Return to Transcripts main page
CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Media Turn on John McCain; Coverage of Q1 Fund-Raising Numbers
Aired April 8, 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): War story. The media turn on John McCain for claiming that parts of Baghdad are safe for walking after his own stroll is heavily guarded by U.S. troops.
What happened to the romance of the Straight Talk Express?
Money and the media. McCain is declared a loser for lagging in presidential fundraising, while journalists hail Barack Obama for his big hall.
Are reporters blinded by dollar signs?
Cyber hatred. Female bloggers get a torrent of sexual abuse, even death threats from misogynistic men.
What explains this kind of ugliness?
Plus, free at last. Blogger Josh Wolf, scrummed from jail after eight months for refusing to turn over the videotape of a demonstration. We'll ask him whether it was worth it.
KURTZ: Could the press be any more down on John McCain? The guy has the temerity to raise only $12.5 million in the first three months of this year, finishing third among Republican presidential candidates.
And then there is Iraq. The Arizona senator is a staunch supporter of that unpopular war, and the media really pummeled him when he said this on Bill Bennett's radio show.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There are neighborhoods in Baghdad where you and I could walk through those neighborhoods today.
KURTZ (voice-over): When Wolf Blitzer challenged McCain on "THE SITUATION ROOM," the senator stood his ground.
MCCAIN: That is where you ought to catch up on things, Wolf. General Petraeus goes out there almost every day in an unarmed Humvee.
KURTZ: But other journalists challenged McCain's assessment, beginning with CNN's Michael Ware.
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No way on Earth can a Westerner, particularly an American, stroll any street of this capital of more than five million people.
I don't know what part of Neverland Senator McCain is talking about when he says we can go strolling in Baghdad.
KURTZ: As if to prove his point, McCain visited a Baghdad market last weekend. But news organizations noted that it was no ordinary stroll.
TOM ASPELL, NBC NEWS: The U.S. military, which provided stills pictures, told NBC News the market was a three-minute drive directly across the Tigris River from the Green Zone, and that McCain's delegation was guarded by more than a hundred American soldiers with three Black Hawk helicopters and two Apache gunships overhead.
KURTZ: In an interview airing tonight on "60 Minutes," McCain backed away from his original comment about walking through Baghdad.
(voice over): "Of course I'm going to misspeak, and I've done it on numerous occasions, and I will probably do it in the future," the senator said. "I regret that when I divert attention from something I said in my message, but you know, that's just life."
KURTZ: Joining us now to talk about coverage of McCain, the war, and the presidential campaign, Clarence Page, columnist for "The Chicago Tribune"; CNN Senior Political Correspondent Candy Crowley; and Jonah Goldberg, editor-at-large of National Review Online.
Quick answer from each of you.
Clarence Page, were journalists right to say that McCain had made a ridiculous statement about Baghdad?
CLARENCE PAGE, COLUMNIST, "THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE": The journalists were right, and they know, especially those who are there, you can't walk around the city. And this is a crucial issue, it is not just a little campaign line, it's a very important issue that Baghdad is not safe.
KURTZ: No possibility that McCain had a point?
JONAH GOLDBERG, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE: I think there is every possibility that McCain had a point. I just watched on ABC News' Web site, Terry McCarthy making almost the exact same point as John McCain, going to five different neighborhoods around Baghdad, saying that it was much safer and that he could walk around.
KURTZ: But the media consensus seems to be that McCain was off base.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, I have to go with the people on the ground, Michael Ware and those who have been there for -- since the beginning of the war. I would think that they would know more than McCain about this at this point when you parachute in for two or three days.
KURTZ: Clarence Page, let's pull back the camera a little bit. Has the press really just turned on John McCain since the Straight Talk Express days of seven years ago? I mean, you read the papers, you watch TV, the war is hurting him, he looks old, the magic is gone, he is uncomfortable as the Republican establishment candidate. Not a lot positive being said about the senator right now.
PAGE: He has a bad week or so, you know...
KURTZ: It is more than a week, obviously.
PAGE: Well, but the two big issues though were Iraq, as you mentioned, and also that he came in farther down in the fundraising. And he is also behind Mitt Romney in the funds and the polls.
Those are negative stories which defied expectations that he would be doing a lot better by now. I think this is part of the roller-coaster of politics. But he does have some ground to make up.
KURTZ: Expectations, that is always what it comes down to in the media. So, did journalists like John McCain better, Jonah Goldberg, when he was a maverick taking on the Republican Party and the religious right and people like Jerry Falwell, who he has now embraced?
GOLDBERG: The media always like Republicans when they are beating up on conservatives. That's when -- that's when they get invited to write op-eds for "The New York Times," is when they are beating up on conservatives. That is when they get -- we are told that they are growing and that they are statesman.
You know, that's why the media loves to call Kevin Phillips a Republican. So, I think that is all true.
The problem for John McCain is he doesn't need to court the media so much, he needs to court conservative Republicans. And he is having a hard time doing that.
KURTZ: And is McCain now taking on the press? We saw him being fairly aggressive there with Wolf Blitzer. He said from Baghdad that the media are not giving us the full picture in Iraq. Perhaps he has decided where he really needed the media in 1999, 2000, that it plays well with the base to go up against people like you, Candy Crowley.
