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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES

Journalism on Trial; Interview With Brian Williams

Aired February 4, 2007 - 10:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice over): Journalism on trial. Judith Miller and Matt Cooper testify in the Scooter Libby perjury case about the leaks they received from the former Dick Cheney aide. Did Washington journalists get too cozy with White House officials trying to out a CIA operative?

Back to New Orleans. NBC anchor Brian Williams on why he keeps returning to a devastated American city, even when some viewers have had enough.

Business as usual? CNBC's Maria Bartiromo under fire for doing favors for a Citigroup executive who lost his job over their globetrotting friendship. Is the "Money Honey "being unfairly maligned?

Plus, Super Bowl hype spins out of control.

And Hillary's "evil man" joke. When did the press lose its sense of humor?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: Our critical lens this morning is focused on the trial that is pulling back the curtain on how Washington journalists get all those leaks, and it isn't pretty.

I'm Howard Kurtz.

Dick Cheney's former top aide, Scooter Libby, is charged with perjury in the investigation into the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame, but much of the coverage has focused on such witnesses as former "TIME" correspondent Matt Cooper, and Judith Miller, who spent 85 days in jail and lost her job at "The New York Times" over the way she handled her confidential dealings with Libby.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS: In a case that dates back to the prewar debate over invading Iraq, former "New York Times" reporter Judith Miller took the stand today at the perjury trial of Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

CLAIRE SHIPMAN, ABC NEWS: Miller went to jail to protect the former vice presidential aide in the CIA leak case. KELLY O'DONNELL, NBC NEWS: Judy Miller also looked rattled on the stand under cross-examination when the defense tried to show her memory is bad.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The defense trying to punch holes in Matt Cooper's credibility, too, talking about what he reported on the record and off, even kind of dissecting his typographical errors in notes.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: Joining us now are three people who have been covering the trial. In Denver, Jeralyn Merritt, a defense attorney who blogs at talkleft.com. Here in Washington, John Dickerson, chief political correspondent for the online magazine "Slate." And Michael Isikoff, investigative correspondent for "Newsweek" and co-author of 'Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal and Selling of the Iraq War."

Brief question, one-sentence answer from each of you.

John Dickerson, we'll start with you. When this trial is over, will the reputation of Washington journalists have taken a serious hit?

JOHN DICKERSON, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "SLATE": Yes.

KURTZ: I like the brevity.

Michael Isikoff?

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT, "NEWSWEEK": Somewhat, but I think it's going to put more focus on the Bush administration than it will on Washington journalists.

KURTZ: Jeralyn Merritt.

JERALYN MERRITT, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I think it will take a little hit. It's titillating, but I agree with Michael that the attention should be on the Bush administration and how they deal with the media.

KURTZ: All right.

John Dickerson is obviously right.

Now, John, you -- Judith Miller, you covered her testimony. She had a very spotty memory. Initially when she testified she couldn't remember her first meeting with Scooter Libby. And now she says she talked to other sources about Valerie Plame, she couldn't remember who those sources were.

Did she look evasive?

DICKERSON: She looked evasive. She looked clueless for a long period. I mean, it was just one "I don't remember" after another.

And then one of the most powerful pieces of defense strategy was replaying her own words on a talk show when she said, you know, I was busy. I can't remember. Who can remember this? This wasn't a big deal at the time. This was only important later. Well, that's nearly the talking points or a portion from the opening statement by Libby's own defense attorneys, which is he was too busy, it wasn't that big a deal at the time.

Having said that, her credibility was diminished certainly, but it doesn't necessarily change the fact that she does have these memories. And her memories aren't the only ones. There are other people who said Scooter Libby knew about Joe Wilson's wife when he said he didn't.

KURTZ: Sure.

Mike Isikoff, Judith Miller lost her job at "The New York Times" over this. And she never wrote a story about this whole thing, oddly enough.

What do you make -- what shall we conclude about her relationship with Libby?

ISIKOFF: Well, clearly Libby was a source, was a key source, and a misleading one. I think the most revealing part of her testimony is when she talked about when she meets with Libby to talk about the classified national intelligence estimate, and this hasn't been made public yet. It was a key document in the buildup to justify the war in Iraq.

She's pressing him on whether there's aspects in the classified NIE that had not been made public that would strengthen the administration's case or has doubts. Libby assures her it's stronger if you see the full NIE.

It was flat wrong. The NIE, as we now know, was filled with doubts. So he was giving her misleading information even after the war to justify the invasion in the first place.

KURTZ: Jeralyn Merritt, you're an attorney. You've seen a lot of cross-examinations. Was Judy Miller a credible witness?

MERRITT: You know, I think in part she was, because if you think about it, none of our memories would be great as to what happened three years ago. And we're all kind of dependent on our notes. And she was honest enough to say, I don't remember, I don't remember, I don't remember. And on the other hand, what I took away from this, particularly when she talked about how Scooter Libby asked her to attribute certain statements to him being a former Hill staffer, instead of an administration official, was the deception that sometimes goes on.

