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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
The O.J. Outrage; Ed Bradley's Legacy
Aired November 19, 2006 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice over): The O.J. outrage. What on earth are FOX executives thinking? And are the rest of the media being used to promote their sickening spectacle of a man talking about how he might have murdered two people, as if it were fiction, and scoring a payday in the process.
Too little too late? How did Jack Murtha become a symbol of Capitol Hill corruption and why didn't journalists cover that story until after the election?
Plus, Ed Bradley's legacy. Morley Safer, Bob Schieffer and Byron Pitts on his journalism at "60 Minutes".
KURTZ: Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES, where we turn a critical lens on the media.
I'm Howard Kurtz.
Ahead, the latest twists and turns in covering the war and corruption on Capitol Hill.
But first, the criminal trial that hijacked the culture and changed the face of cable news has reared its ugly head once again.
After O.J. Simpson was acquitted of killing his ex-wife Nicole and her friend Ron Goldman, but later found guilty in a civil suit, we all assumed that he would just go away. But now, courtesy of Rupert Murdoch, O.J. is coming back with a book published by Murdoch's HarperCollins and a television special airing the week after Thanksgiving on Murdoch's FOX network, where Simpson's publisher, Judith Regan, will do the interviewing.
The title is "If I Did It," in which Simpson describes, yes, how he would have committed the murders if he were the killer, which he says he's not. This has been big news in Murdoch's "New York Post" and on Murdoch's FOX News Channel and modest news elsewhere, as family members, cops, lawyers and others from the mid-90s media frenzy have resurfaced.
All of this was even too much for FOX News commentator Bill O'Reilly.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: I'm not going watch the Simpson show or even look at the book. I'm not even going to look at it. If any company sponsors the TV program I will not buy anything that company sells ever.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: And joining us now in Philadelphia, Gail Shister, television columnist for "The Philadelphia Inquirer".
In Tampa, Eric Deggans, media critic for "The St. Petersburg Times".
In Los Angeles, investigative journalist Jane Velez-Mitchell, who covered the Simpson trial for "Celebrity Justice" and has a book coming out next year called "Secrets Can Be Murder."
And here in Washington, ESPN legal analyst Roger Cossack, the former host of CNN's "Burden of Proof," who will be teaching this winter at Pepperdine Law School.
Eric Deggans, I want to be fair here, is this just pathetic or just utterly sickening?
ERIC DEGGANS, "ST. PETERSBURG TIMES": Exactly. It's hard to know where on the scale this falls.
Obviously, they knew that there would be a huge, critical reaction to this, that people would criticize it, that we all would talk about it. And unfortunately, in passing along the information that sort of lets people know how awful this is, we also wind up creating the publicity that fuels the machine that sells the book and gets people to watch the TV show.
And I would just beg Nielsen families everywhere, people who are measured by the ratings service, please do not watch this show. Please do not watch this show.
KURTZ: Gail Shister, everyone I've talked to thinks this is just hugely offensive. I haven't heard anyone take the other side. Why would FOX television pay this money and give this platform to someone who most people think is a murderer?
GAIL SHISTER, "THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER": I think what Eric said is exactly right because they're getting a huge amount of free publicity about watching this show. There are a couple of really interesting things that came to mind right away, Howie.
Number one, the first part of this show is being shown directly after "Prison Break". Big clue.
Number two, what kind of companies are going to sponsor this show now that it's gotten this kind of backlash? I can guarantee it won't be Hertz, and I'm going to guess that Ginsu knives is not going to be on there either. Number three, I'm not even convinced this show is going to air. If I'm Rupert Murdoch, I've got this, "If I had a TV show, if anybody was going to watch it, if I did it." He's gotten so much publicity out of this, why does he even need the show at this point?
KURTZ: I see. Interesting point.
Well, Eric Deggans, you know, let's be honest here. Doesn't it almost mock these murders by letting O.J. say with this wink, you know, oh, here's how I would have done it if I had done it, but I didn't really do it?
DEGGANS: Certainly. And there's a story in this week's "Newsweek" that says, you know, people close to Simpson say that this is a big "F You" from him to the rest of the world. So certainly the people in his camp see it that way, and then it's sort of up to us.
As journalists it's a huge story, so we feel compelled to cover it. But by covering it, we also sort of add to the media tsunami that makes it successful, and that is the big quandary that we're all struggling with, I think.
KURTZ: Gail Shister, we know the networks will put on people who will have bugs crawl over them, and they'll put on "Survivor" groups and divide them by race. But does this mean, this action by FOX network, mean that there's no low beneath which network programmers won't sink?
SHISTER: I used to think that, Howie, that the bar was so low you couldn't get any lower, and every time I think that I'm proven wrong.
I don't understand the concept for the book. I don't understand the concept for the show. I know that ABC turned it down. I know that NBC turned it down.
