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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES

Bloomberg Leaves GOP

Aired June 24, 2007 - 10:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice over): Run, Mike, run. The media swoon over Michael Bloomberg as he leaves the Republican Party, even as the mayor repeats he's not -- repeat, not -- running for president.

Why won't journalists take no for an answer?

Rescue mission. CBS's Lara Logan on the U.S. soldiers who saved starving orphans in Iraq and covering a seemingly endless war.

Pursuing Paris. Did NBC dangle a million bucks for a "Today Show" interview?

And the art of celebrity journalism. Are profiles like this Angelina Jolie cover story nothing but puffery?

Plus, in the fox's lair. Kurtz versus O'Reilly, a long-awaited showdown.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: He says he's not running for president. In fact, he says it again and again. But that hasn't stopped the media from swooning over the prospect that Michael Bloomberg may mount an independent bid for the White House.

When the New York mayor said this week that he was leaving the Republican Party, or as one Web site put it, "Bloomberg to GOP: Drop Dead," he obviously knew this would bring him all kinds of national media attention. And on that point, the billionaire was right.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A political bombshell tonight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Michael Bloomberg has left the Republican Party.

CHARLES GIBSON, ABC NEWS: Talk that he may be planning a major political move.

TIM RUSSERT, "MEET THE PRESS": He is positioning himself for a potential, potential -- underscore "potential" -- independent run for the presidency.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is this purely about an independent presidential campaign?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He practically says, I'm not going to run. But then he does all of these things that lead to you believe that he is going to run for president.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: He's not going to get in unless he's convinced he can win this race.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: But even as unnamed Bloomberg aides told reporters that their man was weighing a 2008 campaign, the mayor dismissed the notion.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), NEW YORK: If everybody in the world was dead and I was the only one alive, yes, sure. Come on, no. That's...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: So what explains the media fixation with one very rich man?

Joining us now, CNN correspondent Mary Snow, who is usually based in Bloomberg country but is joining us in Washington today; Jonah Goldberg, editor-at-large for "National Review Online"; and from the Big Apple, Dominic Carter, senior political correspondent at the cable channel New York 1.

Dominic Carter, Bloomberg says over and over again he is not running for president, and the press corps led by you guys in New York practically has him on the ballot. Why?

DOMINIC CARTER, NY1: Well, Howard, it's this simple. Look at his actions. Frankly, it does not matter what he is saying right now. And here is the key phrase. This week -- and Bloomberg never talks this way -- he said that he intends, the key word, "intends," to finish his term.

The best way I can describe it is this way, Howard. I moderated the Hillary Clinton debate, her re-election debate, and for nine months prior to that all we heard was that she was concentrating on her re-election bid. And now we see what the Senate from New York is actually doing.

KURTZ: Right.

CARTER: But there is every sign that is he going to run.

KURTZ: All right. Dominic parsing the mayoral language.

Jonah Goldberg, you go a step further. You write this week that Bloomberg is lying about not running. When did you become a mind reader? JONAH GOLDBERG: I say he's lying about having no interest in running.

KURTZ: OK.

GOLDBERG: He said -- you know, he plays these games, and everyone knows -- his own aides have been leaking about the formulas and the steps and the who's a much-it (ph) and what's a frag-it (ph), that he's got to see or do to run. Of course he's interested in running. He has a huge ego and he wants to be president.

KURTZ: Mary Snow, Bloomberg leaving the GOP is a big story, although he's always been kind of a Democrat in drag who switched parties for tactical reasons. But what possibly justifies this intensive level of presidential campaign coverage?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There really is such a hunger out there. You know, when you see people...

KURTZ: Wait a minute. A hunger out there, or a hunger among journalists?

SNOW: A hunger among journalists, but I also think there's a hunger among the public, because when you see the reception to some of these stories about the maybe candidates, you get the sense. But, you know, he's certainly saying -- has it down to a T.

He said the other day of, "Oh, I have 925 days and 10 hours," had all the answers, but then went on to talk about how he was disappointed with all of these issues that weren't being addressed. And he's really trying to position himself as the Washington outsider.

So when somebody sends those signals, it seems that he's running

KURTZ: Dominic Carter, let's come back to the press. Now, Bloomberg is a guy who got rich on Wall Street, started a financial news service, which he named after himself. In other words, not a career politician.

How are his relations with the famously feisty, some would say obnoxious, New York press corps?

CARTER: Howard, let's put it this way. I think it's fair to say that Bloomberg has never really been a fan of the New York press corps or the national press corps, as a matter of fact. But he understands that, as the mayor of New York is such a high-profile public figure, that he has no choice but to deal with us.

