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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Political Impact of Elizabeth Edwards' Battle With Cancer; Are Media Siding With Democrats in Subpoena Standoff?
Aired March 25, 2007 - 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): ... and television acts as an echo chamber. The question now, does it seem heartless to cover the political impact of Elizabeth Edwards' cancer?
Up in arms. As the White House tries to limit testimony by Karl Rove and other subpoenaed officials in the case of the purged prosecutors, are the media openly siding with the Democrats?
Calamity central. A missing Boy Scout, a kidnapped baby, a teenager trapped under concrete, is this really the stuff of national news?
Plus, viral video. The unmasking of the mystery man who put that anti-Hillary ad on YouTube.
KURTZ: The media business was buzzing on Thursday morning. John Edwards had called a news conference a day after his wife Elizabeth had a medical checkup on her progress from breast cancer. We all wanted to know, was the news bad? And how would it affect his presidential campaign?
About an hour before the former senator spoke, the Web site politico.com posted what looked like a major scoop -- "Edwards to Suspend Campaign". Reuters also said that Edwards would stop campaigning, each organization citing one unnamed reports. Reports, which turned out to be wrong, soon hit the television echo chamber.
CNN cited the Politico story, and correspondent Candy Crowley soon tried to qualify it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Politico.com has crackerjack reporters over there. So I'm just telling what you they said, and then the Edwards campaign saying that's not true.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: We will know more just moments from now, when we hear it from the source, but reports have been circulating all morning long that Senator Edwards is indeed about to end or suspend his campaign for president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Edwards, of course, is continuing his campaign, despite the recurrence of his wife's cancer.
Joining us now from the White House, Ed Henry, CNN's White House correspondent; here in the studio, Jill Zuckman, national correspondent for "The Chicago Tribune"; Don Lambro, chief political correspondent for "The Washington Times"; and John Harris, editor-in- chief of thepolitico.com.
John Harris, you posted that source based on a single unnamed source, a friend of Edwards.
In retrospect, big mistake?
JOHN HARRIS, POLITICO.COM: It was a serious mistake, and one we recognized at Politico that was a serious mistake. We corrected it within minutes when we started getting pushback from the Edwards campaign, then within a couple of hours the reporter involved, Ben Smith (ph), wrote a long first-person piece explaining precisely what had gone wrong.
KURTZ: You absolutely corrected it, and you absolutely gave a full accounting, and all of that was good. What I don't understand is, why take the risk of being wrong on something like that based on one source an hour before a news conference, when we're all going to find out what John Edwards and Elizabeth Edwards had to say anyway?
HARRIS: Well, in retrospect, clearly more caution would have been necessary. This was not a typical news story.
We write at politico.com -- some other mainstream news organizations doing the same thing -- writing these news blogs in which we explain in real time the information we're getting. It was not definitive, and we should have emphasized that this was fragmentary information based on a source that the reporter trusted and that the editors, hearing who it was, also trusted.
Nonetheless, that's different than confirmation. We implied that it was confirmed, we aired in that sense.
KURTZ: All right.
Ed Henry, should networks such as CNN be reporting what politico.com says or any Web site or news organization says when there's an unnamed source and you don't have any independent confirmation?
ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It's a very tough balancing act. I think we need to be transparent with our viewers and say, look, this is out there, it's being reported, it's being picked up by a lot of people. And as you've noted, politico.com has, you know, developed an assured time (ph), reputation, for having these crackerjack reporters.
John Harris, on your panel, a top-rate journalist from "The Washington Post" previously. I think Candy Crowley, the key here, handled it pitch-perfect, because she said, look, it's out there, but I'm also independently talking to the Edwards campaign, they're knocking it down. So she was putting both sides out there, and trying to be transparent with viewers. And once CNN found out that politico.com was backing off and that John Edwards was now making it clear that it was not true, we immediately told our viewers that it was wrong, and that -- and we were up front with them, I think, on both sides of it Howie.
KURTZ: All right.
Jill Zuckman, the coverage of Elizabeth Edwards has been enormously sympathetic, but beyond the usual human concern, is this in part because many journalists just like the woman?
JILL ZUCKMAN, "CHICAGO TRIBUNE": She's a very popular figure. I think a lot of journalists like her, I think a lot of voters like her.
She drew incredibly large crowds in 2004. She still has her own following. A lot of women feel they know her. I mean, voters feel a sense of empathy for what she's been through.
And so I think that has a lot to do with it. But at the same time, I think there are questions that are very delicately being raised about, well, if you don't know how much time you have left, and you have these young children, why are you going forward with this? And she's been -- she's been very candid about it, that she doesn't want to let the cancer beat her.
KURTZ: Do you think these questions should be raised delicately or otherwise by the media?
DONALD LAMBRO, "WASHINGTON TIMES": I do. Just talking to average people about it, you know, they say, gee, why doesn't he decide to stay home with his wife? We don't know (INAUDIBLE). So no one knows what effect this is going to have on his campaign.