CROWLEY: Absolutely. I mean, and I think he needed to.
Look, the war is his signature issue. So he has either got to take on the media or let it stand. And he can't do that. So, I mean, this is a guy that, right or wrong, has to stick with this issue. And the whole incident in Baghdad was part of that.
KURTZ: But what happened to the romance? I mean, you reporters loved this guy.
CROWLEY: Well, I think, first of all, reporters do like an interesting story. And it was more interesting when he was a maverick. But beyond that, let me just say that I think that technology also is so different now.
I sat on the bus with John McCain while people blogged. So I remember being on the bus with him in 2000. He said so much, you couldn't cover it all. You had to go file.
Now people are covering it all, so every little thing he says goes out there. And it is under much more scrutiny.
KURTZ: But the great thing about what he did last time -- and I spent a lot of time on that bus -- is that rather than exposing himself to journalists in carefully, you know, managed doses, you could spend 10 hours with the guy, ask him anything you want. And that was seen as very refreshing.
But maybe this time around it seems like more of a tired act?
PAGE: I think that Candy raises a good point about how technology has changed. Everybody has got shorter attention spans. And there is not that same rapport with John McCain that we had before when it was...
KURTZ: He is being more careful?
PAGE: ... fresh and new.
KURTZ: Or journalists are being more aggressive in holding his feet to the fire?
PAGE: You know, the whole fresh and new card, who has got it now? Barack Obama for the Democrats and Romney for the Republicans.
KURTZ: Only one candidate...
PAGE: But McCain has to get a little new spin to his act, I guess...
KURTZ: Only one candidate per cycle can be seen as the new hot thing?
PAGE: You are only new once.
GOLDBERG: Politics is about moments. And McCain had his moment in 2000. You know, also I think politics is about, at least when it comes to the press, you guys are kind of cheap dates. And you guys -- you like...
CROWLEY: Hey! (LAUGHTER)
PAGE: And we can easy sometimes, too.
GOLDBERG: Yes, well, you say things that -- you know, when candidates say things the press likes and they give straight talk and all of that kind of thing, you know, Bruce Babbitt did that. Gary Hart did that. A lot of these guys did that to win over the press. It doesn't win them votes.
And I think McCain has sort of realized that his moment is over in terms of being the darling boy in the press. And that is not necessarily a death knell.
KURTZ: But he is still doing straight talk in this sense -- he has stuck with this Iraq War, though he has criticized the execution and various tactical things. And knows full well that that could cost him a lot of votes. But is it that journalists don't like that message, as opposed to campaign finance reform and the other issues he was running on in 2000?
GOLDBERG: I think that is part of it. It is also -- look, in the Republican primary, he has to be a staunch defender of the war to win the nomination. And again, his job is to win the nomination, not win kudos from the guests on RELIABLE SOURCES or from "The New York Times".
KURTZ: All right.
Now, you all mentioned -- we mentioned at the top the fundraising question. Those figures came out this week. Hillary Clinton had raised $26 million. This is the first three months of this year. Barack Obama $25 million, that surprised a lot of people. Mitt Romney $21 million, and John McCain, as I mentioned, $12.5 million.
Let's take a look about how some of that has been covered this past week.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUSS MITCHELL, CBS NEWS: On the Republican side, one-time frontrunner John McCain is struggling.
CHARLIE GIBSON, ABC NEWS: Tonight, Barack Obama's extraordinary fundraising windfall, shattering expectations and shaking up the presidential race.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: Today we learned that Senator Barack Obama has raised $25 million in just the first three months of this year. That is a lot of money. Great news for the Obama campaign, and bad news for Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Now, raising a lot of money is an important story. But is the press getting carried away with this, particularly in the case of Obama, as if raising money is the only game in town?
GOLDBERG: I don't think so. In some ways I'm kind of surprised the Obama story didn't get more news. I mean, it is an amazing amount of money...
KURTZ: It led every network newscast and was the lead story in "The Washington Post"...
GOLDBERG: Yes, but it -- but now it has just sort of disappeared. The Hillary fundraising thing had a couple of days' leg to it, people chatted about it. This sort of seemed like the last hurrah of that story, now it's over. And I think the Obama thing is really kind of an amazing story and spells very bad news for Hillary.
KURTZ: I don't have to remind Candy Crowley that Howard Dean raised $40 million in 2003. And lots of very savvy journalists told me, of course he would be the Democratic nominee, because the person who raises the most money always wins. It seems to me the media might just be falling into that trap again.
CROWLEY: The person who raises the most money doesn't always win, but boy they have got a lot smoother road. It's a lot easier to win when you have money.
Look, at this point in the presidential cycle, there are three things that matter: name recognition, money, and organization. And those are the things you judge at this point. We will later judge other things. But I don't think too much was made of it because I think that is part of the troika of what we judge people on right now.
KURTZ: Obama raises $25 million, I think he got a lot of good press out of it, not just in the fact that it was the lead story, but it was very positive, because basically, you know, he had never run a national campaign before. Mitt Romney raises $21 million, and a lot of the stories say, boy, sure had a lot of Mormons contributing.