Coming from the business world, I think business folks are used to making their statements, and then it's interpreted. In the world of politics, we question everything, and he's just not used to that. So he'll tell you everything is great, but at times his relationship with the media here in New York has been testy.

KURTZ: Jonah Goldberg, Bloomberg's move came just days after he was on the cover of "TIME" magazine with Arnold Schwarzenegger with the headline "Who Needs Washington?"

If we could put that up on the screen -- there we see it.

And the magazine basically was hailing them as bipartisan types who get things done. In Bloomberg's case, on climate change and gun control.

Doesn't the press just swoon over moderates, particularly Republican moderates?

GOLDBERG: Oh, they love Republican moderates. They love these -- this whole post-partisan nonsense, this idea that we can transcend our political differences and all this kind of stuff, I think in part because journalists, especially Washington journalist, tend to have the same sort of political view. They're so cynical about both parties, they think all of it is sort of a game and they just want to get on it, why can't we just get things done, and that "TIME" magazine thing...

KURTZ: Why is that nonsense?

GOLDBERG: Well, because, first of all, what it is -- when you say, can't we get past our political differences, it's basically saying, why don't you drop your objections and do what I want to do? And that's what that "TIME" magazine piece was about.

Inconceivable "TIME" magazine would be selling Bloomberg- Schwarzenegger as these action heroes if they had a conservative agenda in those states. Those were on stem cells, climate change, smoking bans, trans fats. That's what makes them heroes, according to "TIME" magazine. And so it's a fundamentally liberal agenda of government activism.

KURTZ: Why aren't 18 Democratic and Republican candidates for president, plus Fred Thompson, who's going to get in any hour now, enough?

SNOW: And maybe Al Gore. Everybody keeps guessing about that.

KURTZ: Why aren't the people who are actually running, who are actually going out and seeking votes, why isn't that enough to keep reporters happy? What is this fascination with somebody who might get into the race?

SNOW: You know, you think about the length of this campaign. Is it because these people have been out there and every new development that comes -- but I also go back to the feeling that talking to people out there, that there is this dissatisfaction with candidates who are out there. And any time somebody else comes along, you really need to examine, how is this going to affect the mix?

GOLDBERG: Also, I mean, David Broder said a long time ago that the job of a political journalist is to be a fight promoter. And this idea...

KURTZ: But we have a lot of boxers in the ring. GOLDBERG: Yes. But the thing is, I think it's we have to get rid of the boxing analogy and move back to the 16-man, you know, wrestling kind of thing. And it's just more exciting to get more of these guys thrown in and shake up the field.

KURTZ: Well -- go ahead, Dominic.

CARTER: You know, Howard, I just wanted to say that I would agree with that point, because the bottom line -- and very few of us in the media admit this, but I think it's fair to say that we just love the horse race. And with a guy like Bloomberg, this guy is an unknown quantity in terms of you cannot take him for granted on anything.

If you go by conventional political wisdom, he was never supposed to be the mayor of New York City, and yet he pulled it off. At best, he was supposed to be token opposition, and the mayor's seat was supposed to go back to the Democrats. But he pulled everything off.

KURTZ: Right.

CARTER: And so there's a belief that he might be able to do that. History is against him, but he might be able to do that on a national stage.

KURTZ: Well, I just think that the level of rank speculation here, which is one of our specialties, let's face it, has just gotten ludicrous. You know, the guy might run, probably won't run. And it just seems media, when it comes to political candidates -- political candidates -- they're always much more enticing and alluring and fascinating before they get in the race, because the day he got in the race, everybody would start beat him up.

I will take him at his word when he said, as he said a couple of times, that America may not be ready for a short, Jewish, divorced billionaire in the White House.

Speaking of potential candidates, Jonah Goldberg, Ralph Nader tells columnist Roger Simon he may run again, a third time for president. Suddenly he's on with Wolf Blitzer, he's on with Chris Matthews.

Why do the media care?

GOLDBERG: OK. Ralph Nader has got a great name. He was part of an enormous story in 2000. And, you know, he gives great sound bites.

It's wonderful to listen to someone from the left beat up on Democrats. It's a nice new thing to hear. And so he's turning into sort of the Harold Stassen of progressive politics.

KURTZ: I want to play now something that everybody has probably seen or heard a couple of times, but let's give it an encore presentation. That is the Clinton video spoofing the final scene, the final episode of "The Sopranos".

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So what's the winning song?

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You'll see.

W. CLINTON: My money's on Smash Mouth. Everybody in America wants to know how it's going to end.

H. CLINTON: Ready?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Mary Snow, is this what the presidential campaign is about now, online entertainment, who can put on the best skit?

SNOW: And you know what? In this strategy they're really dictating what we're talking about, right? I mean, the Clinton campaign spent a lot of money and time getting this out there and here we are talking about it.