KURTZ: A very good point.

John Dickerson, when the Ari Fleischer testified, the former White House press secretary, testified and mentioned you, you then wrote a piece in "Slate" in which you practically volunteered to be subpoenaed. My question is, are you crazy?

DICKERSON: I may very well be. At the time, it was for me a surprise because he had contradicted something that I had actually already written. The importance...

KURTZ: Meaning whether or not he did or did not tell you about Valerie Plame?

DICKERSON: Exactly, which is still actually kind of a bit of a side matter. The important part...

KURTZ: Just to clarify, he says he did...

DICKERSON: He says he did, I say he didn't, and fortunately have notes and other things that back up my side of the story. But it was -- it was odd to hear him say that because it was something I certainly wasn't expecting at the time.

KURTZ: Michael Isikoff, is there any remaining doubt, regardless of Libby's guilt or innocence, that Vice President Cheney and his staff tried to use journalists to retaliate against Joe Wilson, who was accusing the administration at the time of twisting the prewar intelligence on weapons of mass destruction?

ISIKOFF: No. I think the only debate would be whether it was to retaliate against Wilson, or, as the White House people would say, to rebut criticism -- you know, to...

KURTZ: To get out the administration's side of the story?

ISIKOFF: Yes, to get out their side of the story. But, you know, the bombshell testimony this week was the FBI agent who says Libby told her in his first interview or second interview that he may well have discussed -- had a discussion with Cheney about whether to disclose to the press Valerie Plame's employment at the CIA. That puts Cheney right in the middle of this, far more than we ever knew before, and it's going to make for interesting testimony if Cheney, as we expect, takes the stand.

KURTZ: Jeralyn Merritt, Matt Cooper acknowledged on the stand that his notes were sloppy and incomplete. Judith Miller lost one of her notebooks and, as we have discussed, had trouble remembering things, who the other sources were.

Don't journalists here look like the gang that couldn't shoot straight?

MERRITT: They really did. And I have to say, particularly Matt Cooper, because, you know, I think Jeffress, Libby's lawyer, was very good in pointing out to the jury that the key sentence in Matt Cooper's note had missing letters and incorrectly typed letters, which, if you filled it out a different way, would show the exact opposite of what Matt Cooper recollected. And now the jury is being asked to take Matt Cooper at his word as to what he remembers today as opposed to what he wrote then. KURTZ: I hope nobody ever looks at my notes.

Now, you know, it seems to me, John, that the tables are really turned here. We love to write stories about "Senator so and so claimed he couldn't remember the meeting." But now it turns out that when you get on the stand and you're asked about things of three years ago, sometimes journalists don't do so well either.

DICKERSON: That's right. Although, and you mentioned that, you know, don't -- we don't want anybody to look at our notes. There was somebody in the press room who said, "I'm burning all of my notes."

Although, you could turn it the other way, which is, I'm actually quite happy I have my notes and took notes at the time, and have a record, because, in fact, it helps refresh the recollection and, in fact, helps back up your case if you're put in a situation where people are trying to get you to remember things that happened four years ago.

KURTZ: If you're a good note taker.

Mike Isikoff, does this whole spectacle affect you as somebody who deals with a lot of unnamed sources and the way the sources deal with you? The prospect that, you know, you might have to testify one day in some sensitive case?

ISIKOFF: You know, a lot was made of that at the time during when Fitzgerald was subpoenaing all the journalists and Judy Miller was going to jail, Matt Cooper was subpoenaed. You know, my sense is that it's had less of an effect than we all feared.

This is very much an ad hoc case. There are a lot of peculiar aspects to this particular case. But I think that, look, the motivations that people have for talking to reporters are still there, you know. They want to get their story out. They want to make it clear that they're getting screwed by their boss.

I mean, people still have a reason to want to talk to journalists, and I think the game is still going on much as the way it always did.

KURTZ: Do you agree with that?

DICKERSON: Yes, I think so, because the anonymous sources want to get their information out. And we're the only...

(CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: There's a reason that people leak.

DICKERSON: That's right. There's a reason, and particularly now with an administration that's shooting at each other, there are plenty of opportunities.

KURTZ: Jeralyn Merritt, Scooter Libby says he first learned about Valerie Plame working at the CIA -- Joe Wilson's wife -- from NBC's Tim Russert. And Russert says this never even came up in the conversation when Libby called him -- and Libby had called to complain about something Chris Matthews had said. And Russert if going to testify this week.

How does this battle of credibility shape up?

MERRITT: Well, I think it's going to be very tough for Scooter Libby, because I think what Fitz is going to focus -- Fitzgerald is going to focus on is not so much what Libby forgot, but whether or not he actually cooked up a story, and why he just said he heard things from journalists that he didn't hear. And it's his misstatements more than it is his omissions of recall. I think that's what he's got to be really careful of.

