Skip to main content
U.S. Edition


Return to Transcripts main page


What Are Media Challenges in Covering North Korea?; Media Revolution in the Making?

Aired July 9, 2006 - 10:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: Secret society. As North Korea's missile test causes an international uproar, how will the media cover a country that bars most western journalists and carefully controls the few who are let in?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nowhere without the controllers.

KURTZ: Are we getting an accurate picture of one of the world's most closed cultures and its strange leader, Kim Jong-Il.

Video voyeurs, the explosive growth of web sites like YouTube, means that people can put up wild and crazy amateur films, news clips and political propaganda. Is this a media revolution in the making?

This loyal Democrat, Joe Lieberman under fire from liberal bloggers for backing the war in Iraq, says he'll run as an independent if he loses Connecticut's Democratic primary. Has the press turned on the former vice presidential nominee?

Plus, why dying was a bad career move for Ken Lay.


KURTZ: Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES where today we turn our critical lens on the coverage of North Korea. I'm Howard Kurtz.

If it were any other hot spot in the world -- Iran, Somalia, the West Bank -- journalists would be getting on planes and reporting from the scene, but when North Korea conducted missile tests this week during a rebuke from President Bush and some frantic diplomacy at the United Nations, the journalism was practiced from a distance since the famously reclusive Kim Jong-Il has closed off to the western media. That, of course, didn't stop the pundits from talking about North Korea and the administration's cautious response.


MICHAEL GOODWIN, "NEW YORK DAILY NEWS": I think you're dealing with a madman; you're dealing with a kook, frankly, who's got nuclear weapons. And I don't think anyone has an answer. I don't think there's a silver bullet for dealing with North Korea right now.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: The president is saying this process is agonizingly slow. With all due respect, it's agonizingly useless and slow.

TERRY JEFFREY, EDITOR, "HUMAN EVENTS": This is a rogue regime that we have to deal with in some other means, and simply as Howard Dean says, send someone over to chat with him.


KURTZ: But with a communist country largely off limits, has the coverage and criticism been less than fully informed? I spoke earlier with two journalists who have spent time talking in North Korea.


KURTZ: Joining us in New York, Nicholas Kristof, columnist for the "New York Times", and here in Washington, Robin Wright, who covers national security for the "Washington Post".

Nick Kristof, you were in North Korea last year, your second trip there. You described it as the most bizarre and oppressive country in the world. How much were you able to see in that notoriously closed society?

NICHOLAS KRISTOF, "NEW YORK TIMES": Very little, and in fact, I think I saw less in 2005 than I was allowed to see on my first visit back in 1989. You know, in some ways, maybe there had been some regress, and what really struck me was, at about the same time that I was inside North Korea and I was so proud of getting in, Barbara Demick, from the "L.A. Times", was covering North Korea from the China border area, outside the country, and it was less glamorous, but she actually got a much better picture of North Korean society than I did.

KURTZ: Interesting.

Robin Wright, you were in North Korea six years ago with Madeleine Albright, then-secretary of state. How much were you able to learn about what makes that place tick?

ROBIN WRIGHT, "WASHINGTON POST": Well, it was very interesting, because the United States had portrayed the Great Leader as someone who -- or, Dear Leader as someone who before had been closed off, isolated. He was reputed to be a lush playboy who had blood transfusions from young virgins to prevent the aging process.

KURTZ: He wasn't getting great P.R., in other words.

WRIGHT: No, and after we arrived, suddenly they discovered this man who one senior U.S. official described as shrewd, engaging, farsighted, that he was decisive and practical and that he was coming into his own.

They told wonderful vignettes about the human side of this fellow, who'd been so off limits to us: that he loved basketball, and Madeleine Albright brought him an autographed basketball from Michael Jordan. And he talked about the Oscar buzz and movies and how he couldn't watch "Titanic" twice because it was so sad.

There was suddenly this reverse -- total reversal of perception about who this man was.

KURTZ: Doesn't that raise an interesting point, Nick Kristof, which is the degree to which the media image of somebody like Kim Jong-Il is shaped by the political predilections of the administration in power. We just heard about what the Clinton White House did to kind of humanize the Dear Leader, but of course President Bush has called him a pygmy, said he loathes Kim Jong-Il, so how much of that influences what people write and broadcast?

KRISTOF: Probably too much. I mean, I think we tend to listen too much to State Department officials or to people in, you know, in think tanks who all kind of talk to each other. And you know, not very many of them have actually been in North Korea or in that China border area and have a legitimate sense of what's going on. Probably in that situation, you'll be talking more to South Korean officials, for example, or to Chinese officials.

KURTZ: It this was happening any other place, Robin Wright, reporters like you would be on a plane to a place like Iran. But North Korea of course, you can't just decide to go there. So what's the difference between coverage of a nuclear dispute with North Korea, which is largely off limits, and say, Iran, which is not?