KURTZ: So it was a successful maneuver, from your point of view?

SNOW: On their part I think it was. I mean, should we spending so much time about it? Probably not.

KURTZ: Dominic Carter, you cover Hillary Clinton, among other New York politicians. She has what "Newsweek" magazine has called a likability gap, if you believe "Newsweek".

So was this an attempt to change the press portrayal of her as a cold and calculating person without much of a sense of humor?

CARTER: Of course it was. The video of "The Sopranos" made page one news in terms of the tabloids here in the city, and it's a direct attempt, if you will, to portray her outside of what the stereotypes of Senator Clinton happens to be.

GOLDBERG: I think that's right. I'm not sure how much it's actually going to work.

It may work with the press corps. Oh, guys in Washington and New York were all laughing at it and all that kind of stuff. People have just simply made up their minds about the Clintons. And I think for a lot of people, to see them coming back and enjoying themselves as much, it just reminds them that, oh, my gosh, I really don't like the Clinton very much. So I'm not sure it helps as much as people think it does.

KURTZ: Well, on the other hand, a lot of people get their news from the Internet these days, particularly young people. So a lot of people are going to see that just as much as they would see a 30- second ad.

We will leave it there. Jonah Goldberg, Mary Snow, Dominic Carter in New York, thanks for joining us this morning.

And speaking of politics, if you want to ask the presidential candidates a question, here is your chance. Go to www.youtube.com/debates and submit a video with your question. CNN will air a number of these videos at the Democratic debate in South Carolina on July 23rd.

When we come back, we'll go to Baghdad, where CBS' Lara Logan will update us on a heartrending story in a seemingly endless war.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: The bad news out of Iraq has been pretty relentless, as anyone with a television set knows. But this week there was a story that reminded us, whatever your feelings about the war, that American forces can accomplish some positive things in this bloody conflict. The circumstances though were just horrifying.

CBS's Lara Logan reported on a military unit that made a gruesome discovery in a building in central Baghdad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LARA LOGAN, CBS CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Inside the building, a government-run orphanage for special needs children, they found more emaciated little bodies tied to their cribs, kept this way for more than a month, according to the soldiers called in to rescue the 24 boys.

STAFF SGT. MICHAEL BEALE, U.S. ARMY: I saw children that you could see literally every bone in their body, they were so skinny, had no energy to move whatsoever, no expression on their face.

LT. STEPHEN DUPERRE, U.S. ARMY: Kids were tied up, naked, covered in their own...

LOGAN (on camera): Feces?

DUPERRE: ... waste, feces. And there were just three people that were cooking themselves food, but not for the kids.

LOGAN: In the kitchen?

DUPERRE: Yes, ma'am.

LOGAN: With all these kids starving around them?

DUPERRE: That's correct.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: And joining us now from Baghdad to talk about the story and coverage of the war is CBS's chief foreign correspondent, Lara Logan. You've seen a lot of war and devastation on your beat. What was your gut reaction personally when seeing the pictures of these young boys?

LOGAN: It was hard to believe. I mean, nobody can look at those pictures and not be absolutely shocked to the core. And I think that that's one of the big problems with this story, because the Iraqis who were there that night, the soldiers who were there and saw how these boys were kept, they understand just how evil it was, what was done to them.

But what you're hearing from the Iraqi government and even from some American officials is that, oh, there was no electricity, that's how it happened, and they were tied up for their own good. And, you know, they're special needs children, they don't -- they are disabled, so they would have been dead otherwise if they hadn't been in this place. And my feeling is, if anyone who can say anything like that hasn't looked at those pictures and hasn't seen those children and doesn't want to see those children -- because to take that kind of line when you know what was done to these boys, I think it's criminal.

KURTZ: How did you get on to this story? Was it an effort by the U.S. military to generate some good news for a change for the American side?

LOGAN: Now, Howie, you cover the media, so you know that no good journalist discloses their sources. I can't tell you how I came upon the story, but what I can tell you is that it was not an attempt by the U.S. military.

In fact, what you will be interested to know about is how difficult it was for me to tell this story, which the soldiers themselves thought the media was deliberately hiding it. What they didn't know was that the Army hadn't told anyone about this for a week. And I found out through my own private means, and when I did, I went to the military.

I was given a lot of support from the unit, a lot of support from the division. But as it started to go higher up the ranks, to the more political thinkers on the American side, I hit a wall. And I was told that I needed Iraqi government permission from the Ministry of Labor to do this story, because they said the Iraqis had the lead.

That's one of their favorite sayings over here, is the Iraqis have the lead on this. And my response to that was, why do I need permission from the Iraqi government to speak to American soldiers?