You've got Bill O'Reilly, who is arguably the biggest mouthpiece on cable, who is trashing a network that's owned by the same owner who owns him. So, I don't understand it.
Unless it's a case of pure interest, where people are going tune in just to see how bad it is, I'm surprised, frankly, this it's not airing on Pay-Per-View because...
KURTZ: Like watching -- yes, go ahead.
SHISTER: ... because he's -- because FOX is going make so much money out of this, Murdoch is going to make so much money out of this if enough people watch it, and if he can by some miraculous occurrence get sponsors. Why not just do it on Pay-Per-View and be done with it?
KURTZ: Well, we'll send a memo along to Murdoch.
Let me bring in Jane Velez-Mitchell.
You spent a good chunk of your career covering O.J. How does it feel to be rehashing this again a decade later because of this FOX special?
JANE VELEZ-MITCHELL, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: It's a nightmare for all of us. And my thought is, we say we're living in the information age, and I think for quite a few years now we've been living in the disinformation age. And I think people are really sick of it.
I think they expressed their dissatisfaction with this information and doublespeak in the last election, and I think now viewers have a chance to vote with their remotes. They don't have to watch the show to get the information.
Do what the news people who are busy do. Read the transcripts the next day online and, of course, there's something called fair use, where the clips can be used for about 24 hours on other channels. Look at those clips.
You can get the whole story without endorsing this by watching it and giving it a high rating. That would send the ultimate message.
And I agree, FOX should pull this. They should run it for free online, and the book publisher, since the books are already out, should give every cent for every book sold to the Goldman family to satisfy the $38 million judgment.
KURTZ: I want to come back to the publishing, but Roger Cossack, we had a debate on this program. Should we even lead with this, should we even talk about it? And I had my doubts.
Do you think that by talking about this, even if we're in the process of denouncing it -- and every guest so far has said, you know, don't watch this piece of junk -- that we're falling into the trap of publicizing it?
ROGER COSSACK, ESPN LEGAL ANALYST: Of course. Let me just explain, give you a couple of quotes to start off this conversation.
First of all, I'm reminded what P.T. Barnum said, that you'll never go broke underestimating the taste of the American public. And clearly that's true.
And the other -- and the other thing is, I'd like to quote Lenny Bruce, who many, many years ago said true pornography was watching people kill each other and rape each other on programs that are put on television, as opposed to perhaps watching people make love, not war, if that's what you want to call it.
To me, this is true pornography. And even the fact, Howard, that someone as critical and serious as you feels compelled to start your television program talking about this, which we can -- none of us can deny, and certainly I'm not going be a hypocrite and deny, in some way publicizes this issue.
I would hope that all over America today there are people standing up in pulpits, rabbis, priests and ministers, and talking about morality and talking about the issue of why you want to watch this and why you shouldn't watch this. And I think that we're all guilty in some way of promoting this.
KURTZ: It's a dilemma we face on this program every time we look at the media coverage of some sleazy subject that we wouldn't be talking about, except that the media are devoting a lot of air time and a lot of ink to it.
Jane Velez-Mitchell, you brought up the publishing of the book, $3.5 million, supposedly going to go to Simpson's kids. Judith Regan, the publisher, says, "I didn't pay O.J. I gave the money to a third party. I was a battered wife. I think this is terrible. I regard this as a confession."
Are you buying any of that?
VELEZ-MITCHELL: No, because while I don't doubt that she was a battered wife, I'm not saying she's making it up out of whole cloth, the time to express that is before the preverbal you know what hits the fan. She's only coming out now that she's in a firestorm of controversy and saying here's why I did it. Oh, he's the killer. I wanted him to confess, I considered this a confession.
Well, if it was a confession, call it a confession. Don't label it "If I Did It, Here's How it Happened." You can't have it both ways, and that's what I mean about this doublespeak era that we're in.
These people pride themselves on pushing the envelope, and they pushed it right off the cliff into the abyss. And the reason why we all have to send a message is, it won't stop here. The next thing, even though we think nothing more horrifying than this can happen, will be more horrifying.
We have to collectively say, no, we're not going take this anymore, and we're not going buy these rationalizations anymore and accept the cynicism and the manipulation that goes on. And they pride themselves in this. This is a big game.
KURTZ: All right.
Roger Cossack, looking back at the media madness that surrounded these trials in the mid-'90s -- in fact, your first show on "Burden of Proof," you had Johnnie Cochran as the guest, O.J.'s lawyer.
COSSACK: That's right.
KURTZ: Were we all crazy? You know, we just -- did we go so overboard at that time and are we now falling into -- being sucked into this again?
COSSACK: You know what? Let me explain -- you know, Howard, I thought a lot about that because I knew that was a legitimate question to ask me, particularly in light of the fact that I -- you know, I did -- I was -- Greta Van Susteren and I were the legal analysts for the whole O.J. Simpson trial. And I think that that was a legitimate act that people should see.