WRIGHT: You know, I go to Iran all the time, and I find great access to senior officials to talk about the nuclear issue, as well as, you know, people within the religious clergy, who are talking about why Iran needs a nuclear -- peaceful nuclear energy program.

KURTZ: Is that because they care how their side is portrayed by the Western press? In a way that North Korea does not?

WRIGHT: Very much so. They are two -- so totally different, North Korea being the most isolated country in the world. And Iran is not an easy country to get into, but in fact, I can't think of a colleague who hasn't been able to get in. Not always every time you want to, but we all -- they want to talk. And that's a stark contrast.

KURTZ: Nick Kristof, you wrote in your "New York Times" column last year -- this was about the six-country talks then going on over North Korea's nuclear development -- "Mr. Bush is being suckered. These talks are unlikely to get anywhere, and they simply give the North time to add to its nuclear capability." Did you have some kind of secret intelligence?

KRISTOF: No, but I think that it was pretty clear that there was very little prospect of a real peace deal between the Bush administration and the Kim Jong-Il administration.

And I do think that the fundamental thing we need to be worried about is not so much missile launches, but rather their on-going plutonium program. And every day they're churning out more plutonium. They're building two new plants. They're going to increase their capacity to produce plutonium. And that is something we that haven't covered as well, and that we haven't paid attention to as much. KURTZ: Now, on Friday, President Bush held a news conference in Chicago. He got a number of questions on the situation in North Korea, including this one, from CNN's Suzanne Malveaux. Let's take a listen.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Why shouldn't Americans see the U.S. policy regarding North Korea as a failed one?

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Because it takes time to get things done.

MALVEAUX: What objective has the U.S. government achieved, when it comes to North Korea, and why does the administration continue to go back to the same platform process, if it's not effective in changing North Korea's behavior? Thank you.

BUSH: Suzanne, these problems didn't arise overnight, and they don't get solved overnight.


KURTZ: Now there have been similar questions asked all week by various reporters. Is there a tendency in the American media to want a sort of instant solution to complicated foreign policy problems?

WRIGHT: Well, that's kind of the American mentality; we want -- you know, we get involved in one issue, we want to see it to resolution, whether it's Iraq or North Korea, or Iran's nuclear program. Absolutely.

The fact is, though, that this is one which there are no easy solutions for the administration. They're not going to sweeten the deal. They're not going to -- you know, they're finding real opposition from the Chinese and Russians on sanctions. And there are just limitations.

And so this is a difficult issue to cover, even from the diplomatic side of it.

KURTZ: If there are no easy solutions, Nick Kristof, why do we keep getting questions and commentary about, "Well, the policy has failed," "Why isn't Bush doing something about the North Korea threat"?

KRISTOF: Well, I would take issue with that just a little bit. And I think all the options are awful. And there were a lot of difficulties with the Clinton program toward North Korea. You know, the easiest thing to do is to be a columnist and be able to criticize any North Korean policy. The most difficult thing is to actually have one.

But that said, you know, at this point, the Bush administration has been around for more than five years, and we've seen things steadily get worse, vis-a-vis North Korea. During the eight years of the Clinton administration, they didn't produce any new plutonium or weapons. They did start an enriched uranium program, but there was no progress on plutonium. They had two at the beginning of the Clinton administration and about two at the end.

On the other hand, in the Bush administration, they've gone up from two to somewhere around eight, we believe -- as best we can figure out. And you know, they're on a path to produce many, many more in the years ahead.

So I think that, you know, there's more of an abject failure in our present policy, than there would be in -- if we followed some other kind of bad policies.

KURTZ: The two of you are in kind of a select journalistic group in that you've both been to North Korea. Most reporters have not. So I'm wondering, when you channel surf or listen to the various pundits, whether you think there's a lot of uninformed commentary about North Korea, because, you know, even people like you who have been there are very candid to admit you know very little about what makes the place work.

WRIGHT: There is probably more hot air blown over North Korea than any other country in the world because there is so little known about it.

KURTZ: That's pretty -- go ahead, Nick.

KRISTOF: Yes. I would agree with that, but I do -- I do think that one should be careful about suggesting that the way to find out about North Korea is actually to go to it.

You know, it was striking that in China, for example, that you had the worst famine in world history in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and that famine was covered pretty well by people who were outside China, based in Hong Kong, talking to refugees. It was covered incredibly badly by reporters who were inside China.

And likewise, I think, that in many ways, the best way to really report China (sic) today, is by talking to refugees who are outside the country and can talk freely, rather than by going to Pyongyang.

You know, and it's great to do, it's exciting to see and it's exciting to go in homes and see a speaker on every wall that issues propaganda. But fundamentally, at the end of the day, it's really hard to gauge what is going along when you're shown one Potemkin village after another.

KURTZ: And I guess when people are afraid to talk in a totalitarian regime, Robin Wright?

