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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Coulter v. Edwards; Larry King Lands Hilton Interview
Aired July 1, 2007 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice over): Televising slander. Ann Coulter, back on the attack, gets a lecture from Elizabeth Edwards. Why do the networks keep put on this bomb-thrower and then decrying what she says?
Celebrity chronicler Tina Brown on how the media culture created and exploited Princess Diana and gave rise to today's blonde bubble heads.
Which brings us to an hour with Paris. The Larry King interview sparks a debate about CNN's coverage. Was the liberated heiress worth the air time?
Plus, huge or hype? Apple's iPhone launches on a sea of headlines. How does this company mesmerize the media?
KURTZ: Before we get to our other topics, we've had 48 hours now of coverage of the U.K. terror attacks, the unsuccessful pair of car bombings in London, the Jeep that rammed the airport terminal building in Glasgow and burst into flames. Serious matters, to be sure, but have the media gone a bit overboard in their reaction to these incidents?
Joining us now, Mary Katharine Ham, managing editor of townhall.com; Matthew Felling, co-editor at the CBS Web site Public Eye; and from Fargo, North Dakota, Ed Schultz, host of the syndicated radio program "The Ed Schultz Show".
Matthew Felling, these were serious incidents, as I mentioned at the top. But I've been watching that Jeep on fire for about 12, 14, 16 hours now.
Too much or the right amount?
MATTHEW FELLING, CO-EDITOR, PUBLIC EYE: Well, I think we are in the middle of a series of attacks. We have Glasgow, we have Liverpool. And I can understand the story is developing and they do need footage to go along with that story.
And I think that, you know, we are in the summertime. It's not as if there is a whole lot else going on. And I would rather not talk about little miss heiress any longer if we don't absolutely have to. I thought the most interesting and the -- the part of the story that I was most split on is when we found out how that first bomb was detected. It turned out that there were some MDs who were taking care of somebody who had hit his head on a curb, and they just happened upon the car. They just happened upon a smoking car.
And I thought to myself, I'm not sure I want everybody to know that we just lucked into this, that we just backed into this. And that was the one part that I was a little bit iffy on.
KURTZ: A nice stroke of luck.
Ed Schultz, I don't want to minimize the importance of these attacks, but no one was injured, seriously, except for the two people in that car at the Glasgow airport. And you had these live shots of reporters standing in airports in New York and Washington, where not a lot was going on.
How did you find the tone of the coverage?
ED SCHULTZ, "THE ED SCHULTZ SHOW": Well, I think the networks are doing what they're supposed to do, Howard. They're 24-hour networks.
The fact that it happened at an airport really, I think, brings it home to everybody in the world. And it brings it home, obviously, to Americans, because we depend so much or our economy depends so much on air travel. So I think the location, obviously, lends itself to the possibility if something greater.
Also, the thing that struck me about all of this, even though that it's just a picture of a car that's burning, it's the best available video they have. The information that is coming in is so vital to all of us. And I think the fact that government here in the country is stepping up security at airports is the standard operating procedure. I expect that the discussion, the political discussion on port, border and airline security will only intensify on the heels of this.
KURTZ: Sometimes, Mary Katharine Ham, when the Bush administration arrests suspects well in advance of any plot, there's some talk about whether this is being kind of hyped for political reasons. That is clearly not the case here.
MARY KATHARINE HAM, MANAGING EDITOR, TOWNHALL.COM: Right. No, I don't think that's the case. I think only on Democratic underground do they call it hyped. I think I saw today "BS" is what they were calling it this morning.
KURTZ: That is a very liberal Web site.
HAM: Yes. And that's the only place where I think it's -- they think it's overkill.
Obviously, it's great that nobody was hurt. But this remains an imminent threat. There's a huge concert going on in Britain today. Thank goodness no one is hurt.
Hopefully the authorities will continue to be on top of things. They've got five arrests. So I'm heartened by that, and hopefully we'll go forward with no more injuries.
KURTZ: And a reminder to us that terrorism is also an ever present threat, even when it fades in and out of the news.