That trial concerned a trial, it concerned race, it concerned status. There were serious issues that people should view, and I think that the country needed to watch that trial.
You know, that's a lot different than what this is. I think this is true pornography. And I think the question that we should be talking about is not the assumption that this should, OK, be on television because, after all, television is the great -- you know, we watch what we want and we don't sensor. I think there's a real question about whether or not this should be on television, not whether we just assume that it is.
To me this is pornographic, and we don't allow pornography on television.
KURTZ: All right.
Eric Deggans, any possibility that a backlash here will build, perhaps to the point, as Gail Shister suggests, that this program will not come off?
DEGGANS: Well, you know, you can always hope. I mean, people are taking note that the book is rising up in preorders on amazon.com, but as of Friday evening it was only at number 16. And I remember when the James Frey madness exploded over "A Million Little Pieces," that went to number two and number one pretty quickly.
So I think there are a lot of people who are wary about this. Booksellers are donating proceeds to charity already. Some booksellers are saying they won't stock it.
And so certainly, we can hope that people will vote with their feet, stay away from the book. And again, Nielsen families, let me ask you one more time, please do not watch this show.
KURTZ: All right.
Gail Shister, do you see a significant backlash brewing?
SHISTER: I see the backlash, but I have to tell you, Howie, I disagree with everybody else. I don't think we should be in the business of telling people what not to watch on television.
People have 500 channels to choose from what to watch. I haven't decided yet whether I'm going to watch it or not. I know that I'll be writing about it afterwards to see what kind of numbers it had.
I'm going to have to see clips on YouTube, probably. It will probably be posted on YouTube 10 seconds after it stops airing. It's a huge part of the culture. We're all sort of implicitly promoting it by talking about how horrible it is.
SHISTER: And I'm not going to be a hypocrite and say I'm not going to watch it. I probably will. I want to see what all the hubbub is about.
KURTZ: OK. SHISTER: And people don't have to watch it. And I'm not going to tell people not to watch it.
I mean, Judith Regan's former show was "Growing up Gotti," and when you talk about what could be worse than showing O.J., I'll tell you what could be worse. Show a live telecast of the hanging of Saddam Hussein. Put it on Pay-Per-View. You'll make a fortune, because millions of people will watch it.
KURTZ: All right.
This is a decision everyone will have to make for themselves.
Just ahead, is the O.J. trial to blame for all the scandal- obsessed, sleazy tabloid news out there today?
And later on CNN, Wolf Blitzer interviews senators Carl Levin and Kay Bailey Hutchison on "LATE EDITION," 11:00 a.m. Eastern.
And at 1:00 p.m. Eastern, CNN's John Roberts hosts "THIS WEEK AT WAR."
KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES.
Roger Cossack, all the lawyers who became TV stars because of the O.J. case, lawyers and former prosecutors -- I'm thinking of Marcia Clark and Barry Scheck and Christopher Darden and Judge Lance Ito, and there was F. Lee Bailey and Johnnie Cochran -- did this case change the game by creating a whole new class of legal pundits?
COSSACK: Well, in fact, they didn't become television stars. They were television stars for about a year, and then most of them dropped off. As far as I know, the only two that remained after the O.J. Simpson case were Greta Van Susteren, who is going strong today, and, you know, myself, who still works for ESPN. But -- so most of those people had their 15 minutes of fame and then flashed off.
What it did do was gave birth to a new genre called legal analysis, which has progressed into something today which we don't have. I -- you know, when we did it, we tried to do it seriously and explain what the legal issues were. Today you have Nancy Grace, who I think is wonderful entertainment, but has nothing to do with legal analysis.
KURTZ: All right.
Jane Velez-Mitchell, didn't the O.J. case as well help an awful lot of journalistic careers? Didn't you and are others, not to mention CNN, which carried the trial, you know, benefit from the slimier aspects of the case?
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, sure. And let's face it, the entire nation got a legal education. And now Americans know far more about forensics than they ever did. So it's a double-edged sword. Sure, there are some positive things to come out of this entire development, but it's when it's discussed legitimately, when you have a pseudo confession and you have somebody speculating about how they might have murdered their wife, if they had done it, you're in an entirely different realm than having a legitimate discussion of legal issues. And I have to say one other thing here.
Everybody's saying this is just about attention and greed for O.J. Simpson. I agree, but there's one other factor. It's very hard to live a lie 24/7, 365. And that's what he's been doing for more than 12 years.
And all of us have an innate desire as human beings to tell the truth. This is why criminals revisit the scene of the crime. This is why there are jailhouse confessions to cell mates.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: This is why, you know, criminals who have gotten away with murder will send hints to police. This is a pressure cooker for him, and this is why through these inappropriate acts he is sort of exercising his urge to purge the truth.
KURTZ: All right.
Let me come back to the media aspect here with Gail Shister.