KURTZ: It will be interesting to see the host of "Meet the Press" having to answer questions from an aggressive lawyer.

ISIKOFF: Well, yes, yes. I am sort of -- I think the defense will try to play Russert to Russert and sort of show up any statements that might -- but, you know, look, Russert is going to be the star witness for the prosecution. I think he's the cleanup witness, he's the last one to go. They really -- Fitzgerald has really invested a lot in his credibility. And given, you know, all those other witnesses, you have to say it's a pretty strong witness to end up with.

KURTZ: Well, here's my two cents.

I mean, anonymous sources are absolutely vital for investigative reporting for the exposing of corruption, health and safety problems, and that sort of thing. But journalists have gotten so promiscuous on granting anonymity on routine political stories that it makes us look bad. And here, in this particular case, we look like conduits for a campaign, a political campaign to at least neutralize, if not retaliate, against a critic of the administration.

And so I think in this trial nobody, none of the witnesses look good, least of all journalists.

John Dickerson, Mike Isikoff, Jeralyn Merritt, thanks very much for an interesting discussion.

When we come back, NBC's Brian Williams, the "Nightly News" anchor, checks in to talk about, among other things, why he isn't letting the media spotlight fade on New Orleans.

And later today, 1:00 p.m. Eastern, join CNN's John Roberts for "THIS WEEK AT WAR."

Here's a preview.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A precipitous removal of U.S. forces could create an even greater mess in Iraq than exists in Iraq right now. ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ahmadinejad has come to define himself as someone willing to push the limit.

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The sectarian violence, it just continues to increase.

BRIG. GEN. DAVID GRANGE (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST Here's the thing -- there's troops in harm's way right now.

JOHN BURNS, "NEW YORK TIMES": This really is -- this is the last throw of the dice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Brian Williams was in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina struck, spent the night with desperate thousands in the damaged Superdome and has since made the city's plight his signature issue. This week, beginning on Monday and Tuesday, he takes "NBC Nightly News" back to New Orleans for his 12th visit since the storm left the city with a devastated landscape and half its previous population.

In our new segment, "Broadcast Buzz," Brian Williams joins us now by phone.

Brian, thanks for calling in.

WILLIAMS: Howie, thanks for having me.

KURTZ: No one would deny that New Orleans remains a very important story, but what do you gain from taking the broadcast there, as opposed to just having your correspondents there continue to file reports?

WILLIAMS: Well, a lot of the time, especially in the network evening news business, where our audiences are routine audiences of habit who make a point to join you so many nights per week, it's important to say to them, with the correspondents they recognize, that here we are standing in front of it, and we're going to take you on another tour of it. And in human nature, we get busy and we move on, the holidays come and go. We haven't drilled back down and focused attention.

And you hear anecdotally, "How is New Orleans? How is the rebuilding? Did I hear the Lower Ninth Ward is not going to come back at all? I hear parts of it are just fine."

So we're going to go back and stand there and do as balanced a job as we can, pointing out, well, it's not going to come back here, and here it's prospering, and here's the government. Here's the funding. And so on.

KURTZ: Is this an emotional connection for you? Do you feel basically that it's your job to help keep New Orleans' plight on the national radar screen?

WILLIAMS: Well, it's everyone. I think because -- as you were kind enough to mention -- because we were there early and because NBC News went at it with a big commitment early on, because we have maintained a bureau there every day since, it is a bit easier for us to report from there. We feature reports from our New Orleans bureau, correspondent Martin Savage, Ron Mot, quite often on "NBC Nightly News," on the "Today" show, just to go back there.

KURTZ: Now, you're -- let me break in here. Your newscast has won an Emmy, a duPont, a Peabody and a Murrow for its coverage. But you have gotten a ton of e-mail, some of which you've read on the air, saying, enough already with Katrina, put a cork in it, we're sick of it. So are you risking in any way alienating part of your audience?

WILLIAMS: Luckily, it has not been -- we haven't -- they may complain from time to time, but they haven't left us. And I think even those writing in understand that a whole lot of Americans are still hurting from that day, and a whole lot of the geographic map is changed, if not missing. And the population remains scattered all over the country.

Remember, the population of Baton Rouge, which suddenly overnight became the largest city in New Orleans -- Houston, Texas, took on such a surge in population. This redrew a lot of maps in that region, as you know, Howie, and it continues to.

KURTZ: All right.

We just finished, Brian Williams, talking about the Scooter Libby trial. Your NBC colleague, Tim Russert, is scheduled to testify this week.

You had written on your blog that perhaps it would be better to have a reporter cover that who did not report to Russert as NBC's Washington bureau chief. Now you're going to have Kelly O'Donnell, who's been covering the trial, cover that story.

Does that put her and the newscast in any part of an awkward position?

