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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Outpouring of Media Sympathy for Tony Snow; Attorney General, Rudy Giuliani Under Fire
Aired April 1, 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): Deadly diagnoses. Tony Snow is sidelined as his cancer returns. Can his replacement pacify the press?
Why has Elizabeth Edwards' cancer sparked an emotional media debate? And why are critics pounding Katie Couric for asking whether her husband should suspend his presidential campaign?
Family ties. Why does Rudy Giuliani keep getting asked about his new wife and his kids?
Plus, "Idol" chatter, the online campaign to boost one big-haired contestant by people who can't stand him. What's up with that?
KURTZ: You've watched him on television for nearly a year now. Tony Snow conducting free wheeling and contentious press conferences as if he was still a talk show host. And a gang of reporters challenging him, arguing with him, in some cases getting into personal spats with him.
But this week came the grim news that Snow's colon cancer had returned and had spread to his liver. Reporters were as stunned as Snow's friends and colleagues, and many took to the airwaves to express their concern for the presidential spokesman.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I speak for all of us, in fact, all of our viewers. We wish him only, only the best. We're praying for Tony.
ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST, FOX NEWS CHANNEL'S "HANNITY & COLMES": Our thoughts and prayers are with Tony and his family tonight.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, MSNBC'S "HARDBALL": And by the way, I care about Tony a lot. I know him better than I know Elizabeth. I know Elizabeth decently well. And they're both great people.
HOWARD FINEMAN, "NEWSWEEK": A gentleman and a patriot and a classy guy and everybody around town regards him as such.
GLENN BECK, HOST, HEADLINE NEWS' "GLENN BECK": I want to take a quick moment to ask you to keep Tony Snow in your prayers.
KURTZ: Joining to us now to talk about Snow's struggle, the impact on the White House and some other political issues, Jim Axelrod, chief White House correspondent for CBS News; Roger Simon, chief political correspondent for Politico.com; and Blanquita Cullum, talk show host at Radio America.
Jim Axelrod, people who watch those White House briefings might have the impression that you and your journalistic colleagues can't stand Tony Snow.
JIM AXELROD, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, CBS NEWS: Nothing could be further from the truth. And this is a remarkably -- remarkably affable guy. His genius, if you will, is being able to quote whatever the administration line and sometimes throw some sharp elbows, but coat it with sort of a big smile and a real sense of, as I say, affability.
So this obviously hit everybody on a very personal level this week. Because if you say whatever you want to say about Tony, likeable is one of the first -- first words that rolls off your tongue.
KURTZ: Blanquita Cullum, you know Tony Snow. Why did he take such a high-stress job after beating colon cancer the first time?
BLANQUITA CULLUM, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST, RADIO AMERICA: Well, first of all, I think he thought he's beat it.
And second of all, I mean, it's a great job to have. He's eminently qualified. The White House wanted him. They pursued him and wooed him. And it's the job, kind of, of a lifetime for someone like us.
And hearing what Jim has to say, you know, I think the dirty little secret that people really don't know is that, while we can get on shows like this and disagree with each other and be from different points of view, we pretty much like each other, a majority of us in our industry, and get along off the mic and off the air. And I think everyone loves Tony.
KURTZ: Roger Simon, how effective has Tony been as White House spokesman? And will his absence, however long he ends up being sidelined, hurt the administration?
ROGER SIMON, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO.COM: Well, he's been reasonably effective. He was a different model for a press secretary.
KURTZ: Very different model.
SIMON: Most press secretaries become TV stars due to their job. He was a TV star before he'd got there.
KURTZ: Because he had worked for FOX News.
SIMON: Yes, and he was a talk show host, as you said. He brought those qualities to the job. This was a first. And he was picked in part for that reason, and he's also bright and quick witted and he can handle it.
But you may have noticed the president's approval ratings have not skyrocketed under Tony Snow. I think the public is mature enough to know this person is a P.R. person for the White House. That's why they're selected. That's their job. They put the best possible face on things.
But Tony Snow isn't making policy. Tony Snow is a nice guy. He doesn't determine what the president says. The president has to take responsibility for what the president says is, and it's reflected in his approval ratings.
KURTZ: Right. But every administration needs somebody to sell the program. And Snow is very good at that.
And he was very good at sticking it to reporters with a smile, as Jim says. Sometimes he would go too far, as when he called NBC's David Gregory a partisan, but he later apologized. And he had a way of letting you know there were no hard feelings.
Now, his deputy spokesperson, Dana Perino, Jim Axelrod, filling in now, going before the cameras. She obviously doesn't have that kind of television experience. Is she up to this job?
AXELROD: Yes. I think there's no question she's up to the job. Very thorough, very dependable, stays on message.
But I think Roger raises a very interesting point. And I think this was lost in the coverage a bit this week.
Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi aren't sitting, watching the briefing going, "Wait a minute. I hadn't thought of that. Of course, that's what we should do and follow the Bush administration line."
So Tony's effectiveness, while he sort of redefined the standard of glibness from the podium and ability to sort of defuse whatever arguments were being made from, you know, the front row of the press room, let's not overstate the degree to which he was effective in moving or shaping opinions, especially of people who are opposed.