And I was told because, you know, the Iraqis were the ones who saved these boys. And I said, "Well, that's very interesting, because I am looking at photographs of American soldiers carrying emaciated boys, and I don't see any Iraqi soldiers in these pictures."

And there was a silence on the end of the phone by someone who was actually trying to help me. And they said, "OK, we'll come back to you." And actually, it's only because I had a two-hour meeting with a top general in this country who gave me his full approval. That was how I broke through the wall and managed to get to do the story.

KURTZ: Boy, it's fascinating that they actually would throw roadblocks in your path.

Now, as you know, in the middle of the week the Iraqi labor minister put out a statement and said, "We totally reject the tricks they use to manipulate and distort facts and show the Americans as the humanitarian party. That could not be further from the truth. Is it just propaganda for their alleged kindness?"

What did you make of that response by the Iraqi government?

LOGAN: You mean besides blind rage on my part when I heard those words?

KURTZ: Right.

LOGAN: That -- I mean, it really -- that was how we all felt, because to say something like that, to make this political, to make this more about politics and about staying in power, and self- justification than about these boys, as I said to you before, I think that's criminal. And it's not only deceitful, it's completely and utterly untrue.

And I don't know how -- I mean, Prime Minister Maliki ordered all the people involved in this incident at the orphanage to be arrested. And yet, the minister of labor stood at that press conference where he made those remarks and had the manager of the orphanage next to him, standing there to publicly defend and justify his actions.

I mean, so that demonstrates to me not only that Prime Minister Maliki either doesn't have control or is not exercising control, and that the ministry -- the minister of labor is, I mean, he's dishonest and he shouldn't be allowed to do this. I mean, but this ministry is what you call a Sadrite ministry connected to Muqtada al-Sadr and Jaish al-Mahdi, and it seems like they are able to do their own thing. And they will try and justify this any way they can.

KURTZ: Right.

Let's talk about the broader issue of war coverage. FOX's Bill O'Reilly says that the other networks -- he did not mention CBS -- are constantly showing bombings and suicide attacks and other violence in Iraq to undermine President Bush, and that this is giving the terrorist what they want.

What's your reaction to that kind of criticism? I know you wrestle with how much violence to show in your regular reports.

LOGAN: Well, I mean, with all due respect to Bill O'Reilly or anyone who takes that line, I mean, I just -- it's ridiculous, it's completely and utterly ludicrous. And how can you -- the media's job is not to serve one side or the other. That's never been our job. We're there to be the watchdog for all sides.

So it's not up to us to say, oh, you know, it doesn't -- it doesn't do well for the war effort if you show how many people are being killed, so we're not going to show it. I mean, what are we talking about? That's not even journalism.

It's so ridiculous. I actually don't think that I should -- I mean, you shouldn't have to stoop to address those kinds of issues.

And also, I mean, where are all of these people who think that we're helping the terrorists' cause? I mean, what about the fact that this is the reality, that these bombings are still taking place, that in spite of the surge, and people are still dying in Iraq, that huge numbers of American soldiers are dying over here? I mean, now we're in the game of hiding, only telling what some people want to hear? That's not what we do.

KURTZ: All right. Got about half a minute.

You reported on Friday that some Iraqi politicians are plotting to topple Prime Minister Maliki through a vote of no confidence. Why haven't we heard more about that story from other news organizations?

LOGAN: You know, I really don't know. I can't speak to other news organizations. I mean, that was an exclusive story, getting those people to speak to us and speak to us on camera, and to talk about this.

I know that other reporters are following it and investigating it, but nobody wants to just report what other people are reporting unless -- and this is complicated. You know, there are rumors all the time over here about different parties forming together to topple the government, but this was much more than rumors.

This is something concrete. And Prime Minister Maliki is now trying to counter that with another movement. But these are difficult stories to tell.

And what people often don't appreciate about serious journalists is that it takes a lot of time and reporting and hard work to be absolutely sure before you go into print or before you go on air.

KURTZ: Right.

LOGAN: And I think that's what some of my colleagues might be doing at this time.

KURTZ: All right. Well you had them on camera. A fascinating story.

Lara Logan, thanks very much for joining us from Baghdad. And please, stay safe.

Up next in our "Media Minute," Brian Lamb gets barbecued. C- SPAN's soft-spoken founder gives the floor to Michael Savage's angry radio listeners.

And you haven't seen the last of that Anna Nicole judge.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Hey, I'm sick and tired of putting up with this garbage and -- oh, sorry.

Well, things can get awfully embarrassing on television when you don't realize your mic is hot, which is what happened to MSNBC's Chris Matthews on "Hardball" this week when he started complaining about the way that night's show had been booked.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: We're only acting and putting on (EXPLETIVE DELETED). We have nothing to...

