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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES

White House Mounts Media Blitz After Killing of Zarqawi;

Aired June 11, 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: On target. The White House mounts a media blitz after a missile strike kills Abu al-Zarqawi. Is the press portraying this as a turning point in the war or being overly cautious after three years of violence in Iraq? We'll ask "New York Times" columnist Tom Friedman, ABC's Martha Raddatz, and CNN's Jamie McIntyre.
Blaming the widows. Ann Coulter wreaks a publicity bonanza for trashing the women whose husbands died on 9/11. Why do the media keep giving her a platform?

Plus...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AMANDA CONGDON, ROCKETBOOM.COM: The Internet community...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Rocket boom. How this woman sitting in a tiny New York apartment is becoming an Internet cult figure.

Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES, where today we turn our critical lens on the missile strike heard round the world. I'm Howard Kurtz.

Most of the country was asleep. It was 2:38 Eastern on Thursday morning, to be precise, when ABC's Martha Raddatz broke the story.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC NEWS: We just received word from a senior military official. ABC has learned that Zarqawi was killed in some sort of bombing raid. I'm actually reporting from Washington and got a call from Baghdad confirming that Zarqawi was killed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: One by one, the other networks confirmed that Iraq terrorist leader Abu al-Zarqawi was dead, and the president went before the cameras during the morning news shows at 7:30.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now Zarqawi has met his end, and this violent man will never murder again. KURTZ (voice-over): That was just the start of a lengthy media blitz: a briefing by General George Casey, an appearance by Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld; another briefing by Tony Snow.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: ... White House meeting with governors. But amid all of the television talk, one lingering question: Was this a major victory in the war on terror or were journalists going overboard about a killer whose importance had been pumped up by the Bush administration?

Joining us now, Martha Raddatz, chief White House correspondent for ABC News; Jamie McIntyre, CNN's senior Pentagon correspondent; and three-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Tom Friedman, the foreign affairs columnist for the "New York Times."

Tom Friedman, is it possible that the media have made too much of this one success and that the administration's prodding had built up Zarqawi into this mythical figure?

TOM FRIEDMAN, "NEW YORK TIMES": I'm actually struck by the opposite, Howie. And most of the analyses I've read, certainly from the reporters in Iraq, I thought they've been quite balanced.

I think they've pointed out two things. One is Zarqawi was a unique figure. The fact is he terrorized the U.S. military and eluded them for three years. He's good, and so killing someone like that is important.

At the same time, he was turned in -- his network was broken clearly by the support of some Sunnis. That's important.

But I think everyone has made it very clear what matters now is not that Zarqawi is dead, but whether Zarqawism is dead. This guy's main contribution to the war was to try to promote sectarian conflict between Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq. And whether that's over is really what's going to determine Iraq's future, and I found most people are quite cautious about that.

KURTZ: A question we can't fully answer, obviously at this moment.

Martha Raddatz, what were you doing at 2:30 in the morning that enabled you to break this story?

(LAUGHTER)

RADDATZ: Well, I had actually just gotten home. I love that we call it a vacation. I was actually taking a couple of weeks book leave writing about a particular battle in Iraq, and I had just gotten home after a very long day of writing. And I got a phone call. But, as you know, I've been...

KURTZ: So somebody wanted this out?

RADDATZ: Well... KURTZ: ... as opposed to waiting for the press conference?

RADDATZ: Yes, yes.

KURTZ: Why?

RADDATZ: I don't go into the motivations. I know I didn't interrupt any operations that were ongoing, which is, of course, important. You don't want to break any sort of operational security.

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Martha's being a little modest. The way this works is, you know, you have a relationship with sources, and a lot of times the motivation is as simple as wanting to help you be first on the story.

RADDATZ: Thank you, Jamie. Thank you.

MCINTYRE: And it's based on, you know, the reporting that you've done in the past and the relationships you build with people. And why does anybody get a tip? It's often a complex series of...

(CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: And did you also start waking people up once this broke?

MCINTYRE: Yes, because I got the call right after Martha, but it was from CNN saying what Martha had reported.

(LAUGHTER)

KURTZ: I know those kind...

RADDATZ: Well, I was going to say I called Jamie, but I...

MCINTYRE: And then you start thinking, who can you call at that hour in the morning? And what you discover is you call people and they're awake, and they already know something, and that tells you right away that there's something...

(CROSSTALK)

FRIEDMAN: ... probably would be surprised, Howie, at how much e- mail contact there is between reporters here, and columnists, and generals, and officers in the field in Iraq.

KURTZ: Yes, but you do have to be awake to look at the e-mail, depending on what time it is there.

RADDATZ: That's true. If it was my e-mail, I would have been in trouble.

KURTZ: Now, I want to understand how a columnist's mind works when you take positions, because you were chided recently for writing several times in different occasions "the next six months are crucial in Iraq," the next six months. And now you've written a column saying that Americans are simply not going to tolerate this kind of anarchy for another two years and deadlines have to be set. Were you conscious that you were now shifting your position on this?