Right now he's number one in the polls in Iowa, the first out of the block. So they work as a team. If she maintains her ability to go with him, it won't be an issue. But if she becomes -- has to deal with chemotherapy treatments and can't, then I think that issue will be raised more.
KURTZ: Well, you know, the sad irony is that the Edwards campaign is getting about 20 times more coverage than it's gotten since he declared for president because of this. The front page story in "The New York Times" today in which Elizabeth Edwards is quoted as saying, "If we gave up what we have committed to as our life's work, wouldn't I be getting ready to die?" And the couple also going on "60 Minutes" tonight, an interview with Katie Couric.
John Harris, I want to play for you some clips of some of the recent coverage of this matter. Let's take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBIN ROBERTS, ABC NEWS: Is he going to be keeping Edwards kind of immune right now from negative ads?
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: Is it fair that people will judge him for this, people will say, wait a minute, he should be home taking care of his wife every day?
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: He was the Breck girl two days ago. Now he's the good husband.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Doesn't this appear rather cold and calculating, talking about the political impact, when Elizabeth Edwards has just been just diagnosed with incurable bone cancer?
HARRIS: They might, but this is the reality of the political universe we live in. We've got these nonstop cable shows, and people instantly are going to be talking about the political implications of it.
I have to say, it's not the worst thing. Usually big news events -- you know, Clarence Thomas, Anita Hill, they spark a national referendum.
KURTZ: Everyone's got an opinion on this.
HARRIS: Everybody has an opinion because it's not really a political story. It's a personal story, and they're corresponding it to things in their own lives and how they would react.
ZUCKMAN: And that of course is our job, is to ask, what does this mean? That's what we do every day with every story.
This is just a completely different sort of political story because it's so incredibly personal. And I know the campaign is telling me they are getting swamped with e-mails to their -- to their campaign in a way that they had never gotten before since this announcement. They're preparing to send more staff out on the road, because they're expecting more crowds, too.
KURTZ: Here's a columnist for "The Philadelphia Daily News," Jill Porter. She writes of Edwards deciding to continue campaigning, "The decision is shortsighted and unrealistic, and his priorities are out of whack." She says, "They owe their children undivided attention."
I wonder if there's almost a gender divide here? Because I heard a lot of women question the decision.
ZUCKMAN: Well, I think that this is -- a lot of analysts I talked to last week, political consultants, said, hey, uncharted waters. And I think it's true.
I think that we're all figuring this out right now. I think people are going to have a lot of different opinions. I don't know if there's a gender divide. I mean, it's just too soon. We just learned about this.
KURTZ: And you personally have doubts about it?
ZUCKMAN: Well, I -- you know, I don't know what I would do if I had two young children and had just learned something like this. And that this is their way of dealing with this, and we have to see how voters respond to it over the course of the campaign.
LAMBRO: Let's not forget the upper side of this. There's a certain amount of courage to be on the part of Mrs. Edwards and her husband, particularly for her to go out and be on the campaign trail. I think people may admire that. I think we're in an era where, as the doctor said in that news conference, cancer is treatable, and you can live for many, many years by treating it, which she is going to do.
KURTZ: And so the coverage needs to reflect that as well?
LAMBRO: I think the coverage of her being out there and her standing by her husband and wishing life to go on, a lot of cancer survivors of five years, you know, can identify with that.
LAMBRO: People who know cancer survivors can identify with that. And so I think it works to their advantage to some degree, if that's the case.
KURTZ: Ed Henry, Tony Snow, the White House press secretary, who is a colon cancer survivor, is having surgery tomorrow for a growth on his abdomen. He announced this the other day. It doesn't appear to be cancerous, but we don't know.
He made a very moving statement about Elizabeth Edwards. It seems to be a human story in which the usual partisan divides are almost suspended.
HENRY: Absolutely. I mean, Tony Snow made that comment before he had the diagnosis of the growth, but clearly he had been in touch with his doctors and we didn't know about that when he was talking about Elizabeth Edwards. It was the day after the Edwards story that he finally came forward and said, look, I've gotten this confirmation that I need to have surgery on Monday.
I think also the other aspect of this that Tony Snow was pointing out is he felt like the Edwardses were being brave by going forward and being open with the American people, and also going on with the campaign. And there's another factor there in that the Edwardses, let's not forget, lost a 16-year-old son several years ago in a car accident, and they obviously unfortunately know so much about the fragility of life. And they, themselves, in this "New York Times" piece this morning are talking about that openly...
HENRY: ... and saying, we're very well aware of how fragile life is. KURTZ: And that's precisely the point.
Here's my take.
You know, the reason that it is fair, even though it may seem cold for journalists to immediately go to the political impact here, is that John Edwards is himself is doing it. In that press conference the other day, he said, "It's fair for the American people to judge me as a potential president based on how I handle this kind of pressure."
And look at the other candidates. Look at the New York tabloids on Friday.
Rudy Giuliani, his third wife, Judith, reveals that she had a previously undisclosed third husband. That became a very big story in New York and nationally.