Welcome back to "Hardball".

So who is now -- the New York mayor, Mike Bloomberg, is running now all of a sudden.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Now, that's playing hardball with your staff.

He ranted, he raved, he cried, and now the weeping judge who presided over the Anna Nicole Smith hearings is headed for television. Broadcasting and cable reports that CBS has signed Larry Seidlin, who just resigned his judicial seat in Florida, to develop a "Judge Judy" type daytime show, which means we'll be hearing a lot more of this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUDGE LARRY SEIDLIN, BROWARD COUNTY FAMILY COURT: There's no circus here, my friends.

And I hope to god you guys give the kid the right shot.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: At least this time the former Bronx cab driver won't be in a real court of law.

Now, there's no one in television more polite or unassuming than Brian Lamb. But the C-SPAN founder got plenty of flack this week when his network declined to cover Michael Savage, the pugnaciously conservative radio host, accepting a Freedom of Speech Award from "Talkers" magazine because, Lamb says, Savage wasn't making his speech on person, just on DVD.

Well, some rather savage Savage fans didn't like that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN LAMB, C-SPAN: "How dare you? You are a Nazi and a Stalinist and are probably a homosexual."

"C-SPAN sucks, but not as much as you do." That's to me. "Have a nice day, (EXPLETIVE DELETED)."

"You and ACLU and all of the other liberal (EXPLETIVE DELETED) loser communists need to leave the States now. I will never watch the garbage your liberal bastards spew after your censoring of Michael Savage. What are you perverts afraid of?"

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Only Brian Lamb could read those letters without getting mad.

Ahead in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, as the networks have been chasing an interview with Paris Hilton, is checkbook journalism back in style?

Michael Moore and the selling of "Sicko".

Also, an insider on puffy celebrity interviews.

And Kurtz versus O'Reilly, the long-awaited showdown.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Welcome back.

Had enough of Paris Hilton by now? Well, the media are still salivating over the celebutard, as "The New York Post" calls her. The paper says Getty Images has paid $300,000 for the first pictures of Paris which will run this week in "People" magazine.

The networks began scrambling for the first Hilton sit-down after she was released from jail in a couple of days. NBC News is denying reports that the network offered as much as $1 million in connection with a Meredith Vieira interview on "The Today Show," but could not address whether NBC's entertainment division was dangling a deal with the heiress. ABC did offer the possibility of a $100,000 payment for video and pictures -- if such pictures existed -- but both networks now say they will be Paris-free zones.

Joining us to talk about the media ethics involved and some other hot issues, in Seattle, Michael Medved, host of "The Michael Medved Show" on the Salem Radio Network. And in New York, Rachel Sklar, media and special projects editor for huffingpost.com.

Rachel, the networks swear they don't pay for interviews, but whether it's NBC raising the possibility of a big payday for Paris, which it denies, or ABC raising the same kind of possibility at a smaller level, which it acknowledges, isn't this really, what's the phrase, paying for interviews?

RACHEL SKLAR, HUFFINGTONPOST.COM: Well, it does amount to that if you're talking about the entire division of NBC. However, they do break it out, and NBC News explicitly said that NBC News does not pay for interviews. They didn't explicitly say that NBC does not pay for interviews. So, it's a pretty blurry line, particularly in this case. And what it raises is not only the sort of issue of paying for interviews and the fact that that's not news, but also the issue of hypocrisy. Because Brian Williams had gone on record saying, you know, "We don't cover Paris Hilton here. You won't find that here."

And then to -- you know, to have NBC come out negotiating for the first interview rights for such an astronomical sum, I mean, it's a black eye, it looks bad on NBC. And the whole process just looks bad on all of the networks.

KURTZ: Well, this is how it works, Michael Medved. NBC buys the rights to the Princess Diana tribute concert this summer for about $2.5 million. And then NBC's Matt Lauer happens to land an interview with Prince William and Prince Harry for "The Today Show".

CBS, the same thing, Michael Jackson music special, "60 Minutes" gets the interview.

Are these arrangements a tad dishonest?

MICHAEL MEDVED, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Yes, they're completely dishonest. And I actually had experience about 20 years ago helping to arrange an interview for "60 Minutes" with somebody I was working with on a different project, and they paid his expenses.

Now, yes, they weren't paying for an interview, but they were paying expenses. And what's the difference, especially when the expenses are paid for in a rather lavish basis? I think the hypocrisy is stunning.

And truly, the Paris Hilton fascination, I mean, I guess it worked for Anna Nicole Smith. But she, at least, was dead, and there was a -- there was a whole struggle about who the father of her baby was. The fascination here is to morbid and so insulting, and for people who try to be serious news people, I truly -- I don't know how you recover after something like this.