Dana's great skill is that she is tremendously thorough, as I think we've talked about this week. She has an ability sort of to do the heavy lifting, the hard work of being in the weeds and getting the details that reporters need.
KURTZ: Right. And all the reporters tell me that she's very, very good off camera, you know, at dealing with their questions.
AXELROD: Sure. She did great on camera this week, too.
KURTZ: You thought so? AXELROD: Yes, absolutely. I mean, very solid. Look, it's like Peyton Manning goes down in the first quarter. You don't know the backup's name until he's on the field. But the idea is to hand off, throw short passes, make completions, no fumbles, no interceptions. That was Dana this week.
KURTZ: Well, in three weeks, she'll be very famous, as well, given the power of television.
Let me move to the testimony this week and the case of the fired eight U.S. attorneys by Kyle Sampson. He was the chief of staff to Alberto Gonzales, and he contradicted the attorney general on several points. Said there were five different meetings with Gonzales about the firing of these prosecutors. One of them ten days before they were let go, which Gonzales approved.
And this was an attorney general who said he had no discussions about any of this. So it's hard to argue, Blanquita Cullum, that this isn't a pretty big media story right now.
CULLUM: It's a big media story. But it was a really big media story when they fired Jay Stevens during the Clinton administration, and it was the period. I think people have to go back to institutional, historical memory of what was going on at that time when the whole thing with Dan Rostenkowski and all those members of Congress that were being investigated.
KURTZ: But don't you think at this point it's not about the firing of the prosecutors; it's about whether the attorney general was candid with Congress, with reporters? And his story about his level of involvement seems to keep changing.
CULLUM: Well, you know, again, I think that what happens, especially at this time, when we're getting closer and closer to a presidential race coming up, you know, the other side from the Democrats toward the Republicans, they're going to try to find any way they can to make this administration look bad, sound bad, be corrupt. And a lot of it is just style.
I don't -- I think here that if you really went back and you looked at what happened during the Clinton administration, you wouldn't see much difference.
AXELROD: Hang on a second. Hang on a second. You have a shifting story from the nation's chief law enforcement officer. The top law enforcement officer in the federal government, and he can't get his story straight. And it changes with every interview. How is that -- how is that not a big newsworthy deal?
CULLUM: I think it's a big newsworthy deal. But what I'm saying to you is something apart from that. What I'm saying to you is we've had many big newsworthy deals. Certainly, when Janet Reno was dealing with the issue of Waco, that was a big newsworthy deal.
KURTZ: And that wasn't covered? CULLUM: It was covered, but right now I would suggest to you that Janet Reno got more protection, whether it's it was on Whitewater, on Billy Dale and the Travelgate, whether it was firing the 93 attorneys...
CULLUM: ... she got more of a coverage.
KURTZ: We'll re-litigate that another time. I want to play some of the coverage on CBS News of Jim Axelrod, first two weeks ago talking about the attorney general, and again this past Thursday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AXELROD: One source says he never seen the administration in such deep denial as it is about the idea that Gonzales must go.
Just a few minutes ago, this from the White House, quoting now, "The president is confident the attorney general can overcome these concerns." He certainly seems dug in, Katie.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Two weeks ago, you seemed to say that Gonzales' resignation was inevitable based on the sources you were talking to. Did you get out a little too far in this story?
AXELROD: I don't think so. I think what we were doing two weeks ago was giving people a sense of what even the highest ranking Republican strategists were saying. We didn't report anything that wasn't true there. We're talking about a pugnacious president dug in, which by the way, is exactly what we reported last week.
KURTZ: Just because Republican strategists say something, doesn't mean it's going to happen. They make lots of predictions. You know, so and so is going to be fired.
AXELROD: What we're doing there, Howie, is giving the viewers a sense of what the feeling is with those closest to the White House. And it is newsworthy if you have people who are walking in lock step with the president are suddenly turning and saying, "Wait a minute. We've got a big problem here with this attorney general. The president may not get it, but the rest of the Republican establishment does."
And let me make one more point about this. What Republicans have we seen stepping out in support of the attorney general? That, in and of itself, is newsworthy, because that usually doesn't happen.
KURTZ: Very few. Is this a story, Roger Simon, big story here inside the beltway, that average people care about? It is somewhat complicated, to be sure.
SIMON: Well, I think it's a big story. I think people get it when the attorney general appears to be contradicting what his staff and others are saying. To put a fine point on it, is the attorney general lying?
And I think people -- I think it's just general feeling that Alberto Gonzales will soon decide he wants to spend more time with his family. You don't have to have a source about that.
CULLUM: I don't think that's going to happen.
SIMON: This is an embattled White House for a number of reasons, not outside reasons. The people who are doing most to do damage to the Bush administration is the Bush administration.
KURTZ: All right. I'm going to save this videotape. We'll see if you're right on that.
I want to turn now to Rudy Giuliani, who is leading the polls for the Republican presidential nomination. On Friday, he and his third wife -- she's always described as his third wife -- Judith Nathan talked to Barbara Walters on "20/20". Let's watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARBARA WALTERS, ABC NEWS: Mr. Mayor, when you met Judith Nathan, you were married. Was Judith responsible for the break up of your marriage?
RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, she was not.
WALTERS: And when you were president, would Mrs. Giuliani sit in on cabinet meetings?
GIULIANI: If she wanted to, if they were relevant to something that she was interested in.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: He's already taking that back.
SIMON: Especially since Mitt Romney, one of his chief rivals, has said his wife will not be sitting in on cabinet meetings. One thing interesting about the interview is that she was very nervous but did very well. Rudy Giuliani is never nervous on TV. He was the one who screwed up immediately.
KURTZ: Is that a fair question? Was Judith responsible for the breakup of your previous marriage?
CULLUM: You know, who -- story, OK? Now we take it beyond news to tabloid. And at some point, you know, this is like Barbara Walters becoming "The National Enquirer." "And what happened when you met her in the office, and what was she wearing, and did she have a thong?" I mean, come on. Give me a break here. Most...
KURTZ: But in fairness, Giuliani had a very messy, public breakup with his previous wife, while he was married, Donna Hanover...
CULLUM: I know. I hear you. KURTZ: ... who learned that he was divorcing her from a news conference.
CULLUM: OK, but here's the deal. All right? At some point here, myself included, we're going to have to look at these candidates and say, OK, everybody has a skeleton in their closet. Maybe some of these guys may have slept around. Maybe a female candidate who may have slept around. We don't know.
But can they do a job, and what -- right now, with the situation in the United States as bad as it is, are people going to look at who they're sleeping with or their accomplishments?
AXELROD: All right. I'll play the role of the fuddy-duddy. Could we first find out what the conservatives think of Giuliani's positions on abortion and civil unions and gun control? I mean, certainly, we want to get to the Barbara Walters portion of the campaign.
CULLUM: Now you're feigning conservative. Now he's feigning conservative.
AXELROD: I'm not feigning anything. I just think there's a huge disconnect between this candidate and his policies and his base that he's trying to win over.
CULLUM: But the base right now, is in its own flux, much like the Democrats are that are leaning so far to the left that you see Hillary Rodham Clinton coming to the center.
AXELROD: So you're going to endorse a pro-choice candidate for the Republican Party nomination?
CULLUM: I'm going to endorse -- and let me tell you something.
KURTZ: Hold on. Hold on.
CULLUM: May I finish the question?
CULLUM: The funny thing is that polls have shown the issue of abortion has not been the thing that has driven people to the polls to vote, OK? I'm going to endorse someone that's going to make sure we have national security in check.
AXELROD: Right, right.
CULLUM: That's going to be able to have some real solutions.
AXELROD: And supports the Brady Bill?
KURTZ: Blanquita, I've got to get the last question to Roger.
CULLUM: I don't support the Brady Bill. KURTZ: Front page of "The New York Times" today, Matthew Dowd -- excuse me -- president's chief political strategist 2004, breaking with Mr. Bush, saying he's disappointed in his presidency. We should get out of Iraq, that Bush is secluded and bubbled in. Is that a front page story?
SIMON: It's a front page story, because Matthew Dowd is Matthew Dowd. Matthew Dowd has been a very important player in the Bush White House, in his first election and in his second election. He was chief strategist.
And one always wonders about the timing of this, but it seems to be that Matthew Dowd has just had enough.
KURTZ: All right. And you have the last word. Roger Simon, Blanquita Cullum, Jim Axelrod, thanks for joining us.
When we come back, television rarely covers some of the remote corners of the world. ABC anchor Bill Weir will tell us while his -- how his network found the time to change that.
KURTZ: Bill Weir, the co-anchor of ABC's "Good Morning America Weekend", has been logging a lot of frequent flier miles to places like Zambia and the Pacific Islands called Kiribati, places where network correspondents don't usually turn up.
Weir is doing a series for "World News" which starts tomorrow night and continues each Monday in April, but there's a twist. And joining us now from New York to talk about it is Bill Weir.
So tell me. Take a moment to explain how it is that "World News" has the time for these round the world pieces by you?
BILL WEIR, CO-ANCHOR, ABC'S "GOOD MORNING AMERICA WEEKEND": Well, it's a single sponsor deal on these shows, Howard. It's not exactly the newest invention, but John Banner of the E.P., Charlie Gibson decided let's take the extra six minutes we get back in commercial time by having a single sponsor and send Weir out and get his passport punched and find the most remote locations, corners of the world we don't typically see, and spend the amount of time that we don't typically use to tell these stories.
So tomorrow night, we take you deep into the South Pacific to a little tiny island nation, probably you've never heard of, that the president of this little country actually went before the U.N. and said, "My country, due to global warming, will be gone in 50 years." And there's 100,000 people there.
And it is a microcosm of this whole climate change debate. You've got the alarmists, deniers, and evacuees and all the issues kind of rolled up into one little idyllic paradise.
KURTZ: Why is it -- why is it -- let me just jump in here -- that network journalists so infrequently go to some of these remote places in the world?
WEIR: Well, I think it's expense, you know. I hear tales of the sort of halcyon days of network news where they chartered jets and went to far-flung places.