A little contrast in the way those two were covered?
PAGE: It's expectations, again, Howard. The Obama campaign apparently knew this was going to be a big surprise and that is why they delayed their announcement.
KURTZ: I was very suspicious about that.
PAGE: And remember, now, he is still second, second by only a million dollars, so it is the expectations thing again. But this reminds me a lot of when Bill Clinton came in second in New Hampshire but called himself the "comeback kid," and everybody remembers him as winning, which he did not. And I can't remember the candidate who actually did win. So that's what...
KURTZ: You don't think there has been too much focus on Mormons contributing to Romney's campaign?
PAGE: I don't think -- well, I think that that story is not a news story, actually. But what is interesting about Romney is that he does have a lot of friends with deep pockets who are helping him. He has got deep pockets of his own.
So in some ways, the fact that he has been successful at fundraising is not as big of a story as it might have been.
KURTZ: The usually savvy Craig Crawford says, maybe McCain should just drop out. Absurdly early to be saying that?
CROWLEY: I think so. I think so. McCain is quietly building quite a little machine. Now, it's sort of the George Bush template from 2000. He is getting all of the conventional people in.
And you ask McCain and you say, you know, "What happened to the maverick?" And he said, "The maverick didn't win." And he is perfectly right.
I mean, he has got to go about it differently. And I think it is premature to rule him out.
KURTZ: Well, here is my take -- and this is a minority view. But I think the media are just obsessed with fundraising, because most people haven't tuned in. You get Romney, who has raised truckloads of cash and he is at 3 percent in the polls.
Candy Crowley, Jonah Goldberg, Clarence Page, thanks very much for joining us.
When we come back, how does McCain's assessment of the war look to journalists in Iraq? CBS's Allen Pizzey, just back from Baghdad, has some strong words for the senator.
That is next.
And at 1:00 p.m. Eastern, John Roberts hosts "THIS WEEK AT WAR".
Here's a preview.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's just not that easy. Bottom line, no, this country isn't ready to take over security. They need U.S. troops.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Most commanders are very cautious about security progress.
ANEESH RAMAN, CNN MIDDLE EAST CORRESPONDENT: It does seem that a pragmatist mindset won out within the government.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Politically speaking, I think she had little to gain and much to lose.
PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: ... creating a new generation. Al Qaeda is backed.
KURTZ: How are John McCain's comments about the war playing among journalists in Iraq?
Well, joining us now from Rome is CBS News correspondent Allen Pizzey, who is just back from Baghdad.
Allen Pizzey, welcome.
What was your reaction to McCain saying it's safe for an unarmed Westerner to walk around certain parts of Baghdad today?
ALLEN PIZZEY, CBS NEWS CORRESPONDENT: I thought he was talking nonsense. And I got myself in a bit of trouble because I wrote a blog saying that he is talking nonsense, that people in his position should know better, and that if he wanted to walk around and take a camera with him, we would be glad to give him one.
He did then go on a little walk with some other senators, but, as you heard earlier in your program, it was well protected, and it was very brief. So, I think it -- I was upset that somebody in his position would say something like that. So, yes, I didn't like it.
KURTZ: So what did you make of the fact that this heavily- covered stroll through a Baghdad market on Senator McCain's part was accompanied by 100 soldiers, helicopters overhead and so forth? I mean, he was trying to prove a point about the ease of movement around the city. Did he?
PIZZEY: Yes, I think he made the point that you can't move easily around the city. If it was so easy, if it was as he said, there are places you can walk around -- he said General Petraeus could drive in an unarmed -- I think he meant unarmored Humvee. And then he requires Black Hawk helicopters, Apache gunships, 100 troops, plus roads blocked off.
I think he proved a point. It's not possible to walk around freely. That's a pure and simple fact.
KURTZ: On that blog you referred to on CBS News' Web site, you called Senator McCain's comments "disgraceful, utter rubbish, electoral propaganda," and said that no one in his right mind would believe that. You say you've gotten a little heat over that?
PIZZEY: Yes, it did. I mean, there's -- if you -- if you read blogs, which I didn't use to do until I started catching a bit from them, there's an awful lot of people out there who read these things and have an opinion, which I think is a good thing. I think it's good that the discussion has opened up. What I found interesting was that the people who attacked me personally for writing it never signed their names. It's always a code name. You know, it's Bravo69 or something like that.
So, yes, I don't mind catching the heat. I think it's good that people discuss it. And, you know, maybe my remarks were -- could be considered intemperate. I don't know. I was on the ground and that's what I thought.
It's not like I said it on a news broadcast. I said it as what was clearly an opinion piece. So I think it was fair enough.
KURTZ: Right, but, you know, this kind of raises the questions of, even in an opinion piece, is it the role of journalist to say that a senator and presidential candidate, essentially, is full of it?
PIZZEY: Yes, I think that a lot of politicians have, let's say, a nodding acquaintance with reality, and some of them have barely nodding acquaintance with the truth. So if we can provide a more formal introduction, I think that's part of our job.