FRIEDMAN: Not really. You know, the problem with analyzing the story, Howie, is that it doesn't -- everyone, first of all, this is the most polarized story I've certainly written about, so everyone wants, basically, to be proven right, OK?

So the left -- people who hated the war, they want you to declare the war is over, finish, we give up. The right, just the opposite. But I've been trying to just simply track the situation on the ground. And the fact is that the outcome there is unclear, and I reflected that in my column. And I will continue to reflect.

KURTZ: Unclear, but you're running out of patience?

FRIEDMAN: Well, it's not that I'm running out of patience. The story's evolving. And what strikes me as I see it evolve, when it drags on, six months after an election we still don't have a government. Then, as a columnist who's offering opinions on what I think the right policy is, it seems to me we have to be telling Iraqis we are not going to be here forever, providing a kind of floor under the chaos, while you dicker over the most minute things when American lives are at stake. So I think it's a constantly evolving thing.

MCINTYRE: I'll tell you what you're not hearing at the Pentagon, is you're not hearing people say, "This is a turning point." You know, they know that that's a hopeful scenario, and those...

RADDATZ: Because they've said that before.

MCINTYRE: ... and those hopes have been dashed so many times before.

KURTZ: We've heard many turning points, after Iraqi elections, after the capture of Saddam, and so forth.

MCINTYRE: But you're not hearing that.

(CROSSTALK)

FRIEDMAN: ... I've been guided by what Iraqis do and say. And when Iraqis give up, all right, I'll give up. But when they don't...

(CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: Well, let me just jump in here, Martha, because I want to play a piece of tape for you, coming back to that Thursday morning. This is very tightly choreographed series of appearances by the president and others. Tony Snow gave a remarkably detailed briefing about how this came about. Let's watch a little bit of that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: During the course of that meeting, Ray LaHood, Representative Ray LaHood offered the helpful suggestion that things would be better if somebody would get Zarqawi. There was a little snickering in the room at the time. Little did we know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: That meeting, of course, before the announcement that Zarqawi had been killed. Is the White House now in the business of providing lots of colorful details for reporters to write their narratives or is this a one-time offer by Snow?

RADDATZ: Well, I think there is a plan in place on how to react if and when Zarqawi was captured and killed. There's a plan in place if Osama bin Laden is captured or killed, and there was a plan in place for Saddam Hussein, as well.

I think they've probably learned quite a bit since the capture of Saddam Hussein on how to react, but they had this lined up on what to do, what to say. They had a lot of information. Remember, regardless of the fact that I went on the air probably earlier than anyone wanted, this happened the day before. They were gathering as many facts as they could. As you know, some of the facts changed on the ground.

KURTZ: And on that point...

RADDATZ: I mean, at first they said...

KURTZ: ... the Pentagon said that it was the two 500-pound bombs that killed Zarqawi, and they provided the aerial footage, and it was a nice, neat narrative. And then it comes out -- turns out the next day that Zarqawi had survived and died afterwards. Was this the fog of war? Or was the Pentagon being a little overdramatic?

MCINTYRE: Well, yes, I mean, first of all, just to be clear, he did die from the bombs.

KURTZ: Right, just not immediately.

MCINTYRE: I mean, you know, definitely, not immediately, and that kind of detail is often the case where the first reports are incomplete and they don't get that stuff right. The problem is, whenever you do that, it tends to undermine your credibility. And because so many people are suspicious of the government, so many people are predisposed to believe the worst about everyone, they start asking a lot of questions. You could certainly see that from the tenor of the questions in the Pentagon briefing the next -- and people in there, "Were the pictures altered? Have you been"...

RADDATZ: "Why is it just a head?" Right?

MCINTYRE: Yes, "Why does he look so good?" I talked to a viewer the other day who wanted to know, why did they put his picture in a frame? What was that all about? What does that mean? Why would they go to the thing -- and I said, "You know, they probably just wanted to put it in a frame for the presentation."

KURTZ: Let me play, Tom Friedman, a bite from President Bush on Friday talking about the coverage of this war. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: One of the things I'm trying to be is realistic with the American people and say there's still going to be tough days ahead, because the enemy has got the capacity to get on our TV screens with death and destruction.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Now, the president doesn't quite say it there, but he has made the argument many times, and so has Rumsfeld, that the media are spending too much attention, too much air time, too much ink on the violence here, and therefore we're ignoring signs of real progress in Iraq. Do you buy that?

FRIEDMAN: No, I don't buy it at all. I think that the media has really actually been ahead of the story more than behind the story in Iraq. I think they've been very sober.

And the fact is now, you know, you look at the situation there, I go back to Zarqawi. There's only one way this is going to mean anything other than a one-day story. If it's going to be a one-month story, let alone a five-year story, it's going to be on whether Iraqis get their act together and to make a fist as a society. And that is still totally indetermined, and that's the most important thing. And I think the media is focused on that.

RADDATZ: And you know what, Howie? Iraq has not been on the front pages a lot in the last several months. Iraq has not led newscasts in the last several months with the violence. It has slowly gone down the chain.