So voters out there look at these things personally. They are going to make judgments about the candidates' marriages. Certainly Hillary Clinton is aware of that. And journalists shouldn't pretend otherwise.
When we come back, the press hammers the president and his spokesman over the firing of those eight U.S. attorneys. Are journalists taking sides?
KURTZ: When President Bush offered to have Karl Rove and other White House officials testify before Congress about the firing of those eight U.S. attorneys, but in secret, not under oath and with no written record, it was obvious the press didn't think much of the proposal.
HENRY: Why do you have a transcript of the briefing every day and you won't have a transcript of what Karl Rove is going to tell Congress?
SNOW: Do you have a transcript of the conversation you and I had over in the corner the other day?
HENRY: We don't have a transcript.
SNOW: Do you have a transcript of the conversation we have when you call me up and try to get an answer?
KURTZ (voice over): The grilling of Snow continued on the morning shows.
DIANE SAWYER, ABC NEWS: Most people on the street, members of Congress, say, if you haven't got anything to hide, why not go up and testify under oath?
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Why not Karl Rove and Harriet Miers? Why not the people who they want to subpoena? Why not have them testify under oath?
SNOW: Harry, you're sounding like a partisan rather than a reporter here.
KURTZ: Ed Henry, you and your colleagues have been going at Snow pretty hard on this issue. It sounds like you think the Bush proposal is a terrible idea.
HENRY: Well, the bottom line for me that when you're a White House correspondent, you have a duty to ask tough questions. Earlier in the week, Tony Snow, when I asked him a question about Iraq, told me off camera to "zip it." He later apologized for that, but I think the bottom line is White House correspondents should not zip it, whether they're covering a Republican White House, a Democratic White House.
You've got John Harris on your panel, and I seem to recall when he was covering the Clinton White House, there were pretty tough questions for Bill Clinton, and I didn't necessarily hear Republicans think that John Harris and others asking tough questions of the Clinton White House were doing the bidding of Republicans.
I think you have to let the chips fall where they may, whether you're covering a Democratic or Republican White House, and tough questions come with the territory -- Howie.
KURTZ: All right. Well, zip it for just one moment so I can get John Harris in.
You were a White House correspondent for years. You know that when 10 reporters in a row pound the press secretary on the same issue, it can sound pretty one-sided.
HARRIS: Well, that's right, but that doesn't mean that it is one-sided. And the sort of pushback that Tony Snow was giving to -- hey, you're being partisan -- is itself part of the defense for them to get off the defensive. You have to brush it off and go to the heart of what's very legitimate questions, as Ed says.
Keep asking them. The job is not to be popular. It is to try to get answers. And that can be difficult to do with this White House.
ZUCKMAN: And the press briefing is not a television show. The bottom line is what reporters write in their newspaper stories or on their Web sites, or put on television in the evening news broadcasts.
KURTZ: But these days the press briefing is a television show.
ZUCKMAN: Well, you know, that shouldn't stop reporters from asking questions.
KURTZ: And it's certainly a television show when Tony Snow goes and does, you know, five morning show interviews. What do you make of him telling CBS' Harry Smith, as we saw a moment ago, "You sound more like a partisan than a reporter"?
ZUCKMAN: It's a tactic. He's supposed to do that. He's trying to push back.
LAMBRO: (INAUDIBLE) about the larger way the media...
KURTZ: I was going to ask but that.
LAMBRO: I'm sure you were. It seems to me that it's a hyperbolic, hyperactivity way they're reporting the story about, you know, 93, 94 U.S. attorneys, they're going to replace eight of them. And the issue in the day's papers in the last several days, that politics somehow was involved in this.
KURTZ: You're shocked to hear that?
LAMBRO: That's like there was gambling in Rick's Cafe. This is outrageous.
Politics is part of this process. When Clinton came in, Webster Hubbell told all the U.S. attorneys, I want your resignations immediately.
KURTZ: But Don, it is different...
LAMBRO: Let me just...
KURTZ: It is different -- no, because this is a talking point. It is different when a president of another party comes in and gets rid of all of the U.S. attorneys...
LAMBRO: This is very true.
KURTZ: ... as opposed to the reasons for the selective firing of these particular eight attorneys.
LAMBRO: Well, all I'm talking about is, who decided that Webster Hubbell should do that? Well, first of all...
KURTZ: Of course. It was the president.
LAMBRO: ... the attorney general said that. But the attorney general, Janet Reno, got her marching orders from the White House. All of these are parallels to these...
HARRIS: Well, a couple of things, though, Howard. That was a controversy at the time. It wasn't like that passed without notice. This was something that raised a lot of questions.
The other thing is, there have been inconsistent answers here. When there are inconsistent answers, that is inevitably going to inspire more questions. Let's just face it. KURTZ: Go ahead, Ed Henry.
HENRY: Howie, I mean, the bottom line is, the attorney general himself at a press conference earlier in March said essentially he was out of the loop. He was like a CEO. He left the details to his chief of staff.