And I think the American attention span, sadly, has gotten a little more egocentric and -- and narrow focused to the story of the minute of the day. Cable might have something to do with that, as well.
But it's a tough sell to go do a five-minute story on a program that's working for -- for maternal mortality in Africa, which is another one we're going to do, or the future of Islam in Dubai. It's a tough sell. But I'm just so fortunate that Charlie has the foresight to let us go do this.
KURTZ: That's precisely what I was going to ask, is that even with an extra five or six minutes for broadcast, while you have these single advertisers, ABC still has to worry about ratings.
You know, how interested are Americans in the problems of poor, remote countries?
WEIR: That's my job, you know? I think that's the challenge, is to make whatever it is we do, you know, geo -- you know, global economics, to water it down and tell the story in a compelling enough way that that person goes to work the next day and says, "You know, I learned something last night." That's on us.
KURTZ: That's the challenge of a lot of journalism. Where are you going next?
WEIRD: Leaving for Dubai today. Going to do this story on this -- you know, the Vegas of the Middle East. How it exists, why it exists. It is just an aberration, or is it maybe the shining city on the hill for the future of that region?
And then from there going to Madagascar, which is full of just amazing, exotic life, but there's a real clash there between very poor people trying to eke out a life for themselves during a sapphire rush. People are literally digging 30-foot mines in their back yards. They're being buried alive in the search for sapphires.
KURTZ: All right.
WEIR: In the meantime, you know, there's -- there's ecological preserves that are being damaged. And the president is in the middle of all of this. So...
KURTZ: Have a good trip.
WEIRD: ... all corners of the earth. Thank you.
KURTZ: ABC's Bill Weir, thanks for checking in with us.
Coming up, it's finally happened. Broadcast news has become a cartoon, literally. And Rosie's latest rant. Is the press really peddling propaganda? Our "Media Minute", up next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The press is a locality tougher the second term. It's reached the point I sometimes call on Helen Thomas just to hear a friendly voice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: President Bush poking a little fun at himself at this week's Radio-TV Correspondents Dinner.
Well, time now for the latest from the news business in our "Media Minute".
KURTZ (voice-over): When a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee held a hearing on trade this week, the panel heard from an unusual witness, Lou Dobbs. The CNN anchor said that U.S. trade policy isn't fair and is costing millions of American jobs.
LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: I've been called a table thumping protectionist, and the Bush administration has hurled at me its favorite public epithet, at least in terms of economic policy, calling me an economic isolationist. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
KURTZ: Call me old fashioned, and Dobbs is certainly entitled to the opinions he broadcasts each night, but aren't journalists supposed to cover Congress and trade policy, rather than testify as advocates?
In Rosie O'Donnell's latest rant on the ABC chat fest "The View" -- maybe we should make this a weekly feature -- she says Iran is not holding those British sailors as hostages and that someone must have planted explosives in the building that came down on 9/11 next to the building that came down on 9/11 next to the World Trade Center's Twin Towers, because heat from the planes could not have done it alone.
And she had this to say about the media.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROSIE O'DONNELL, CO-HOST, ABC'S "THE VIEW": In America, we are fed propaganda, and if you want to know what's happening in the world, go outside of the U.S. media, because it's owned by four corporations. One of them is this one. And you know what? Go outside of the country to find out what's going on in our own country, because it's frightening.
(END VIDEO CLIP) KURTZ: Rosie is entitled to say whatever she wants under the First Amendment, but if she thinks the American media, for all their flaws, are conduits for propaganda, as opposed to solid reporting, including stories on domestic eavesdropping, secret CIA prisons, appalling conditions at Walter Reed and the U.S. attorney firings, than she and I are living on different planets.
Well, journalists are such an object of ridicule these days that even cartoons are making fun of us. The folks at Jib Jab seemed to think that TV news was a perfectly respectable business until cable came along and turned it into one big cesspool.
The opinions you're about to see do not reflect those of station management.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jib Jab.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): Great legends now have been replaced by blondes with big, big boobs. They've been replaced with punditry, politically skewed. It's what we call the news.
We interrupt this story, which is coming from Iraq, because Rosie is suing Donald. Donald is suing Rosie back. We're cutting from Darfur in Des Moines with urgent news.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): There's a finger in my food.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The sound effects and graphics everywhere. Breaking news each day in the rush to get on air. With scandals, dramas, tragedy and ballyhoo, it's turned our brains to goo.
Ahead in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, when it comes to John and Elizabeth Edwards, journalists seem to be taking sides in the emotional argument about politics and cancer. We'll diagnosis the debate.
And later, there are nine "American Idol" contestants left. But only one has captured the media's attention.
KURTZ: John Edwards has gotten an avalanche of media coverage since his wife was diagnosed with incurable cancer. And not all of it has been favorable. That story just ahead, but first, here's Betty Nguyen at the CNN Center in Atlanta with a look at today's top stories -- Betty.
KURTZ: Thanks, Betty. Up next, the media and cancer. Katie Couric's interview with John and Elizabeth Edwards sparks an intense debate on coverage of a very personal family decision.
KURTZ: Welcome back.