Turning now to another media story, she has called a group of 9/11 widows witches and harpies. She's called John Edwards an anti- gay slur beginning with the letter "F". Each time there's an uproar and each time some network invites Ann Coulter back, the whole cycle starts again, as it did this week, when Chris Matthews booked the conservative author on "Hardball" and arranged for Edwards' wife to call the MSNBC show.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ELIZABETH EDWARDS, JOHN EDWARDS' WIFE: I want to use the opportunity, which I don't get much because Ann and I don't hang out with the same people, to ask her politely to stop the personal attacks.
ANN COULTER, COMMENTATOR: OK. So I made a joke, let's see, six months ago, and as you point out, they've been raising money off of it for six months since then.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, "HARDBALL"; But this was yesterday morning.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Then Elizabeth Edwards raised an even more personal matter.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COULTER: Stop writing your column. Stop writing your books.
MATTHEWS: Ann, please.
EDWARDS: You had a column several years ago...
EDWARDS: ... which make fun of the moment of Charlie Dean's death and suggested that my husband had a bumper sticker on the back of his car that said, "Ask me about my dead son."
This is not legitimate.
COULTER: That's now three years ago.
EDWARDS: This is not legitimate political dialogue. It debases political dialogue. It draws people away from the process. We can't have a debate about issues if you're using this kind of language.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why isn't John Edwards making this call?
COULTER: Yes, why isn't John Edwards making this call?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: The result, MSNBC flogged the stories for days and everyone else piled on.
Let me turn now to Ed Schultz.
I'm sure you're not a big Ann Coulter fan. My question is, why do "The Today Show" and "Good Morning America" and "Hardball" and all these other programs keep putting her on?
SCHULTZ: Fair question. And the question beyond that goes is that these producers, why aren't they making a value judgment on the kind of show that they have that would give a hate merchant such an avenue to vile her way through the media?
And she's created a market for herself, there is no doubt about that. But as a standalone talent, she would never be able to be anything more than what she is right now, because advertisers would never associate themselves with Ann Coulter. But the market that she's created is that she goes out and says outlandish things.
Apparently, it must be good for the ratings, but I think sooner or later there's going to be some executive producers who are going to be questioning the value of their show, if this is the direction they really want to go into. And what's interestingly is I don't see any conservatives out there disavowing themselves from the kind of hate that she throws on to situations.
And with Elizabeth Edwards responding to it, in a sense you can make the argument that she elevated Ann Coulter, but really it's about time that somebody did challenge her on some of the things that she spews.
KURTZ: All right. Let me get Mary Katharine Ham in here.
Now, I'm sure you're more sympathetic than Ed Schultz to some of what Ann Coulter has to say.
KURTZ: But let's face it, aren't network producers putting her on hoping that she'll say something inflammatory, start a controversy, and that is good for their audience?
HAM: Oh, conflict sells. I mean, that is the bottom line.
I think actually Ann is getting a bad rap on this particular comment. And first of all, I would like to point out that a bunch of conservatives did speak out against her after the CPAC comment. So that's untrue what Ed Schultz...
KURTZ: The CPAC comment being when she used the slur against John Edwards.
HAM: When she used -- right.
KURTZ: In fact, she got into a fight some years ago with the editors of "National Review," who dropped her column after her similarly inflammatory words.
KURTZ: And she called them girlie boys.
HAM: Well, and I do want to say that this whole situation is political theater. They run it because its political theater. And Elizabeth Edwards is not entirely blameless when it comes to bringing the level of discourse down.
She posts regularly at Democratic Underground, which I mentioned earlier, which regularly calls for the assassination of and the early demise of various Republican officials. She has a diary...
FELLING: But Elizabeth has nothing to do with (INAUDIBLE) comment.
HAM: She has a diary at Daily Kos. She has a diary at Daily Kos, but she's...
KURTZ: You're saying she associates with people.
HAM: She is an active participant. She's an active participant.
FELLING: She consorts with...