WRIGHT: Well, it's extraordinary. You can walk down the street and people will not even look at you. You are a foreigner, and they don't want to be seen in any way to engage. It's stunning.

KURTZ: Before we go, Nick Kristof, I want to ask you about one other issue: on Friday, an FBI official criticized the "New York Daily News" for revealing that there was an arrest and there was a plot to potentially blow up the Holland Tunnel in New York or other tunnels, and not clear how far along that plot was.

But you wrote this week about your own newspaper's controversy, that secret banking program, that was revealed by the "New York Times" and the "Los Angeles Times" and others. And you said that you thought the program was legal and sensible and that you might not have made the same decision to publish it, and in fact that you have withheld, recently, information about secret terrorist communications. So talk a little bit about how difficult these decisions are.

KRISTOF: Well, I think they're tremendously difficult. And it's a judgment call, and it's a tradeoff. I also want to say that, while my, you know, instinct is that I might have decided the banking transaction reporting issue differently, that I have tremendous respect for the editors of the "New York Times", the "Los Angeles Times", the "Wall Street Journal", and so on, who did publish these stories.

So it's hard to figure out where we draw the line. I might...

KURTZ: Just briefly, was it a difficult decision in your own case to withhold what you described as "secret terrorist communications"?

KRISTOF: Not really. You know, I -- it had to do with information that our intelligence community knew about how terrorists communicate. We don't know if they know that we know that, and so, you know, it was a balance of, on the one hand, it would be nice to inform the readers a little bit more. On the other hand, if that would lead terrorists to stop communicating through that mechanism, then that would be a real cost.

And so in trying to weigh those things, it seemed pretty clear to me that it was not worth going ahead and reporting that.

KURTZ: People sometimes don't realize the things that don't get published.

Nicholas Kristof, Robin Wright, thanks very much for joining us.

Later on, you can catch CNN correspondents Barbara Starr, Richard Roth and others, talking more about North Korea's missile launches, later on "THIS WEEK AT WAR" at 1 p.m. Eastern.

Coming up next on RELIABLE SOURCES, Joe Lieberman under assault from liberal bloggers, debates his Democratic opponent amid a torrent of negative commentary of his decision to consider an Independent candidacy. A veteran reporter for Connecticut's largest newspaper joins us. That's next.


KURTZ: We're back to RELIABLE SOURCES when Ned Lamont launched his primary campaign against Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, liberal bloggers were quick to back the political unknown, with Markos Moulitsas, the man behind the Daily Kos's web site, even appearing in an ad for Lamont.

Now the contest has joined national media coverage with MSNBC carrying a debate between the two men this week and Lieberman announcing he'll run as an Independent if he loses next month's Democratic primary.

How is the intense press scrutiny affecting the race? Joining us now is David Lightman, the Washington bureau chief for the "Hartford Courant". Welcome.

Liberal bloggers have just been ripping Lieberman in harsh and personal terms, mainly over the war. How much impact have these bloggers had in helping Ned Lamont?

DAVID LIGHTMAN, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "HARTFORD COURANT": Tremendous amount of impact. They've given him credibility; they've given him stature. They've, frankly, raised money.

One of the most telling incidents came about a month ago when the Take Back America conference met here in Washington, and Lamont was No. 4 of four speakers in this all-star lineup. It was lunchtime. We reporters were just saying, a-ha! You know, this is going to be -- Lamont is going to just go into the tank here.

No, they knew this guy. They wanted to see him. He threw out the red meat; they loved him. And it instantly made Lamont even more of a national figure.

KURTZ: Three months ago did Connecticut reporters have an inkling, who after all, was the party's vice presidential nominee less than six years ago, would be in this kind of tight race?

LIGHTMAN: No, I don't think so. And remember, Joe Lieberman has been winning elections routinely in Connecticut since 1970, when he ran for the state Senate as an insurgent (ph) against an entrenched incumbent and won. Bill Clinton helped him out there.

The only time Joe Lieberman ever lost in Connecticut was in 1980 when he made a bid for Congress, and you could arguably say that was part of the Ronald Reagan landslide.

KURTZ: Right. Now CNN's John King spoke to Senator Lieberman earlier this week, right after he announced that he would run as an Independent this fall if necessary. Let's take a look at that.


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR/CORRESPONDENT: Critics are saying if you're a loyal Democrat and you're running in the Democratic primary, then why won't you be bound by the results? Why won't you honor the votes of the Democrats if you lose and just support your opponent?

LIEBERMAN: Let me give you two reasons. The first is I am very loyal to the Democratic Party, but I have a loyalty higher than that to my party: that is to my state and my country.


KURTZ: How big an issue has this been for local news organizations, Lieberman considering an independent candidacy?

LIGHTMAN: Huge. When it broke our political reporter, Mark Pazniokas wrote it, stripped across the top of the paper, on and on is the debate.