KURTZ: Why do you think that is?

RADDATZ: Well, I think because it's this violence over, and over, and over again.

KURTZ: The repetitive nature of the story.

RADDATZ: And people -- the repetitive nature of the story...

(CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: But is it also...

RADDATZ: It's difficult to cover.

KURTZ: Difficult to cover, that's what I was going to ask you.

RADDATZ: Yes.

KURTZ: You've been there several times. You also covered the wounding of your ABC colleague, Bob Woodruff. This is a very, very difficult story for correspondents to get out and just talk to ordinary shopkeepers and people in the streets. Obviously, you do it sometimes, but doesn't that put the focus more on the car bomb attacks, the suicide attacks, and all of that?

RADDATZ: Yes, it does. I mean, yes, you absolutely cover that.

KURTZ: And is that an accurate picture?

RADDATZ: Yes, I think it is. I mean, the reason we're covering this is because we have 130,000 troops over there, because the situation over there is not secure. Now, at the same time, the president has given approximately 17 different speeches during this period, pushing the good news, but Americans still realize we are still at war over there. It is still a very violent place.

KURTZ: A lot of breaking news this morning, Jamie McIntyre. We have the three detainees at Guantanamo Bay committing suicide, bringing the spotlight again to the conditions at Gitmo, which a U.N. panel and others have asked to be closed.

And right next to it on the front page of this morning's "Washington Post" -- I don't know if you can see this -- "Marine says rules were followed." This is about the Haditha incident, as CNN back in march, when it was first reported word of this, and there was this "Time" magazine investigation that really got to the substance of it, then it kind of faded in and out of the news, and then it became a huge story.

Now, for the first time, we're hearing from a lawyer for the leader of this Marine squad saying there was no massacre. This was an unfortunate firefight that resulted in civilian casualties. You've talked to one of the lawyers involved. Why is this the first time that we're hearing the other side, as opposed to the leaks from the investigation?

MCINTYRE: Well, it's not, actually, because this is -- while we've been pursuing what's going on in Iraq, CNN has also been very aggressive in this story. In fact, we did two stories this week trying to get at what defense attorneys would be saying was the other side of the story.

We filed on earlier in the week and then one on Friday night with the attorney you mentioned who's been talking to some of the Marines. And we have talked, as the "Washington Post" says, to this attorney for the senior noncommissioned officer who was on the scene who does tell a different version of the story, as you might well imagine.

And, you know, the facts are still in dispute, but we're continuing to aggressively try to follow it, because we know the story is more complex than the simple time line that we've been able to piece together from leaks so far.

RADDATZ: But there's also video. I mean, there are also video and pictures, which make this...

KURTZ: Taken by ordinary Iraqis?

RADDATZ: ... far -- taken by Iraqis in there, taken by apparently Marines afterward that no one has seen, and that always puts something in a different light.

I mean, remember Abu Ghraib. I think the Pentagon at that point thought, "OK, there are these little pictures, and this will go away," and yet this is the digital age. These pictures go everywhere. This video goes everywhere. And I think that to commanders was the most shocking thing about this: There was some pretty hard evidence that is much harder to dispute.

KURTZ: Because of the leaks, most people now think Haditha massacre, even though these charges have not been proven, but they're certainly out there. How important is this incident, perhaps tragedy, to the image and reporting of the war?

FRIEDMAN: Well, I think it's hugely important, Howie. Guantanamo Bay and the three suicides just reported, Guantanamo Bay to me is the anti-Statue of Liberty. It's just become an absolute -- a horrible advertisement for what should be the best of American values, how we treat prisoners of war.

But, you know, as far as Haditha is concerned, the message I take away from that is -- you asked before, like, why are you suddenly starting to talk about time line? Occupations cannot go on forever. When occupations drag on like this, it's things like Haditha that happen. And that's why I think we do have to remain focused in doing our business in Iraq, finishing this project, because otherwise this is what you get.

KURTZ: All right. That will be the last word for this segment. Martha Raddatz, Jamie McIntyre, thanks very much for joining us.

You can catch Jamie McIntyre and other CNN correspondents at 1:00 p.m. Eastern for a special CNN program, "Iraq: A Week at War," hosted by Wolf Blitzer.

Coming up, Tom Friedman, don't go away. He'll give us his take on General Motors and his take on America's addition to oil, which is coming to the big screen. We'll ask him about that in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Welcome back. And we're continuing our conversation with Tom Friedman of the "New York Times."

You picked a big fight with General Motors, calling the company dangerous. And you said it's like a crack dealer looking to keep his addicts on a tight leash, and you said you wouldn't mind if it was taken over by Toyota. Explain.

FRIEDMAN: Howie, General Motors introduced a program last month where they're offering $1.99-a-gallon gasoline, unlimited for one year, for people in California or Florida who buy some of their most gas-guzzling cars, Hummers, Suburbans, Tahoes, and also a few of their less gas-guzzling sedans, but not their most efficient cars.