KURTZ: Hold on. Hold on, because before I get Matthew Felling in here, I want to play what happened on "Hardball" the next day, when John Edwards, the candidate, was the guest.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: I think Elizabeth may have made one strategic error last night. That's assuming that she could get Ann Coulter to express shame.
JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes. I don't think she has any shame.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Shame? Hold it. Hold it. Hold it.
Where is Chris Matthews' shame for putting Ann Coulter on, setting up this confrontation with Elizabeth Edwards, which some might call a stunt, and then flogging this thing for days? FELLING: Exactly. And I think -- forgetting where exactly it was I saw it this week, but Chris Matthews actually said, you know what? Whenever I have Ann Coulter on, I feel like I have to go to confession afterwards, but then I invite her back on a month later.
And I think the bottom line here is -- and Ed is right and the lovely guest to my left is right -- but Coulter is good for business. Coulter is good for the ratings and Coulter is good for the Edwards, because the Edwards have used some of these -- some of these clips online.
HAM: Yes. Speaking of shameless...
FELLING: Well, no. I mean, when life hands you lemons, you've got to -- you've got to work like this. And like I've told other people, the budget race, the funding race is so crucial and so critical, and the Edwards are trying to get every last dollar they possibly can with Obama and Clinton, that...
KURTZ: I don't want to go over the politics.
So you don't -- you don't blame Chris Matthews at all? You think that what he did was not shameless?
HAM: Well, Chris and Ann have a thing going.
KURTZ: They do? This is news.
HAM: This is what they do. No. You know what I mean.
She comes on every month and she says something a little bit off, and then somebody comes on and fights with her. And in this case, it served the Edwards quite well, because it was right before the second quarter fund-raising stats came out. And they sent out I think two e- mails on this, in addition to the one about his $400 haircut.
FELLING: And, by the way, Coulter's paperback book just came out this week.
KURTZ: Yes, she does seem to do all these shows when she has a book to sell. And her books do very well.
Ed Schultz, I want to play one more clip before we come back to you in North Dakota, and that is -- I guess earlier in the week, Ann Coulter, on "Good Morning America," an appearance, by the way, where she called President Bush a nincompoop. That got completely lost in all this.
But let's look at the full tape of what she said when she raised the question about John Edwards and a terrorist attack. Let's watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COULTER: About the same time, you know, Bill Maher was not joking and saying he wished Dick Cheney had been killed in a terrorist attack. So I've learned my lesson. If I'm going to say anything about John Edwards in the future, I will just wish he had been killed in a terrorist assassination plot.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Ed, here's a list of news organizations that cut out the first part, talking about what Bill Maher had said, and just used her saying, I wish John Edwards would be killed in a terrorist attack, if I'm going to say anything.
"NBC Nightly News," "CBS Early Show," CNN, "Washington Post," "USA Today," Boston Globe" and "New York Daily News".
Wasn't that unfair if you're going to take that remark on that -- and that's fine to take it on -- shouldn't you play the whole thing?
SCHULTZ: Well, you could have played the whole thing, but I think we all know where Ann Coulter is coming from. She hates liberals. She hates Democrats. And she hates some Americans.
I mean it's very clear. She sells hate. She's a hate merchant.
SCHULTZ: And I don't think there's any doubt that she was challenged -- she was challenged by Elizabeth Edwards in a totally different venue, and a lot of Americans would have loved to have been in the position that Elizabeth Edwards was in because they wanted to stick it to Ann Coulter for a long time.
As far as the news is concerned with Bill Maher, that was his show. He doesn't do this show after show after show the way Ann Coulter does. We all know what she is selling. And we know what she's all about.
HAM: It remains the responsibility of the media to report this correctly. Even though Ann Coulter has a reputation of saying outlandish things, in this case I don't think it was even objectionable.
She was making a joke about the fact that Bill Maher did say that he wished Cheney dead in a terrorist attack. And it was A-OK.
FELLING: But when it's on the heels of everything she's done...
HAM: I'm saying she...
FELLING: I mean, when she said the United Nations, she wishes that the terrorists had got the United Nations instead, I mean, there is a track record here.
KURTZ: But Still, Matthew, I mean...