The question in Connecticut is how much does this reverberate with voters? Is it an inside game here? In other words, will voters go to the polls and say, "I don't like the fact he's going to be an Independent"? Or is that something we journalists and, again, analysts like to play around with?

KURTZ: Right. Now it also has generated a lot of coverage of other Democrats, Hillary Clinton, for example, John Kerry, among others, saying they won't support Lieberman if he loses the Democratic primary. Are they just coming out on their own, or are reporters going to these other Democrats and saying, "Will you support Joe Lieberman if he's not the Democratic nominee"?

LIGHTMAN: You'll appreciate this. One of the -- I don't know if I'd call it fun, but one of the more enjoyable stories I had to do that week before the Senate went out was running around the halls of the Senate asking Democratic senators just that question, "What would you do?" And you never saw senators run for the elevators so fast.

KURTZ: They didn't want to answer your question?

LIGHTMAN: Oh, gosh no. No, no. Only a few did. To his credit, Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska said, "Yes, I'm supporting Lieberman, win or lose, in the primary."

KURTZ: It's an awkward position for these other Democrats.

LIGHTMAN: It's a very awkward position. Senator Schumer, Senator Dodd: "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it."

KURTZ: All right. Now, the news from Iraq continues to be grim. Just today we are told four more U.S. soldiers charged in the rape and murder of an Iraqi teenager and the killing of her family. More of the death toll continues to rise.

How much is Lieberman's position, support of the Iraq war, driving his problems in the race and driving the coverage in Connecticut?

LIGHTMAN: The -- this is one of the things we don't know. Is this race a referendum on Iraq or is it a referendum on Joe Lieberman? Now, if it's a referendum on Iraq, then Lieberman has a huge problem. If it's a referendum on the senator who's represented the state for 17 1/2 years, that's different.

KURTZ: How is the "Hartford Courant" playing it?

LIGHTMAN: We just go out there and cover the news and do the best we can. We see it so far as both, frankly, and we're just sort of watching how the race develops.

KURTZ: Both a referendum on Lieberman, a referendum on Iraq, but not necessarily a referendum on Ned Lamont, a wealthy Greenwich businessman who no one had ever heard of before.

LIGHTMAN: Well, Lieberman has tried to turn it that way. In fact, again, our people in Connecticut did a terrific story about the fact that Lieberman is saying Lamont's a wealthy businessman. Lieberman isn't exactly somebody living in public housing either.

KURTZ: All right.

LIGHTMAN: And we detailed that.

KURTZ: Then we move onto this: over the years has Joe Lieberman had what you'd say a comfortable relationship with home state reporters?

LIGHTMAN: Speaking as the one who was responsible for his coverage, yes, he and I have clashed often over a number of things, particularly during his presidential bid and his vice presidential bid. We would point out where his positions seemed inconsistent on a number of topics over the years.

KURTZ: Has it gotten more tense in these last couple months?

LIGHTMAN: Not more tense, no. I'd say it's about on the same level.

KURTZ: All right. We're going to leave it there. David Lightman, "Hartford Courant", thanks very much for joining us.

Up next, Ann Coulter under scrutiny for allegations of plagiarism. The editors who revealed the administration's secret banking program not all singing from the same page. The latest from the world of media news just ahead.


KURTZ: Checking now in the world of media news, "New York Times" editor Bill Keller and the "Los Angeles Times" editor Dean Baquet joined forces last weekend with a joint op-ed piece, defending their decision to expose the administration's secret program for investigating banking records.

But "Editor & Publisher" now reports that two other top newspaper editors who ran the story refused to sign on. "Washington Post" editor Glen Downey said papers should make their arguments independently, and "Wall Street Journal" managing editor Paul Steiger says his situation was different because treasury officials who asked Keller and Baquet to withhold the story did not make that request to the "Journal".

Former ABC correspondent Richard Gizbert says the network let him go because he refused to go to Iraq. ABC says that's not true, that all such assignments are voluntary and that Gizbert was a freelancer let go for financial reasons.

An employment tribunal in London, which decided the case in his favor, this week awarding Gizbert $180,000, which he found a disappointment, because he'd asked for nearly $4 million. ABC is appealing the ruling.

MSNBC should be commended for providing live coverage of that Connecticut Senate debate the other night between Joe Lieberman and Democratic challenger Ned Lamont. But what in the world was the network doing putting up an Internet poll in the middle of the debate, showing that more than two-thirds of those who bothered to comment on its web site thought Lamont was winning? Those supposed surveys are scientifically useless, and this was an absurd distraction.

Ann Coulter, or the blond bomb thrower, as the "New York Post" calls her, is facing a new controversy. Universal Press Syndicated, which distributes Coulter's newspaper column, says it's looking into a "Post" report on numerous allegations of plagiarism in her columns and her new book "Godless". The publisher of "Godless" dismissed the allegations, and Coulter, no fan of the "New York Times", responded by calling the tabloid "Post" "New York's second crappiest newspaper."

