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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES

Media Wild About Katie Couric

Aired April 9, 2006 - 10:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice-over): Katie in the evening. Katie Couric takes the CBS anchor chair once occupied by Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather and now Bob Schieffer. Can she revitalize the "CBS Evening News"? And is there room for her "Today Show" personality on the nightly newscast?

Meredith in the morning. Can Meredith Vieira make the transition from all-female chat show and big bucks game show to Couric's chair on "The Today Show"? We'll ask the former president of MSNBC, the former producer of the "CBS Evening News", a top blogger and a network veteran and Couric's former friend and colleague, CNN's Soledad O'Brien.

Plus, leaker in chief? George Bush says he hates leaks, but now Scooter Libby said it was the president who authorized him to leak classified information about Iraq to Judith Miller at "The New York Times."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES, where today we turn our critical lens on the network anchor wars. I'm Howard Kurtz.

It was a high-stakes, high-impact, big-money, huge publicity courtship for the woman who started out on "The Today Show" 15 years ago with a different name and a strange hairdo.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: This is "Today" with Bryant Gumbel, Katherine Couric and Joe Garagiola.

BRYANT GUMBEL, FORMER CO-HOST, NBC'S "THE TODAY SHOW": Good morning. Welcome to "Today" and a good Friday morning and to a new chapter of "Today". How did it sound?

KATIE COURIC, CO-HOST, NBC'S "THE TODAY SHOW": It sounded good. But I still can't decide whether I'm Katherine or Katie.

GUMBEL: Alex, re-rack it for us, will you.

ANNOUNCER: Katherine Couric.

KURTZ: But when the dust cleared this week, Katie Couric agreed to a $75 million package to jump from NBC to CBS to anchor the evening news and join the gang at "60 Minutes."

COURIC: I wanted to tell all of you who have watched the show for the past 15 years that, after listening to my heart and my gut, two things that have served me pretty well in the past, I've decided I'll be leaving "Today" at the end of May.

Although it may be terrifying to get out of your comfort zone, it's also very exciting to start a new chapter in your life, so for now, it's not goodbye, at least not yet, but a heartfelt thank you for 15 great years.

KURTZ: Katie Couric, during saturation coverage this week, including the cover of "Newsweek" magazine.

We've got an all-star panel, ahead, but first we turn to Soledad O'Brien, co-anchor of CNN's "AMERICAN MORNING", a former NBC correspondent and co-host of the weekend "Today Show." I spoke to her earlier about her friend and former colleague.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HOWARD KURTZ, "WASHINGTON POST": Soledad O'Brien, welcome.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN HOST: Thanks, Howard.

KURTZ: A woman anchoring a major network newscast...

O'BRIEN: Shocking!

KURTZ: ... what's taken so long?

O'BRIEN: Yes, you know, that's an excellent question: What has taken so long? And why is it such a big deal? There certainly have been a number of high-profile women who've been quoted as saying that they're embarrassed that -- you know, that they had predicted it actually would happen five, 10 years ago. And I sort of agree; I'm surprised that everybody's surprised, to be perfectly honest.

And then when you look at Katie's resume, you look at her abilities, you look at her ratings -- all of those important things in our business, and you realize that she is an excellent choice for the job. So I'm not sure why everybody's surprised.

KURTZ: When you first encountered Katie Couric at NBC, when you first started to work there, how did she treat you?

O'BRIEN: She's always been great to me, and she's incredibly supportive. She gave me advice, which I appreciated. She used to tell me, you know, "When you're tossing to me" -- I would fill in being the newsreader when I was anchoring "Weekend Today" -- did it a lot during the Gulf War -- and she would say, "Listen, a couple little helpful hints, say this", "I would do this", "one thing you might want to do is" -- really sort of very practical, specific advice -- in her office, giving me a couple minutes of her time. And I was incredibly grateful. She's really nice. She was a very helpful -- real mentor to me. Once she said, "Don't call me your mentor. That makes me sound old!"

KURTZ: She didn't like that phrase.

We occasionally see reports in the press, people taking pot shots: the staff doesn't like her, she's a diva, she's demanding. Did some people find her difficult to work with?

O'BRIEN: She's absolutely demanding, and I think anybody who's had any success in this business is absolutely demanding, whether you're talking about a man or you're talking about a woman. You wouldn't have the success you have if you're not demanding of yourself, probably first and foremost, and of everybody around you. It's a big job, it's a big show, and you know, she's got a big role. And I think Matt's demanding, too.

She -- you know, they're both professional, smart, hard-working and demanding of everybody around them.

So you know, I think a lot of the criticism has really been not only misplaced, but really personal and mean, and inaccurate. Some of this, they're just wrong. So I was always sort of surprised, because yes, she's tough. I'm tough, and anybody who's had success is tough; there's no question about it.

KURTZ: The criticism has started up again, because there are people who think that she's not the right choice to be the anchor of the "CBS Evening News", and she's doing cooking segments, she's interviewed movie stars -- which of course are staples of morning television.

O'BRIEN: Yes -- you can't win, can you? You know, because -- exactly.

KURTZ: But Tom Brokaw had also been on the "Today Show." So do you think some of this is maybe subtly -- or not so subtly -- about the fact that she's a woman stepping into the Walter Cronkite role?