My feeling is this: We're in a war on terrorism right now with people funded and fueled by our energy purchases. And I think it's completely the wrong message of General Motors, the biggest American automaker, to be offering, basically, discounted gasoline to encourage people to become more addicted to gas-guzzling cars that stay on the road, incidentally, the average American car, 16 years.

KURTZ: But lots of companies build big gas-guzzling cars, and people like buying them.

FRIEDMAN: Right, yes.

KURTZ: So you're against the free market?

FRIEDMAN: Listen, if that's what the free market is, but look what the free market is signaling us. Last month, General Motors' double-digit decline in sales from a year earlier. Toyota and Honda, who make more fuel-efficient cars, up double digits. So I think the market is speaking, and I think one reason General Motors lost $10 billion last year is because they haven't been listening to the market real well.

KURTZ: Detroit was not happy about this. A radio host at WJR Radio, Frank Beckmann, said that your comments were over the edge. A "Detroit News" editorial said that you and your fellow effete elites in New York City would hurt the economy, if General Motors went down or was taken over, and the company itself, a spokesman told me that your comments were defamatory and uninformed.

FRIEDMAN: Actually, they called them rubbish, just be for the record. You know, Howie, I did this really deliberately. It was meant to be sharp, because I don't want to be among those people who drink GM's Kool-Aid all these years, which is why GM today is worth $14 billion and Toyota is worth $190 billion and Harley-Davidson, a motorcycle company, is worth just slightly less than General Motors.

That's from years and years of all these enablers telling GM, "Everything is fine. Don't improve your mileage standards. We don't need to do that." Well, that approach has gotten GM to the verge of bankruptcy. I'm not going to be a part of that group.

KURTZ: All right, now you take on this broader subject in a documentary called "Addicted to Oil." This is going to premiere on June 16th at the SilverDocs Film Festival right here in Silver Spring, Maryland, and on June 24th, at 10:00 p.m., on the Discovery Network.

let's watch a little bit of Tom Friedman's "Addicted to Oil."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK WAGONER, GM CHIEF EXECUTIVE: We build what the market wants. We try to forecast what the market is going to want, but what we have not been successful -- and I suspect we never will be -- is building a car and telling people: You buy this car.

FRIEDMAN: Well, let's go over by the White House and see if we can get the president to take a spin. There's the White House right over there. It'd be great if he got rid of his limousine and got an armor-plated solar-powered car. The world would be a better place. We're from the energy thing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. No. Not in this area, you don't film. Get it out of here. You don't have permission to be over here.

FRIEDMAN: OK.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Looks like "60 Minutes."

FRIEDMAN: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

KURTZ: That's an electric car?

FRIEDMAN: It's a solar-powered car.

KURTZ: A solar-powered car.

(CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: And the first interview, I should have mentioned, was with GM's chief executive Rick Wagoner. Why have you become such a crusader on this issue?

FRIEDMAN: Because I think this is actually the most important issue of our time right now, Howie, for three big reasons. One, as I said, we're in a war on terrorism with people funded by our energy purchases. We're basically financing both sides in the war: the U.S. military with our tax dollars; these Islamic radical groups with our energy purchases indirectly.

Secondly, you know, we've just seen the rise of India and China, 3 billion new consumers heading for the sort of global playing field today. If we don't find an alternate to fossil fuels, we'll either going to be in energy wars with these countries or smoke up and burn up this planet so much faster than people realize.

And, lastly, because of that number two reason, I think green technology, clean technology is going to be the industry of the 21st century, and I want to make sure we, the United States, and our companies dominate that industry.

KURTZ: You want to encourage conservation by having a big gas tax, making it more expensive.

FRIEDMAN: Yes. Absolutely.

KURTZ: Now, I don't see any other reporters writing about this, and I think that's in part because no politicians are talking about it. So is it a mistake for this to be sort of outside the zone of the debate, except in the Tom Friedman column?

FRIEDMAN: It sure is a mistake to me. You know, it's interesting. We did a poll at the "New York Times." We basically asked three questions: Do you favor gasoline tax? Eighty-seven percent against, 12 percent for.

KURTZ: I'm sure you weren't shocked to hear that.

FRIEDMAN: Exactly. Do you favor gasoline tax if it will enable us to be energy independent? Suddenly, more than half yes in favor. Do you favor gasoline tax if it will combat climate change. Almost two-thirds in favor.

So, you know, it's amazing to me that the American people are -- two-thirds of them are ready to support something that not a single politician is supporting. Imagine, Howie, if the president of the United States made this an issue.

KURTZ: All right. I've got about a half a minute. I want to come back to Iraq with this question, this personal question.

FRIEDMAN: Sure, please.

KURTZ: You recently wrote that, if you declared Iraq a lost cause, which you're not willing to do, it would make your marriage easier. Has there been some tension in the Friedman household?

FRIEDMAN: For a long time, my wife and I have struggled over this issue. She knows where I'm coming from; she knows for me this is about democratization. It's about a part of the world that I think is really heading for the cliff. And if we don't find a way to partner with people there to change direction, we're in trouble.