Is there anybody in America who doesn't have an opinion about what John and Elizabeth Edwards should do in light of her recurring cancer in more lethal form? It's an issue that has touched an exposed nerve, most notably among journalists, who seem to be choosing up sides about whether the former senator is doing the right thing by his wife, by his supporters, continuing his presidential campaign.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ... our choice, and that's what we choose.
KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS ANCHOR: Your decision to stay in this race has been analyzed and, quite frankly, judged by a lot of people, and some say what you're doing is courageous. Others say it's callous.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Katie Couric talking to John and Elizabeth Edwards on "60 Minutes".
Well, what is it about cancer and marriage and politics that has made this such a passionate argument? Joining us now in Charlotte, Mary Curtis, columnist for the "Charlotte Observer"; in Boston, Emily Rooney, host of "Meet the Press" on WGBH; and here in Washington, Ruth Marcus, columnist for "The Washington Post".
Emily Rooney, we just saw those clips of Katie Couric with John and Elizabeth Edwards. Why are the critics going after Katie Couric? Weren't those questions that you or I or any journalist would ask them?
EMILY ROONEY, HOST, WGBH'S "MEET THE PRESS": I thought all of the questions were legitimate. You know, this week I was at two of those journalistic roundtables, Howie, and people were coming up to me, saying, "I wanted to reach through the screen and grab her neck and throttle her." And I'm thinking why? It's gotten to the point where she really can't do anything right.
But you know, I thought she brought to this sort of a foreboding sense of the inevitable outcome of this. You know, her husband, her sister, both died of advanced cancers, and in a way I wish she would have been more direct with the questions. Because she did bring that to it.
So that whole -- the criticism about some people say and others believe, I thought that was a legitimate criticism of the way she conducted the interview. But the questions were totally legitimate.
KURTZ: Before we go on, let me interrupt you for a moment, Mary Curtis. Let's play some of what some people have been saying on the air about that interview.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ELIZABETH EDWARDS, WIFE OF JOHN EDWARDS: You really have two choices here. I mean, either you push forward with the things that you were doing yesterday, or you start dying.
COURIC: Some say what you're doing is courageous. Others say it's callous. Some say isn't it wonderful they care for something greater than themselves? And others say it's a case of insatiable ambition. You say?
J. EDWARDS: I say all of those judgments and questions are entirely legitimate.
COURIC: Some people watching this would say, "I would put my family first, always, and my job second." And you're doing the exact opposite. You're putting your work first and your family second.
A.J. HAMMER, HEADLINE NEWS ANCHOR: The blogosphere went nuts. Some people were saying on it, Couric was too harsh and too unsympathetic, even though she has lost a husband herself to cancer.
JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST, MSNBC'S "SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY": I always have been a firm believer in tough, harsh, presidential campaigns, because I think they prepare candidates. But what I saw from Katie Couric last night was very troubling.
TUCKER CARLSON, HOST, MSNBC'S "TUCKER CARLSON: It was the Edwards who got up in front of America last week and told us -- invited us into their marriage and told us details of their decision making and explained its political significance.
KURTZ: Ruth Marcus, "The New York Times" interviewed John and Elizabeth Edwards and asked a lot of the same questions, and yet, the criticism all seems to be with Katie Couric.
RUTH MARCUS, COLUMNIST, "WASHINGTON POST": Well, I think it -- I hate to say this as a person who writes for a living, but there is something powerful about watching it, as opposed to reading about it. And I think there was the "some people say" thing.
But yes, you're right. There were a lot of the same questions and a lot of the same answers, but it is more powerful to see people say it.
KURTZ: Mary Curtis, given the passion surrounding this issue, is Katie Couric sort of in a no-win situation? If she hadn't asked any tough questions, people would have said she's too soft. MARY CURTIS, COLUMNIST, "CHARLOTTE OBSERVER": Well, yes, I really do think that Katie can't win at this point, Katie Couric, because at first people, the story line is that she's not tough enough. And after this interview, it's like Katie Couric is trying to make her bones as a serious journalist by running roughshod over John and Elizabeth Edwards.
And I'm not sure -- I don't really think that Brian Williams or Charles Gibson would be criticized in quite the same way.
And I also think it's kind of a shame that, getting lost in all the criticism of Katie Couric is the fact that John and Elizabeth Edwards were very thoughtful and eloquent and they answered all the questions, and they came off pretty well in this.
KURTZ: And not only -- and not only that, they put out a statement saying that they thought the interview was fine and that Katie Couric had asked tough but fair questions.
But let me move on to Emily Rooney. Let's put Katie Couric to the side. What is it about this issue, being diagnosed with a very advanced form of cancer, that causes journalists and others to second guess this very personal decision?
ROONEY: Oh, I don't know. We've all seen the journalists turn the camera on themselves this week. Anne Thompson on NBC.
It's a very personal -- and it's likely not going to have a good outcome. And I think we all relate to somebody who can be so honest and so emotional and so direct about this.
You know, lost in all of this, too, I think for the issue about Katie, is that when the web site Politico first put out the information that the Edwards were going to take a leave or a hiatus from the campaign, it created false expectations. And Katie had the first interview after that.