WILLIAMS: I don't think so. I shared this internal debate of ours for a reason, so people could know what we were looking at. And we went round and round on it, and we came back to the fact that, you know, reporters are very independent people who follow their own sets of rules and ours that govern their behavior. And Kelly's been covering this trial all along.

She will cover Tim's testimony when it happens, and then I think what's best is to have Tim come on the broadcast and talk with me in a live conversation. He's been limited, of course, from commenting in the run-up before the case. Lawyers being lawyers, they haven't been wanting to say anything prejudicial.

And so we'll talk to Tim about what he says on the stand. And I don't think there's any better way to shed light on this.

KURTZ: From the courtroom witness stand to your witness stand.

WILLIAMS: That's right.

KURTZ: Let me just touch on the coverage this week of Joe Biden's foot in mouth disease. As everyone has heard by now, he praised Barack Obama for being the first mainstream African-American candidate who was "clean" and "articulate". And this kicked off a big fuss.

You led your newscast with that. Why did this story deserve that kind of prominence?

WILLIAMS: I think given a lead story, the selection of a lead story, has to be viewed in the rearview mirror in the context of the day. And it was our judgment that on that day, given everything else, that story deserved placement at the top.

I think because it pulls in so many various aspects, as I said to one of the guests who joined us, John Harwood of "The Wall Street Journal" and CNBC, that, you know, this carries with it politics and race. And even our modern language.

And as is written about in this morning's "New York Times" and other publications, it is a multi-pronged, multifaceted story that says a lot about the state of our political debate and language these days.

KURTZ: And Biden's interview with "The New York Observer" also totally out-staged his first day, the day he declared his candidacy.

WILLIAMS: That's right.

KURTZ: So no argument that it was a good political story.

Brian Williams, we appreciate your phoning in this morning.

WILLIAMS: Howie, thanks for having me on.

KURTZ: And thank you.

Up next, we examine the phenomenon of scantily-clad women on FOX News. What's up with that?

And later, CNBC's Maria Bartiromo on the hot seat over her friendship with an ousted Citigroup executive.

And Super Bowl hype. Chicago TV stations get out their pompons.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Time now for the latest from the news business in our "Media Minute."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

AL FRANKEN, AIR AMERICA RADIO: Air America Radio...

KURTZ (voice over): Air America is losing its biggest star. Al Franken, from "Saturday Night Live" fame, is leaving the liberal network and made clear he's running for the Senate in his native Minnesota.

Meanwhile, the bankrupt operation is getting a financial lifeline. Stephen Green, a real estate financier and brother of former New York City official and mayoral candidate Mark Green, has agreed to take over the struggling network.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: Now, all the networks use B-roll, that footage you see on the screen to illustrate a subject while some is talking. But for some, it's sexier than others.

When radio host Laura Ingraham was on Bill O'Reilly's FOX show this week, she objected to all the B-roll of babes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAURA INGRAHAM, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: What is the purpose of your running the continuous loop? Are we going to run the B-roll of this? Oh, here we...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we're running this, too.

INGRAHAM: This is what I'm talking about!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we ran this last night for cosmetic surgery.

INGRAHAM: What is -- OK. Here's what I'm saying.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cosmetic surgery.

INGRAHAM: I don't know if there's a rampant midlife crisis going on in this network among the male anchors.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: FOX News does seem to like video of scantily-clad women, as Comedy Central's Jon Stewart observed in examining why business anchor Neil Cavuto was interviewing waitresses from Hooters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEIL CAVUTO, FOX NEWS: I was thinking when you guys were coming, it's been a controversial time for beautiful women. So you're all still waitresses.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

JON STEWART, COMEDY CENTRAL: Well, I'm Neil Cavuto, and this is what I've been reduced to.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Anything to keep them watching.

Coming up, CNBC defends its "Money Honey". Maria Bartiromo's ties to Citigroup coming under the media microscope.

And stick around for Super Bowl hype, Chicago-style.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Welcome back.

She's the most celebrated anchor on CNBC, complete with her own tabloid nickname, the "Money Honey." Maria Bartiromo has generally gotten positive press for her business coverage until this month, when "The Wall Street Journal" revealed that a top Citigroup executive had been ousted in part because of his friendship with Bartiromo.

Todd Thompson had given Maria Bartiromo a ride back from Asia on the company's jet. CNBC reimbursed Citigroup for the flight. And other executives ordered him to stop spending money on projects involving Bartiromo.

The anchor, meanwhile, made at least three appearances for Citigroup last year, such as speaking at dinners for the banking giant's clients, all of which raises the question: Has Bartiromo become a celebrity journalist and is CNBC getting too cozy with the corporations it covers?

Joining me now in Boston, Emily Rooney, host of "Beat the Press" on WGBH. In New York, David Carr, media columnist for "The New York Times." And here in Washington, Frank Ahrens, media and entertainment writer for "The Washington Post."

A quick question, a quick answer from each of you, please.