You could criticize my language, and as I say, it was an opinion piece. So, you know, everybody's entitled to one now and again.
KURTZ: All right.
The broader question of how the war is going, and particularly how President Bush's military escalation is going; I want to play a little bit from a report from Baghdad by ABC's Terry McCarthy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TERRY MCCARTHY, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Baghdad is still rocked by car bombs every day. But right in the center of the city, a small area of relative calm is starting to grow, thanks to stepped-up U.S. patrols and increased Iraqi checkpoints.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Allen Pizzey, is the surge making modest progress, and if it is, why is that not more of a story?
PIZZEY: Oh, it's definitely making some progress. And in some cases, it's more than modest. But it's in very small areas.
I mean, I was stunned when I went out and walked around the streets of Sadr City. That's something I wouldn't have done. I went with U.S. and Iraqi troops. And you can walk around there.
Now, I can't walk around there without them. But the fact that they're on the ground there, I think that's progress. And it doesn't get, I guess, a lot more coverage because it is small progress. It's incremental progress. To go to those places where the progress is being made means you have to abandon other parts of the story.
I think that we're not being unfair in our coverage to that extent. I think maybe we could say, yes, there is incremental progress. But let's not make that as a big deal that it's all being won, because it's not.
KURTZ: But critics would say that some in the media have decided in advance that the surge is going to fail, and if the violence had gone up during this period, certainly that would be a bigger story.
PIZZEY: Yes, that's true. I don't know of anybody, my acquaintances, any of my colleagues who said this is going to fail. I think everybody looks at it and says, well, they're going to try one more. Let's see how it goes.
We're just out there to report what is. And people who have preconceived ideas I don't think have a right to be reporting.
KURTZ: Preconceived ideas have no place in journalism, and that's why we have you to give us a reality check.
Allen Pizzey, thanks very much for joining us.
Up next, my two cents on Rosie O'Donnell drew at least 10 cents of response from all of you. We'll have your e-mails in just a moment.
And more CNN anchors moonlighting for another network? Our "Media Minute" straight ahead.
KURTZ: Time now for the latest from the news business in our "Media Minute".
KURTZ: CNN anchors seem to be in demand at CBS.
The latest recruit? Lou Dobbs will be making regular appearances on CBS' "Early Show." Anderson Cooper is already a part time contributor at CBS's "60 Minutes," and Sanjay Gupta moonlights for the "CBS Evening News."
Those aren't the only changes at CNN. John Roberts, the former CBS anchor and correspondent, and Kiran Chetry, recently hired from Fox News, are taking over as co-hosts of CNN's "AMERICAN MORNING," succeeding Soledad O'Brien and Miles O'Brien, who will remain as CNN correspondents.
And veteran political analyst Jeff Greenfield is leaving the network to join, yes, CBS News.
Sometimes you need a scorecard in this business.
A Virginia newspaper came under fire this week for publishing the names and addresses of everyone who holds a permit to carry a concealed weapon. "The Roanoke Times" ran the names as part of Sunshine Week, a celebration of the public's right to know. One editorial writer said people are entitled to know which of their neighbors and colleagues are packing heat.
But after being flooded with complaints that the list allowed criminals to figure out where law enforcement officials lived, and even where to steal a weapon, the Roanoke paper deleted the database.
I guess you could say Sunshine Week suffered a total eclipse.
(voice over): "The O'Reilly Factor" is not exactly a Shakespearian debating society. But when Bill O'Reilly and Geraldo Rivera went at it over illegal immigration the other night, the decibel meter must have shattered.
BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Now, I just want to get this straight. You, Geraldo Rivera, with teenage daughters...
GERALDO RIVERA, "GERALDO AT LARGE": Right.
O'REILLY: Are telling me that you are OK with somebody sneaking into the country, becoming drunk, get convicted of a DUI, and staying here? You're all right with that?
RIVERA: My nightmare is my daughters having anything to do with a...
O'REILLY: Are you...
RIVERA: Let me finish my answer.
My nightmare is my daughters having anything to do with a person driving drunk. That's my nightmare.
RIVERA: It could be a Jewish drunk, it could be a Polish drunk.
O'REILLY: But this guy didn't have to be here.
RIVERA: It can be an Irish drunk.
RIVERA: It can be an Italian drunk. What the hell difference does it make...
O'REILLY: American crime -- it makes plenty of difference.
RIVERA: It does not.
O'REILLY: He doesn't have a right to be here.
RIVERA: He didn't commit a felony...
O'REILLY: He doesn't have a right to be in this country.
RIVERA: What -- but that has nothing to do with the fact that he was a drunk. O'REILLY: Yes it does. He should have been deported!
RIVERA: He was a drunk.
O'REILLY: He should have been deported. And this mayor and a police chief didn't deport him!
RIVERA: Listen, do you know how many people we have in jail? How many of them are illegal aliens? Illegal aliens commit crimes at a lower rate than citizens do.
O'REILLY: This guy shouldn't have been...
RIVERA: They do! (INAUDIBLE) has nothing to do with illegal aliens. It has to do with drunk driving.
O'REILLY: It doesn't.
RIVERA: Don't obscure a tragedy to make a cheap political point.
