting and compelling story.
There's tens of thousands of people throughout the United States who have this -- who have plastic surgery. Why this woman has particularly decided to go this far?
I think any program, you know, you want a mix of stories. And I have a lot of different interests.
I'm -- you know, I can -- I am as interested, you know, in what's going on internationally as domestic news. And I'm -- you know, I have a wide variety of interests.
So I don't think there's anything wrong with having a show that matches that. You know, that mirrors those -- those -- those wide interests.
KURTZ: All right. Well, Anderson Cooper, we appreciate your taking some time out of your reporting in the Gulf region to join us.
COOPER: My pleasure.
KURTZ: Thanks very much.
KURTZ: Anderson Cooper, who will be reporting from CNN from New Orleans Monday and Tuesday during the Mardi Gras celebrations.
And a bit later, CNN correspondents are "ON THE STORY," six months after Hurricane Katrina, reporting from New Orleans, Mississippi and Washington. That's coming up at 1:00 p.m. Eastern.
Ahead on RELIABLE SOURCES, should the Newspaper Association of America apologize for a lack of action involving Jews in the Holocaust six decades ago? We'll get into that next.
KURTZ: A number of prominent journalists have signed a petition calling on the Newspaper Association of America to "face up to the mistakes made by the journalistic community during the years more than a half century ago when Jewish journalists were trying to flee Nazi Germany.
Laurel Leff is a former reporter for the "Miami Herald" and "Wall Street Journal" and teaches journalism at Northeastern University in Boston. She's the author of "Buried By The Times," a book about the Holocaust. It was her research that led to the petition.
LAUREL LEFF, JOURNALISM PROFESSOR: Hello.
KURTZ: You looked into efforts in the 1930s to get journalism schools to offer jobs to Jews who were fleeing Nazism.
What did you find?
LEFF: Well, it wasn't actually jobs. What it was, was positions in their journalism schools in order to retrain them so they could pursue careers in journalism. And what I found was that a very distinguished Harvard professor, Karl Frederick (ph), had written to 39 journalism schools asking them to take one or two refugee journalists, retrain them to be journalists in the United States, and none of them were willing to do it. So there were 39 schools he wrote to, and none were willing to accept any refugees.
KURTZ: But now, this petition, which I know you didn't initiate, but which is based on your research...
KURTZ: ... says the Newspaper Association of America should apologize. But is the current group responsible for what happened 60- plus years ago?
LEFF: Well, I actually don't think the point is apologizing so much as acknowledging. I mean, one of the things that I also discovered was that he had asked for 10 minutes, just 10 minutes to speak at their 1939 convention, and they wouldn't even let him do that. So I think the point is to now have the Newspaper Association of America at least acknowledge this history.
KURTZ: Did journalists of that era not see it as their role to help out those who might be -- fear persecution by Hitler? Even journalists today don't necessarily look to offer jobs to Cuban dissidents or Chinese dissidents or others who might want to get out of those countries.
LEFF: I think that's right, but I do think that, first of all, the point here was to -- well, there are two points. One was to retrain them as journalists so that they could work in the United States, and I'm not sure how that would interfere with the journalistic role.
The second part was to have journalism professors from Germany and the other countries that the Nazis conquered actually be on the faculties. And a lot of disciplines did that.
I'm not sure except for -- and this is part of it -- a certain amount of anti-Semitism they weren't willing to do that. And why I say anti-Semitism, and I know you need to be careful about those kinds of accusations, is that there were a number of letters from the deans of these journalism schools explaining why they weren't willing to participate in the programs. And it wasn't because they were concerned about objectivity.
They frankly said it was because they were afraid once you let a few Jews in, they tended to take over all of the positions and had a certain competitive zeal. So you, in fact -- and this is the language that one of the directors used -- you needed to hurt them to help them.
KURTZ: This whole thing from today's vantage point looks like an utter moral outrage, but how much was fully known in the U.S. back in the 1930s about the extent of Nazi persecution and the Nazi threat against Jews?
LEFF: Oh, there was no question about it. I mean, especially in the 1930s, before the Holocaust started, there were reporters in Berlin. And also, I mean, the important thing to remember is that most of the laws that the Germans passed were laws.
I mean, the reality was, if you were a Jew, which meant if you had any -- you had one Jewish grand parent, you couldn't be a journalist in Nazi Germany. You couldn't be a university professor.
KURTZ: But I asked the question...
KURTZ: I asked the question because you say in your book that "The New York Times," for example, frequently downplayed or even buried news about the threat to Jews in Nazi Germany.
LEFF: That's true, but that doesn't mean they didn't know. And certainly people in the journalistic community understood that Jews couldn't hold these positions, couldn't be on faculties, had their properties confiscated, were forced to live in certain parts of the cities. I mean, all of those were stories that were in the newspaper.
By downplayed, what I suggested was that these stories weren't always on the front page. But actually, and especially when you're talking about the 1930s period, it was mostly stories about concentration camps that weren't on the front page.
KURTZ: I see.
LEFF: The stories about discrimination against Jews were occasionally front-page stories. KURTZ: I've got just half a minute here.
KURTZ: A "Washington Post" review of your book says the tone is one of unremitting outrage and prosecutorial zeal. So do you see yourself as a historian or an advocate on this issue?
LEFF: I see myself as a historian. And I would actually take exception to the language in "The Washington Post" review.
I mean, I think while as -- I mean, I think there is -- as a journalist, you do need to -- and that's talking about the Holocaust coverage, so that's a little bit different. I think you do have to say and ask and maybe even be a bit outraged by the fact that stories about what turned out to be the extermination of six million people were not on the front pages of American newspapers. And I think looking at this period -- and you have to be careful...
LEFF: But it does begin to raise questions about the sensitivity of American journalists to what was happening to the Jews in Europe.
KURTZ: All right. We'll have to leave it there.
Laurel Leff, thanks very much for the history lesson. Appreciate your joining us.
Coming up, Donald Trump, Martha Stewart, and their big television feud. The juicy details just ahead.
KURTZ: Donald Trump is great copy. I've interviewed him in his 26th floor office at Trump Tower, and whether he is making money or losing money, getting married or having an affair, or getting divorced, he loves to pick fights and make headlines.
I have never interviewed Martha Stewart, but anyone who can go to jail on an insider trading scandal and come out with two TV shows is obviously not just wealthy, but media savvy.
KURTZ (voice over): The two of them are going at it. The problem, Trump had this NBC show, "The Apprentice," which was incredibly popular for a time and then less popular. He blames Stewart's "Apprentice" spin-off which really tanked for hurting the original.
Stewart told "Newsweek" that she was supposed to do to Trump what he did to his young wannabes, tell him, "You're fried," leaving her with the franchise. "Having two apprentices was as unfair to him as it was unfair to me," the domestic diva said. "The Donald" would not be trumped. He called "Newsweek" and roared over the phone. And he gave the press an open letter to Stewart.
"Your performance was terrible," Trump wrote. "I knew it would fail as soon as I first saw it, and your low ratings bore me out."
Not only that, he likened Stewart's version of events to the scandal in which she was accused of using inside information to dump out of a troubled stock. "Essentially," Trump wrote, "you made this firing up just as you made up your sell order of ImClone."
Stewart calls the letter mean-spirited and reckless.
KURTZ: Boy, you get these two gargantuan egos in a room, and they would like nothing better than to fire each other. Why can't they concentrate on making bundles of money and keep their petty feuds to themselves? Maybe the media should just fire them for a while and give the rest of us a break.
Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.
I'm Howard Kurtz.
Join us again next Sunday morning, 10:00 a.m. Eastern, for another critical look at the media.
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