Ahead in the second half hour of RELIABLE SOURCES, was the Iran hostage crisis the turning point for the modern television business? We'll talk to author of "Guests of the Ayatollah."

And YouTube, the wildly popular web site that lets anyone post chins online. Is this the start of a media revolution?

All that and more after a check of the hour's top stories from the CNN center in Atlanta.



In television news, we control the picture, but on web sites like and Google Video, you, that is anyone with a computer, decide what footage people get to see. And the interest in this sort of do-it-yourself filmmaking is exploding; some 60,000 new videos posted on YouTube every day.

Here's a sample.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): Come on, Barbie. Let's go party.




KURTZ: Some of the postings are clips of what's already appeared on TV, but they can reach hundreds of thousands of people who may have missed the original program. And the networks are taking note. NBC recently signed a deal with YouTube to put up clips promoting its fall lineup, as Brian Williams noted on "Nightly News".


BRIAN WILLIAMS, ANCHOR, "NBC NIGHTLY NEWS": It's not so much a destination as it is a collection of video clips. They come from all over, some of them from this network, which didn't always like the idea, but then YouTube became an obsession among the young.


KURTZ: So are these web sites just harmless fun or a new kind of citizen journalism in the making?

Joining me now in New York, Jeff Jarvis, a veteran newspaper and magazine editor who blogs at In Knoxville, Glen Reynolds, University of Tennessee law professor who blogs at and is the author of the new book "An Army of Davids". And in San Francisco, Molly Wood, executive editor of the -- of Welcome to all.

Jeff Jarvis, 60,000 new videos every single day on YouTube. What explains the amazing popularity of these web sites?

JEFF JARVIS, BUZZMACHINE.COM: Because we can, Howie. We simply can.

There's a huge opportunity for big media here. I think, with all due respect, CNN is a fool not to put this very show up on YouTube, because then it would get distributed. I would get to watch from my iPod or (inaudible) it on my blog.

When Jon Stewart came on "CROSSFIRE" on CNN to kill it -- bless his little heart -- he got 150,000 viewers on CNN at that time. The segment then went on the Internet, where I estimate it's been seen by 10 million people, all by the way, a lot younger.

KURTZ: CNN, like the other networks, is in the business of making money. Why would it want to give away for free its contest on some of these other sites?

JARVIS: So put an ad on that clip, and count the -- you can't even count it all. Fine. You're going to get a hell of a lot more with 10 million than you get with 150,000 on CNN. You will make money this way. It's a new way to distribute.

It's also a new way to get content. WKRN-TV in Nashville, one of the leaders in this world, just announced this week that they're going to pay bloggers, video bloggers, for segments that end up on the air. So they're going to have all kinds of new content.

Journalism is about being a network now, and everybody is part of the network.

KURTZ: All right. Glen Reynolds, some of these clips, as we saw a moment ago, are just plain more fun. But there's more serious stuff, as well. So do you see a new form of citizen journalism emerging?

GLEN REYNOLDS, INSTAPUNDIT.COM: Absolutely. In fact, I think what you're seeing is that -- we're now seeing with video what we saw with text with the blogging revolution a few years ago. And I've been predicting for several years that this would take off, and it just required the tools to get easy enough, as with blogging, for ordinary people to do it.

I think it's really gone a long way, and the power of letting people choose what they see or hear and when is really great. I mean, I do a podcast with my wife more or less weekly, and some of our episodes have been downloaded over a million times. That's really because people get them when they want to and don't have to tune in over a particular hour.

KURTZ: Over a million times. That's a lot better than a lot of cable shows do. So, clearly this has a certain appeal.

Molly Wood, is this, in your view, a fad or the beginning of a new era? And you know, are these sites going to be able to make enough money from advertising to sustain themselves?

MOLLY WOOD, CNET.COM: Well, I think definitely video on the Internet is the beginning of a new era. Whether YouTube will survive seems to still be in question. There's an IBC (ph) report that says that its users may never accept advertising, either on the page or in the videos. And so we'll just have to wait and see how...

KURTZ: That's a report from an analyst group? That's a report from...

WOOD: An analyst group, yes, sorry.


WOOD: So we'll have to see how users respond to the idea of these sites trying to have a business model. But as to whether it's going to change the way we do media, absolutely and permanently.

KURTZ: Now, some of your online commentary on CNET also gets posted on YouTube. In fact, I'm going to play a few seconds of it right now.


WOOD: I just can't take it anymore. Ahh! Ahh! Stupid!


KURTZ: What are you doing to that poor cell phone?

WOOD: And thanks so much for showing that. You know, that -- we at are experimenting with trying to get that, as you know, as it's referred to, user-generated content. And that's a promotion for a series that we're doing called rage, where we're hoping that people will send us video of their fury with their tech products. And I'm just trying to demonstrate that in a therapeutic way.