O'REILLY: If I'm the father...
RIVERA: It is a cheap political point!
O'REILLY: No it isn't!
RIVERA: And you know it!
O'REILLY: This is justice, and you want...
RIVERA: This has nothing to do with that poor old mayor. It has nothing to do with that mayor.
O'REILLY: No, you want -- you want anarchy! You want open border anarchy! That's what you want!
RIVERA: What I want is fairness. We have lured...
O'REILLY: Fairness? Bull!
RIVERA: We have lured these -- we have lured this people to this country...
O'REILLY: Oh, yes!
RIVERA: ... with the promise of jobs.
KURTZ: The good news? No punches were thrown.
KURTZ: Now, last week I took issue with Rosie O'Donnell for saying on "The View" that the U.S. had something to do with Iran taking those British sailors hostage, and that explosives must have been involved in the collapse of a tower in the World Trade Center complex, and that the American media were filled with propaganda. If that's the case, I said, Rosie and I must be living on different planets.
KURTZ: We've gotten a ton of e-mail on this subject. Karen Bowling of San Diego writes, "Howie, what planet do you live on? Do you really think the American people get real news from the mainstream media?"
"Rosie is right. All one has do is read papers around the world and you will see how little real info we get here, and how much is shaded, left out or are complete lies."
Jeff Hoyak from New Jersey writes, "I want to applaud Howard Kurtz for his statement that he and Rosie O'Donnell must not be living on the same planet. Only in America could such an unappealing, obnoxious, ill-informed loud mouth as O'Donnell be granted a public forum every day to spew her toxic bologna at millions of mostly female viewers."
Arthur Brina from Fairport, New York writes, "Rarely do I agree with Rosie O'Donnell's point of view on anything, but I also find that the U.S.-based media inadequately covers important areas of the news. I check out the BBC online and the Internet versions of a couple of British newspapers as well."
KURTZ: Coming up in our second half, is the Web a magnet for misogynists? Arianna Huffington and other female commentators will help us look at the spread of cyber hate aimed at women.
And later, a RELIABLE SOURCES exclusive. Video blogger Josh Wolf was freed this week after spending eight months in jail for refusing to turn over the tape of a violent demonstration. He will talk with us about his battle with federal prosecutors.
All that after a check of the hour's top stories from the CNN Center in Atlanta.
KURTZ: Josh Wolf spent a record amount of time in jail for refusing to comply with a federal court's demands. But is he a journalist? We'll talk with him later.
Plus, are some cyber bullies trying to harass women right off the Internet? That's after the break.
KURTZ: Anyone who offers their opinions online, including me, learns to deal with vile comments and nasty e-mail from assorted nut jobs. But is this cyber assault much worse if you are a woman? Technology blogger Kathy Sierra temporarily shut down her Web site last week after the abuse proved to be too much.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KATHY SIERRA, TECHNOLOGY BLOGGER: I feel horrible. I feel frightened. I'm ready to just quit the whole industry.
I got comments on my own blog posts that included death threats and death threats with sexual implications, too. And that had never happened before.
In the comments, someone said, "The only thing Kathy has to offer me is that noose and her neck size."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Sierra's experience touched a nerve for other female bloggers and commentators.
Joining us now to explore the subject, from Portland, Oregon, Joan Walsh, editor of salon.com, who wrote a piece titled "Men Who Hate Women on the Web." In Los Angeles, Arianna Huffington, the founder and frequent opinion-monger of huffingtonpost.com. And in New York, Mary Katharine Ham, who blogs at townhall.com.
Joan Walsh, what kind of verbal abuse have you personally gotten and how does it affect you?
JOAN WALSH, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, SALON.COM: Well, you know, when I started at Salon, it was the height of impeachment and Salon was know for criticizing the Starr investigation and everything else.
And I was really shocked because I had been working in journalism for about 15 years, and I had never seen anything like it. It was all in e-mail, but it was very sexualized, I was frequently compared to Monica Lewinsky for anything vaguely positive I wrote about the president.
And even worse, much more -- very graphic, very demeaning. And it wasn't until we automated our letters and allowed our readers to write directly and publish on our site that I began to see these things that had only been in my in-box appear on Salon.
And you know, I want to make clear it is a tiny, tiny minority of comments. I want to make clear that what I have said to my women writers is, you have to be tough. You can't let it bother you. But after Kathy Sierra, I thought it was really time for me to be more honest about the way it has affected both me, as well as several women -- many women at Salon, to be honest.
KURTZ: Right. Let me get Arianna in here.
Do you get sexually explicit attacks and threats and especially since starting your Web site?
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, BLOG EDITOR, HUFFINGTONPOST.COM: You know, I have gotten attacks and everything. I had a column. Very often, you know, they would tear the column out of the newspaper and write expletives on it and mail it to me. And I think what happens on the Internet is the anonymity provides a cloak. And any kind of vile thinking or hatred can be expressed for everybody to see. Now, at The Huffington Post, we moderate comments on the blog. So these comments will not appear.