O'BRIEN: Absolutely; I think a lot of it is. And I think, in the end, it won't matter. What's going to happen is, she's going to go on the air, she's going to do a great job, and all the chitter- chatter is going to sort of dissipate and go away.

But yes, you know -- at some point she'll be criticized, you'll see, for all the cooking segments and yet, that's -- that is the staple of morning television programs -- not ours on CNN, but most morning television programs. So, you know, you can't win battling that. The bottom line is that on that program -- that morning program, where they do cooking segments and fashion shows and concerts, sometimes, they also do big interviews, hard news and do incredibly important stories.

And if you look at those important stories and those big interviews and that hard news, she does that brilliantly. She's a terrific interviewer. She's very smart; she's very prepared, she does her homework; she challenges people. She is a pit bull in an interview.

All those things are going to translate. Yes, and I guess if they decide to do a cooking segment in the evening newscast, she'll be able to do that, too. I doubt that's going to happen.

KURTZ: So tell us: have you ever done a cooking segment?

O'BRIEN: I've done a million. Are you kidding? "Weekend Today" -- we did a ton of cooking segments.

KURTZ: All right. Just wanted to get that on the table, so to speak. O'BRIEN: You would think I could cook, with all the cooking segments I've done, but I can't.

KURTZ: As a friend of Katie Couric's, can you tell us whether some of this kind of criticism that we've talked about, whether that bothers her?

O'BRIEN: You know, we haven't talked about that, actually. But I have to imagine, you know, in a way, it would. Yes, I think personal, nasty comments have to bother anybody, I mean, unless you don't have a soul. But you know, they're mean, and I think she's also a tough nut, and she gets over it and moves on. And that's that.

I think personal comments bother anybody. Howard, I'm going to guess that if someone says something mean about you, it bothers you just a teeny little smidge.

KURTZ: Well, maybe just a little.

Did you ever get the impression in talking to here that she was, after almost 15 years, growing restless at the "Today Show," wanting to do something that was more hard news than the mixture that morning shows are?

O'BRIEN: No, I never got that sense. I think she played her cards very close to the vest, frankly, and from what I can tell, really, the people she ran the decision by were her close friends -- very close friends and family members, really -- because that's where the real impact -- if you know, you're a mom, and she's a single mom -- is going to be: on your daughters, who you know, you're the only surviving parent for.

So I think that that was her core group of people who she had to run the decision by. But no, we never had a discussion about it, and I think that it was something that -- I think it's a brilliant decision. She is doing something that's history-making, she certainly deserves the job. And I think it's an amazing job. I mean, who wouldn't want that job?

So I actually, when first heard rumors about it, I assumed, truly, that she was going to go. I thought she'd be crazy not to.

KURTZ: All right. Soledad O'Brien, thanks very much for joining us.

O'BRIEN: My pleasure, Howard.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: And joining us now, two men who know what it's like to run the "CBS Evening News". In New York, Jim Murphy, who recently left the newscast after six years as executive producer and helped launch Bob Schieffer in the anchor chair. And here in Washington, Erik Sorenson, the former president of MSNBC and a former executive producer of the "CBS Evening News with Dan Rather". Welcome.

Erik Sorenson, will we see the morning Katie, the exuberant Katie Couric, on the "CBS Evening News"?

ERIK SORENSON, FORMER EXECUTIVE PRODUCER OF "THE CBS EVENING NEWS": No, I don't think so. I think you'll see the Katie Couric who started off the "Today Show" at 7 a.m. every morning, telling you about serious things that were going on in the world and interviewing major figures, and we'll see that Katie.

KURTZ: Does that format, then, neutralize her personality, which is what people like about her?

SORENSON: No, I don't think so. Great talents like Katie know how to inject their personality even in short sound bites, even with a gentle nod or a wink. They know how to do it.

KURTZ: Jim Murphy, you basically devised the looser format in which Bob Schieffer has these regular unscripted chats with the correspondents? Do you see Katie Couric continuing that, or is she better suited to a different approach?

JIM MURPHY, FORMER EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, "CBS EVENING NEWS": I hope she does. I think that that format sort of fits her like a glove. I mean, what we did was Bob brought a little bit of his great personality and his plainspokenness to the broadcast and to his conversations with correspondents, and it's very much like what Katie does in the morning.

And I think that -- this format would be very good for her, and they'll tweak it, you know, to match her work better than it exists, you know, at the moment. But I think it's going to work out very well.

KURTZ: Were some people at CBS, Jim, afraid to go to this format? Because everyone is so accustomed over the years, to having, you know, a script?

MURPHY: Yes. There were lots of people who were a little disturbed at the beginning, and basically we just said, you know, just be yourself, just relax, take a deep breath. Bob is going to ask you an off-the-cuff question and just answer it honestly, and it actually has provided for some incredible moments and some really, really true and perceptive moments that you don't get from totally scripted newscasts. KURTZ: Live television.

Erik Sorenson, you were producing the "CBS Evening News" when Connie Chung was brought in to sit alongside Dan Rather. Why was that such a disaster, and did it set back women anchors, in your view?

SORENSON: Well, I don't think -- I wouldn't term it a disaster, but you know, there's a lot of semantics running around.

KURTZ: It didn't continue, shall we say?

SORENSON: It didn't continue. And I think that was more -- it was more about, and I was gone from CBS by the time that it broke up. But, you know, it was a No. 2 show at that point. That was 12 years ago. And some of the same questions that are getting asked now about Katie were asked about Connie: can a woman sit in that chair. This was Walter Cronkite's chair. And all that kind of stuff and Connie really did fine.