And it's almost like she fell into the trap of sort of bricking (ph) the notion that they had created this idea that it was -- that they were going to take a break, and they weren't. And here she was the one who got the first interview from the people on why they had decided they weren't going to go on hiatus.
KURTZ: Ruth Marcus, you wrote about this.
ROONEY: She was almost criticized for that.
KURTZ: You've met Elizabeth Edwards?
MARCUS: I have.
KURTZ: You feel her a likeable woman?
MARCUS: Very likeable.
KURTZ: And yet, you feel free as a columnist and as a mother to say, "This is the wrong decision; you shouldn't do this. You should go home and pack it up and take care of your kids"?
MARCUS: Well, I'm not sure I said it exactly that way. And I deliberately didn't say it exactly that way. I think this is a very hard subject to write about.
I'm a columnist. I -- they pay me to have opinions. I have a lot of them. And so this is a national conversation that we're all having around our breakfast tables: what should she do? What would you do in the circumstances? What do you make of this? What does this tell us about John Edwards as a candidate?
And nobody has any criticism when my fellow columnist, Eugene Robinson, wrote a very good column the day after the announcement that they were going to stay in the race, saying, yes, excellent, keep on going.
Well, there's another side to that conversation, and I thought very long and hard about whether to write this column and how to write it.
KURTZ: Is there another side of the conversation, in part, because women, particularly mothers, view this differently, perhaps?
MARCUS: I have to say that I do think that I, as a mother, may view it differently and that thought that Gene is a man and I'm a woman did, in fact, occur to me when I read his column.
Because I have to think that my first thought, if I were confronted with the terrible news that Elizabeth Edwards was confronted with, would be who is going to take care of my children, if something happens to me or if I'm sick?
And that is not to say, and I was very careful to say in the column I wrote, Elizabeth Edwards obviously loves her children very fiercely. And so I'm -- I was not saying she's making the wrong decision.
I was saying I was having a hard time reconciling the decision that she made with the obvious love that she has for these children.
MARCUS: And I would not have made the same decision myself, I don't think.
KURTZ: Mary Curtis, is this decision any of our business as journalists? Or is it impossible for it not to be our business, because we're talking here about a man who's running for president?
CURTIS: Well, I wrote a column in that I said it is a personal decision, but, of course, they are public figures. They are politicians. And I think it hit people very hard, because it is so raw and so personal.
And we are journalists, but Ruth mentioned, she is a mom, and I am a wife and a mother, and it's hard to not put yourself in their place and say what would I do?
But at the same time, it is their personal decision. And how they would deal with it is their business. I think illness doesn't change who you are, and what you want to do.
And I think that it's been very clear in the coverage following this of cancer -- people living with cancer, that the main theme seems to be that they -- it makes them think about the life they want to live on this earth and how they want to live here and how they want to leave here.
KURTZ: And Emily Rooney -- excuse me for interrupting.
KURTZ: Emily Rooney, it seems to me that by going on "60 Minutes", by giving an interview in "The New York Times", by talking to "Newsweek", that John and Elizabeth Edwards, in a way, are inviting this debate. They are -- they are presenting their side. And they know that journalists and columnists and TV people are going to talk about it.
ROONEY: Yes, I really wonder who was having this debate other than us, other than journalists. You know, Katie Couric, to go to Ruth's point, has lived this -- this horrible experience with both her husband and her sister. She knows the likely outcome. And I think that got the debate going even more, because it was Katie Couric.
Perhaps if it had been Scott Pelley or Steve Kroft, or one of the other correspondents, the debate might not have risen to that level. But it was the fact that it was Katie Couric. As I said earlier, she brought that kind of foreboding knowledge to the discussion.
KURTZ: Emily, you alluded earlier to NBC's Anne Thompson and journalists kind of turning the camera on themselves. Let me look at -- let's put up on the screen a couple of news weekly magazine covers that are just out.
"U.S. News & World Report", the cover story: "Cancer & Me: How I Refuse to Give In" by Bernadette Healey, who was -- who is the health editor of the magazine and was the head of the National Institutes of Health.
And then "Newsweek", we see "How I Live with Cancer" by Jonathan Alter, who talks how he was diagnosed with cancer three years ago and is now cancer free.
And then, on television, we had two instances on the network news: NBC's Anne Thompson talking about how she was diagnosed with breast cancer, I believe, a year ago and CBS' Sandra Hughes interviewing a producer at the network, Diane Ronnau. Let's take a look at both of those.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANNE THOMPSON, NBC NEWS: I'm a journalist, and it's my job to get people talking about themselves. And if I told people I had cancer that would kill the conversation, and people would talk about me. The second thing was, is I was afraid that people would feel sorry for me.
SANDRA HUGHES, CBS NEWS": You would be kicked and you'd be back on top in a day or two, and I just -- I wonder how you did that.
DIANE RONNAU, CBS NEWS PRODUCTION: Well, I don't really know, to be honest with you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Mary Curtis, what do you make of journalists sort of telling their personal stories as part of this national conversation?