We believe that if we are going to invite people to blog, we need to offer them a kind of civil environment. So we have moderators 24-7 filtering those comments out. We don't do that in the news yet, although we probably will just because it is impossible if you are going to allow just a tiny, as Joan said, minority of your readers to actually dominate the tone of the debate, to have an interesting, civil conversation.
KURTZ: And on that point, Arianna, this has been a problem on conservative sites, it is a problem on liberal sites, it is a problem on washingtonpost.com, a minority of people boasting racist or really offensive stuff.
And for example, when there was that suicide bomber in Afghanistan, and Vice President Cheney was there, some of the commentators on your site said, "Dr. Evil escapes again, damn." In other words, they were disappointed that Cheney wasn't killed. It was pretty horrifying stuff.
HUFFINGTON: And we immediately took them down, which we do on the new site. We take them down after they appear. But on the blog side, they never appear because...
MARY KATHARINE HAM, BLOGGER, TOWNHALL.COM: Well, they were up long enough for people to notice, that is for sure.
HUFFINGTON: Yes, and there are many of those comments that appear on right-wing sites and there are many of those comments that appear on YouTube. It is very important to realize this is not about right-left.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, absolutely not.
HUFFINGTON: I think you can be a 10-year-old little girl that sings her favorite song on YouTube and the first comment there will be "You suck, you can't sing, go kill yourself now." This has nothing to with politics. It has to do with the basic instincts of human nature. And we need to address it correctly.
HAM: I disagree just a little bit. I think it is easy to say that this is a problem of both sides without realizing that there -- despite Arianna's obvious comportment and elegance on TV, that there are some serious monkeys hanging from the rafters over on the left side of the blogosphere.
And Michelle Malkin has been getting the C-word and the W-word in her in-box for years. And the same folks who wish for Cheney to be assassinated online are saying, you know, that Condi is a -- is brown sugar or, you know, a house slave.
So I think that they -- there really is a problem on the left side of the blogosphere with some of...
KURTZ: I will get to Michelle Malkin in a moment. But Mary Katherine Ham, I happened to stumble across a comment that was posted to something that you had online. And it said that the biggest reason you have any fame whatsoever is that you are an attractive female. Attractive, but likely awkward in bed.
KURTZ: And then it went on to say some things that I can't repeat on the air.
How do you deal with that?
HAM: Well, on YouTube I think -- I believe that is where that comment is. I generally try to stay away from the YouTube comments. And I also don't usually censor them on YouTube because I think that they show themselves to be exactly what they are when you see that kind of nastiness which just like you said, you can't even repeat on TV.
So I let it roll off my back. I think it is very important for women on both sides of the aisle and in various ventures to, you know, stay tough and to not let these bullies, you know, make them back down.
Now, Joan Walsh, we talked just a moment ago about Michelle Malkin. She is the conservative blogger and FOX News commentator who says some inflammatory things, but it's really gotten some vicious feedback, some of it racist.
Here is what she wrote in response to your column in Salon: "Some women are more equal than others in the eyes of the progressive female progressive blogosphere because we have betrayed feminism, because we hold unorthodox political views on abortion, government race/gender preferences, education, the war, and taxes. And because we reject identity politics, we are not authentic women and we deserve what we get and we just don't count."
Her point is that you had not complained about this phenomenon when the conservatives were on the receiving end.
WALSH: Oh, come on, Howie. I mean, I'm sorry that I didn't say something about Michelle Malkin. Certainly she doesn't deserve that treatment, but she has gotten plenty of attention for it. I wasn't suggesting that it only happens to progressive women or that when it happens to progressive women, it matters.
The really interesting thing for me was that Kathy Sierra is a tech blogger. She is blogging about making software better for people. She is blogging about making the Web a better community, not about politics, not about Dick Cheney, not about Condi Rice. And she is getting the same kind of sexualized belittling comments.
So that is what really jumped out at me. I certainly would never say that what Michelle endures is acceptable at all.
HUFFINGTON: Absolutely. I think it is really amazing that people like Michelle and others are really trying to make that a left- right thing. I read everything Joan wrote on the subject, and there wasn't a single thing that singled out progressive women bloggers. It was all about women.
And the idea that this is a left-wing phenomenon is just laughable, absolutely laughable. I mean, the most toxic women on TV practically is Ann Coulter, who is solidly on the right, who talks about rat poison for Judge Stevens, who talks about "New York Times" journalists needing to be executed.
I mean, this is the kind of absolutely toxic vile talk. And she is not even anonymous. So please, you know, let's stop this absurd idea that this has anything to do with the progressive blogosphere.
HAM: Well, the fact remains that we are doing a segment on CNN now that a politically neutral blogger has come into play when conservative women have been facing this for a long time. And I think...
WALSH: And liberal women have been facing it for a long time.
HAM: ... it is supremely ironic that the left decides to pay attention to these things only then. I think there is a special kind of abuse reserved for women who don't know their place, which let's you think is in the Democratic Party.
WALSH: I really -- I really resent that comment. I think that is absolutely not fair at all. We would never defend a sexist attack on a right-wing or a conservative female blogger. That is not what this is about at all.
HAM: I'm not saying that you defend it. I'm just saying that it goes politely unnoticed a lot of the time.