The program with two anchors are there are a lot of mechanical reasons that didn't work, but it didn't have to do with Connie Chung being a woman.

KURTZ: All right. Jim Murphy, there are a number of people at CBS News -- Andy Rooney is one, who has spoken out publicly -- who did not want Katie Couric.

MURPHY: And it's so unusual for Andy to say something publicly that might be perceived as controversial inside the office. It was really amazing.

SORENSON: Shocking.

MURPHY: Yes, shocking, totally shocking.

KURTZ: But others also were resistant to the idea, and I'm going to ask you why.

MURPHY: Well, I think some people are just traditionalists. Some people think that, you know, a woman shouldn't have this job. I mean, I think that's insane. I think it's sexist. I think it's elitist, and I also think it's absurd.

I mean, Katie is really smart and she's a really excellent journalist. And it's just happened that she's practiced it for the past 15 years on a morning show that requires a lot of other things from you.

But on the evening news, it's a different broadcast. She's going to do it differently. And she's perfectly capable of it. As a matter of fact, she may turn out to be great at. She may surprise everybody and do an absolutely stellar job.

And I'm sorry that Andy said what he said. I don't think really think it's true that tons of people inside CBS News feel that she doesn't belong there. As a matter of fact, I think the people running CBS News right now are fairly committed to really doing a very strong newscast. They're investing a lot of effort and money and time in making it a better organization again, a stronger organization. She's going to fit into that organization very well, and she's going to be surrounded by a lot of very supportive people.

KURTZ: All right, let me get a break here. Erik, Jim, don't go away.

When we come back, can Katie Couric really change the way television delivers the news? Former TV critic Jeff Jarvis and veteran correspondent Linda Douglass join our discussion, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN WILLIAMS, ANCHOR, "NBC NIGHTLY NEWS": Our friend Katie Couric is about to become competition officially. She is headed to the "CBS Evening News" and "60 Minutes." We wish her the very best, right up to a point.

ELIZABETH VARGAS, CO-ANCHOR, "ABC WORLD NEWS TONIGHT": It is great to welcome another woman to the evening news, and we wish her luck.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Brian Williams and Elizabeth Vargas welcoming Katie Couric.

And joining us now to talk more about Couric's big leap from morning to evening, in New York, Jeff Jarvis, former critic for "TV Guide" and "People" who now blogs at BuzzMachine.com. And here in Washington, Linda Douglass, longtime correspondent for ABC News, now a senior fellow at NYU's Brademas Center for the Study of Congress.

Linda Douglass, you're a network veteran. Hasn't management always been wary of a woman at 6:30, at least a woman who wasn't paired with a man?

LINDA DOUGLASS, FORMER ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: There's no question about it. That's why this is huge breakthrough. There's always been this theory about, you know, the anchor person being the voice of God, and I guess now we find out, as many people suspected, that God might actually be a woman. So...

KURTZ: Jeff Jarvis, you wrote on your blog, "It's about celebrity. This is halfway to hiring George Clooney to read the news." Now, that sounds pretty unfair when you're talking about somebody who's got 15 years of live broadcasting experience.

JEFF JARVIS, BLOGGER, BUZZMACHINE.COM: I've got no beef with Katie Couric. My problem, Howie, is that the change that has to happen in front of broadcast news is not the face in front of the camera; it's what happens behind that camera. That's what really matters. It's a whole change of culture. For all the talk about getting rid of the oracular voice of TV news, they just replaced the kind of gruff and goofy voice of Dan Rather with the oracle of Katie Couric, who's nicer. And that's good; that matters. But that's not the big change that matters. And we need a culture that changes TV news behind it, and it's not going to happen just from one person changing, one face changing in front of the camera.

Kurtz: Jim Murphy, Dan, Tom, and Peter were famous. Brian Williams has become famous. Why is it that Katie Couric is the one who gets mocked for being a rich celebrity?

MURPHY: Because she's a woman. You know, Jeff just pointed out, it's halfway toward bringing George Clooney on, and obviously, it's not. I don't think George Clooney ever served as a Pentagon correspondent.

And it's simply that and the fact that for 15 years, she's done a lot of lighter fare in the morning, and she's also done a lot of light fare in prime time, you know, chasing certain kinds of stories and celebrity stories. But that's what her job was, and that's how they sell papers, and she did what she was supposed to do.

I am hopeful that she is going to bring a real culture change to CBS, where they get in the business of really doing hard news and investigative news and hard news. And it's funny that Jeff brings up that behind the scenes is where the change needs to be. A lot of that is happening at CBS News. And I think all of that could gel really well with this move and that CBS News will be stronger and do more important work, rather than less important work.

And yet, her personality will get to shine through a little bit, because it's really strong, just like Bob's is. And there's nothing wrong with that.

KURTZ: Well, I do think Clooney did a pretty good job of playing Ed Murrow's producer in the movie.

Erik Sorenson, as Jim Murphy just noted, Katie Couric did a lot of silly stuff in morning in the morning, cooking and singing and dancing and dressing up as Spongebob Squarepants and all that. Does that somehow disqualify her from having the hard news image to be an evening news anchor?

SORENSON: I don't think in this day and age it does whatsoever. And as Jim pointed out, she started out as a Pentagon correspondent. She was on the air during 9/11 for days and days and days.