Then an e-mail emerges Friday night saying, well, wait a second, there was a one-hour meeting, I think in the attorney general's conference room, in which, well, maybe not all the details. At least over the course of an hour, the broad outlines of what was going on were clearly discussed.
So that certainly raises questions about the account of the administration. That's what the tough questions are about, not about -- of course politics is going on, on all sides. Of course the Democrats are hitting the White House for political reasons in part, but also there are questions that the administration has clearly had a hard time answering.
And on that transcript issue that I was asking Tony Snow about, the bottom line is, why won't there be a transcript when he answered my question? What he said was, "Well, was there a transcript of this conversation we had in the corner of the room the other day?" That's not what the question was about. He was turning it into something else.
The question was about an on-the-record briefing. There's a transcript every day at the White House. Why not when it's clearly an on-the--record briefing or interview or testimony with Karl Rove, why wouldn't there be a transcript? That's what the question is about.
KURTZ: Let me just clarify, because there was a big document done (ph) on Friday night which showed that Gonzales was involved in yet another meeting, and he had said earlier, the attorney general did, he was not involved in any discussions about what was going on with these firings.
But, you know, on the question of whether the coverage is overheated, politico.com had a story about a week ago saying the White House was actively searching for a successor to Alberto Gonzales. Now that Bush has embraced him, did it again yesterday on his radio show, you think you got a little too far ahead on that?
HARRIS: No. I knew the sourcing before that. I knew the sourcing in the conversations that took place after that story ran.
That's -- the facts in that story were exactly right, and I think they're interesting. The White House knew how perilous the situation is, and, indeed, they were searching out candidates. And we may yet hear from some of those candidates.
ZUCKMAN: Howie, this is a classic Washington tale, where it's never the action or the crime. It's the cover-up. It's the conflicting statements, the constantly shifting explanations, and that's what the press corps is getting at. They're uncovering that. KURTZ: But the president says the Democrats are trying to turn this into a public spectacle, into a fishing expedition.
Should the media remind viewers and readers that when the Republicans were investigating Bill Clinton, we had Whitewater hearings and travelgate hearings and all of that?
ZUCKMAN: I think it's perfectly fair to remind -- remind readers that under Bill Clinton, he sent Bruce Lindsey up to Capitol Hill to testify. These things do happen on occasion, even if a president doesn't want them to.
LAMBRO: The thing here is (INAUDIBLE). Is something illegal done here? And what we're seeing is U.S. attorneys who were replace were complaining that their successors were brought in for political reasons. And somehow the Democrats on the Hill are saying this is illegal.
Can I just read one quote here?
KURTZ: Go ahead.
LAMBRO: This is from a Clinton-appointed U.S. attorney in Syracuse, New York, Daniel French (ph). And here's what he said -- "The process of selection of a U.S. attorney to replace someone else is political. But once you are there, you can't be political."
That's it in a nutshell.
KURTZ: OK. I've got to go.
LAMBRO: Of course you pick someone who is going to carry your agenda. There's nothing illegal about that.
KURTZ: Of course there's politics...
LAMBRO: They're just trying to make it sound illegal.
KURTZ: Of course there's politics involved. And at the same time, the press covers lots of things that are not illegal but that are questionable. And here this is a situation where President Bush says mistakes were made.
I'm going to disagree with you all on one point. I believe in very, very aggressive White House reporting, but the tone and volume of the hammering of Snow over this does make it appear to people watching at home that journalists were taking sides. And I think some of the "Gonzales is toast" reporting has gone a little bit too far. But we'll see.
John Harris, Ed Henry, Jill Zuckman, Don Lambro, thanks very much for joining us this morning.
The "L.A. Times" has had one scandal after another. Now a top editor has quit over a controversy involving sex and a Hollywood producer. We'll give you the back story in a moment. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
KURTZ: A Hollywood producer guest-editing the "L.A. Times" Sunday opinion section, that was the plan hatched by editorial page editor Andres Martinez. He handed the reins to Oscar winner Brian Grazer. But publisher David Hiller wounded up -- wound up killing the special section, prompting Martinez to design. The reason? Martinez is dating a P.R. woman who works for Brian Grazer.
Joining us now by phone is Vernon Loeb, who recently quit as investigations editor of the "Los Angeles Times".
Vernon, Andres Martinez says this whole controversy is overblown, but are you troubled by him bringing in Brian Grazer as a guest editor while dating his publicist?
VERNON LOEB, FMR. "L.A. TIMES" REPORTER: Yes, I think there was a pretty obvious appearance problem here, and I think David Hiller, the publisher, and Jim O'Shea, the editor, did the right thing, obviously.
KURTZ: Brian Grazer is a great producer, he's been responsible for such movies as "A Beautiful Mind" and "Apollo 13". But the "L.A. Times" covers Hollywood very intensively. So what do you make of just the basic idea of turning over the opinion section for a day to one of Hollywood's leading lights (ph)?