WALSH: I guess what I -- I guess the point of my piece, though, was to say that I was trying to not notice what was happening to me or what was happening to my writers or what was happening to Arianna or her -- or her bloggers or you or Michelle Malkin, and to really stand above it and say, I'm not going to let those sexists get me down.
And what happened to Kathy Sierra made me take it seriously in the political blogosphere. But it is not matter of left or right.
KURTZ: As the lone male on this panel, I'm going to jump in here.
WALSH: Thank you, come on in. KURTZ: I have been writing about this for some time. And I have seen this on both the left and the right. It does seem particularly aimed at women, particularly personal, particularly hurtful. And it is a problem that all of us are struggling with.
I want to turn now -- we mentioned earlier in the show about Rosie O'Donnell and her comments on "The View" and if I could get you all to weigh in on it.
But first, let's play a little bit of some of what Rosie O'Donnell had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE VIEW")
ROSIE O'DONNELL, CO-HOST: You want to know why we would go into Iran? For the money.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You believe in a conspiracy in terms of the attack of 9/11?
O'DONNELL: No, but I do believe that it is the first time in history that fire has ever melted steel. I do believe that it defies physics for the World Trade Center tower 7 -- Building 7, which collapsed in on itself, it is impossible for a building to fall the way it fell without explosives being involved.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Mary Katherine Ham, are the liberal media giving Rosie O'Donnell a pass?
HAM: Well, I think people are starting to notice, particularly when she veered into conspiracy theory territory, which I'm thankful for. I think conservatives are beginning to, you know, voice their concerns to "The View."
I hope she won't get a pass, especially now that she has veered into some really dangerous territory. Before it was just kind of loopy liberal, now we are talking serious looniness. I just -- I think ABC really needs to consider that.
KURTZ: Arianna Huffington, Rosie O'Donnell has the right to say anything she wants. She has actually helped the ratings of "The View." People are talking about the show. But should she be called on it when she gets into, frankly, conspiracy theories about September 11th?
HUFFINGTON: Oh, absolutely. You know, I'm particularly allergic to conspiracy theories. We actually have our ground rules posted on the Huffington Post that say that we are not going to publish conspiracy theories.
There is so much wrongdoing this administration has been engaged in that is beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt that to waste any ounce of our energy in pursuing this wild speculation, and especially since those particular ones about steel not melting have been scientifically disproven. The steel did not melt, the steel rods, as we know, were weakened enough. The building fell, you know...
HUFFINGTON: I don't think we need to be wasting any time on wild speculations like that.
KURTZ: Joan Walsh, Bill O'Reilly argues that the media -- everyone in the media beat up on Ann Coulter for some of the things she says, particularly that most recent anti-gay slur against John Edwards, but almost no one criticizes Rosie O'Donnell on these comments.
WALSH: I just don't see that, Howie. I see her getting tons of criticism. I have been asked to comment on it repeatedly. It is everywhere now.
So I don't -- I don't think she is getting a pass. I think until this point her comments have been more within the realm of -- you know, maybe it's a little bit out there on the left, but not totally out there.
I think she has crossed the line with these remarks about Building 7. On the other hand, there are a lot of people out there who believe it.
She is not blaming anybody. And the idea that she now must be hounded off of the air and, you know, taken out of her chair on "The View," it is a little extreme for me.
WALSH: She is one person expressing something I disagree with.
KURTZ: Well, I have got to...
KURTZ: I certainly don't think she should be hounded off the air. But I also think that her fight with Donald Trump has gotten about 100 times more coverage than these remarks.
We will have to call it a day on that.
Arianna Huffington, Mary Katharine Ham, Joan Walsh, thanks very much for joining us.
Still to come, the San Francisco blogger who spent eight months behind bars rather than turn over a videotape, but is he really a journalist? Josh Wolf tells us why he went to jail next.
KURTZ: Josh Wolf got out of a California jail this week after eight months behind bars. The 24-year-old blogger wound up serving the longest contempt of court sentence of anyone in the American media for refusing to turn over a video of an anarchist demonstration two years ago that turned violent.
In a settlement with federal prosecutors, Wolf finally agreed to hand over the tape, and also posted it on his Web site.
Josh Wolf joins us now from San Francisco.
Josh Wolf, as you know, there's been this debate about whether you're a journalist, because you're not affiliated with any news outlet. The prosecutor said you were just a guy with a video camera who taped a demonstration.
You have described yourself as an anarchist. Do you consider yourself a journalist?
JOSH WOLF, RECENTLY FREED BLOGGER: I do consider myself a journalist. Who is a journalist doesn't depend on who they work for. If it did, then we would have basically either some sort of corporate- sanctioned journalism or state-sanctioned journalism.
KURTZ: As it turns out, now that we've all had a chance to look at that videotape, there wasn't anything incriminating on it at all.
Why were you willing to spend eight months in jail rather than turn over that tape to prosecutors?
WOLF: Well, we offered to turn over the tape to the prosecutors. And we at least put it forward as a possibility back in November. And the prosecutors refused. The real issue was about testifying in front of the grand jury itself.
KURTZ: And you did agree to answer two questions from prosecutors in writing as part of this settlement.