KURTZ: And she's interviewed presidential candidates and world leaders.

SORENSON: Right.

KURTZ: But somehow, in the popular culture, it's like, "Aha, but she was -- she played badminton, you know, she went skiing." But that's what you do in the morning. SORENSON: Right.

DOUGLASS: And Dan -- and Matt Lauer went bungie-bumping and went, you know, bouncing all over the world and doing this and that.

SORENSON: And Tom Brokaw did a lot of things.

DOUGLASS: And Charlie Gibson is a very credible, serious person who is absolutely qualified to be anchoring ABC News at night. And many people think that that...

KURTZ: Have you nominated him?

DOUGLAS: Many people think that could happen someday. But nobody ever raises questions about Charlie's journalistic credentials just because he's been on the morning. I do think it's because Katie is a woman, period.

KURTZ: There is -- and this is not a new debate. I want to show you a clip of Barbara Walters on "The View" talking about what happened back in 1976 when she was the first person to co-anchor, in this case, "ABC's Nightly News" with Harry Reasoner.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARBARA WALTERS, CO-HOST, ABC'S "THE VIEW": Many years ago I left NBC to come to ABC to be the first female co-anchor. I was crucified in the press. How dare I come from the morning show without Associated Press or United Press experience to do that? They talked about my having a pink typewriter. I mean, it was the most awful experience, because, A, I was a woman. And, B, I had come from "The Today Show", where I had been for 13 years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: And she also got this then unimaginable salary of $1 million. Do you think, Linda, that a lot of men are just jealous of Katie Couric and her $15 million a year salary?

DOUGLASS: I think there's no question about that. But I also think that there is just this innate resistance to woman moving ahead in these positions of supreme authority, which an anchor of the evening news is. Where you read about her legs and her shoes and her hair and her clothes and didn't read any of those things about Brian Williams. I mean, that is specific to the gender, I think.

KURTZ: But is this resistance because -- among the public, or is it among TV writers and critics and pundits, who somehow are offended by this?

DOUGLASS: Well, everybody looks for the novelty. Everybody looks for a different way to describe the way the novelty should be seen. But as Soledad said earlier our program here, most people aren't that surprised. This is not really an unexpected ascension.

KURTZ: Some would say it's long overdue. Jeff Jarvis, as a critic, wouldn't it be fair to let Katie Couric anchor the news for a week or an hour and a half or something before unloading with both barrels?

JARVIS: I have no doubt that she will do a fine, outstanding job with the old job that was anchoring TV news. The problem is we're concentrating on the wrong thing here. We're concentrating on personality and gender and all that. I want to hear about her brain. I want to hear what she thinks, but we don't do that in TV news.

Before he left CBS News as president, Andrew Heyward surprised a lot of us in the blogging world when he blogged himself and he said that TV news had to find a new and human voice, that it had to admit it has opinions and had to admit that it makes mistakes. And that's what really matters.

So what I want to see out of Katie Couric is what do you think about this story, Katie? That would be breaking the mold of all the network news.

KURTZ: Well, I am told that her discussions with CBS involved a -- revolved in large measure around doing more live interviews, doing longer pieces than the typical network 1:45. So she apparently is pretty engaged in the substance, but nobody seems to be writing about that.

JARVIS: Well, Howie, I don't think it's a matter of -- all right, so we're all media critics and we're all full of it -- we're doing it right now. We're paying way too much attention about one person who's sitting in front of the camera.

She'll read just fine. You learned how to read the teleprompter. It's not that hard.

I think the question is, how do we deliver the news in a new way? And it's not all on her shoulders. As what Jim said, it's about everything behind the scenes. And it's mainly about getting over the notion that TV news is TV news. It's now going to be Internet news. It's going to be phone news. It has to break out of broadcast and find its new life in a whole new media world.

The audience for this show is older than the show itself. The audience for this show is very, very old. And the media has changed all around it. It has to change, too. And CBS has to discover whether it really can reach the cable bypass strategy and invent a news means of delivering news.

KURTZ: One of the challenges for all the network news shows is to find an audience that's younger than 60 years old.

Jim Murphy, even Jeff Jarvis acknowledged on his blog when he got a lot of comments from readers that a lot of people like Katie Couric. Isn't that important, too, in such a personal medium?

MURPHY: Yes, it is, absolutely. Why would you watch someone you really dislike? I mean, it just makes no sense. And Jeff's right in talking about all of the things they have to do to break through in different media, like the web and on phones, but they're going to do all of that. And news is going to get delivered in all kinds of ways. But at its heart, it's delivered by a person. And those stories are put together by people, and the best people usually get the biggest audience.

And that's why they've hired her, because she's a known quantity. She's really smart. And they're going to use her to maximum effect on "60 Minutes" and on the evening news and on the Web and on telephones to try to make CBS a better, bigger organization again. I mean, it was the leader for a long time, and it's fallen out of that role over the last 20 years. And they are determined to be leaders again, and this is a step in that direction.

KURTZ: Erik Sorenson, do you think that Katie Couric can make some progress on bringing some younger viewers to the evening news, or is that a tough nut to crack?

SORENSON: No, I think she'll bring younger viewers. I think she's going to steal viewers from NBC and from ABC.