KURTZ: ... you can rip her, but if you all use half the quote, isn't that misleading?
FELLING: Yes, it is. I think that the context is key here. But I think that the media often drops context. I wish that they would have shown the first half of this clip and I wish that they would have shown the first half of when Howard Dean screamed back in 2004.
SCHULTZ: But we know what Ann Coulter was doing. Ann Coulter was connecting a terrorist attack to a high public figure and a former United States senator.
HAM: Oh, come on.
SCHULTZ: Where is her responsibility to make that kind of analogy? It's wrong.
HAM: Oh, you know very well -- you can listen to the whole clip and know she's not doing that.
KURTZ: All right. I'm going to have to blow the whistle here.
Thanks for a lively discussion this morning.
We would like to hear what you think. Should network programs keep giving Ann Coulter a platform? E-mail your response to email@example.com. We may read your answer on the air.
Still ahead, the newfangled phone you absolutely, positively can't live without. It hit the stores on Friday. Shouldn't we just hang up on all this Apple hype? That is still to come.
KURTZ: If you haven't been living in a cave, you've probably heard something about this iPhone. A new Apple gadget which hit the stores on Friday has been the subject of one gushing article after another -- let's put some of them up here on the screen -- and some television coverage as well.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TONY GUIDA, CBS NEWS (voice over): It may be the most hype about anything since Adam promised Eve a rose garden, the iPhone.
DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS: I'm a bit of a gadget junky. So I'm waiting for my iPhone.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Are journalists again following under the magic spell cast by Apple's Steve Jobs?
Joining us now from Boston, Robin Liss, founder and CEO of reviewed.com. And from New York, "TIME" magazine correspondent Lev Grossman. Robin Liss, why do the media start obsessing about these new Apple products months before anybody even gets to see them?
ROBIN LISS, PUBLISHER & CEO, REVIEWED.COM: Well, to give the media the benefit of the doubt, Howard, the iPod itself did revolutionize the audio market. So, in a way, it was fair that they covered the iPhone a lot. There is definitely high expectations for Steve Jobs. The problem was how they covered it and their objectiveness in treating the subject.
KURTZ: All right. We'll come back to that.
Lev Grossman, what do Steve Jobs and Apple do to create this mystique around these products like the iPhone and get some of these tech writers to act like love-struck teenagers?
LEV GROSSMAN, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Well, it's very interesting what Jobs does. I mean, the way he handles the media is an extension of the way he makes technology.
He is very careful. He puts his product into the hands of particular journalists. He makes sure that they have them, you know, at a particular time from a particular angle. And there's also, of course, the romance of Apple products.
They're beautifully designed. They look like Apple is the only company really that is making products that look like space-age products now.
KURTZ: In this case, only four news organizations got to do early reviews. They included "The New York Times," "The Wall Street Journal," and "Newsweek".
But Robin Liss, basically rave reviews. Yes, the phone costs $500 or $600, and, yes, it only works with AT&T, and, yes, the Internet access isn't all that swift. But I picked up "The New York Times" yesterday, a column by Joe Nocera, who plays up the one thing that everybody else has played down, and that is it only gets about 300 or 400 charges, which might be as little as a year, and then you have to send it in to get it replaced with a new battery. You can't just go to the store and buy a new battery.
Why didn't the media focus on some of these practical issues?
LISS: This is the biggest problem, it's that the reviews are not comparative enough. People are not looking at the problems of the iPhone. And when they cover the product, they're not looking at other alternatives out there that might be better.
I think the reason is really almost an economic system where a lot of journalists financially benefit from success of Apple. A lot of journalists on the side have book deals covering Apple. Magazines will sell more when they cover Steve Jobs, and Web sites get more traffic.
Here, let me give you an example, Howard. We covered the iPhone very aggressively. We were guilty as other publications were. We put 20 editors full time overnight to review the phone.
On our cell phone site, wirelessinfo.com, traffic increased 24 times the normal number. Now, that meant we made more money from this product.
KURTZ: Twenty editors?
LISS: So it's a catch-22.
KURTZ: Twenty editors, right?