Why were you so adamant, since this was a public demonstration, about not testifying about what you had seen at that demonstration?
WOLF: Well, the demonstration itself was public. The grand jury proceedings are not public. They're a secretive body where you don't have your attorney there. And there would be no way to verify or dispute what I may or may not have said regarding any testimony that I might provide.
KURTZ: But in the end you did turn over the tape. Did you consider that at least a partial surrender on your part in order to get out of jail?
WOLF: The issue of the tape I thought was worth fighting for. I felt that I should be legally protected to not turn over a tape without incriminating material. Depending on what the material is, I think that a journalist's material should be protected. But once I lost the legal appeals on that there really wasn't a reason to stay in jail simply for protecting a tape with no real material on it.
KURTZ: Now, usually in these contempt cases, as in the case of Judith Miller, the former "New York Times" reporter who went to jail for 85 days rather than talk about her conversations with Scooter Libby, there's some kind of promise to an anonymous source to protect that person's identity. Did you, in the course of covering this demonstration, promise anybody confidentiality?
WOLF: There weren't confidentiality agreements, nothing very formal. But it did come up in talking to various people that were at the demonstration, other people who were not at the demonstration in the civil dissent movement around San Francisco that I wouldn't reveal this, wouldn't reveal that, wouldn't basically act as an agent of the government, and that is essentially what the subpoena was asking me to do.
KURTZ: Now, there was one police officer at this demonstration, which was a protest against a G8 summit, who ended up getting his skull fractured. Did you see that?
WOLF: I did not see that. And if you watch the video, you can see that I was filming his partner choking Gabe Miers (ph) during that time period. And you hear "Officer down" coming from the other end of the screen. So there's no way that I could have even possibly witnessed that.
KURTZ: As you fought this battle, was it hard for you to spend all this time behind bars?
WOLF: It was a bit rough. The environment itself of the jail wasn't at all brutal, but it was certainly very boring. And the fact that I couldn't listen to my music, couldn't get fresh air when I wanted was quite frustrating.
KURTZ: You must have said to yourself on more than one occasion, well, look, all I've got to do is turn over this tape and agree to answer some questions, and I can get out of here.
WOLF: Right, but what those questions are is anyone's guess, and from what the government had said previously -- they essentially said I needed to identify potential witnesses. And to me, it seemed like it was basically a witch hunt to identify everyone they could that was at the event that night.
KURTZ: Is there a final lesson -- a larger lesson, I should say, from your battle and your imprisonment?
WOLF: The larger lesson is that we need a federal shield law to protect journalists. There's a California shield law. There's some sort of journalist shield protection in 49 states, but not in the federal government. And so the federal government was able to circumvent those protections that are afforded to me in this state over a matter that really has nothing to do with national security or anything pertaining to the federal government.
KURTZ: So I imagine you will be speaking out on that in the months -- the months ahead.
WOLF: Yes, I definitely will. KURTZ: All right.
Well, Josh Wolf coming to us just a few days after getting released from prison after eight months.
Thank you very much for joining us.
WOLF: Oh, thank you.
KURTZ: Coming up, the little known billionaire who's about to control the "Chicago Tribune," the "L.A. Times" and a slew of TV stations. What does it mean when rich guys suddenly become media moguls?
Stay with us.
KURTZ: I suppose I should be grateful to Sam Zell. Sam who? Perfectly good question.
Sam Zell is a motorcycle-loving, jeans-wearing, Chicago real estate mogul who this week bought The Tribune Company, which means that if the $8 billion deal goes through, he will own the "Chicago Tribune," The "L.A. Times," "The Baltimore Sun," "Newsday," 12 other papers and 26 TV and radio stations.
So about the grateful part, well, it seems no major newspaper company wanted to buy Tribune. You know, declining ad revenue, declining circulation, whiny journalists and all of that.
So all of these zillionaires get involved these days. Zell beat out three very rich L.A. guys, one of whom, entertainment mogul David Geffen, still hopes to buy The "L.A. Times" from Zell. And as a private owner, Zell doesn't have to worry about Wall Street and stockholders.
Zell says this is mainly an economic investment for him. He told the "Chicago Tribune" that newspapers must remain relevant but admitted that, well, he didn't know quite what that meant but you have got to service the customers.
Translation: Sam Zell knows nothing about owning newspapers. There is no previous evidence that he cares one whit about journalism. And he is taking on a massive amount of debt.
So what happens if he can't turn a big profit? More slashing cutbacks like those planned at the "L.A. Times," where prize-winning editor Dean Baquet was ousted for refusing to keep wielding the ax?
Now, maybe Sam Zell will prove me wrong and turn out to be a modern day Joseph Pulitzer. He did say one thing I liked, telling the Tribune: "Do I look naive enough to think I have any influence on what people write?"
In fact, he said he expects the paper's coverage of him to get worse. And if he doesn't figure out that owning newspapers isn't like buying and selling office buildings, it just might.
Well, that is it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.
I'm Howard Kurtz.
Join us again next Sunday morning, 10:00 a.m. Eastern, for another critical look at the media.
"LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER" begins right now.
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.voxant.com