I think the other thing that has gone unmentioned is on that in the evening news the anchor is the managing editor, for the most part. And so she'll have a lot of impact on the choices on what stories and topics and subjects and people who are going to get interviewed. She'll get to make those decisions, and that's going to be big.

DOUGLASS: And also Katie Couric, who is one of the most successful broadcasters in history in terms of bringing in revenues and ratings and so on and so forth, has done live television for all of these years. And that's where an anchor person, an evening anchor person is really measured, is during a crisis, during something like 9/11, where you have to sit there and reassure the audience during a crisis or hold a long, complicated story.

KURTZ: And at that point it's not about reading off the teleprompter, because there is no teleprompter.

As we go to break, a look back at Katie Couric in the early 1980s, when she was a CNN reporter.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COURIC: The 40-plus members are thankful for the organization. Not only does it help them local jobs and market their skills, but they also enjoy the camaraderie of the group.

So whether you find him bizarre or brilliant, right for Boy George, all the world's a stage.

Industry experts agree that in the near future, you'll be able to buy just about everything in the privacy of your own living room.

Katherine Couric, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Welcome back. It took one day for NBC to announce Katie Couric's replacement at "The Today Show". Meredith Vieira has been on the all-woman chat show, "The View" on ABC and is also the host of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" When she met the press this week, she talked about making the adjustment back to network news.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MEREDITH VIEIRA, CO-HOST, ABC'S "THE VIEW": I'm going to have to be reigned in a little. It's funny. I had 20 years of news, where I never said anything. Now every other word out of my moth is orgasm, you know? I've got to -- there's got to be something in between, or I'm in big trouble.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Pulling no punches. Linda Douglass, Meredith Vieira's 52; Katie Couric, 49. Is this the end of an era of middle-aged male executives putting sexy 30-year-old women on to draw viewers?

DOUGLASS: I think it probably is. There was a great influx of women into broadcast television news 30 years ago, and now all of those women have become the voices of authority, and the women have come of age. And this really shows this really -- it's going to be the year of the woman in broadcast news, where it's not necessarily women who are hired just for their looks and their age, youth, but they're hired for their experience.

KURTZ: Erik Sorenson, Meredith Vieira marched in the anti-war demonstration a couple years ago, and she said on "The View" that the war was built on lies. Does that create a credibility problem for her when she's interviewing guest on "The Today Show" about Iraq?

SORENSON: I think it's going to be a challenge. She -- you know, she talked about it herself. She used, you know, a funnier analogy, but she -- she has been out there with her opinions. And that's not going to be considered appropriate on "The Today Show". And she will have to modify that and modulate that voice.

KURTZ: Vieira told me she was not ashamed of what she had said, but that the job of a journalist is to put your biases aside, when you're in a news role, which she will be.

Jim Murphy, how does Vieira go from an all-girl chat show to -- and giving away money on "Millionaire" to, you know, one of the flagship programs of NBC News? Isn't that a pretty big adjustment?

MURPHY: It won't be for Meredith. Meredith as, I think, everybody here knows, is a really smart woman and a really excellent broadcaster, and was a great television journalist for a long time, before she took this detour in her career, mainly due to family circumstances. And you know, I think that's something that a lot of people, who are, you know, in middle age now, or younger, understand. I mean, people make very different choices these days about how their careers go and how their families are kept together.

And Meredith has done some really important things for her family, which has all kinds of issues. And yet she has maintained great skills, and she is so good live that she's going to, I think, shock people with how strong she is at "The Today Show."

She's going to be great with Matt. They seem to be, you know, really compatible, and she's very smart. I mean, she was a very strong journalist when she worked at CBS News. Those skills didn't leave her. She's going to bring them all back together, and she's going to do great there.

KURTZ: Right. For those of who don't know, she worked at one time at "60 Minutes".

Jeff Jarvis, you were shaking your head a moment ago.

JARVIS: I disagree with Erik and her having opinions. I think that's exactly the wrong thing to do, is to say, "OK, tamp down those opinions and don't have them any more, Meredith."

The truth is we all have opinions. The problem in big news is, we kind of lie by omission. Our agendas are all hidden. Dan Rather would have been better off if he said, "You know what? I don't like George Bush, but now judge me on what I report."

Meredith Vieira should go ahead and say, "Yes, I was against the war, but now judge the substance and the fairness and the interviews and the work I do."

It is time for to us get over this idea that we're objective and don't have opinions.

SORENSON: Jeff, you'd have a field day if she did that, wouldn't you?

JARVIS: Pardon me?

SORENSON: You'd have a field day if she did that, wouldn't you?

JARVIS: No, I would have a field day of complimenting her on finally having an honest voice on TV and not acting like we're plastic people with no opinions. You know I would have a field day praising her for finally having the courage to break the old, dull ways of TV news.

KURTZ: Linda Douglass, Jim Murphy mentioned family considerations. Meredith Vieira has three teenage kids, and she has a husband, Richard Cohen, who has written a book about his battles with multiple sclerosis. A lot of women, I think, like the fact that she was willing to sort of that news track and to deal with family concerns. DOUGLASS: It was a very tough decision. I mean, she wanted to stay at "60 Minutes", but they wouldn't let her scale back and work part time.

KURTZ: They wouldn't let her work part-time, right.

DOUGLASS: Exactly. Because of the children and Richard, her husband, has been very ill over the years. And she's been a devoted wife and mother. And that was apparently a major factor in preventing her from moving into this job, initially, because she wanted to stay with her family.