Where she disagreed with me is she always thought this administration would never, ever do it right. I hoped otherwise; so far, she's right.

KURTZ: All right. Tom Friedman, trying to convince America with his position and his wife, as well. Thanks very much.

Up next, an update on CBS's Kimberly Dozier after her injuries in Iraq. Plus, the head of a cable news network walks the plank. And later, Ann Coulter sparks a media firestorm by eviscerating the 9/11 widows as witches. We'll look at why she's getting so much attention from the press.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Time now to check on the latest in the news business in our "Media Minute."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ (voice-over): Kimberly Dozier is back in the States. The CBS correspondent who was badly wounded by a car bomb in Iraq that killed her two crew members was flown home this week and is being treated at Bethesda Naval Hospital. Dozier, who underwent a series of operations, is described as talkative and in good spirits, the only decent news to come out of this tragedy. Rick Kaplan is out as the president of MSNBC 2 1/2 years after taking the job. NBC News President Steve Capus says Kaplan is leaving by mutual agreement. You know what that means.

Kaplan, a former president of CNN, is credited with boosting ratings for Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews and improving weekend coverage, but programs featuring Deborah Norville and Ron Reagan and Monica Crowley have been cancelled, and MSNBC remains the third-place cable news channel. No word on a successor.

Call it the legacy of Janet Jackson and her wardrobe malfunction at the Super Bowl. The House this week joined the Senate in boosting the fines for broadcast indecency tenfold to $325,000 per violation.

What exactly is indecent? That's up to the FCC. But let's face it: Millions of Americans are watching those shows with sexual content. The bill, which President Bush is expected to sign, does not apply to cable or to satellite radio, so Howard Stern can relax for now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: And in our next half-hour, the show's called "Rocketboom," but you won't catch it here on CNN or any other network. We'll meet the increasingly popular Internet anchor Amanda Congdon.

And the always controversial Ann Coulter and her inflammatory take on the widows of September 11th. Why do all these TV programs keep putting her on? That's all ahead after a check of the hour's top stories from the CNN Center in Atlanta.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. Ann Coulter is a bomb thrower who writes best-selling books and a lot of television programs love having on the conservative author knowing full well she'll launch an incendiary attack on well, someone. So "The Today Show" knew what it was getting into this week and invited Coulter to plug her book "Godless" which describes some activist women who lost their husbands in the World Trade Center attack as witches and harpies. She writes, these self obsessed women seem genuinely unaware that 9/11 was an attack on our nation and act as if the terrorist attack happened only to them. These broads are millionaires, lionized on TV in articles about them, reveling in their status as celebrities. I've never seen people enjoying their husband's deaths so much.

Matt Lauer went after Coulter hard.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATT LAUER, NBC NEWS: Because they dared to speak out?

ANN COULTER, AUTHOR, "GODLESS": To speak out using the fact that they're widows. This is the left's doctrine of infallibility. If they have a point to make about the 9/11 Commission, about how to fight the war on terrorism, how about sending in somebody we're allowed to respond to, no, no, no. We always have to respond to someone who just had a family member die, but that is the point of liberal infallibility of putting up Cindy Sheehan, of putting out these widows and putting out Joe Wilson, no, no, no, you can't respond. It's their doctrine of infallibility.

LAUER: What I'm saying is...

COULTER: (inaudible) somebody else make the argument.

LAUER: I'm saying is, I don't think they've ever told you you can't respond. So why can't they...

COULTER: Look, you're getting testy with me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: The exchange produced a banner headline in the "New York Daily News" and cable shows and the network newscasts quickly pounced.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: Just when you think it seems like there are no limits on anything, someone comes along and makes a comment that goes over the line. The line that is shared by just about everybody because some things, it turns out, are still sacred.

BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: Ann Coulter writes in her book that these people are enjoying their husband's deaths. Now, come on. You know that's not true. That's brutal.

KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC NEWS: Honestly, if you were Ann Coulter's attorney at a sanity hearing, where could you possibly start?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: O'Reilly and Olbermann actually agreeing for once. Joining us now to talk about all this, Michelle Cottle, senior editor at "The New Republic," Jonah Goldberg, editor-at-large with nationalreviewonline and Karen Tumulty, national political correspondent for "Time" magazine. Karen Tumulty, why does "The Today Show" put Coulter on and give hear a forum for trashing the 9/11 widows?

KAREN TUMULTY, TIME MAGAZINE: I think it's as much a phenomenon as anything else. I don't think that people take these kinds of arguments seriously in terms of, you know, something that is a true discussion of issues.

KURTZ: So it's entertainment?

TUMULTY: Yeah, exactly. And, you know, it's selling her book for her.

KURTZ: Jonah Goldberg, by setting up this confrontation with Matt Lauer because obviously he's going to really press her on some of this inflammatory rhetoric is "Today" benefiting from the harsh kind of language that she uses?