Should Maria Bartiromo have flown back from Asia on the Citigroup jet, even though CNBC reimbursed the company for the flight?

Emily Rooney?

EMILY ROONEY, HOST, "BEAT THE PRESS," WGBH: I don't know. That one makes me very uncomfortable.

For one thing, why were the other executives booted off the flight if it was a group meeting and she was there to develop some programming? Why -- why was it -- we're assuming now that they were alone. That's sort of the way the story has come out. So I'd say I feel uncomfortable about it.

KURTZ: David Carr?

DAVID CARR, MEDIA COLUMNIST, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, when we see CNBC has reimbursed Citigroup for the costs, they paid for half of what it cost to fly a chartered jet back? I don't think so. They paid a commercial fare and left it at that, and that seems to be a significant gratuity.

KURTZ: Frank Ahrens?

FRANK AHRENS, MEDIA AND ENTERTAINMENT WRITER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Right, that's exactly the case. The price of a commercial ticket is much, much lower than that of a private jet.

Listen, I mean, part of Maria's job is to promote CNBC for the network. The question is, within what boundaries?

KURTZ: And we'll get into those questions.

Emily Rooney, David Carr writes in his "New York Times" column that Maria Bartiromo, at these Citigroup functions, is trotted out like Bill Murray at a celebrity golf tournament. But what exactly did she do wrong?

ROONEY: You know, it's so interesting. I was thinking about this, this week, also, because nobody used to cover business. That was -- it was only in the last couple of decades that business news has become really in the forefront. And now it's sort of in the same genre as sports, and that is that you really have to get close to your subjects in order to cover them, and then these cozy relationships develop.

I think it's different than any other kind of reporting, different than political reporting, different from any other -- so just that sense that you have to get an intimate relationship going. And that's what happened with her.

KURTZ: On the other hand, David Carr, you describe the journalist at CNBC as being part of a long tradition of reporters kind of sucking up to sources and getting -- and writing favorable articles to do so. But can you cite any favorable interview or favorable story that Maria Bartiromo did, or a case where she pulled any punches?

CARR: Well, she interviewed Mr. Thompson three different times. She didn't exactly rake him over the coals.

She blurbed Sandy Weill's book. She admitted she bought 1,000 shares of their stock. I mean, the viewer could be forgiven for wondering whose interests are really being looked after here.

KURTZ: Frank Ahrens, how is this any different than you going to a newspaper convention and taking some executives out to dinner so that you'll get to know them better?

AHRENS: Right. I mean, what we do is source building. And the question is, within what boundaries do we do it?

I take a -- I go to a convention. I take out a publisher. I pay for his meal or her meal and mine as well. And hopefully he takes my -- takes my call the next time -- the next time I call. He or she is probably not flying me about on the company jet to get from point A to point B.

KURTZ: All right.

Now, CNBC says Maria Bartiromo took 46 trips last year, three of them for Citigroup, some of them were for other -- to make appearances at other companies, charities, universities, and the like. But she's also broken some stories, such as Sanford Weill leaving Citigroup.

Emily Rooney, let me read you something that Jack Shafer wrote in "Slate" magazine, talking about "The Wall Street Journal" coverage of this story.

"'The Journal' has it both ways. It's not saying the two were romantically linked, and it's not saying they weren't."

And "Newsweek" weighed in by saying that "Bloggers are insinuating that the banker and the anchor may have more than just professional ties."

And I guess "Newsweek" insinuating that as well.

What do you make of that kind of innuendo?

ROONEY: Well, this is the old standard trick -- journalists start writing about what somebody else has already written about, and that's the way they bring up gossip and that kind of thing. I mean, once "Slate" did that, Jack Shafer, a number of other people raised the issue.

I don't know. I believe that CNBC and Maria Bartiromo have an obligation to address this at this point.

Was there a romantic relationship? If there was, CNBC should take some action with her, too.

I mean, I understand why they're protecting her. She is their mainstay of the network. But she should have written about what happened on that flight, for one thing.

Why not? Why not talk about it if it was -- if nothing happened? Why not tell us that?

KURTZ: Well, CNBC declined an invitation to have somebody appear on this program on its behalf. Let me read a statement from he network.

Maria Bartiromo is one of the most prolific and well-respected financial journalists in the industry...Her travel has been company- related and approved, and involved legitimate business assignments."

But, David Carr, what about Emily's point about the way the network is handling this and what you might call in the political realm damage control?

CARR: Well, I think the intimacies we should be interested in are corporate ones. Citigroup and CNBC are in a commingling of brands. They're packaging and managing financial information for consumers, and they're using Maria Bartiromo as a Beanie baby that they're just trading back and forth to the commercial benefit of both.

It doesn't seem much like news to me.

KURTZ: So you're saying that CNBC is using its most bankable star to further a cozy relationship with companies, some of whom are advertisers? I mean, that's a fairly serious charge.