Women can really identify with that. That is a very strong asset, especially for somebody who's on in the morning, speaking to people in their homes.

KURTZ: All right. All right, we've got two women now to watch as they make these transitions to two different networks. Thanks very much to all of you, Linda Douglass, Erik Sorenson, Jim Murphy, Jeff Jarvis. We appreciate it.

And in our next hour, our "Blogger Buzz" on President Bush leaking classified information, Tom DeLay ripping the press as she bows out of Congress and Cynthia McKinney's face-off with Capitol police. And our own CNN's Soledad O'Brien.

Plus, the gossip columnist who offered not write about a billionaire, allegedly in exchange for a six-figure sum. All that after a check of the hour's top stories from Atlanta.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, good morning, I'm Betty Nguyen at the CNN center in Atlanta. Here are the stories making news today.

Insurgent attacks sapped much of the joy from Freedom Day in Iraq. Today marks three years since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime. Bombs killed at least four people, and five bodies were discovered, and Iraq has yet to form a new government.

Well, it's been a bitter campaign, and beginning today, Italian voters decide if Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi will keep his job. His opponent, Romano Prodi, has promised to withdraw Italian troops from Iraq as soon as possible.

Back on earth, three astronauts land in Russia A-ok after a 3 1/2-hour bone jarring ride from the International Space Station. Seen here grinning is Brazil's first man in space. Welcome back home.

More headlines in 30 minutes. I'm Betty Nguyen here in Atlanta. RELIABLE SOURCES continues after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. This was President Bush in the fall of 2003. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There are too many leaks of classified information in Washington.

I don't know of anybody in my administration who leaked classified information. If somebody did leak classified information, I'd like to know it. And we'll take the appropriate action.

I'd like to know who leaked, and if anybody's got any information inside our government or outside our government who leaked, they ought to take it to the Justice Department. So we can find out the leaker.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: This week we saw the release of grand jury testimony by former White House official Scooter Libby that President Bush himself, through Vice President Cheney, authorized Libby to disclose intelligence information to the press, particularly "New York times" reporter Judith Miller, in an attempt to discredit Ambassador Joe Wilson whose views undermined the rationale for war in Iraq.

The White House didn't dispute the claim, but press secretary Scott McClellan got plenty of tough questions at the briefing Friday, as in this exchange with ABC's Martha Raddatz.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: What I'm saying is the president expressed displeasure about leaks, not just classified...

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Sure, he's talked about that in the past.

RADDATZ: So he has displeasure about leaks, even of declassified material.

MCCLELLAN: Well, I mean, again, you have to look at what specific instance are you are talking about.

RADDATZ: You won't talk about the specific instance.

MCCLELLAN: No, I just gave you an example.

RADDATZ: So in general, if you leak something, he has no problems as long as it's not classified?

MCCLELLAN: That's not what I said, Martha. What I said is what I said, and you ought to listen to what I said. Not try to put words in my mouth. You're trying to put words into mouth.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Joining us from Los Angeles, Arianna Huffington, syndicated columnist and the editor of HuffingtonPost.com. And in Minneapolis, Scott Johnson, of PowerlineBlog.com. Scott Johnson, I know that legally the president has the power to declassify anything he wants but politically, after all of Bush's complaints about leaks, you have to admit, this is a story.

SCOTT JOHNSON, POWERLINEBLOG.COM: No, I don't admit that. It was story in July 2003, when Knight-Ridder, for example, published a story with the headline, "Bush releases excerpts of top-secret Iraq report."

Three years later there's another mass outbreak of Bush derangement syndrome, when the same story is being reported as some kind of a great coup, because it appears in a few sentences of this brief that was filed by Patrick Fitzgerald.

KURTZ: So let me make sure I understand you. You're saying this is, A, old news, and B, it shouldn't even be written about at all, there's no political salience whatsoever?

JOHNSON: Well, it had political salience in July 2003, when Ambassador Wilson was lying about his trip to Niger, and the Bush administration was trying to rebut Wilson's lies by authorizing the disclosure of the National Intelligence Estimate on the basis of which President Bush made the important decisions that took to us war in Iraq.

KURTZ: All right. Arianna Huffington...

JOHNSON: I don't understand.

KURTZ: I'm sorry, I didn't mean to cut you off. Let me just.

JOHNSON: No, I don't understand. It's not a story now.

KURTZ: Arianna Huffington, a non-story in Scott Johnson's view.

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, HUFFINGTONPOST.COM: Well, actually, the story gets bigger and bigger.

On the front page of "The New York Times" today, we find out that, in fact, the estimate itself, the National Intelligence Estimate that the president, declassified parts of, had serious doubts about all those claims. That the president, through the vice president, Scooter Libby, was trying to sell to Judy Miller and "The New York Times" that, in fact, Saddam Hussein was vigorously pursuing a nuclear weapons program.

And, in fact, in the same story, later in the story, on page 825 is the real nugget that needs to be pursued, that Colin Powell, a week earlier, had briefed three other "The New York Times" reporters and had said to them categorically that these claims had been disputed by the intelligence community.

So here we have not just the president declassifying selective information, cherry picking what to declassify, but manipulating the intelligence in order to discredit the critics of the war. It's very serious, and it's changing fundamentally the narrative that the media have been following, from a president they can trust to a president that they cannot trust.