JONAH GOLDBERG, NATIONAL REVIEW: Oh, absolutely. I think the producers of "Today" and the media (INAUDIBLE) at large when it comes to Ann Coulter are rank hypocrites and fairly idiotic in how they talk about this. On the one hand, they love to stroke their chins and tut, tut, say oh my God, what a terrible extremist and what a horrible person, look how terrible she is and at the same time they love giving her a megaphone. They love having her on. They love to create what Daniel Borstein would have called pseudo event by having her on. They know what she's going to say. They know that she's going to be provocative and then they get to pretend to be shocked that she said it. If you don't like what she represents and you don't like what she says and you want to lament her influence or popularity in the culture, why keep giving her the megaphone? There are other people who can make those arguments.

KURTZ: And lots of people Michelle Cottle, provided that megaphone this week. We had Neil Cavuto and Tucker Carlson's show on MSNBC, Lou Dobbs on CNN. Is this like pro wrestling? She comes on so the host can either praise or denounce her and sell more tickets and she sells more books.

MICHELLE COTTLE, THE NEW REPUBLIC: She gets to be the bad guy in pro-wrestling. Everybody loves the villain in pro wrestling. So you know, you bring her out there. She says all these terrible things and Jonah's right, the host gets to look like he's the responsible one responding to this woman who's made an entire career out of being transgressive (ph).

GOLDBERG: There's one other point that's worth making. Ann has a point when she says that because of the victimology and identity politics and especially the mainstream press is so immersed in, that we create these spokespeople who do have an air of infallibility. We pick black people who get to say things that only black people are allowed to say, victims (INAUDIBLE)...

KURTZ: Cindy Sheehan.

GOLDBERG: Cindy Sheehan, all across the board.

KURTZ: You're saying we create them, in other words because of the megaphone quality of the media by giving a lot of attention to women whose husbands died in 9/11?

GOLDBERG: Partly that and partly just because of the sort of ideological precepts of the mainstream media which says that there's a sort of, this sort of identity politics notion that certain people have the right to say things and other people don't. And --

KURTZ: So she has a point. Doesn't she totally step on her point by talking about witches and harpies and enjoying their husband's death?

GOLDBERG: And I think that she performs a great disservice to her own cause, because what she does is, she turns out to be this Medusa's head that the liberal media gets to pull up, scare everybody and discredit what I think is in many ways a perfectly valid point that she has to make. Call it, saying that the wives are enjoying their husband's deaths is grotesque and she (ph) say it, but what better person to have the liberals, to have for liberals to have -- make those kinds of arguments.

TUMULTY: I think she also very shrewdly recognizes that the level of discourse now has become so loud and so angry that you have to go that much further over the top than you did the last time to get anybody to listen to you.

KURTZ: ... screaming to be heard. But of course, in terms of attention, it's not just television. "Time" magazine did a long cover story on Ann Coulter last year, got a lot of flack for that.

TUMULTY: We got thousands and thousands and thousands of letters. Mostly in protest over that cover story and guess what? The cover that's gotten the most letters since then was the one we did on the Dixie Chicks.

KURTZ: Why do you think that -- why give Ann Coulter that kind of prominence, a cover story usually reserved for, let's say more important people.

TUMULTY: Well, again --

COTTLE: It sells.

TUMULTY: And she's, you know, she's a phenomenon. I mean we do cover stories on all sorts of phenomenons and like I said, most recently on the Dixie Chicks, same kind of reaction.

KURTZ: Are you struck by the fact that a number of prominent conservatives this time have turned to Ann Coulter and said that she went too far and that her remarks were despicable.

COTTLE: I'm not sure that you need to be struck by it. She has set the bar so high for getting attention for herself that she has to say something that everyone else has to be horrified by. And if you're Bill O'Reilly or someone along those lines, if you don't come out and say oh my gosh, what's going on, then you run the risk of having your entire movement viewed through this prism of this woman who will say what everyone in their most horrible moment would never whisper aloud.

KURTZ: Or she becomes viewed, if people don't protest, is like a typical conservative commentator.

COTTLE: Absolutely.

KURTZ: Most conservative commentators who might agree with the point that you raised, the substantive point, would never go there. Now after 9/11, Jonah Goldberg, the "National Review" dropped Coulter's syndicated column, as you well remember. She has written and I'll quote it here, we should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity, referring to Muslims, of course. She accused you in the magazine of censoring her and then she told me when I asked her about it that you and the other editors there were just girly boys.

GOLDBERG: In other words, I'm well aware of her shtick and how she goes for attention and how she's very successful at it. It's a great little cottage industry she's created about herself for herself.

KURTZ: Was this censorship by the "National Review?

GOLDBERG: I know Ann purports to be a great constitutional scholar, but what she calls censorship was actually editors trying to work with her and her being unwilling or unable to work with editors because instead what she wanted to do was go out and be bop and scat all over her friends to make a buck on shows like "Politically Incorrect".

COTTLE: I think the best description of Ann I've seen is really the blogger Andrew Sullivan, had up on his Web site this week, she's a drag queen impersonating a fascist which I think gets to the heart of -- you can't even think she believes half of this stuff she's talking about.