CARR: Well, I think it's backed up by sort of the libretto of their coverage. They mostly have the pompons out and are waving and rooting on the market.

This is not "The Wall Street Journal." They're not in the same business. They're not -- they're of the business. They don't write about the business.

KURTZ: I would quarrel with that. I think in the late '90s stock market bubble, CNBC did play too much of a cheerleading role. I think the network has gotten more skeptical. They break a lot of stories about business.

What's your take on the way CNBC covers the world?

AHRENS: David is partially right, at least in the fact that there always has been a symbiotic relationship between the market at CNBC. During the '90s run-up, when you had more people than ever, regular folks involved in the market, CNBC's ratings shot up. And when the market started to recede, you know, their ratings started to go down. Now they're getting a bit of a bump.

The CNBC colleagues that I've run into out on different -- when I've been out on assignment, you know, the professional folks, the reporters at that level, you know, are just as eager to break stories as I am. And, in fact, they bristle at the fact that they may get Jeff Immelt or Bob Wright before I do, simply because, you know, there's the two-way thing.

KURTZ: It's a great platform for CEOs to go on, talk up their company's prospects, talk up their stock.

AHRENS: Right.

KURTZ: But, at the same time, they should get aggressive questions.

AHRENS: Exactly. And also, it's like you and me. It's -- we're supposed to break news about "The Washington Post" and "The Washington Post" company. If we don't, if get beat on it, it's -- you know, it's embarrassing. But if we get it, sometimes we're saying, oh, you've gotten the inside scoop. So it's kind of no-win situation.

KURTZ: Emily Rooney, do you think this flap will end up damaging the reputation not just of Maria Bartiromo, but of CNBC, or do you think it will blow over and just be kind of a blip on the screen? ROONEY: You know, it will likely blow over unless somebody keeps the feet to the fire on this, because, you know, the bottom line is that people who cover money affect all of us. And, you know, her relationship with Citibank -- I have a Citibank account. And, you know, I'm learning things that I never knew.

Spending $5 million to develop a program for the Sundance Channel? I mean, she should -- they should be telling us more about that. It affects everybody who has accounts, you know, with Citibank and other funds all over the world.

So I think they have some obligation, unlike, you know, a sports reporter who gets too close to their sources. It doesn't have any personal impact. And I think in this case, it does.

KURTZ: I'm not sure I understand your distinction between business reporting, which clearly has gotten hot, as you say, in the last 15 years, and other kinds of reporting. Don't political reporters, sports reporters, entertainment reporters also need to balance the need to do their jobs and get access to the movie star, the senator, the cabinet member and all of that?

ROONEY: It seems to me that the knives are out in those cases. You know, I realize the dinner parties go on in Washington, but it doesn't seem to compromise their position the same way it does is in the business world.

I'm not sure exactly why that is except that it's -- the business world is shut basically to everybody. The only people who really get in there are the ones who have the intimate relationships, like Maria Bartiromo.

It's not the kind of thing that a reporter casually comes in and out of. And it's easier in the political world to kind of casually drop in and out and, you know, get to know somebody from your district or something like that. It's not that way in the business world.

KURTZ: David Carr, I'm sure that business reporters from "The New York Times" would dispute the notion that, you know, CNBC gets all the scoops.

CARR: Yes. I do think that we get our share of scoops. On certain stories they might wake up on third base.

I think the relationship they have is much more akin to what goes on in the entertainment industry, where in order to maintain access, in order to program a 24-hour news channel, you have to have people that are willing to work with you and willing to play ball. And although they do break stories, it also calls for a certain tenor of coverage and a certain tenor of questioning, as it does in Hollywood. There's certain things you can't ask or tell.

KURTZ: Final thought?

AHRENS: Well, the Hollywood example is a good one. For instance, Madonna doesn't need to talk to "The Washington Post" because she has...

KURTZ: And we've always been very frustrated about that.

(LAUGHTER)

KURTZ: Go ahead.

AHRENS: And she can take her story directly to any of the number of glossies that will let her choose the photographer that is going to shoot her for the cover, let her even choose the interviewer, and do more of a sympathetic interview. She has nothing to gain by talking to us.

KURTZ: Well, here's my two cents.

I've interviewed Maria Bartiromo for my book on Wall Street coverage. I like her. I'm not convinced she's done anything wrong, but I wish she wouldn't spend so much time at these corporate functions. I don't think it creates a great appearance.

But one problem that I see that we touched on earlier here, she hasn't said a word about any of this. That's the way a celebrity acts. She is a journalist who asks questions for a living, and she ought to be willing to answer questions when her conduct becomes the object of scrutiny.

Before we go, Emily Rooney, you are, of course, in Boston. Earlier this week we had this long scare over possible terrorist activity, roads and highways shut down over what turned out to be a promotion for the Cartoon Network, owned by Turner Broadcasting, which is CNN's parent company, for the "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" and a talking box of French fries and a milkshake.