KURTZ: On the other hand, Arianna, before I go back to Scott Johnson, let's face it, all administrations leak information to the press in a way that is selectively done to their advantage. This is not a new phenomenon.

HUFFINGTON: No, of course not, Howie. But we're talking here about leaking information that, according to Libby's testimony, the president chose to declassify because he considered it in the national interests.

And instead of declassifying it to the public, he declassified it to a reporter, Judy Miller, whom he believed, or Libby and Cheney believed would write a favorable story.

I have a question to ask -- what happened when subsequently, day after day, they opened "The New York Times" and there was no story from Judy Miller? That's when they started going to other reporters, ending up with Robert Novak.

KURTZ: All right.

HUFFINGTON: And the "The New York Times" has a very important question to answer: what happened internally? Did Judy Miller go to an editor? Did an editor tell her she can't write the story?

KURTZ: Scott. Scott Johnson.

JOHNSON: Well, you know what happened is that "The New York Times" published Joe Wilson's lying op-ed on July 6, and that meeting with Judy Miller occurred on July 8. And in fact -- and Scooter Libby shared the key judgments of the National Intelligence Estimate of October 2002 with Judy Miller at that time. And there was no story.

So, then, on July 18, the White House held a press briefing with 20 reporters that -- the upshot of which were stories like the one whose headline I read you in July 2003 over the Knight-Ridder story, "Bush authorizes release of" this intelligence estimate.

And appended to it was, in fact -- I mean, I just printed it out this morning -- was the State Department reservations that -- that Colin Powell was -- was using to brief other "New York Times" reporters that same month.

KURTZ: All right, Scott I...

JOHNSON: So this whole story.

KURTZ: I've got to move on.

JOHNSON: It's unbelievable.

KURTZ: You believe that -- hold on. Arianna, give me one second. You believe, Scott Johnson, that this -- the fact that this is a front-page story still today is motivated by what you call Bush derangement syndrome? JOHNSON: And incompetence on the part of the mainstream media.

You know, Joe Wilson was courting these "Washington Post" reporters, who were putting his -- his leaks of classified information regarding his trip into the pages of "The Washington Post" in the spring of 2003, culminating in his own op-ed under that byline in July of 2003.

KURTZ: Right.

JOHNSON: When the Bush administration tried to fight back with the release of information on the basis of which it acted, that had been provided to it by all -- all of the intelligence agencies that are doing the -- the work of the government.

KURTZ: All right, let me -- I want to move ahead now, because we have another big political bombshell this week, the former House majority leader, Tom DeLay, announcing that he's going to resign from Congress.

Arianna Huffington, you have to admit that the press did pound away at "the hammer" with a certain glee. These two sides, the congressman and the media, just didn't like each other?

HUFFINGTON: I will admit that. But before I admit that, Howie, let me just say that Scott made a very fundamental error, which is that this was not a key judgment. What the administration declassified was not part of the five-page summary of key documents. And that's why we are talking about the intelligence being manipulated.

Moving on to Tom DeLay. What I found most fascinating this week was the corruption of language coming out of Tom DeLay, forgetting the corruption of everything else. The way that he told us how he was excited about the present and at peace and looking forward. I mean, he used all those words as though he was receiving the Nobel Prize, rather than shamefully exiting the political stage.

And other Republicans followed suit. You had John Boehner praising his honor and integrity. And I found it really interesting that his first major interview was with Pat Robertson, telling him that he had fasted and asked for spiritual guidance before he came to this decision.

KURTZ: All right, let me get Scott Johnson in. Is the press to blame that the congressman is under indictment. I mean, a lot of people have criticized those charges. Or the fact that two of his former closest aides pled guilty in the Jack Abramoff investigation?

JOHNSON: Well, the answer is certainly no to those questions. Ronnie Earle is responsible for the indictment, and the merits of that remain to be determined.

My view, based on what I've read in the court filings, is that Ronnie Earle is going to lose that case and that it's a case of prosecutorial abuse rather than something else, rather than illegal conduct on the part of Representative DeLay.

But I would just observe that I think that Representative DeLay's resignation represents a real loss to the Republican Party, akin to the time in 1989 when first Jim Wright and then Tony Coelho stepped down from their posts with the Democratic Party.

KURTZ: All right. I've got to jump in here, because we're coming up on a break. We'll see if that case is lost in Texas or not.

Just ahead, Congressman Cynthia McKinney's tussle with police becomes fodder for the press.

And later, allegations of extortion again a New York gossip writer -- "New York Post" gossip writer who offered to keep a wealthy businessman's name out of the tabloid. We'll tell you about the secret videotapes.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Welcome back.

I want to play for our bloggers part of an interview with CNN's Soledad O'Brien with Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney after her altercation with a Capitol security guard, a case that has now gone to a grand jury. This was before the Georgia Democrat apologized for the incident. I then asked O'Brien about the interview, which, as you'll see, got a little heated.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. CYNTHIA MCKINNEY (D), GEORGIA: Let me say that this has become much ado about a hairdo. And the real issue...

O'BRIEN: Well, and I hear you, but I'm going to stop you there because -- let me...

MCKINNEY: The real issue -- you can't stop me, Soledad. The real issue is...

O'BRIEN: Well, I want to get to what happened first, and then we'll get into the real issue, because we need to establish what happened.

MCKINNEY: The real issue -- the real issue is face recognition and security around the Capitol complex.