LISS: Twenty editors.
KURTZ: I need a couple of seconds to digest that.
Now, Lev Grossman, have you been courted by Apple? Are some journalists more or less co-opted, for lack a better of a better phrase, by this publicity machine?
GROSSMAN: Co-opted would be an exaggeration, but Jobs does approach certain journalists specifically which makes them feel, you know, singled out and kind of special, and a little bit elite.
One thing I think that people have glossed over is this is a very atypical product launch for Apple. Ordinarily, Apple likes to make a product, announce it, and then start selling it on that very same day. In this case, they were forced to announce it six months ahead of time, which is very unusual for Apple.
So one thing that happened that got almost a little out of control, I think, is that the hype built and built and built. And finally, you know, we get this thing on the market.
GROSSMAN: But his is a very atypical product launch for Apple. It's probably not the way that Jobs likes to do things.
KURTZ: Millions of dollars in free publicity may have worked out, the early leak of the new iPhone.
Now, there is at least one host on television who can't wait to get his hands on one. Let's watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHEN COLBERT, COMEDY CENTRAL: Apple, what part of "Give me a free iPhone" don't you understand? OK. We have a very simple understanding here. You give me a free iPhone, I convince people to buy it. This thing is not going to sell itself.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: That's what a lot of people do.
Now, Robin Liss, you make the point about the iPod. It certainly did change the culture. But not everybody wants to play video on a tiny phone screen. And not everybody can afford these expensive toys.
LISS: Exactly. There's alternatives out there.
For example, there's problems with the keyboard. And a lot of phones out there you can be -- can be purchased for free when you sign up for a plan. So Apple is certainly milking this for every bit it's worth.
And I just wish these other products were being compared when people were reviewing the phone. And, you know, showing the faults that the iPhone has.
Lev Grossman, does Apple also cultivate bloggers, or does it pretty much stick with the big boys?
GROSSMAN: Well, I'm a little surprised that Apple doesn't reach out more to bloggers. I think this gets back to a little bit of what I was saying.
Jobs, he likes to know who he's dealing with. He likes to have a feeling, a little bit of control. The blogosphere is still a little bit wild and wooly. You are never know which way a blogger is going to jump. And that may make Apple just a little bit nervous when dealing with them.
KURTZ: Well, I guess I'm kind of old-fashioned. I like a cell phone that actually makes phone calls, and I don't care about that much about the other stuff. But maybe I'll have to buy one myself.
Lev Grossman, Robin Liss, thanks very much for joining us this morning.
Up next, which TV anchor's name was -- codename, that is, was Egg Nog? New details on the CIA spying on journalists.
Plus, Rosie O'Donnell eyes a return to the talk show wars.
That and more in our "Media Minute".
KURTZ: Time now for the latest from the news business in our "Media Minute".
The CIA, to no one's great surprise, has a long history of spying on journalists. A major document dumped this week of past abuses by the CIA shows that columnist Jack Anderson and some of his associates came under agency surveillance in 1972.
One of those the espionage specialists were tracking was Brit Hume, now a FOX News anchor. His code name, Egg Nog.
During the same period, the CIA set up surveillance again on "Washington Post" reporter Michael Getler after he published a story headlined "CIA Patrols Into China Said (ph) Halted".
The CIA ordered a briefing for Henry Kissinger, who prepared a letter to Capitol Hill blaming a senator for leaking the information and denied knowing anything about the operation.
Most of these abuses took place under Richard Nixon. But another memo says the CIA agreed to tap the phones of certain columnists in 1962 under pressure from Attorney General Robert Kennedy.
KURTZ (voice over): The price wasn't right for Rosie O'Donnell, who decided she didn't want to move her family to Hollywood to succeed Bob Barker at the venerable "Price is Right". But she would like a talk show on MSNBC. And I bet she can get one.
By the way, Rosie posted this weird picture of her daughter on her blog. She says it's just innocent dress-up, but let's face it, the kid is made to look like a heavily-armed Middle East fighter.