CURTIS: Well, part of it is an acknowledgement that we are human beings, that we are wives and mothers, and fathers and husbands and we are affected by illness. And we're journalists, I mean, but we do try to maintain at least a sliver of humanity.
And I think as journalists have become the story -- and as a columnist I do this sometimes -- that is part much of the story. I just would hope that it just doesn't become -- it doesn't turn into a, you know, cancer political campaign and that's all that we talk about. But I think it's perfectly legitimate.
KURTZ: Just briefly, Ruth Marcus, is there a degree of self- absorption, though, in some journalists saying, "Hey, look at me, I went through this"?
MARCUS: Well, yes, but, there is also -- I think -- for example, Katie Couric would have been probably criticized either way, if she had brought in her own personal experience.
MARCUS: Instead, she's criticized for leaving it out.
KURTZ: You really can't win.
MARCUS: So journalists can't win.
KURTZ: Well, here's my two cents. This is the most personal decision I can possibly imagine: how to live life in the face of death. And while journalists are certainly paid to have opinions, and we spew them all the time, it seems to me this one is different. It seems to me they should not be attacked for taking this position. It's fine to deal with the political implications. That's part of what we do. But don't challenge their motives.
Mary Curtis, Emily Rooney, Ruth Marcus, thanks very much for joining us.
And now we'd like to hear you what think. Have the media been fair to John and Elizabeth Edwards since they announced her cancer diagnosis? E-mail us at Reliable@CNN.com. Still to come, why are people who can't stand Sanjaya campaigning for this big-haired kid to win on "American Idol"? Is the blogosphere behind his rise to celebrity, and is that perverting the show? Next up, on RELIABLE SOURCES.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in New York. Coming up at the top of the hour, former hostage negotiator Terry Waite discusses the efforts to try to free 15 British marines and sailors captured by Iran.
Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kit Bond discuss the stalemate between President Bush and Congress over Iraq war funding.
Plus, the Reverend Al Sharpton on Barack Obama, the race for the White House, and his own political future.
All that, lots more, coming up on "LATE EDITION". Now back to Howard Kurtz and RELIABLE SOURCES -- Howie.
KURTZ: Thanks, Wolf.
There's been one name on the lips of America's anchors this week as the media converge on a very important story.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sanjaya.
JOHN GIBSON, HOST, FOX NEWS CHANNEL'S "THE BIG STORY": Sanjaya.
ROSIE O'DONNELL, CO-HOST, ABC'S "THE VIEW": Sanjaya.
JAY LENO, HOST, NBC'S "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": Sanjaya.
ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "ANDERSON COOPER 360": That Sanjaya guy, Sanjaya.
ERICA HILL, HEADLINE NEWS ANCHOR: Sanjaya.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Dave Della Terza, native of Illinois, is using his web site, VoteForTheWorst.com, to encourage people to vote for Sanjaya on "American Idol", because -- well, because Della Terza and a few million other people think the 17-year-old singer is awful.
And Howard Stern has joined the crusade promoting Sanjaya on his radio show.
Why push the worst guy? What, do I look like a psychiatrist? Let's turn to two people now who can help us untangle this. In New York, Jessica Shaw, senior writer for "Entertainment Weekly" and Michael Daly, columnist for the "New York Daily News".
Michael Daly, you usually write about politics. What made you descend into the "American Idol" playground?
MICHAEL DALY, COLUMNIST, "NEW YORK DAILY NEWS": Well, you know, you had a situation, where you've got -- I think we're all a little interested in which way the future is going to take us. You had a situation where a 25-year-old guy in a suburban town in Illinois started a web page and ended up shaking up the biggest show on television.
KURTZ: Jessica Shaw, this online campaign must be having an effect. Because everyone seems to think that this kid lacks -- what's the word I'm looking for -- talent.
JESSICA SHAW, SENIOR WRITER, "ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY": Yes, he does lack the ability to sing. But I'm not entirely sure that this online campaign and Howard Stern's campaign is having that much of an impact. You have to remember that there is a long history of really bad singers making it very far on the show.
KURTZ: Well, FOX must love all of the buzz, Jessica, but Stern says that one of the reasons he's pushing this is he wants to corrupt the whole program. Do you think that there's any potential for that happening?
SHAW: You know, I don't. You know, I think that it's -- sure, it's something he wants to do, to take down the hugest show, and the show does seem unstoppable, 30 million viewers every week.
But for all of his millions of listeners, and you know, maybe six million people subscribe to Sirius, there are millions, tens of millions of tweens who are obsessed with this kid, even though he can't sing. He's sort of unthreatening and he's entertaining, and you know, he makes for good television. And those are the ones that are really voting to keep him on.
BECK: Now Michael Daly, you described this web effort to make Sanjaya Malakar the winner as a test of old media vs. new media. Really?
DALY: That's the way it seems to me. I mean, I think the teeny bopper vote seemed possible until the last impossible when he came out with the faux-hawk, and it was the worst singing I've heard in a long time. That includes bars. And it just seemed beyond possibility that these teenyboppers are going to go for this guy. And I did a quick poll in my living room, and my daughter, Rona (ph), assured me that it just was not in the cards.
KURTZ: You went right to the focus group.