LOEB: Well, I think Andres Martinez is an innovative guy, and he was looking for ways to innovate. You know, newspaper circulations are plummeting, revenues are plummeting. Everybody is looking for a way to do something different. This was his answer.
I think it was a bad answer, but, you know, the clear -- the clear emphasis here was on innovation.
KURTZ: Now, Martinez said that he accepted responsibility for at least the appearance problem here, but he posted this attack on the "L.A. Times" Web site. He talked about naval-gazing newsrooms, and he said he will not be lectured on ethics by some ostensibly objective news reporters and editors who want the editorial page to coordinate with the newsroom's agenda.
What do you make of that attack? Did the newsroom have an agenda when you were there?
LOEB: No, they didn't. And I don't understand what Martinez was saying about newsroom interference.
I mean, the fact that a couple of editors in the newsroom may have called him and suggested editorials on certain topics which seemed to offend him was perfectly within their purview. They certainly weren't telling his people what to write. So I don't think he's going to win in this battle he started against the newsroom.
KURTZ: And the appearance problem -- some people say it's not much of a problem -- is that he had a romantic relationship with a woman who was doing P.R. for Brian Grazer.
LOEB: Yes, there was an obvious appearance problem. People on his own staff saw that, everybody in the newsroom saw it.
I mean, the reporters were very concerned. They love this paper. I love the paper. It's a great paper. To see somebody like Martinez, a relative newcomer, proposing some scheme like this just troubled everybody deeply.
KURTZ: Just briefly, you recently quit, you're going to "The Philadelphia Inquirer". Did you decide to leave the "L.A. Times" in part because Dean Baquet, the editor, resigned after refusing to make some pretty severe budget cuts being demanded by the Tribune Company, which owns the "Los Angeles Times"?
LOEB: Well, Dean Baquet is the reason I went to work there. Dean Baquet and John Carroll. And when they fired Dean, you know, my feelings for the paper changed, and the future there is quite uncertain. And I just got a great opportunity, so it seemed to me like a good time to leave.
KURTZ: All right. Vernon Loeb, thanks very much for getting up early this morning to talk to us.
LOEB: My pleasure, Howie.
KURTZ: Coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, missing Boy Scouts, babies and teenagers in trouble. What explains this TV news fixation?
And that weird anti-Hillary ad on YouTube. Two top bloggers on how viral video is changing the campaign landscape.
KURTZ: It's been one calamity after another in recent weeks, tales of missing or endangered children that have been all over cable television and the morning shows.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN: One of the stories that we've been following at CNN here all weekend is the disappearance of a 4-day-old baby from a hospital in Lubbock, Texas.
JULIE CHEN, CBS NEWS: It's still unclear why 12-year-old Michael Auberry walked away from his Boy scout camp site in the mountains of western North Carolina.
NATALIE MORALES, NBC NEWS: It's been more than two days, and still no sign of 12-year-old Michael Auberry.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: Now to North Carolina and a story that played out on live television today.
DIANE SAWYER, ABC NEWS: They had amazing rescue in North Carolina.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Even a brief calamity was enough to hit the air waves.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUSS MITCHELL, CBS NEWS: On Tuesday, rescuers pulled 14-year-old Robert Moss (ph) out from a giant chunk of concrete.
BETTY NGUYEN, CNN: We're still waiting to hear the condition of the 14-year-old who was trapped under that 3,800-pound slab of concrete.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Joining us now to talk to about how these stories are covered, in New York, Steve Friedman, vice president of morning broadcasts at CBS News. In Des Moines, Geneva Overholser, former editor of "The Des Moines Register" and professor at the Missouri School of Journalism. And in Boston, Callie Crossley, media commentator and panelist on WGBH's "Beat the Press".
Steve Friedman, I will concede at the outset, missing Boy Scout, lots of human interest. But this dominated cable news for days. It was all over the morning shows. It even made the evening news.
STEVE FRIEDMAN, V.P., MORNING BROADCASTS, CBS NEWS: Well, I don't think so. We are on a spectrum right now of media, media, media. And we cannot be above the news.
So when people are interested and they hear it on the Internet, they see it on cable television, we at broadcasting have to respond to that. And they want to know how the story turns out. It isn't much different than "Cold Case" or "CSI" or "Law & Order". This is the stuff television is made of.
KURTZ: Callie Crossley, Steve Friedman seems to think that news is in -- is in the mold of these very highly rated dramas.
Do you think the media go overboard in these cases of missing or endangered children?
CALLIE CROSSLEY, MEDIA COMMENTATOR: Sometimes they do. I think children, it's a little tricky, because this just strikes at the heart of all of us, even people who don't have kids. There's something about having a child endangered that really does strike a chord across the board.
I think what I would refer back to is that the spate of missing -- what we journalists of color call the missing white woman syndrome, where every time you looked up, somebody was missing, and there were hours and hours and days and days of coverage. And in most recent times, the only time that that focus turned to a person of color was Latoyia Figueroa in 2005, and that was because people complained that, hey, here's this woman, this black woman who has been missing, and nobody knows what happened to her, and there was never any attention.