A star's secret marriage and secret pregnancy revealed on "Headline News". Nancy Grace had the story.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NANCY GRACE, CNN HEADLINE NEWS: My life for 20 years has been representing crime victims in and out of court. I'm happy to report the plan for my life has made a U-turn. This past April, I married David, and tonight announce that we are expecting twins.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Congratulations, Nancy. But you did manage to get scooped on your own secret by Rupert Murdoch's "New York Post".
Coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, Tina Brown, a media celebrity, weighs in on celebrity culture in the decade after Princess Diana's death.
And Paris Hilton's CNN's sit-down, and Rupert Murdoch on the verge of owning the country's top financial newspaper.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) * KURTZ: Welcome back.
Everyone in television seemed to want the first post-jail interview with Paris Hilton. Well, almost everyone.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS NEWS: There's nothing level for me to do but stop making excuses and fess up. The truth is, I never asked Paris Hilton to be on "Face the Nation," and for one reason. I couldn't think of anything I wanted to ask her. Can you?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: But after a network bidding war, the newly-released socialite sat down this week with Larry King, and, among other things, blamed the media.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": What do you think it is about you, Paris, that everybody follows you around? I mean, you must have examined it in your life. Why do people, photographers, paparazzi -- why you?
PARIS HILTON, REALITY TV STAR: I have no idea. I'm just -- I'm just living my life.
KING: If you would read stuff, why didn't you take an outlet to go on and say, "I've never used drugs. I don't drink"?
HILTON: I just feel like when you do that, you put more attention to something. When something is not true, I just don't pay attention to it, because I know my friends and family know the true me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: The interview hardly drew rave reviews, and CNN's cable rivals, who, by the way, breathlessly covered the uproar over her early release from jail, had a grand time mocking it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: It was the worst interview ever on American television.
KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC: Breaking Paris Hilton news. She is really boring.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Joining us now to talk about Paris' big media moment, David Zurawik, television critic at "The Baltimore Sun". And from Philadelphia, Gail Shister, TV columnist at "The Philadelphia Inquirer".
David Zurawik, Larry King got the interview. We just heard somebody call it the worst interview in the history of recorded television.
How did he do?
DAVID ZURAWIK, "BALTIMORE SUN": Larry -- it's easy to mock what Larry King did in that interview. It's easy to mock Paris Hilton.
Listen, I think he did all right. A, he followed up on the bible question, asked her what it was -- if she would like to quote her favorite passage from the bible, and she couldn't. I don't think I would have gone at her any harder.
And Howard, here's what's important about this -- celebrities like Paris Hilton embody contradictions in our society. In her case, about social class and privilege. It was important for us, for some of us, to hear that Paris Hilton thinks she shouldn't have gone to jail for driving without a license, for drinking, for all of those things.
ZURAWIK: We should know that people of privilege have one set of laws and we have another. And they don't see it as a problem.
KURTZ: Before I go to Gail, I can't resist since you mentioned this, she had been prattling on about the bible and reading the bible in jail.
Let's just take a look at her -- this immortal moment from the interview.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KING: What's your favorite bible passage?
HILTON: I don't have a favorite.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: That was a long pause.
Gail Shister, King wound up with this interview because there was an implosion in this bidding war that broke out with NBC and ABC involving real cash money for video and photographs of Paris. CNN, by the way, did not pay a cent.
Shouldn't Larry King have asked Paris Hilton about that?
GAIL SHISTER, "PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER": Well, Larry could have asked Paris a lot of questions. But the most important question is, how come Zurawik always gets to go first?
KURTZ: Let's get to the second most important question.
SHISTER: OK. The second most important question.
Should CNN have even done the interview at all, I think, is the most important question. What I question is why we are all feeding the beast by even talking about it.
Not only is there a Paris Hilton obsession, there is an obsession with the Paris Hilton obsession. And that I don't understand. ZURAWIK: Howie, I think that for us, especially in the media today, to say, look, 3.2 million people wanted to watch that show that night...
KURTZ: And just to clarify that, that's about triple the number that Larry King usually does.
KURTZ: So a lot of people watching it. It's been replayed a couple times.