Did the O.J. case create this kind of sensational "crime of the month" mentality on - particularly on cable that led to the JonBenet Ramsey frenzy and Chandra Levy and Natalee Holloway and Laci Peterson and all of that?
SHISTER: Oh, I'm still back on Jane's urge to purge. I like that. And I'm going to get that into a column.
I don't know, Howie. I don't think that the trial itself led to an obsession with these kinds of cases. I think the explosion of cable led to an obsession with these kinds of cases, because you've got this huge maw that has to be filled 24/7, and these kinds of cases have always been attractive to people because of the prurient interests.
And I'm not convinced that it was the O.J. trial that necessarily opened the door to this. I think had the trial not been covered as it was, that these kind of cases would still become huge on cable because they have to fill them with something.
And getting back to the point about did viewers get an education about forensics, I would dispute that, because the trial -- most of the trial was so slow and so boring and so sterile when it came to the part of explaining what all this stuff meant, I would argue that viewers get more of an education about forensics from "Law & Order."
KURTZ: I've got to get to Eric Deggans. I've got about half a minute. But, you know, O.J. was famous. Some of these other women who have gone missing or were killed were not, yet cable still has feasted on those tragedies.
DEGGANS: I think cable is sort of like the animal in the cage and the experiment. It just keeps hitting a button, and the button is big ratings. Covering these issues produced big ratings.
Greta's show was successful because it covered the disappearance of the student overseas. And we've seen over and over -- people like Nancy Grace now is covering the case of a missing child in Florida.
It's a button that brings big ratings. And I don't know if O.J. started it, but it's certainly made it plain for everyone in cable news how to get big ratings by covering these stories.
KURTZ: All right.
My thanks to all of our guests. Appreciate your joining us this morning.
Coming up, a network anchor caught in an embarrassing situation. Or was she?
And Al-Jazeera's latest venture off to a wobbly start.
That and more in our "Media Minute".
Plus, Morley Safer, Byron Pitts and Bob Schieffer join us to talk about what made Ed Bradley a very different kind of journalist.
KURTZ: Time now for a look at the news business in our "Media Minute".
KURTZ (voice over): Everyone knows ABC's Elizabeth Vargas has a new baby. She's just returned to work and did a "20/20" segment about juggling job and family, but breast-feeding on the anchor set? Well, that's what this picture in the magazine "Marie Claire" shows, along with a tiny line saying it's a photo illustration.
The magazine said in a statement that, "We do not believe anyone seriously thought she would nurse and report the news at the same time." Well, we do not believe that grownup editors seriously think putting a woman's head on someone else's body to make a point is good journalism.
David Frost was there. Dave Marash was there. And so were lots of journalists around the world, from Doha to Washington, as Al- Jazeera launched its English language television channel.
Missing in action, though, were American viewers since no major cable or satellite system in the U.S. has agreed to carry Al-Jazeera English. The Arab organization says it plans to carry all points of view, not just anti-American, but all have a hard time overcoming its reputation as a conduit for Osama bin Laden's videotapes.
Lots of news organizations gathered up reaction to the Democratic victory in the midterm elections, but none were quite as creative as FOX News. In an internal memo obtained by "The Huffington Post," FOX's senior vice president told his staff, "Be on the lookout for any statements from the Iraqi insurgents, who must be thrilled at prospect of a Dem-controlled Congress."
KURTZ: The FOX folks wouldn't be trying to make Democrats look bad, would they?
Coming up in the second half hour of RELIABLE SOURCES, CBS veterans Morley Safer, Byron Pitts and Bob Schieffer on the journalistic legacy of their colleague Ed Bradley.
Plus, why did the media wait until after the midterm elections to scrutinize the ethics record of Congressman Jack Murtha?
KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES.
Since calling for a U.S. pullout from Iraq one year ago, Democratic congressman Jack Murtha has drawn all kinds of media coverage for his stance. But after the election, when incoming speaker Nancy Pelosi backed the ex-Marine for House majority leader, stories suddenly popped up about Murtha's relationship with lobbyists and whether he had helped a company that has hired his brother as a lobbyist. And suddenly, television was replaying a 26-year-old videotape from the ABSCAM scandal in which Murtha was offered a bribe by FBI informants posing as Arab sheiks.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. You're telling me that that's not what you -- you know, that that's not what you...
REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA: I'm not interested.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK.
MURTHA: At this point.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK.
MURTHA: You know, we do business for a while, maybe I'll be interested and maybe I won't.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Murtha didn't help his cause when he went on MSNBC's "Hardball" and used a four-letter word to describe ethics reform. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MURTHA: What I said it's total crap the idea we have to deal with an issue like this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: When Murtha lost the number two House job to Maryland congressman Steny Hoyer, the press turned on the first woman speaker of the House with a vengeance.