O'BRIEN: Gosh knows I'm not a lawyer. Lots of people who are accused of a crime would say, here's what happened. Why can't someone just walk me through what happened?

MIKE RAFFAUF, ATTORNEY FOR REP. MCKINNEY: Well, we don't know -- we haven't been told what happened that set...

MCKINNEY: We have 200... O'BRIEN: With all due respect, Congresswoman, and forgive me for interrupting you, but I believe we can't have this --

MCKINNEY: We have 250 -- no, but you shouldn't interrupt me, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Well, until you answer my question, I'm not sure we can move on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Wow, that did get heated.

KURTZ: Why did you take her on like that? That did get heated. Why did you take her on like that?

O'BRIEN: You know, I don't think I was taking her on at all. I think that, in any good interview, you need to establish the facts. Before she could talk about what she perceived to be the big problem out of the confrontation, I needed her to establish the facts.

I actually don't think -- I wasn't trying to take her on at all. I really just wanted her to establish the facts. And I think anybody who comes on the air and is not willing to answer the questions, then you have a problem.

You know, she had an agenda that she wanted to go with, and unfortunately, it's my interview. I'm asking the questions. And I believe that I treat every guest with respect, but there are certain things we have to get to. And we were trying to get to those.

And all the questions that I was asking were very fair. Establish -- if you're going to claim that there was racial discrimination, if you're going to, you know, say all these things, then you have to establish those things.

KURTZ: Let me interrupt you.

O'BRIEN: Sure.

KURTZ: Were you worried at all, since you had to jump in so many times, that you would appear to the audience to be overly aggressive?

O'BRIEN: You know, I've got to tell you, truly I never think about that. I believe in treating everybody with respect, and if anything, I think maybe I said "with all due respect" about 25 times. Because I do believe that I'm trying to do a respectful interruption. But it's my job to keep an interview on course. That's what I do. My job to ask questions, my job to keep the interview on course. And it's not going to be derailed because the interviewee has some other area they want to go into.

KURTZ: Right.

O'BRIEN: It's not going to happen.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: Arianna Huffington, while CNN and other cable networks covered McKinney heavily, it got a couple of sentences on the "CBS Evening News", "ABC World News Tonight" and nothing on NBC. Not exactly the Tom DeLay treatment. Why?

HUFFINGTON: I don't know. But first of all, let me just say that I think Soledad is right here, that I think it was clear that the congresswoman was trying to avoid having to say that one of the key factors that she hit a policeman with her cell phone. And that was really the key fact.

And I think it was -- it was a significant story. And the fact that, eight days later, eight days after it happened, she apologized, after consulting with the Congressional Black Caucus, it showed that she had absolutely no one left to support her, except her lawyers.

I mean, nobody was really standing beside her, supporting this ludicrous allegation that this was a case of racial profiling rather than her losing her temper and absolutely misbehaving.

KURTZ: Scott Johnson, have some in the media done easy on McKinney, who has a history of inflammatory statements, because she's a liberal Democrat?

JOHNSON: Well, sure. But, you know, I think...

KURTZ: That's the shortest answer you've given today.

JOHNSON: Let me just elaborate a bit. The key fact is that Cynthia McKinney assaulted and then defamed a Capitol Hill police officer, who is one of her employees as a congressman. She's one of the most powerful people in the country.

When she misbehaved and assaulted one of her -- and defamed one the employees whose job it is to protect her, there's been a tremendous silence on the part of her congressional Democratic colleagues and on the part of the folks in the press, who usually relish coverage of those kind of incidents, and both are a disgrace.

KURTZ: All right, well, that's a fair point. But not all of the press has been silent. Some clearly have minimized the story.

Arianna Huffington, Scott Johnson, thanks very much for joining our "Blogger Buzz."

JOHNSON: Thanks for having us.

KURTZ: Just ahead, the tabloid scandal that's rocking the Manhattan world. We'll take a look at the damaging allegations against the "New York Post's" Page Six.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Everyone loves gossip, which is why everyone loves the "New York Post's" Page Six, but one of its writers is embroiled in a scandal as juicy as those that fill the tabloid.

Jared Paul Stern was the target of an undercover FBI sting which found him soliciting big bucks -- $220,000 to be exact -- from Ron Burkle, a man that Page Six described as a party-boy billionaire. The page had reported that Burkle once went on a date with supermodel Gisele Bundchen and flew "Spider-Man" star Tobey Maguire to Aspen in his private jet, Burkle insisting some of these items were untrue.

In secret videotaped meetings, according to the "New York Daily News", Stern told Burkle he could buy protection from bad gossip for himself and his buddies.

Said Stern, "It's a little like the Mafia; a friend of mine is a friend of yours." And he said there are various levels of protection, such as serving as a source for Page Six. He asked for $100,000 up front and even suggested that Burkle invest in his Skull and Bones clothing line.

And today's "Daily News" reports that Stern suggested Burkle offer consulting work to other Page Six staffers. Although a "Post" spokesman says prosecutors haven't told the paper that anyone else is under investigation.

"Post" editor Col Allan says the allegations, if true, are quote, "morally and journalistically reprehensible." Stern told "The New York Times" he apologized for causing the "Post" any embarrassment.

Just when you thought the media's reputation couldn't sink any lower.

That's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz. Join us again next Sunday morning, 10 a.m. Eastern, for another critical look at the media.

"LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER" begins right now.

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