FRIEDMAN: I don't think the baby found in New Mexico was white.
CROSSLEY: No, I understand that. But I'm just saying -- I just said that kids take a different kind of thing for a lot of people, that it strikes at a different kind of chord for folks.
But I still think that there are sometimes when we do go overboard with the coverage. Yes, I think the Boy Scout should have been reported, absolutely. We've had some horrific instances of child predator snatchings going on, and so people are going to be interested and concerned about that.
KURTZ: But Geneva Overholser, if these stories, the missing Boy Scout, the kidnapped baby, are so compelling, why is it that virtually all newspapers at most have run just brief wire stories about them?
GENEVA OVERHOLSER, UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI: You know, Howie, audiences are disappearing everywhere. And I think cable TV has decided that these, which are really kind of the electronic equivalent of gossip -- and we shouldn't put that down. Gossip is a powerful human interchange. But I think cable has maybe decided this is its way of holding on to audience.
And they wouldn't do it unless they had at least short-term success. But it seems to me...
KURTZ: Why do you -- why do you use the word "gossip"? I mean, these are real stories. The question is...
KURTZ: ... whether they're stories of national importance.
OVERHOLSER: Gossip is an important thing, and usually does have to do with real stories. What I'm saying is, I think cable has decided that what are really local stories will now be given national importance as their way of holding on to audience.
It must be working in the short term, but I can't believe it will be a long-term success for them. I mean, they're kind of rehashing stories when people can go to the Web and find out more about them. They can go to the Web and find out how they can help.
I think it's a short-term attempt for cable to figure out what its future is. But I can't believe it will be a long-term recipe.
KURTZ: Steve Friedman, when you help to program "The Early Show," do you sit down and think, well, look, we've got the Iraq war this morning, we've got the U.S. attorney scandal, we've got Walter Reed -- should we balance that with a happier story about a Boy Scout reunited with his family?
FRIEDMAN: I think it depends on the day and what's going on in each of the stories.
Again, I tell you this every time I'm here, Howie, television is the greatest democracy in the world. People vote with their clicker. So we are in the business, like everybody else, trying, whether it's hits, whether it's circulation, whether it's ratings. Part of our job is to put things out there that we think people are interest in, and a missing Boy Scout, a missing baby, these are the stories ripped from the headlines that make fiction TV real, and we are there, and we are there to tell you how these stories come out.
And one last thing. You know, it has changed in my years. It used to be we didn't worry about what was on the Internet. We didn't worry about what was on cable. But they now set the table and we have to finish off the meal.
KURTZ: But -- go ahead.
CROSSLEY: I would like to add two things that I think are important here, with particularly the most recent stories.
First of all, there's some Iraq war fatigue coverage. I mean, the fatigue around the coverage of the Iraq war.
On the day of the fourth anniversary, on the front page of "The New York Times," on the "Boston Globe," no mention of the fourth anniversary. You could go inside.
So I think that there's a natural tendency to, well, let's find some stories that people can feel they can connect with, because they're feeling disconnected in that way. And you cannot dismiss the copycat phenomenon that goes on which Geneva referred to from the cable stations, but also just to pick up from other traditional mainstream media.
Once somebody does it, then it's picked up, and then you go, and there you go, and there you go. So I think that has a lot to do with it.
OVERHOLSER: Let me just say that Steve talked about ripped from headlines. This is different now, Howie.
What we're seeing is ripped from local newspapers, maybe, but we are now treating what used to be local stories as national stories. And I think it is because they have power, but I don't think this is going to be a long-term solution to cable's declining audiences.
KURTZ: Well, let me come back to Steve Friedman on your point about, you know, people voting with their clickers, which, of course, everybody in television is very conscious of.
Do you think there is, for example, Iraq war fatigue? And do you -- but, you know, how far would you take that? What if the ratings came in and every day Iraq was a loser? You're not going to not cover the war, are you?
FRIEDMAN: That's true. But you know what? It's called news, what is happening that's new.
Unfortunately, another suicide bombing in Iraq is not new. It's not news.
When you find a missing Boy Scout, when they've been looking at him for four days trying to find him, that is news. That is the end of a story. If you're there for the beginning, you have to be there for the end.
We covered 20 minutes on "The Early Show" on the fourth anniversary of the war, which is a lot for us to give to any one story. You know, you have to be in proper balance.
This is -- this is the kind of stuff -- morning television is a smorgasbord of what's going on. It only -- it's not only the front page.
And one last thing about the media. You know, the people out in the field, the rescuers, the families, the hospitals, they have learned how to use the media for their own end to try to find these people, to try to get help, to try to make their -- their look more important. So, it's partly we're being used by these people who understand our business now.
Callie Crossley, just briefly, you seem to allow for the fact that tugging at the emotional heartstrings of viewers can work, or at least can be important.
CROSSLEY: Absolutely. I mean, listen, when those people were trapped in the mountain, that family where the father was lost and found dead, I mean, I was mesmerized by it, and so disheartened when he was found dead. So I think, you know, it's something in all of us to want to see these people who are in danger be happy at the end.