Was this a big embarrassment for the Cartoon Network and Turner Broadcasting?

ROONEY: Oh, I'm glad you didn't ask if it was a big embarrassment for Boston, because that's -- I've gotten smug phone calls from all over the country, from my relatives and whatnot, about, how could we not know? How come we didn't recognize Err (ph) when we saw him?

I don't know. The big mistake they made was hanging these little doohickeys on public things like, I don't know, bridges and hospitals and that kind of thing. I guess in other cities, in Chicago and Los Angeles, they were on the equivalent of Newbury Comics kind of a storefront.

KURTZ: Right.

ROONEY: So, I mean, they're going to end up paying a million dollars at least to the city of Boston.

KURTZ: Yes. Turner Broadcasting has said it will reimburse the city of Boston and has apologized for what happened.

Emily Rooney, David Carr, Frank Ahrens, thank you very much for joining us.

Want to quickly go to the CNN.com "Most E-mailed" stories of the week. If we can put that list up, there it is.

No.1: Stonehenge workers' village found in England.

No. 2 was about Orango Island off Africa, where women propose marriage to men and the men can't refuse.

But No. 3, you don't want to miss this, the cat bath video. This is must-see TV. Let's see if we can -- see? You don't want to miss that.

No. 4: A judge sends frat brothers to prison for hazing. This was a particularly brutal episode involving whipping somebody or beating them.

And No. 5 we were just talking about, the Cartoon Network fiasco in Boston.

Up next, we'll go live to Miami, where Chicago's Bear frenzy is heating up before tonight's big game. But is the local coverage of the Super Bowl team out of bounds?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: It's a huge deal when your local team is in the Super Bowl, so football fever has been running high in Chicago and Indianapolis in the run-up to tonight's big game. And when you have two weeks of pregame newscasts to fill, the stories can get a little silly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANTONIO MORA, CBS 2 NEWS: Well, millions of Bears fans are praying for a victory on Sunday, but a Chicago nun's divine prediction says a win is already in God's plan.

SISTER JEAN KENNY, ST. FRANCIS BORGIA PARISH: I predict the Bears will win Super Bowl XLI by a score of 30-27.

Go Bears!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Joining us now in the Windy Chicago, Phil Rosenthal, media critic for "The Chicago Tribune." And at Dolphin Stadium in Miami, the site of tonight's game, Dan Jiggetts, an anchor on Chicago's Comcast SportsNet and former offensive tackle for the Chicago Bears.

Phil Rosenthal, is it really true that WBBM had a correspondent getting predictions from zoo animals, as well as running a countdown clock on the bottom of the screen, countdown to the big game?

PHIL ROSENTHAL, CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Well, the countdown clock was at the top of the screen.

KURTZ: Oh, excuse me.

ROSENTHAL: It was originally supposed to be on 24/7, but they got a lot of complaints when it was interfering with a Hallmark movie. So now it only runs during newscasts, Bears programs, and at the top and bottom of the hour for about 30 seconds on syndicated programming. But yes, it's out of control here.

KURTZ: Out of control.

I know a town like Chicago can go crazy over the Super Bowl, same thing in Indianapolis. But does that justify journalists acting like fanatics, Dan?

DAN JIGGETTS, ANCHOR, CHICAGO'S COMCAST SPORTSNET: Well, you know, I think to a certainly extent, everybody gets into the excitement of the whole thing, and just, you know, the feeling that it's been 21 years since the Bears were in the Super Bowl. It's a big deal for Chicago because they always feel like, you know, they're struggling to get that notice that they so desperately desire.

And, yes, you know, it is a big deal. Look, let's face it, you go to any part of the city, people are talking about it. You walk on the street, people are making reference to it.

Everybody is asking, what do you think. You know, how many are they going to score? Are they going to beat these guys?

It is a big deal within the city of Chicago and, frankly, for a large part of the Midwest, because when you look at Bears fans, it's not just Illinois or Chicago. There are a lot of Bears fans around the world.

KURTZ: Phil Rosenthal, I don't have any objection to the volume of the coverage. And we all want to know what the nuns think about the game. But the tone of the coverage is boosterism -- we're going to win. I mean, are news organizations supposed to cover the Bears and other sports teams with some degree of journalistic skepticism and not just be cheerleaders?

ROSENTHAL: Well, I would think so. I mean, it was interesting. Friday night I was flipping around at 10:00 when the late local news runs, and each of the female anchors was wearing orange on some part of their outfit, and some of two of them were wearing the navy blue of the Bears to go with it.

Channel 2, the local CBS station which is carrying the Super Bowl, has its people down in Miami wearing orange and blue, you know, to coordinate with the team. They're literally wearing the team colors and have changed the colors on their set to match the team colors.

Now, part of that may be that their traditional royal blue is the Colts' color. I don't know. But the truth is, it does seem rather boosterish (ph). You know, your big-city towns never looked so small as when -- as when the local team is in a championship. And unlike baseball, it's only one team here.