KURTZ: And then, Rachel Sklar, you had this spectacle of Paris Hilton calling Barbara Walters at 2:00 in the morning from jail, oh, I really want to be interviewed by you after things fell apart with NBC.

So what explains what Michael just said, this voracious appetite by the media to just, you know, be all over this woman, who as far as I can tell, has a talent for getting publicity but not much else?

SKLAR: OK. Well, it's not just the appetite of the media. If nobody tuned into Paris Hilton, if she wasn't all over, you know, Google (INAUDIBLE), if she wasn't the most popular hit on Technorati, then nobody would be interested. But there is an appetite for Paris Hilton, and it's not because she only has a talent for getting publicity.

It's because she has sort of risen in public consciousness for her various antics. I mean, she has done things that are so out of the ordinary, so kind of dog bites man -- wait, the other way around, man bites dog -- man bites dog -- that she -- she's been -- you know, she's been news, legitimate news for kind of from being engaged -- sorry?

(CROSSTALK)

MEDVED: Howie, if I can jump in, I would certainly agree that Paris Hilton bites. But as far as -- but as far as the entire fascination with her, I think it's the way people like to watch a train wreck.

Paris Hilton is richer and thinner than any human being should be. She has all of those things that society says that you should crave, and yet her life is a complete disaster. She's clearly and manifestly an idiot. So I think it's very reassuring to those of us in the United States who are kind of more ordinary to see somebody who has all of this stuff and has all of these things going for her and yet has made a complete disaster out of what passes for life.

KURTZ: Rachel.

SKLAR: Well, sure. And that's where -- I mean, that's the coverage comes in, right? That's what makes her story unusual and what makes her stand out. But the drama behind the scenes sort of reveals the machinations on her part and the part of her family to maximize publicity and maximize their income from this.

MEDVED: Like they need the money, too, right?

KURTZ: Rachel, the interview will now be conducted by Larry King. It will air here on CNN Wednesday night, no payment involved.

MEDVED: Yeah.

KURTZ: Although a spokesman for the program said -- couldn't rule out possibly buying some photographs or video.

Do you have any problem with her ending up on "LARRY KING LIVE"?

SKLAR: Well, I just have a problem with the fact that it's going to be the full hour. And I don't know how -- what Paris Hilton has to say for an hour. So it should actually be pretty interesting, but probably quite painful to watch.

KURTZ: All right. So Rachel Sklar would give her 10 minutes at the most.

Now, I want to turn to another -- a guy who has a talent for getting publicity. That is Michael Moore. He's got a new film coming out in the coming days called "Sicko" about the nation's health care system.

Let's take look first at Moore at a Capitol Hill press conference with a group of Democrats, and then a clip from his movie, where he takes a bunch of 9/11 rescue workers to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and tries to see if they can get health coverage there.

Let's watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL MOORE, DIRECTOR, "SICKO": And I say this with all due respect to our fellow Democrats who are running for office, it's not going to be enough in the next 12 months just to say, "I believe in health care for everyone." That's not enough. That's not enough.

Permission to enter. I have three 9/11 rescue workers. They just want some medical attention, the same kind that the evil-doers are getting.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Michael Medved, does Michael Moore get an easy ride from the liberal media? I mean, here he is pushing government-run health care, which no Democratic presidential candidate even supports.

MEDVED: No, and I'd say good for him. His film is an editorial. It is not a documentary in the traditional way.

It's very well done, as most of his movies are. But the point is that I don't think he gets a free ride, because there has been some -- some attention to the fact that there is no such thing as free health care for everybody.

There isn't that kind of attention in his film. And the fact is he's a provocateur. He's very good at doing what he does.

And I do think it's terrific for him that he is trying to raise the health care issue in a different way than it's being discuss discussed by the candidates on either the Democratic or the Republican side.

KURTZ: Right.

Rachel...

MEDVED: So despite the fact that I'm not a Michael Moore fan, good for him.

KURTZ: All right.

Rachel, here's one of the things Moore does. He says this week that Harvey Weinstein, the media mogul who's one of the backers of the film, begged him -- begged him to cut a scene involving criticism of Hillary Clinton, but he wouldn't do it.

Is this guy -- a genius at getting publicity, or what?

SKLAR: I think he is a genius at getting publicity. Michael Moore is a very, very talented person, but arguably his biggest talent is in getting publicity for the stuff that he does, because he's just a guy, he fills his films with stunts.

The Guantanamo clip that we just saw, I mean, that makes a bold statement, but it's essentially a stunt, like in "Fahrenheit 911," when he was riding around with an ice cream truck on Capitol Hill and that sort of thing. But I think that that's more of an issue of, I guess, editorial integrity for his film that Harvey Weinstein was asking him cut something and he said no, it's important to this movie. And I think that speaks to the fact that this has a broader appeal and it's not a partisan film.