KURTZ: Clearly very therapeutic. It seems like you were having a good time.

Jeff Jarvis, you talked about the impact on the networks. Now all networks are putting some video content online, the broadcast networks putting their nightly newscasts online and so forth. CNN has a pipeline service: $25 a year, you get a lot of video.

But you seem to feel pretty strongly that this should all be free and that that will help the network sort of extend their so-called brand.

JARVIS: Sure. I mean, CNN now has a web site that's free that has tons of stuff on it. How do they make money? Advertising.

You're going to extend the brand and extend the content around the world. You have new opportunities now to also have your audience distribute with you. You don't just put on and come to CNN in stream. That's better than saying you can only watch this show one time in the whole week, and then it becomes fish wrap.

But then why not put it out for the world to distribute for you? With ads attached to it. I think there's a tremendous business opportunity for the media.

What really happens now is the network model is falling apart because networks were about controlling distribution and controlling content. And the truth is, that's blown apart. A real network is people who recommend stuff to me. Glen Reynolds at Instapundit is a network, because he tells me what to watch across all media.

KURTZ: That very nicely sets up my question to Glen Reynolds, which is even if you're the world's biggest slacker, nobody can look at 60,000 new videos a day. So don't you still need editors or critics on gatekeepers, kind of what you do with blogs, to tell people, "Well, this is worth your time. You ought to look at this one. Or you ought to look at these five"?

REYNOLDS: You do, but what you really need are friends to recommend stuff based on what they know about you or based on what you know about them. And that's the kind of sort of collaborative filtering that Amazon does very well, that a number of web sites do very well. And I think that's the kind of thing you're going to see more of.

I really agree with Jeff. And I want to note that when blogs were new there was a lot of question as to whether blog readers would accept ads. And in fact, now if you look out, all the blogs have ads pretty much. So I think that's not likely to be an issue.

Where there's an audience, there's money to be made. And I think people will find a way to make money.

KURTZ: So this is interesting, Glen. You're saying that, rather than have people from the journalistic priesthood, people who get paid money to look at content, be the gate keepers, it should be your friends, that this is a whole sort of social networking approach to what -- what media you consume?

REYNOLDS: I think that's right. And I think what people at CNN think is important, is one thing I might care about, but what somebody I know and trust thinks is important is also something I care about. So I think that people are going to get their news and their choices toward news from a lot of different sources, not from just a few. And I think that's good.

JARVIS: Howie, you can be a friend, too. In fact you are. In your column in the "Washington Post"...

REYNOLDS: Absolutely.

JARVIS: ... you really are not a gatekeeper now; you are a moderator showing people lots of good stuff.

KURTZ: OK. Well, I like to think that I have a lot of friends out there, though I certainly have a detractors, too. But you're using friend in a different sense. You're using friend as somebody who -- I mean, a lot of these sites like MySpace and Facebook are built on the notion that people want to have lots of friends that they're connected to.

And now they can do what in the past only the networks can do. They can say, "Hey, look that this cool interview that aired on '60 Minutes' last week." And they can send them a video link.

JARVIS: What better promotion can they have? It's really about trust. As journalists become moderators, rather than just lecturers, they're going to try to find the best stuff anywhere, through links to reporting, through all kinds of ways. It's a new role, I think, for media, but it also says that, yes, every one of us can play that same role and find the good stuff for you.

KURTZ: Molly Wood, a great example of what we're talking about was we actually played it on this show a couple of weeks ago. Connie Chung did this singing farewell on her MSNBC show, a little off-key, in my view. And that got downloaded on the Internet on some of these sites a half a million times.

What gives some of these clips just this viral quality, where everybody wants to see them?

WOOD: Well, it's interesting because you can kind of never predict what's going to be a hit. I mean, obviously, the sublimely ridiculous is always going to be a hit, and I think that's what Connie pulled off so well there.

But it seems to be about, you know, a bizarre sort of talent. It's not always someone famous. It's often some kid who's a phenomenal lip-syncher. And so you can never quite put your finger on what it is.

But I think Glen is absolutely right in that the difference between this and sort of so-called traditional media is that the Internet itself, these sites, the communities on these sites, act as this living, breathing recommendation engine that's constantly churning through new content. So while one person could never watch all of those 60,000 videos, the 80 million people or so a day who come to YouTube can easily dissect it among themselves and then tell each other what's good.

KURTZ: Yes, it's a medium where one 15-year-old can do a little amateur thing in his basement and lots and lots of people can see it.

Now I want to turn to show you the presence of politics on some of these sites. We'd like to show you two things that have run on YouTube. One is a clip from Craig Ferguson on "The Late Late Show", making fun, as you'll see, of President Bush. And there's a song parody involving Hillary Clinton, put up by I don't know who. Let's watch both of these.