TUMULTY: You do have to wonder if her accusing somebody of being a millionaire, a harpie and a witch is actually a compliment.

KURTZ: Let me interrupt for one moment here for just a little bit of weather news for those watching the coast of Florida, tropical -- Alberto, which had been a depression has now been upgraded to a tropical storm, a tropical storm. I have a feeling we'll be hearing more about this. So we want to keep our viewers up-to-date on that situation. Let me play a little bit from Ann Coulter defending herself on Lou Dobbs this past week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: What if I say to you that I think that you're marketing books with some of these outrageous remarks, nothing wrong with that, but how much of it is heartfelt and how much of it is pretty sophisticated writing, pretty sophisticated...

COULTER: I'd like to say I was that clever at marketing, but no. I've always talked this way. I've always written this way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: But the reason she's become this phenomenon Karen Tumulty to use your word, she gets to be on the cover of "Time." She gets to be on "The Today Show," is because she does take this approach of not just making strong, aggressive conservative arguments like about victim identity politics, but because she attacks people in very harsh and personal ways. So doesn't it seem to you that we're all kind of enabling her? I mean to some extent we're doing it by having this...

TUMULTY: And we are, right, exactly. And in some ways you sometimes wonder if like Ann Coulter is the only person here who gets the joke.

KURTZ: Except it's not very funny. I would argue, when you're talking about people who have lost a loved one in a terrorist attack, is there a line of decency that commentators left and right should not cross or is that a kind of an old fashioned notion that there are certain things we shouldn't say?

GOLDBERG: I think one can be provocative in all these sorts of things and I've gotten a lot of criticism for some of the things I've written, but I think at some point good manners kicks in and decency kicks in, the point about Ann who I think is a very smart person and knows what she's doing. The thing to keep in mind about Ann is that she is not persuading anybody.

KURTZ: Except possibly people who buy her books.

GOLDBERG: Those people already agree with her. It is preaching to the choir sort of thing. If you show up -- I follow her around on the speaking circuit on college campuses quite a bit and if anybody's on the fence when they go in to an Ann Coulter talk, they leave disagreeing with her because she doesn't want to persuade people. She wants to give red meat to the troops. And there's a role in that, I just think she goes too far in doing it.

KURTZ: Bottom line, are media organizations willing to say there is a line in discourse and we won't interview people who make fun of widows who lost their husbands in a monstrous act of terrorism or do media organizations, simply unwilling to do that because they like good television and they like good cover stories and so forth.

COTTLE: Yes, option B and what they will do...

KURTZ: Isn't that embarrassing to you as a member of this profession?

COTTLE: They will say this is so shocking we can't believe it, roll the tape.

KURTZ: It's like Janet Jackson's breast. They'll play it 500 times. Everybody can be shocked but meanwhile...

COTTLE: So you'll all be appalled at how horrible it is.

GOLDBERG: Michael Savage doesn't get any attention anymore. And he had a show on MSNBC. He says equally outrageous and all sorts of things. Part of the issue is also that Ann is very photogenic and people like to see her on television.

COTTLE: Whenever a pretty woman is saying something she gets a lot more attention. I mean this is the same thing as the (INAUDIBLE)

GOLDBERG: "Time" showed a lot of her legs on that cover story.

TUMULTY: She complained all the way to the bank about it, yes.

KURTZ: We'll hold it there, Karen Tumulty, Jonah Goldberg, Michelle Cottle, thanks very much for joining us.

Up next, it's not your traditional newscast, but Amanda Congdon has hundreds of thousands of online fans. What's her secret? We'll ask her in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: We are just getting word from the National Hurricane Center that Alberto has been upgraded to a tropical storm, the first of the 2006 hurricane season. Alberto is about 400 miles west of Key West, Florida. We'll be tracking that for you in the coming days.

All right. Looks like Amanda Congdon, she looks like a TV anchor, well, except for the T-shirt, but she's not any network. Her daily program called "Rocketboom" is a video blog recorded in a tiny Manhattan apartment and is seen online by an average of 300,000 people which is more than most local newscasts and higher than the circulation of many newspapers. Rocketboom, has, shall we say, a unique sensibility.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AMANDA CONGDON, ROCKETBOOM.COM: I feel like the 6:00 news just ain't cutting it for you? Maybe it's because they often take so long to discuss irrelevant facts when all you really need to know is in the headline. Let's see how fast we can plow through all of this info.

Praying woman struck by lightning. See, you can wonder why all you want, but that's all you need to know. Praying woman, struck by lightning.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: And Amanda Congdon joins us now from San Francisco. Welcome.

CONGDON: Hello.

KURTZ: We'll start with a personal question. How old are you?

CONGDON: I'm 24.

KURTZ: That's outrageous. When I was 24 I was practicing in front of a mirror. How would you describe your program Rocketboom? Is it a forum for your opinions? Is it just for the chance for you to have a lot of fun?

CONGDON: Rocketboom is a daily three-to-five minute news show, but we often break the format. We have 11 correspondents all over the U.S. and in Africa, Prague and then we kind of jump into a sketched comedy format on Fridays. So it's really fun because we don't have any real restrictions. We can kind of play with it.