DALY: I did, and let me tell you, Rona Daly (ph) knows what's going on.
KURTZ: Jessica Shaw, let me ask you about something Michael Daly wrote. He wrote that television is no longer the all-powerful medium it once was, pointing here to the new media's effect. But if blogs and cable shows are blathering on about Sanjaya, then that would suggest to me that TV is more dominant that ever, because we're talking about it.
SHAW: Sure, absolutely. I mean, the fact that this is a story that's been all over the news and on CNN and on "The View". And you know, it's kind of amazing. And it is an entertaining story.
Is this kid going to win? There's no way in hell he's going to win "American Idol". At some point voters will come to their senses. At some point, people will get sick of his antics, and of his Mohawk, and whatever. But yes, for now it's definitely entertaining.
And I would disagree with Michael. I don't think he was the worst one this week. I actually think he was better than the kid who got kicked off, so I think there was actually validity to what happened.
KURTZ: Michael Daly, the guy who does this VoteForTheWorst.com web site says that one of the reasons he is doing this is that he's enjoying the cheesy guilty pleasure of watching bad singing. Is that part of the program's appeal?
DALY: I'm not so sure that it actually is. I think in the early rounds, part of the appeal is some part of America likes watching people get humiliated. But I think later on, most people watch the show, they really enjoy good singing, and there actually are some very good singers on that show.
KURTZ: Now as I noted, usually, you cover politics. Was this similar to politics in the sense that, ultimately, the voters get to decide?
DALY: Well, it is. I mean, you know, we've been voting for the worst for a while in politics, so why not "American Idol"?
KURTZ: Spoken like a battle-hardened, cynical New Yorker.
DALY: Spoken like a citizen of the United States at the moment.
KURTZ: All right. And Jessica Shaw, you seem quite convinced that Sanjaya is not going to win this competition. Let's say for the argument, for the sake of argument, that he did. Would this be a complete perversion of the process? Leaving aside the fact that it probably would lead to, you know, lots of commercial endorsements for him.
SHAW: Right. Yes, it would he a disaster for the show, you know, for sure if he won, because ultimately, the show is about finding someone who's going to sell millions and millions of albums. And there's no way he's going to do that, because even if people are voting for him now for the entertainment factor, they're not going to vote for him to listen to his music. So yes, that he would be a total disaster.
And of course, Simon Cowell, the judge, has threatened to quit if he wins, but I really, really, really don't see that happening.
KURTZ: That strikes me as a publicity stunt.
And speaking of publicity stunts, Donald Trump has gotten some attention, very unusual for him, by saying that he will shave his head if his wrestler loses to a wrestler chosen by Vince McMahon, who's the owner of World Wrestling Entertainment.
Now, I'm all for publicity stunts, but pulling a Britney Spears? Isn't that sort of an air of desperation on Trump's part? Jessica?
SHAW: Wow. You know, I think a lot of people would be endlessly entertained if Donald Trump shaved his head, and it might just be an improvement over his current hairstyle.
KURTZ: If that happens, Michael Daly, will the picture be on the front page of the "New York Daily News"?
DALY: You can count on that.
KURTZ: And will you be writing about it?
DALY: Would I be writing about it? I have an aversion to writing about Donald Trump at all, but that just might force me.
KURTZ: I see. So your no-Trump ban might be lifted.
DALY: Yes, I would think.
KURTZ: Michael Daly and Jessica Shaw, thanks very much for joining us.
Now, before we go to break, at the Radio-TV Correspondents Dinner this week, Brian Williams was picked out of the audience, I'm reliably informed, without any advance warning and became part of a skit and was asked to do a certain bit of singing to sound like, well, let's just watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS ANCHOR (singing): I hear the train a coming. It's moving round the bend. And I ain't seen the sunshine since I don't know when. I'm stuck in close...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: I want to take a moment to recognize the very fine work being done by so many people in the media these days.
The presidential campaign, for instance, it's refreshing that journalists have focused so heavily on the candidate's stands on the issues that concern us all, instead of being distracted by how many times the White House wannabes have been married or who fooled around with drugs as a young man or which Hollywood mogul is mad at which woman he used to support.
And aren't we lucky that television news has remained focused on important matters and refused to be distracted by the Anna Nicole Smith soap opera or keep flooding us with pictures of the late "Playboy" Playmate shaking her booty for the camera. Or buying into the whole Britney in rehab business.
And the press corps, so polite, so courteous at all times, never badgering anyone or yelling at spokesmen or staking out people at their homes.
And a special shout-out to photographers who keep a polite distance as they take tasteful pictures of movie stars and British royalty.
A tip of the hat, as well, for the media's insistence on using named sources, not the anonymous kind who might have hidden agendas, and for standing firm against the administration's attempt to convince the country that Saddam had dangerous weapons. Good thing reporters didn't buy into that shaky intelligence.
We are fortunate, indeed, to have radio talk shows hosts that don't get carried away by ideology and emotion and bloggers who always check their facts and call people for comment before sharing their opinions online.
That's so not my take on the news business on this April Fool's Day 2007.
That's it for RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz. "LATE EDITION" with Wolf Blitzer begins right now.
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