Joining us now to talk about this, in Boston, John Fund, columnist for "The Wall Street Journal's" OpinionJournal.com.
And with me in Washington, Clarence Page, columnist for "The Chicago Tribune."
And Mary Ann Akers, who writes for the Capitol Hill newspaper "Roll Call".
Clarence Page, there was a big "LA Times" expose last year about Jack Murtha doing favors for companies that contributed to his campaign and that sort of thing. It got almost no national pickup until after the midterm elections.
CLARENCE PAGE, "CHICAGO TRIBUNE": I think after the midterm elections, suddenly Jack Murtha became a political candidate. An internal election in Congress, but nevertheless a candidate. Before that, he was a spokesperson and an advocate for a -- for a strategic point of view in regard to Iraq.
When you become a candidate, suddenly now you have got political enemies, and that means people start digging up stuff on you. And suddenly things that weren't relevant before, like the old ABSCAM scandal, suddenly becomes very relevant. You see it pops up on YouTube, that marvelous new medium that's reshaping politics and all, and that's why suddenly the tone of our coverage of Jack Murtha changes.
KURTZ: John Fund, there were, during the campaign, a lot of stories, legitimate stories, about Republican corruption -- Jack Abramoff, Tom DeLay, Mark Foley, Duke Cunningham. Murtha not in the same league here, hasn't been convicted of anything. But was there a reluctance on the media's part during the campaign to go after a prominent Democrat?
JOHN FUND, OPINIONJOURNAL.COM: Well, I think there was, because Jack Murtha was a candidate for majority leader for six months before the election. He announced back in the spring.
And let me tell you, in 2003, the late George Crile, the "60 Minutes" producer, did a book on Charlie Wilson, the Texas congressman who got involved in the Afghan war. In there he reported that Jack Murtha had escaped severe penalties from the House Ethics Committee only because of a corrupt deal struck with the House speaker's office.
It was all document. There were quotes on the record. And Mr. Wilson has confirmed the account. None of that was covered.
I think there was the sense that Jack Murtha was in the Iraq critic box and he wasn't in the "I'm about to be a Democratic leader" box. I think both roles should have been discussed before the election.
KURTZ: Mary Ann Akers, didn't the press drop the ball here? I mean, Clarence seems to think that because Murtha wasn't a candidate or a prominent candidate, or it wasn't even clear that there would be a House majority leader's job for him because we didn't know the Democrats were going to take over the House, that this other stuff was sort of backburner? But how do you -- how do you cover him as a prominent anti-war voice and not bring up these other issues?
MARY ANN AKERS, "ROLL CALL": Well, it became such a bigger issue once Nancy Pelosi wrote that letter and publicly backed him to be her number two Democrat. Then it sort of became the height of hypocrisy.
If the number two Democrat in the House was a guy who had been an unindicted co-conspirator in ABSCAM, had been, you know, one of the greatest earmarkers on behalf of his brother and another former chief staffer of his, after the Democrats ran on this culture of corruption platform to have him as the number two, it would have been -- it would have been pretty unbelievable. And that's when I think the press pounced on it.
KURTZ: Don't you wish that you had done some of the stories before the election? Don't you wish you had gotten that wave before everyone else was doing it?
AKERS: Well, I think -- look, I think we all knew he was involved in ABSCAM for years. And his constituents obviously didn't mind it.
The earmarking story sort of came out later. Once some of the watchdog groups really went over and...
KURTZ: Big "LA Times" piece 2005, it was all there for anybody who wanted to look it up.
Clarence Page, I said on this program last week that the media's honeymoon with Nancy Pelosi would go on for a while. Boy, was I wrong. Boy, was I wrong.
PAGE: You weren't the only one.
KURTZ: Did the press take one misstep by her and pump it up into this -- accusations that she has terrible judgment, she can't count votes and she doesn't care about ethics? PAGE: Howard, as I've said on this show many times, we are a daily business. And guess what? That majority leader election came up on a slow news day after a couple of really busy news days.
I mean, Congress was not passing legislation. The Supreme Court didn't have big decisions. O.J. had not yet announced his new book.
I mea, all the eyes that were focussed on this election here, suddenly Nancy Pelosi's strategy and all became page one, top of the page news. Top of the agenda discussion on TV. And that really made it suddenly everything -- about Jack Murtha suddenly became news, put it that way.
KURTZ: Go ahead.
AKERS: Well, I mean, especially for people who are old enough to remember 1994, when Republicans took control and Newt Gingrich wanted his good buddy Bob Walker to be whip, but Tom DeLay...
KURTZ: Right, but let me take it back to the media question, which is, did Nancy Pelosi deserve this media drubbing? After all, politics is personal, and what she was doing was sticking by her friend who had helped her in her first leadership race against a guy, Steny Hoyer, who had run against her before and who she didn't particularly like. And yet, that was not the story.
FUND: Well, normally...
KURTZ: Go ahead, John.