We want a happy ending. So it's natural.
KURTZ: Well, here is where I -- here's where I disagree a little bit.
I mean, I think these are mostly local stories, and that if one Boy Scout wandering off might be a great soap opera, it is not a story of national importance. It's the Laci Peterson syndrome, it's the Natalee Holloway syndrome. CNN, MSNBC, FOX News, morning shows are trying to create emotional stories that they can follow and of course try to...
FRIEDMAN: What about the Lindbergh baby, Howie?
OVERHOLSER: They're not creating them. They're blowing them up. I mean, these are real stories. They do have power. They're human interest.
FRIEDMAN: What about Dr. Sam Sheppard, Howie?
KURTZ: Obviously this...
OVERHOLSER: But they're blowing them up.
KURTZ: Steve, obviously this has been going on for a long time, even before the invention of television.
WE will have to leave it there.
Steve Friedman, Callie Crossley, Geneva Overholser, thanks for joining us.
OVERHOLSER: Thanks, Howie.
KURTZ: Bloggers Jeff Jarvis and Mike Krempasky, how one man with a Mac can drown out a campaign's message.
KURTZ: It was the weirdly compelling video that took the Internet by storm, mocking Hillary Clinton as the droning voice of a totalitarian establishment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: I hope you've learned a little bit more about what I believe in and am trying to do, and really helped this conversation about our country get started.
I hope to keep this conversation going -- November 2008.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: And the last frame says BarackObama.com. But Obama and his aides said they knew nothing about the attack ad posted on YouTube. And the mystery filmmaker turned out to be Phil de Vellis, who worked for the software firm that designed Obama's Web site.
De Vellis confessed on "The Huffington Post" and was promptly fired from his job with the software company.
Joining us now in New York, veteran journalist and blogger Jeff Jarvis. His new Web site is called prezvid.com. And here in Washington, Mike Krempasky, founder of redstate.com.
Jeff Jarvis, everyone initially said about this ad, hey, this is really cool. Some college kid made this great ad and everybody's watching it. It got more than two million views online. But it turns that it's a guy who worked for the Internet company hired by Barack Obama.
So was this basically political subterfuge?
JEFF JARVIS, BUZZMACHINE.COM: Yes, I think there is a little bit of maybe dirty trickness about it, not accusing the Obama campaign of that, but we have a political operative who was chicken and hid behind anonymity. Even the Swift Boaters, as obnoxious as they could be, did stand up by their words and were out there. And so they used the Internet to make a unique commercial.
I've argued though, Howie, that the problem with this is, that it accuses Hillary Clinton of being big brotherish, when it's Obama who, in fact, is using this kind of empty rhetoric, and Hillary is actually using video online to talk about issues. So it backfires a bit, I think, on Obama.
KURTZ: What surprised me, Mike Krempasky, when I called the Obama campaign is they were absolutely adamant in saying they didn't know about this, and I have no reason to doubt that that's not true. But they certainly didn't distance themselves from the ad. They kind of had it both ways.
MIKE KREMPASKY, REDSTATE.COM: Well, they did. And you would almost expect them to have to do that.
But I don't necessarily think this is really a bad thing. I mean, look, if it's getting people to, you know, have conversations about politics that weren't having them before, fantastic. And I think the irony there is that it sort of pokes a lot of fun at Hillary's conversation and listening tour, but in fact, you know, two million people saw it, and how many more people talked about it, whether it's reading columns like yours or just having discussions with each other about politics?
KURTZ: And the anonymity doesn't bother you at all? What about an ad that made false charges and we didn't know who put it up?
KREMPASKY: Well, A, I think that anything in this new area of politics that is substantive, does that make specific factual claims, is going to come out a lot quicker than this one did. There's just going to be more of a need for people to know. And in this case, look, the system did work.
Someone put up an anonymous video. It got a lot of attention. And all of the sudden, now we know who it was.
KURTZ: And on that point, Jeff Jarvis, the mystery filmmaker, Phil de Vellis, was unmasked, so to speak, by Arianna Huffington and her team at "The Huffington Post." And then she persuades him to write a post confessing on her Web site.
How was it that she and her colleagues were able to beat all these traditional journalists?
JARVIS: Well, give Arianna a lot of credit because she just simply went out and asked the question.
I had reporters calling me saying, "Who do you think made this?" She dispatched 30 people to go out and find out. They got on the phone, they called who they know, they tracked down technical details of his e-mail.
The details did not come from YouTube, but from communication he had had, and they found him. Then Arianna called him up, and Arianna is -- I have a problem that I think you raised with the anonymity here, but he told his story on "Huffington Post". And you have to see that this is an example, I think, of network journalism, of journalism from the bottom up, but it works.
KURTZ: She not only nails the guy, but she says, by the way, darling, would you please give my Web site the exclusive?