KURTZ: Let the record show that Phil Rosenthal is not wearing an orange sweater.

Dan Jiggetts, when you were a player, when you played for the Chicago Bears, did you expect the TV sportscasters to root for the team?

JIGGETTS: Well, that was so long ago TV wasn't invented, Howard.

(LAUGHTER)

JIGGETTS: But, you know, we really didn't pay much attention to it.

To be honest with you, I think one of the things that we've forgotten in all of this, you know, when you look at the people who are watching television, the fans of the game and everything else, I think sometimes we have to be careful, we being the media, that we're not too distant from what the public is thinking. This is supposed to be a fun event. And I think we always have to keep that in mind.

Unlike a lot of things that we have to cover in our lives, this is supposed to be something that's enjoyable, something that everybody can participate in, have a little bit of an opinion on. So we have to keep that in mind as well with all of the boosterism that we -- that we see sometimes. But I think in large part, if there's something tough to be asked, if there's an issue to be faced...

KURTZ: Right.

JIGGETTS: ... you'll certainly see it, not only from the news folks in our newsrooms, but you'll see it also from the sports folks. That's for sure.

KURTZ: Well, it's a fun event, but also very lucrative for CBS for just carrying the game, and WMMB in Chicago is a CBS affiliate.

In this YouTube age, Phil Rosenthal, some ordinary folks got to make commercials that we'll see tonight. Is this a novelty or a wave of the future?

I've got about half a minute.

ROSENTHAL: I think it's a novelty. I mean, I think it's a way to market. I think we're all trying to figure out how YouTube and other outlets work -- work with us and how to exploit them the best if you're a traditional media outfit.

KURTZ: Dan Jiggetts, what if the Chicago Bears lose? Will there be funeral music on all the newscasts tomorrow?

Sorry to raise that possibility. JIGGETTS: There will be a dirge playing -- there will be a dirge playing, no doubt. But I'm going to tell you this, Howard -- if this rain keeps coming down, look for the Bears to win this football game, my friend.

KURTZ: All right. We've got that on videotape.

Enjoy the game.

Dan Jiggetts, Phil Rosenthal in Chicago, thanks very much for joining us.

When we come back, Hillary Clinton makes a joke. You got a problem with that?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: It was a joke. It got a laugh. No news flash there. But because it was Hillary Clinton who got off the funny line, the media machine kicked into overdrive. The presidential candidate was in Iowa last weekend. Someone in the audience asked about dealing with the evil men in the world, and -- all right, roll the tape.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: What in my background equips me to deal with evil and bad men?

KURTZ (voice over): At a news conference, reporters peppered her with questions.

CLINTON: I thought I was funny. You know, you guys keep telling me, lighten up, be funny. You know, I get a little funny, and now I'm being psychoanalyzed. I mean...

KURTZ: And she was right. The press put the senator on the couch. The "Joke's on Bill," said "The New York Post," assuming she had to be taking a shot at her husband.

Television wasn't far behind.

KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS: She quickly learned that every word she says will be scrutinized and analyzed.

BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: Every faux pas she makes is going to be just like that, front page on the tabs. She insulted her husband, this, that, and the other thing.

TUCKER CARLSON, MSNBC NEWS: No, you heard it right the first time, ladies and gentlemen. It was a woman subtly mocking her husband, and good for her. God knows he does deserve it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: There they go again. If a candidate can no longer tell a joke or make an offhand remark or just act human about reporters without stirring controversy, this is what you get -- cautious politicians, scripted politicians, poll-tested, focus groups, never off-message politicians. How boring is that?

Then the pundits get on their high horse and lament the lack of authenticity in our political class.

Now, when candidates say something idiotic, like Joe Biden calling Barack Obama "articulate" and "clean," something you would never say about a white politician, the press should be all over them, but when it's a harmless joke, journalists ought to lighten up and stop playing the class scold (ph).

And speaking of Hillary, she's a hot topic in our e-mail bag.

Last week we asked, "Does the press hold Hillary Clinton to a tougher standard than other candidates?"

Marie Watson from Cloudscroft, New Mexico, writes, "If you don't show Hillary the same respect that you show the other candidates for president, you are being very unfair, sexist and bigoted."

Dan Leahy of Santa Barbara agrees. "The media are incredibly hard on Hillary. I never hear a comment without a negative caveat. Every story is 'Can she overcome this...?'."

But Charles Evans from Kingman, Arizona, has a different view. "I believe that Hillary Clinton is justifiably held to a higher standard so that we, the public, may be made aware of her qualifications, other than having been married to a president."

You can send us your own thoughts by e-mailing us, reliable@cnn.com.

That's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.

I'm Howard Kurtz.

Join us again next Sunday morning, 10:00 a.m. Eastern, for another critical look at the media.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.voxant.com

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