FUND: Normally I would say, yes, that loyalty is fine, but Jack Murtha was an ethical waste dump. I mean, it was that bad.
And I have to say, Nancy Pelosi has another media test coming up in front of her because she has to decide who's going to be chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, which handles all of the CIA and FBI secrets. And apparently she wants Alcee Hastings, who's an impeached and convicted former federal judge.
There are other candidates in the mix, but the media is going to have to focus that, too.
PAGE: Not going happen, John. You know that.
AKERS: I mean, the great news for Nancy...
FUND: As of last week she wanted him.
PAGE: As of today, John. You know she...
KURTZ: You can debate that off the air. But again...
PAGE: We'll be debating it next week on your show, probably. AKERS: Yes, but the great news for Nancy Pelosi is that John Murtha lost. And she showed her loyalty. She stuck behind him. But he lost, and it's over.
KURTZ: But I want to talk about the media coverage here. Every news article, every television reporter said that this was terrible judgment on her part and she had a tin ear in ethics and all that.
Was that fair or not?
AKERS: Well, I think it was absolutely fair to call into question her judgment in choosing John Murtha, who is clearly tainted by ethics, to be the face, the number two of the Democratic Party after they ran on a culture of corruption platform. Absolutely fair to question her judgment on that.
KURTZ: So it was the "H" word, hypocrisy, that boosted that story from just a...
KURTZ: ... (INAUDIBLE) House warfare?
AKERS: Absolutely, yes.
KURTZ: All right.
Let me get a break.
When we come back, are the media starting to agitate for an exit strategy in Iraq? We'll talk about that next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS: Just about everyone agrees Iraq is a mess. The question now is, can the president and the new Congress, led by the Democrats, agree on how to get out of it?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Clarence Page, since the midterm elections and Don Rumsfeld's firing, has the way the media framed the issue of Iraq changed, as we kind of saw there, from, can we turn the tide to what's our strategy for getting out?
PAGE: You got it. I mean, it's become a debate now over how much longer are we going to be there and whose strategy is going to be the one to adopt?
There are no -- no good options. I mean, there's no good answer to that situation.
KURTZ: So the media is just reflecting the debate that's gone on in Washington?
PAGE: Well, we're like weathervanes. That's what the media are there for, to tell you which way the wind is blowing. And the midterm -- the American people have spokes. They have shifted the wind now to, hey, how much longer are we going to be there before we can turn things over to the Iraqis?
KURTZ: Mary Ann Akers, do you see a shift in the media's tone as there -- as these mass kidnappings and suicide bombings and other atrocities have continued unabated?
AKERS: Yes. I mean, as things spiral, you know, out -- more and more out of control in Iraq, and as the power has shifted in Washington, Democrats are now in control. We expect the subpoenas will start flying on the House side.
Maybe not on the Senate side. They don't seem to be as willing to have aggressive investigations of prewar Iraq -- of pre-Iraq war intelligence and other things as the House. But clearly, there's been a power shift. So clearly the story is going to change. And it's not if troops get out of Iraq, it's when.
But I would just say one thing. Let's remember who's in control here, and that's the president. The Iraq war is his legacy. He's not going to -- he's not going to walk away from this. That's his whole presidency.
KURTZ: I wonder how much the coverage then is influenced by the fact that you will have Democratic committee chairmen on all those committees questioning and holding hearings on the conflict of the war.
John Fund, President Bush is in Ho Chi Minh City this morning during his visit to Vietnam. He brought up -- he felt compelled to bring up comparisons between the Vietnam War and the Iraq War, Bush saying that the lesson was that we shouldn't quit.
Isn't that the media's favorite analogy, Iraq as Vietnam quagmire?
FUND: I think that some of that was unfair before the election, but since the election, the president has himself to blame for the media coverage. When you fire Don Rumsfeld only one day after the election and you replace him with Bill -- with Mr. Gates, Robert Gates, from his father's administration, you are asking for those kind of comparisons.
And I would also point out that this administration still has the general saying we can win the war, General Abizaid. But those are not going to get the media coverage because the politicians are in the driver's seat and the generals, I think, are going to be relegated to the backseat.
KURTZ: Well, I think we will watch very carefully in the months ahead and see how the coverage shifts, if the tone shifts, or if we are just reflecting the debate, as you say. Clarence Page, Mary Ann Akers, John Fund, thanks very much for joining us.
And just ahead, remembering Ed Bradley. A special conversation with Morley Safer, Bob Schieffer and Byron Pitts.
KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES.
The recent death of Ed Bradley from leukemia prompted plenty of tributes for the late "60 Minutes" correspondent. He had done just about everything you could do in the television business, from covering war to covering the White House, from investigative work, to chatting up celebrities. But there was something about his journalism and his passing that struck a deeper nerve, so the other day we asked some of his friends and colleagues at CBS to reflect on Bradley's career.