ZURAWIK: Howie, I think for us to be that elitist these days about something people care about is just plain foolish. I think it's one of the reasons we all have circulation drops and people tune out certain shows.
It's important to people, I think, because of the reason I laid out about celebrities embodying that. Even if she is silly, what she had to say mattered. People care about it.
We should cover it. And we can bring enlightenment to it by the way we cover it. And I think King did a little bit of that.
KURTZ: Of course the problem, Gail, is that she didn't have a lot to say. Filling an hour with the sayings of Paris Hilton turned out to be a very painful exercise to watch, at least in my opinion. But you say, why do we talk about it, why did we cover it? Why did NBC and ABC, as well as CNN, you know, make a great pitch to get this Paris sit-down?
SHISTER: I don't understand it. And if I were running a news division, I would not have gone after this particular interview. And I don't mean to give the impression that I believe that because someone is a celebrity de facto they're not news.
I'm talking about in this particular situation. It was excruciating watching this woman for an hour because she didn't have anything to say beyond five minutes.
I think she got very bad advice from her P.R. people, because I think it was embarrassing to her. She might have had something to say, but everything she had to say could have been said in five minutes. And after that, it was -- it was watching Larry try to come up with ways to keep her awake.
ZURAWIK: But Howie, I think when we say it's excruciating, that's exactly the kind of elitism I'm talking about in the press. It wasn't excruciating. Three million people didn't find it excruciating. They watched it.
KURTZ: Wait, wait, wait. Just because three million people watched, doesn't mean they weren't cringing on their couches.
ZURAWIK: Well, that was a good cringe, that was a pleasurable cringe, watching her being exposed for what she is. And Howie, that's part of it.
If you are somebody 26 years old, like she is, you're of that generation trying to make it in the world, you will look at this person and say she's stupid. She produces nothing of value, and yet she's famous and she's rich and she's a celebrity. What's wrong with this country we live in?
KURTZ: I've been guilty of saying that I think Paris Hilton has no discernible talent other than the art of being famous. But actually I found out she does have one.
They released some doodles that she had made while in jail. Let's see if we have that. Put it up on the screen.
Are we going to deprive the audience of this? There we go.
Let's zero in on that if we can. And she's got a little TV there showing Larry King. I thought that was pretty good.
But Gail Shister, Zurawik now has twice used the word "elitism," and seems to be tossing it in the direction of Philadelphia. So I want to make sure you have a full chance to respond.
SHISTER: Oh, David, any time you want to arm wrestle, I'm here.
I don't think it's -- I don't think it's elitism. I think it's a question of content and whether somebody has anything to say. I'm not elitist by saying Paris Hilton shouldn't have been on for an hour.
You could have a president on the air for an hour. And if he had nothing -- a former president, and if he had nothing to say, that could be difficult to watch, too.
I think the bottom line is what someone has to share with an audience. And if the person doesn't have it, whether they're a celebrity or not, they shouldn't be on for an hour. It's as simple as that.
KURTZ: David Zurawik, what do you make of Paris Hilton saying, oh, the media are constantly making things up about me, but I just can't be bothered to correct them? I mean, this is a woman that constantly plays to the television cameras, who turned her walk out of jail into a kind of fashion cat walk kind of thing. And she says, oh, you know, people keep making things up about me.
ZURAWIK: You know, Howie, again, it's a window into how people of that privilege world see it. Oh, you know who also says that? People in the White House say that. People in the White House.
George Bush says it. Dick Cheney says it. They're always making things up about us, and then they play to the media as well.
Listen, it's important to know that she and people of her social class see the media as their enemy.
KURTZ: Gail Shister, CNN had a countdown clock going before the interview. Afterwards, it was discussed for an hour on "ANDERSON COOPER 360". It was discussed the next morning.
So, did CNN hype this thing? Or on the other hand, you and I may not be interested, but it should be promoted because obviously there is a lot of public interest.