In a larger sense, Mike Krempasky, have media organizations and the campaigns themselves just lost control of the dialogue to the YouTube culture? This is a powerful thing to be able to make an ad and two million people see it.
KREMPASKY: It's true. And I think Jeff pointed this out earlier in the week.
Two million is a big number, but it's not a big number when we're talking about the kind of audience the campaigns are broadcasting through to, you know, just standard television buys (ph). They have lost a measure of control, but that's actually pretty good.
You know, on one hand, we can't complain that we spend a billion dollars on political ads and then do things that sort of discourage people from making amateur cost-free ads and generating conversation. I think they're both OK and they're both good, and the more speech the better.
KURTZ: Are we going to see more attack ads online, Jeff Jarvis, that are made by mystery people, and maybe in the future it won't be so easy to find out who made them? And doesn't that have at least the potential to kind of corrupt the discourse because of somebody hiding behind a screen name?
JARVIS: We're certainly going to see more of these, Howie, but that doesn't corrupt at all. This is an incredible new area to create discourse. That's why I'm covering it in prezvid. And I've asked voters recently to put up their own questions for candidates and tag them on YouTube prez conference, with a "Z".
This is an opportunity where anybody can stand -- do your job and ask the candidate a question, and we can force the candidates to come back with answers. In the U.K., David Cameron, at his site, webcameron, is answering five questions a week from voters, three of which are voted up by the voters. Nicolas Sarkozy is doing this in France.
Why can't we ask our candidates here to ask -- answer our questions? And YouTube allows that to happen.
KURTZ: And because we anticipated you might bring this up, Jeff Jarvis, we have a clip from prezvid.com of somebody asking a question. In this case, of Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee.
Let's take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My question is for Mike Huckabee.
You're obviously a conservative. You're from the sort of evangelical wing of the party. But you've taken some unconventional stances on a few issues that might make that conservative evangelical a little bit nervous. How are you going to calm their fears to kind of get them to coalesce behind you?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Jeff, who is this guy, and why would he think that Governor Huckabee is going to answer his question?
JARVIS: That's a guy I actually saw at a conference. I primed the pump and made some videos. He's a guy from the heartland of America who had a question.
We've had questions so far about global warming, a lot of questions about Internet policy, a very eloquent, long question about -- about health care. It's a question that I have, too.
You know, John McCain, actually, on his blog, on his site, asked voters to send questions in to him on YouTube. Unfortunately, it's a little lonely. I didn't find any. So I put up three questions for him, and then I had this idea of going out and asking more voters to put up their questions.
KURTZ: Well, nice of you to participate.
Let me get Mike Krempasky back in here.
Is this kind of whole thing, the dialogue, the ads, going to diminish the power of television advertising on -- that the campaigns spend zillions on? Because, you know, not everybody is on YouTube.
KREMPASKY: One can only hope. I mean, really...
KURTZ: You think that would be a great thing?
KREMPASKY: I think it would be a fantastic thing.
KREMPASKY: I think that, you know, anything that gets more people involved at the grassroots level is a positive thing for politics, and, you know, if anything has changed, whether it's blogs, social media, you know, Web video online, to make it less of the purview of the power of a few, then I think that's great for politics.
KURTZ: It beats sitting on your couch and watching the tube.
Jeff Jarvis, Mike Krempasky, thanks very much for joining us.
KURTZ: Time now for the latest from the news business in our "Media Minute".
AMANDA CONGDON, ROCKETBOOM: I'm Amanda Congdon, and this is "Rocketboom".
KURTZ (voice over): Amanda Congdon, the former star of the online show "Rocketboom," now does a video blog for ABC News. But she also has a sideline. CNET.com reports that Congdon is appearing in infomercials for the chemical company DuPont. Congdon defends the moonlighting, which would be a firing offense for full-time journalists, writing, "Isn't that what new media is all about, breaking the rules, setting our own? I see nothing wrong with doing commercials.:
JIM CRAMER, HOST, "MAD MONEY": No time for chitchat.
KURTZ: Jim Cramer, the host of CNBC's "Mad Money," has talked himself into some trouble. In an interview with his financial Web site, thestreet.com, Cramer said that when he was a hedge fund manager, it was common practice to leak bogus information to media outlets, especially CNBC, to push a stock's price up or down.
He gave a hypothetical example involving Blackberry maker Research in Motion, CNBC correspondent Bob Pisani, and "The Wall Street Journal".
CRAMER: When your company's in a survival mode, it's really important to defeat Research in Motion and get the Pisanis of the world and the people talking about it as if there's something wrong with it (ph). Then you call "The Journal" and you get the bozo reporter in Research in Motion and you feed that there's -- Palm's got a killer it's going to give away.
KURTZ: Cramer told radio host Don Imus that he screwed up, that he had been a jerk, and he apologized to Pisani. Cramer said he didn't engage in such questionable or illegal behavior as a trader, but that "I have to either shut up or get better at telling what I did or didn't do."
KURTZ: A big mouth is a dangerous weapon.
Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.
I'm Howard Kurtz.
Thanks for watching.
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