KURTZ: Joining us now in New York, Morley Safer, a fixture on "60 Minutes," and Byron Pitts, CBS News national correspondent.
And here with me in Washington, Bob Schieffer, chief Washington correspondent and host of "Face the Nation."
Morley Safer, why did Ed Bradley keep working so hard, almost until the end, when he was obviously very sick?
MORLEY SAFER, "60 MINUTES": Well, first of all, you've got to know that this may be the hardest job in the world to give up, the hardest job in journalism to give up. It's a constant source of fun.
And I don't think Ed -- we talked about this, as a matter of fact, that he had just recently signed a new contract and he was asking me about mine, which I signed one to work half time a couple of years ago. Half time is turning into full time, but that's another matter.
KURTZ: That's the Mike Wallace problem. You guys keep retiring, and then you don't get off the stage.
SAFER: Well, as I say, it's way too much fun. And, you know, Ed had lots of opportunities to leave "60 Minutes," including the "Evening News," which he just was absolutely not interested in.
One of the great things about this work is the variety and also the fact that you can have another life outside the office. It's the perfect combination. I think the best job in journalism, period.
KURTZ: Byron Pitts, when you were growing up, when you were a young journalist, was Ed Bradley someone who you looked up to?
BYRON PITTS, CBS NEWS: Oh, without question. Ed Bradley was a standard-bearer.
I first saw Ed on television when I was in high school, and I thought, wow, there's someone on TV who looks like me. And I've talked to a number of African-American journalists over the past week, and almost to a person they had the same experience.
There are a number of us who are in journalism today -- broadcast journalism -- because Ed Bradley said you can do this, he showed us the path to do it, and certainly a mentor and someone I had the utmost respect for.
Bob Schieffer said once he was the coolest man on TV, and that's absolutely right. I mean, Ed made "cool" cool.
KURTZ: Bob Schieffer, I want to play a little bit for our viewers of some of the celebrities who Ed interviewed over the years and then get your thoughts. Let's take a look at that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ED BRADLEY, "60 MINUTES": If I've got the ball and you pull on jerseys...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BRADLEY: I read somewhere that you wrote "Blowin' in the Wind" in 10 minutes. Is that right?
BOB DYLAN, SONGWRITER: Probably.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRADLEY: Do you still think that it's acceptable to share your bed with children?
MICHAEL JACKSON, SINGER: Of course.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: What was it about Ed Bradley that he could talk to anybody: Michael Jackson, Michael Jordan, Bob Dylan?
BOB SCHIEFFER, "FACE THE NATION": well, he knew a lot about a lot of different things, that's first. But Ed had such presence that he could bring out the real person when he interviewed them. And that's what I always thought was his great talent.
Sometimes it was to that person's advantage, and sometimes it was to their disadvantage, but Ed had such presence that people didn't run over him. You know, these celebrities didn't -- didn't run over Ed, because he was somebody to deal with. But they would open up to him, and I thought he was truly a master of the interview. He really was. KURTZ: What...
SAFER: I think the real genius of interviewing -- and I think Bob would agree -- is, above all, Ed knew how to listen. And that really came through.
I mean, he also had some wonderful body language when he listened. He would take of his glasses and look at the guy in the eye in what I call the "dubious sage" look, and he would run his fingers over his scalp. And it sometimes looked he was about to drop off to sleep, as well.
So I agree with Bob, he had the most extraordinary presence on the air.
KURTZ: Was he also very competitive, Morley? I mean, did you ever compete with him for stories? What was going on behind the scenes, there?
SAFER: Oh, come on, competitive? Are you joking? The ninth floor of the 555 building is the Olympics times 100.
KURTZ: All right. I take you point.
Byron Pitts, I want to play something from another Ed Bradley Story. This is about five years ago. He was interviewing an undercover narcotics agent who was a racist. And let's take a look at that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The word "nigger"? yes, sir, I've used that word. I've used it a lot. Yes. "What's up, Nigger?"
BRADLEY: Is that a greeting you'd use with me?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, no, sir. Not you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Byron, did it seem that Ed Bradley was drawn to these racially-charged subjects? Did he maybe feel a special responsibility to pursue some of those kinds of stories?
PITTS: Well, I know he certainly felt a responsibility, but Ed always made it clear that he wasn't a black reporter on television, he was a reporter, and a damn good reporter, that that was his goal. I think that one of the great things about Ed is that he was able to do good journalism and still hold onto his humanity.
One of the things I greatly appreciated about Ed is, that Ed was a strong, black man on television. And that, you know -- I mean, keep in mind, Ed came on television at a time when men of color were either clowns or criminals on television. And Ed brought a level elegance and class that certainly made people who looked like me feel tremendous pride, and gave -- KURTZ: I'm really struck by -- I'm really struck by the use of that phrase -- forgive me for interrupting -- "a strong black man on television." Is it hard in some ways to be a strong black man on television because there's concern about, what, alienating the white audience?