KURTZ: Are you a journalist or do you just impersonate one on the Internet?

CONGDON: Yeah. I'm about as much of a journalist as Jon Stewart.

KURTZ: Would you like to have a TV show? Is this just one step on your career ladder, start on the Internet and then move up into the mainstream media world?

CONGDON: You know, I'm interested in television, but video blogging is really -- it's such a fun medium and I'm definitely going stick with it and continue to do Rocketboom and we're interested in creating other video blogs and making a bunch of different new media outlets.

KURTZ: Let's hope talk about the economics of this. How much does it cost to do a typical episode of Rocketboom?

CONGDON: Well, other than the cost of people's time, it's just basically the cost of tapes and the initial setup of a laptop and a consumer-level camera.

KURTZ: So it's incredibly cheap.

CONGDON: Incredibly cheap.

KURTZ: Will we see thousands of people now trying to be the next Amanda Congdon and putting their videos on these various sites and trying to get people to watch?

CONGDON: You know, I've been doing this since late 2004 and I'm still waiting for the influx of people doing their shows. There's a lot of people doing personal diary video blogs, but I think we'll see it evolve just as we've seen blogs evolve. So sooner or later we're going to see a lot more topical video blogs.

KURTZ: We just saw you making fun of the 6:00 p.m. newscasts. We just need the headlines instead of giving you all this incredibly boring details. What do you think of the "CBS Evening News" or "NBC Nightly News" or "The Situation Room," do you as a 24-year old...

CONGDON: I actually enjoy "The Situation Room" a lot.

KURTZ: We didn't ask you to say that by the way.

CONGDON: No, that's actually true. I wouldn't say that otherwise. There's, of course, there's a lot to be said for more in- depth coverage. We have a very short format and we think that a lot of things, a lot of information really can be presented more quickly than it is presented in longer formats.

KURTZ: But do you think a lot of television news is too straight, too boring, too tradition bound? Is that one of the reasons you're experimenting with this different form?

CONGDON: I think that younger audiences are really going to blogs and going to video blogs because they do like that honest, candid approach and when they feel like they can get to know someone that they're really involved with the site, I think that they become more interested in what's going on.

KURTZ: Now, some months ago you had an interview with John Edwards, the former vice president candidate. Let's show our viewers a little bit of that. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONGDON: I have a lot of Republicans that watch my show and, yeah, and I like to alienate them, and I was wondering, do you have any -- I don't know, suggestions on how I can get along with them better?

JOHN EDWARDS: Get along with the Republicans?

CONGDON: Yes.

EDWARDS: No.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Why do you think John Edwards agreed to sit down with you?

CONGDON: Actually I had interviewed John Edwards three times. He's really just wants to get involved with new media. He has a pod cast, a blog, a video blog, he's really reaching out. Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel now has a video podcast, a weekly video podcast, so we're just going to see more and more politicians use this as a medium to get out and meet people.

KURTZ: Not everybody is in love with the show. "Chicago Tribune" columnist Steve Johnson wrote that it involves drab writing, a self-conscious performance, that would be by you and the real secret to the show's popularity is that it has an anchor that people want to look at. Your response?

CONGDON: That's interesting criticism, but there are a lot of other clones of Rocketboom that are not doing quite as well and they all have attractive anchorwomen.

KURTZ: I can't let you go without asking you this one penetrating question. Why do you keep flipping your hair on the webcast?

CONGDON: It's just kind of one of those quirky things that we started doing early on in 2004 and people seem to like it. So we switch to camera two and switch to camera one, kind of exaggerating the original kind of stereotypes of anchors.

KURTZ: Can you give us a quick demonstration?

CONGDON: All right.

KURTZ: Only on CNN will you see that. Amanda Congdon, thanks very much for joining us this morning.

CONGDON: Thank you!

KURTZ: When we come back, the picture worth at least a thousand words and four million big ones. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: We all like looking at cute babies, but $4 million. You what I'm talking about. "People" magazine paying that astronomical sum for the first pictures of the Brangelina baby.

I can't accuse Brad and Angelina are being greed heads. They're giving the money to charity and "People," which is raising the price of this issue by 50 cents has obviously calculated that it won't lose money by marketing these photos. But how in the name of Hollywood did we become a country so celebrity obsessed, so utterly smitten by movie stars and their courtships and weddings and break-ups and births that shock of the newborn child could command a sum that most Americans won't earn in their life times.

Well it's the media, stupid, giant portions of which have turned into shameless publicity machines for Brad and Angelina and Tom and Katie and Jen and Julia and Jessica and made us believe they are endlessly fascinating figures and more than that, that we know them.

That is an illusion, but as the "People" deal makes clear, a very lucrative one. I mean, why should a shot of Pitt and Jolie's kid be worth a zillion times more than a picture of this incredibly cute baby who I happen to know quite personally. I for one, don't even think it's close. 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. "Late Edition" with Wolf Blitzer begins right now.

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