KURTZ: Michael Medved, just briefly, you say that the film is an editorial, and that's obviously true. But he offers no criticism whatsoever of the government-run health care systems in Cuba, in Britain, in Canada. Don't these kinds of omissions undercut his filmmaking argument?

MEDVED: Completely. And there's nothing about the long lines in those countries, there's nothing about who pays for the "free health care".

But look, the point is, what I think is stunning, is if Democrats allow Michael Moore to define the agenda, where does he get off saying that's not enough? Since when did he become the boss for Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and Barack Obama?

KURTZ: All right.

One more issue here.

MSNBC.com had a lengthy investigation this week. We can put up a graphic. They found a lot of journalists contributing to political candidates and political parties, mostly Democrats. We see there some of the names -- Joe Scarborough, a former CNN reporter, FOX news producers in other parts of that. There were also correspondents for CBS, ABC and MTV.

Rachel Sklar, should journalists make political donations, period? Doesn't that make them look partisan?

SKLAR: Well, what I find interesting about this is that the assumption immediately is that making a donation is what makes you partisan, or is that the journalists who don't make donations have no biases whatsoever.

I actually am more interested in what is not disclosed. And in this case, if the donations are disclosed in news organizations and news organizations themselves don't have a rule against making those contributions, if everything is transparent and people are held accountable, then I don't think it's a problem. I think that that...

KURTZ: OK. Let me get Michael Medved in, because we're short on time.

SKLAR: All right.

KURTZ: Should they make these donations? And 125 of the 144 people tracked by MSNBC gave money to Democrats.

MEDVED: Yes, I think it's a huge problem. And it shows the disproportionate sympathy for liberal causes and candidates in mainstream media. The reason I think it's a problem is because...

SKLAR: Oh, I don't think it shows that at al, actually.

MEDVED: ... it's so passionate. You have to be so passionate about a campaign to actually give money.

SKLAR: I think one percent did.

MEDVED: Look, I give opinions every day, all -- all the time. That's what I do. And yet, I would be very careful not to contribute to a campaign. Because once you're a financial backer of a candidate, how can you then go on your show or in your magazine and say I'm not in the tank for the candidate of the party I'm for, which I contribute?

KURTZ: All right. I've got to wrap it here. You get the last word.

Michael Medved, Rachel Sklar, thanks for an interesting discussion this morning.

When we come back, a magazine cover story on Angelina Jolie sparks a debate on celebrity profiles. Positive or downright puffy?

And how I survived my appearance on "The O'Reilly Factor".

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: It's clear what the new issue of "Esquire" is selling -- Angelina Jolie. Or to be more precise, Angelina Jolie covered only by a sheet.

She is described as the best woman in the world, her body iconic, her flesh extraordinary, her eyes and lips extravagant creations. And there was this tantalizing passage -- "Well, there was a moment when she unzipped her dress for me."

Slate columnist Ron Rosenbaum didn't think much of the piece. He joins us now from New York.

Ron Rosenbaum, of all the celebrity from profiles in recorded history, what was it about this one by Tom Junod that just set you off?

RON ROSENBAUM, SLATE.COM: I think it was the ratio of pretension to sort of sleazy cheesecake photographs. The idea that you had to justify posing Angelina Jolie naked with a sheet, with all sorts of pseudo intellectualizing about how this is really a story about 9/11 and the meaning of celebrity and the meaning of life, et cetera, et cetera.

But I think it's really part of something even more interesting, which is, like, we may be experiencing a moment in which there's a backlash against journalism subservience to celebrity. I mean, I think the rejection by the networks of the Paris Hilton payoff is one thing, and Angelina Jolie's reps tried to get journalists to sign a contract...

KURTZ: Right.

ROSENBAUM: ... in which they say they would never say anything negative and their interview would be only used to promote the movie. They were like fawning, you know, servants, according to this contract. And some refused to do it.

KURTZ: Let me -- OK. And I'm glad they did.

Let me jump in here and read a response that we got from "Esquire" to your Slate column.

"Tom Junod's extraordinary body of work speaks for itself. Writers who, in good faith, attempt to do something new with magazine journalism, as Tom often does, are often disparaged by more traditional talents. Tom doesn't need to be rescued by Ron Rosenbaum or anyone else. Over the last 15 years, Junod has received a record 10 National Magazine Award nominations for feature writing."

"In this case, Ron, who was once a promising writer for 'Esquire,' willfully misread Tom's piece and has engaged in the cheapest criticism there is, isolating quotes and subjecting them to withering sarcasm."