CRAIG FERGUSON, HOST, CBS's "THE LATE LATE SHOW": Did you hear these rumors that President Bush is drinking again? Have you heard this? Take a look at this.

BUSH: I stood up here a year ago. And -- in one of my many press conferences...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): I can't wait.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): Look out world because here I come.


KURTZ: Jeff Jarvis, both of those are funny, I think, but is there a serious aspect of this in the sense that, as with blogs, if anybody can put up any kind of video trashing a politician, and does this notion of fairness just go out the window?

JARVIS: Well, politicians do that to each other, I think, pretty darn well. Yes, there's a place for humor in politics, but there's also a place for more information.

During the last presidential primaries, I listened to podcasts of the stump speeches of the presidential candidates, which was better than hearing a paragraph here and a paragraph there, peppered into stories over time. And I got to make a better judgment about where they stood.

I think the opportunity now is for the citizens to go out there with their camera phones and anything else and shoot politicians and put up more information, which again would be too much information, but my friends will point me to the good stuff.

KURTZ: Glen Reynolds, do you see this as opening up kind of the political system to the people who didn't have a voice, and now all you need is a camera?

REYNOLDS: Well, yes, absolutely. I think it also requires that readers and viewers and listeners beware and apply some judgment as to what they're going believe and what they're going to find funny, but that's always been the case.

I think what's really happening is the blurring of the lines between the producers of news and comedy and everything else and the consumers. Jerry Rosen (ph) wrote a piece not long ago about the people formerly known as the audience. And I think that's right. Now it's more of a collaborative relationship.

And smart people in your business will take advantage of that.

KURTZ: And will some of the smart people in this business be out of work if they can't figure out a way to catch this wave?

REYNOLDS: Well, I think if they can't figure out to a way to catch the wave, sure, absolutely.

KURTZ: All right. Molly Wood, I'm reminded of the old Andy Warhol line about fame in the future. I'm wondering if the new version is will everyone in America have a 15-minute video online. Do you see this as just continuing to spread?

WOOD: I think everyone -- I think everyone will eventually have that 15-minute online. Whether they become famous is another question.

But I think Glen's point is interesting, because one of the things that I think companies and traditional media purveyors and politicians need to watch out for, as they try to take advantage of this wave, try to catch the wave, is being false. I think this is a community that is extremely sensitive to attempts at manipulation.

California gubernatorial candidate Steve Wesley put about a three-minute video on YouTube in sort of an attempt to catch that viral wave.


WOOD: And it was, frankly, an abject failure. I mean, it was ridiculous. It was sort of overly produced to look unproduced. And there's you know...

KURTZ: We've got to go.

WOOD: I'm sorry.

KURTZ: It's a strange new world. We'll have to figure it out. WOOD: Anyway, be careful.

KURTZ: All right. Molly Wood, Jeff Jarvis, Glen Reynolds, thank you very much for joining us.

And just ahead, terrorism and television: how a historic crisis in Iran prompted a new kind of dramatic coverage. We'll talk to the author of "Black Hawk Down" about his new book, next.


KURTZ: It was the biggest media frenzy of its time. Dozens of Americans taken hostage in Iran and held for a heart-rending 444 days. From the day the crisis began in 1979 the networks covered it relentlessly, with Walter Cronkite signing off from CBS by announcing how many days the Americans had been held. Ted Koppel anchored an ABC show called "America Held Hostage" that ultimately turned into "Nightline".

Was this a turning point for television that created the mold for today's drama-driven coverage? Mark Bowden, the author of "Black Hawk Down", tackles this subject in his new book, "Guests of the Ayatollah: The First Battle in America's War with Militant Islam". He joined us earlier from Philadelphia.


KURTZ: Mark Bowden, welcome.


KURTZ: You write in this book that the hostage crisis in Iran was the first big national drama to play out night after night on television. Why did the networks not get tired of it?

BOWDEN: Well, it was a cliffhanger of a story. You had a small, third-world country, basically, holding the most powerful nation in the world hostage, and I think there was a great deal of suspense over what Iran was going to do with the hostages, and what Jimmy Carter was going to do to try to get the hostages back, and there was this, I think, heightening expectation that this whole confrontation was coming to a head, at some time, but no one was quite sure what it would be.

KURTZ: Now, what if there had been no television? Wouldn't this still have been a huge story in newspapers and magazines, and wouldn't it have continued to dominate the political agenda in the 1980 presidential election?

BOWDEN: Probably not to the extent that it did. I mean, newspapers and magazines are amplifiers in the same way that television is, but television is to, you know, a thousand degrees more or a million degrees more. Basically, it takes the drama of this episode and injects it into every -- the life of every American night after night. I think if this had happened before the advent of television, or even before the advent of satellite television broadcasts, that it would have been a big news story for a week or two. It would have gradually receded to the inside pages of the newspaper. The president wouldn't have felt the same kind of unrelenting pressure to resolve it and to act, and we would have read about it only when something significant happened. So...