PITTS: Well, I guess, in many ways, and many roles in television, you are -- you are defined by your bosses and what they allow you to do. But Ed didn't allow anyone to dictate who he would be.
I mean, he was who he was. I mean, he was -- certainly, we've used the word "cool," he was classy, he was elegant, he was a smart man. And I know, again, for me, it was so wonderful to see him on television and know that not only did he look like me, he reminded me of men in my church, men in my community -- because he could be tough, as has been stated earlier, tough in interviews. He could also be gentle.
And he also brought to the national stage people and voices that you might not normally see on television. That interview that you showed -- I mean, that's a word that makes many in American -- many people in America very uncomfortable, but Ed was able to address that man and deal with that issue in a way that made people understand it and made people comfortable with the information he was laying out.
KURTZ: Bob Schieffer, Verne Gay, a television critic wrote the other day that, It's too bad that Ed Bradley never had a chance to be the anchor of the "CBS Evening News." But do you have any sense of whether he would have wanted that job?
SCHIEFFER: No, he didn't. He didn't like to sit behind a desk. And I talked to Ed about that. He liked to be out where it was happening. He was a White House correspondent with me when Jimmy Carter first became president -- he covered Carter in the campaign.
He really didn't like that. He didn't like bureaucracy and all of that. And when the opportunity came to leave the White House, he jumped at the chance to go to New York and then on to "60 Minutes."
It just wasn't his cup of tea. Ed liked to do interviews, he liked to be around interesting people. But most of all, he just wanted to be where the story was, and I think that really, in the end, is why he was such a good reporter.
KURTZ: And speaking of that, Morley Safer, you of course were a correspondent in Vietnam, Ed Bradley was a correspondent in Vietnam, Bosnia, other war zones. What was the attraction for Ed? Did he talk ever to you about the risks of constantly going into these war zones?
SAFER: I think, pretty much, we -- of course we all talked about it, and it's one of those things that's always hard -- very difficult to give a reason why you do it, because you do it. But I was about to pick up on something Bob said.
When Ed walked into "60 Minutes" in 1981 -- and we'd been on the air at that point for about 12 years, I guess, something like that -- he walked into a very, very tough, competitive scene. But his entry into it was absolutely seamless, because he was his own man. He wasn't trying to emulate anybody, he wasn't trying to take on some star that was phony, which is always a disaster.
He just walked in and it looked like he'd been in the job from the beginning. There was never a learning curve, really, with Ed. He just -- he set his own pace, he did his own kind of stories and he had his own particular touch, as we saw in the retrospective pieces we did last weekend.
KURTZ: I think that came across to viewers. In a business where so many people maybe try to imitate the success of others, Ed was clearly his own character.
Byron Pitts, away from the cameras, did Ed Bradley try to help other journalists of color?
PITTS: Oh, without question. I mean, Ed and I had sort of a standing lunch date. When he was in town, in the country, we would go out to lunch maybe once a month, once every few months. And he was very generous with his time, very generous with his wisdom.
You were talking earlier about his interviewing style. I asked Ed once -- I was preparing for what for me was a big interview at the time, and, you know, what should I do? And he sat across, and as Morley described, sort of pulled at his chin and looked around, and he said, "You know, the key to a good interview, Byron, is just read, read, read, listen, listen, listen. Let's order dessert now."
KURTZ: Bob Schieffer, for all that everyone feels like they kind of know Ed Bradley because he came into our living rooms for so many years, he seemed also to be an incredibly private man. For example, a lot of people around him didn't know that he was sick or how sick he was.
SCHIEFFER: Yes, and that was reflected in everything he did, especially in his charity work. Heaven knows how much money he gave to people that needed it, or how many kids he mentored. And they weren't all black kids. Ed just liked children, and he felt a special responsibility to them, and they liked him.
My daughters -- I mean, in New Orleans once, I was going to take them down to the French Quarter during the Republican National Convention. They said, "Oh, no, Dad. Mr. Bradley is taking a group of us to see Little Feat." I didn't even know who Little Feat was, you know.
But Ed, that really just summed up Ed. He loved kids, he wanted to help them. He just saw a responsibility.
And he was not one of these celebrities that put his name on charities and all of that, but when somebody needed help, Ed Bradley was the softest touch in town.
SAFER: I just want to pick up on something Bob said. My daughter was at that convention as well, and when she came back -- and she worked for a lot of people there, and I'm not going to name any other names -- and she said, "Dad, Ed Bradley is the only real person in New Orleans."
KURTZ: That's a good note to end on.
Morley Safer, Byron Pitts, Bob Schieffer, thanks very much for helping us remember Ed Bradley
KURTZ: Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.
I'm Howard Kurtz.
Join us again next Sunday morning at 10:00 a.m. Eastern for another critical look at the media.
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