Your response?

ROSENBAUM: Well, I think he is a good writer, and that's why I actually do feel that his talent shouldn't be wasted on these fawning suck-up profiles of celebrities. It's sad, because you could see him sort of straining, labored to try to make this a -- you know, a big statement about how we live today.

And I would suggest that people read the thing for themselves and decide whether they think there's anything but heavy-handed intellectualizing going on over really the -- and a failure to even raise any criticism, as many journalists, honest, you know, journalists who don't feel the need to fawn excessively, have about what's been called Brad and Angelina's celebrity colonialism. I mean, they do a movie celebrating Daniel Pearl and his heroism, and then they move into Namibia and take over the country, and basically say, this journalist can come in or this journalist cannot come in, et cetera, et cetera.

KURTZ: I get it. I get it.

Well, of course Jolie has also done a lot of work with the United Nations, volunteer work with refugees.

But let's turn it on you for a second. You've written for "Esquire," you've written for "Vanity Fair," as well as "The New Yorker" and "The New York Times" magazine.

Haven't you done a few celebrity profiles in your time?

ROSENBAUM: I have. It's not been my proudest moments, celebrity profiles.

I think there's a difference between doing profiles of people who are artists and people who are famous for being famous. Paris Hilton being one of the latter. I mean, she hasn't really done anything. And, you know, someone like Jack Nicholson, for instance, has created a body of art which will affect how people look at movies forever after.

KURTZ: Take us behind the scenes. What kind of -- when you do one of these things, to what extent are these profiles orchestrated and limited by publicists for the celebrity? You get a half-hour in a restaurant with a big star. How does that work?

ROSENBAUM: Well, I think that it's come down to the fact that the people who rule celebrity journalism are the stars' P.R. reps, and they often are informally submitted, a list of writers for approval. And if you've ever said a negative word about a celebrity, or at least that person's P.R., someone that P.R. person is represented, then you're out. And then the contact with the star is often limited by prior agreement to a half-hour or 45 minutes in a restaurant, and maybe a drive up Mulholland Drive, et cetera, et cetera.

KURTZ: Right. All right. Got to jump in here and blow the whistle.

Thanks for joining us, Ron Rosenbaum, this morning, to talk about the art of celebrity profile.

ROSENBAUM: Thank you.

KURTZ: Still to come, in the fox's lair. Kurtz versus O'Reilly, the highlights and lowlights.

Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: On last week's program I took exception to Bill O'Reilly's blistering charge that CNN and MSNBC were playing up the violence in Iraq to make President Bush look bad while he O'Reilly, wasn't showing much footage of the bombings because he didn't want to help the terrorists spread their message.

So when FOX News invited me on "The O'Reilly Factor," I accepted, knowing full well that Bill would have the home court advantage.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: I'm concerned about something you said on "The Factor" the other night. You said does another bombing in Tikrit mean anything other than war is hell?" I would say yes, Bill. It does mean something to the soldiers who are injured and killed and their families.

BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: What do you learn, Howard -- what do you learn about a terror bombing in Baghdad every day? What do you learn?

KURTZ: By itself you probably don't learn very much, but the reporting that's being -- that is attempting to put all of this into context gives us an important scorecard how the war is going.

O'REILLY: What context? Look, the strategy that we know from al Qaeda is blow something up every day, get the bang-bang on American TV.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: I tried to turn the conversation from the abstract of the media to the specifics of brave reporters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: When you talk about the left wing press and the anti-war press, I mean, would you include ABC's Bob Woodruff and CBS' Kimberly Dozier, who were badly wounded covering this war? Would you...

O'REILLY: No, because they're correspondents doing a job as we are -- we have FOX correspondents doing a job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Then I mentioned his least favorite network, MSNBC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: I don't ascribe any motives, Bill, when FOX News is covering 15 percent of its air time to the war, about half as much as MSNBC. I don't say that's because you're trying to divert attention.

O'REILLY: Because MSNBC is anti-war. And they're parading things in to try to get public opinion to shift against it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Finally, I thought I could get a whole paragraph out.

O'REILLY: I'll give you the last word.

KURTZ: OK. You said that the other networks delight in showing bad news from Iraq in order to make President Bush look bad. I'm not buying that.

When the war was going well, they all reported that. The war is not going so well right now. I hope it starts to go better. I think you ought to look a better look at what some of your competitors are doing.

O'REILLY: All right. It's not all the other networks. It's not all the correspondents.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Hey, I was supposed to get the last word. What happened to my last word, Bill?

Actually, I think he treated me fairly. And there's no more important media debate right now.

Next time, Bill, let's do it on my home court.

Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.

I'm Howard Kurtz.

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

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