KURTZ: Now, this of course is before cable news networks got underway, but what was the effect of someone like Walter Cronkite sitting in the CBS anchor chair night after night, and ending the broadcast by saying, "That's the way it is, day 247"?

BOWDEN: Well, it was -- in a sense, it was basically forcing the issue to the top of the president's foreign policy agenda, because in the real world, the fact that 52 Americans are kidnapped and being held hostage somewhere in the world is a sad and terrible event, and a dramatic one, but it isn't the most important thing that's happening in the world that the United States has to deal with.

KURTZ: But it was important enough for ABC to put Ted Koppel in charge of a new program called "America Held Hostage", which then became "Nightline".

BOWDEN: That's right. Well, I mean, TV, the media react to what draws viewers and readers, and I think that we'd had the success of "60 Minutes". I think some of the networks were beginning to realize the ratings potential of television news, and here was, you know, an amazing story with roots in just about every community in the United States that was a daily cliffhanger. So I don't really blame them for pursuing it. It's really just kind of the world we live in today.

KURTZ: You went back and interviewed some of the Iranian hostage-takers. Were they consciously playing to the American media to try to keep this story in the news?

BOWDEN: Absolutely. The event was conceived of as a sit-in, which is a media event. The idea was to attract television cameras and reporters and basically highlight their grievances against the United States and what they thought would thwart this plot that they believed the United States had to destroy their revolution. And actually, they succeeded beyond their wildest expectations. They became sort of the center of a global media event.

KURTZ: And how hard was it for a reporter to get access to these Iranian hostage-takers, especially given the current state of tense relations between the United States and Iran?

BOWDEN: It wasn't hard. At the same time they were tying Americans to chairs and threatening to execute them, they were inviting in NBC and ABC and CBS and print and radio reporters. There were literally hundreds of American reporters -- I know some of them personally.

KURTZ: No, I mean, how hard was it for you, in recent years, to get them to talk to you for this book? BOWDEN: It wasn't hard. I think that some of the ones who are no longer proud of their involvement in it shied away from being interviewed, but the people I sought out were generally pretty willing to talk to me, including some of the highest level officials in the Iranian government, and including some who are now critics of the regime.

KURTZ: It was my sense that, after that was finally over, that the media then played down some of the subsequent kidnappings, perhaps not wanting to play into the hands of those who were taking hostages. Would you agree with that?

BOWDEN: You know, I really don't know. I mean, it might just be, Howard, that the idea of kidnapping an American and holding him hostage was no longer as novel as it had been in Tehran.

KURTZ: You know, as you write in the book, this was really the first national exposure to Islamic fundamentalism, and America as the "Great Satan" and all of that, the first time news organizations had to grapple with this, something we now deal with all the time in Iraq and elsewhere. Did they do -- did the media do a less than terrific job in explaining this phenomenon to people back home?

BOWDEN: Yes, I think that that was definitely -- when I went back and reviewed all of the reporting, which was extensive, as we've said, there was very little in it that -- and there were exceptions -- but there was very little in it that explained to the American viewer where all of this Iranian anger came from and what the nature of this ideology was.

KURTZ: Something we've gotten a painful lesson in, all too often, since back in 1979-1980.

Mark Bowden, thanks very much for joining us.

BOWDEN: You're welcome, Howard.


KURTZ: When we come back, Enron's Ken Lay trashed by the press one last time.


KURTZ: Ken Lay, who presided over the biggest corporate fraud in American history, was not exactly a sympathetic figure.


KURTZ (voice-over): Many thousands of people lost their jobs and their savings in the collapse of his company, Enron, for which Lay was convicted six weeks ago.

So when he died of a heart attack this week, the media reaction in some corridors was rather mocking. "Enron boss dodges jail by dying," said "New York's Daily News". The "New York Post" cover referred to his coffin, saying, "Check He's In It".

The "Washington Post" went with "Ken Lay's Last Evasion".

At "Slate", it was "Kenneth Lay's Final P.R. Coup".

Leave aside the fact that the business press had built up Lay as a great corporate leader before the criminality at Enron was exposed. And yes, Lay's demise will make it difficult for prosecutors to collect the $43 million judgment against him.


KURTZ: But still, dying of a heart attack is not exactly a strategic move. Denounce Lay for what he did in life, but dancing on his grave is a little unseemly.

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.


CNN TV E-mail Services CNN Mobile CNNAvantGo Ad Info About Us Preferences
© 2007 Cable News Network LP, LLLP.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us. Site Map.
Offsite Icon External sites open in new window; not endorsed by
Pipeline Icon Pay service with live and archived video. Learn more
Radio News Icon Download audio news  |  RSS Feed Add RSS headlines