SHISTER: Well, actually, Howie, I think they under-promoted it. I don't know why they just started running this rundown clock during "PAULA ZAHN NOW". I don't know why they didn't start doing it 48 hours in advance, because I, for one, was mesmerized by that. And I think people would have appreciated knowing to the minute 48 hours in advance.
KURTZ: I hope we can get a countdown clock for this show.
ZURAWIK: No, I know folks -- you guys hate subtext. But that larger issue about what these celebrities represent in terms of our culture matters, and we should keep covering these as part of the media.
KURTZ: All right.
SHISTER: Not for an hour.
KURTZ: David Zurawik, Gail Shister -- we'll end on that note of disagreement.
Up next, Tina Brown on how the media culture created Princess Diana and paved the way for today's bad girl celebrities like, well, Paris Hilton.
KURTZ: We have some breaking developments out of Scotland. We've been monitoring the situation in the U.K. all morning.
Let's go to Betty Nguyen in the CNN Center -- Betty.
BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, Howard, breaking news that we want to tell you about is occurring at Royal Alexandra Hospital there in Paisley, Scotland, which is near Glasgow, Scotland, and what we know at this point is that police have conducted a controlled explosion of a vehicle at a carport at that hospital.
Now, this is very significant because one of the suspects who took part in the attack at the airport at Glasgow yesterday is in that very hospital. He suffered a lot of serious burns due to the attack. And it is at that very hospital where a vehicle has undergone an explosion, a controlled explosion. And police are on the scene and investigating this.
I want to get some more from our Paula Newton, who joins us live in London. Paula, this word is just coming into CNN. Have you have learned any other details?
PAULA NEWTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No. Another bizarre set of events here. We understand the hospital has been locked down now. No one in or out of the hospital. Hospital officials have referred us back to police in that area, who have then said they should have more to tell us in the next few minutes.
As you mentioned, Betty, what police were concerned about with this suspect being there, still under arrest but in critical condition, and suffering from burns, originally yesterday they were concerned that there was some kind of device, explosive device on his body. They evacuated the hospital yesterday, took him -- took that device away, studied it, and told us, again, that it was not anything that was a viable explosive. Now this incident coming on the heels of that.
At this point in time we're just awaiting word from police. Again, the hospital in lockdown right now. No one getting in or out -- Betty.
NGUYEN: Help us understand just a little bit, and I don't know if you have the information. This controlled explosion occurred at a carport there at the hospital. Now, is that something that we would refer to as a garage, or is this just in a parking lot?
NEWTON: Just because I haven't seen the outside of the hospital, I couldn't say. If they're saying carport here, it might actually mean an area that you drive up to that is very close to the hospital and might be sheltered. Normally that is what they might mean. And that could have been just a suspicious vehicle, or it could be something else entirely.
Again, they're not giving us more information than that. We do understand it didn't have anything to do with anything inside the hospital. Just this controlled explosion, as they're saying, outside the hospital. And that's why they decided that no one goes in or out of the hospital at this moment.
NEWTON: And we're awaiting more word from police.
NGUYEN: Well, Paula, it is very curious, as you mentioned, and as the information is coming into CNN, the fact that the person being kept at that hospital under security is a man who was seen taking part in that attack at the Glasgow airport yesterday. A man who suffered some serious burns.
And now today we're hearing from Scottish police that they conducted a controlled explosion of a vehicle at a carport there at the hospital, the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley, Scotland, which is very near Glasgow.
Paula, we appreciate your time. Of course we'll be speaking with you throughout the day.
In the mine time, Howard, that is the latest information here on the terror investigation that is taking place in Great Britain today.
KURTZ: Thank you, Betty, for keeping us up to date on that.
We want to bring back our guests, David Zurawik of "The Baltimore Sun," and Gail Shister of "The Philadelphia Inquirer" to talk about this. We will bring that you that Tina Brown interview probably on next week's show.
Gail Shister, we sort of closed the last segment by saying, why are we wasting time talking about the Paris Hilton phenomenon. Well, here is something clearly more serious.
Now, this -- these two incidents, the unsuccessful bombings in London, the two car bombs that were fortunately disabled, and the fiery Jeep that blew up at the Glasgow airport, this has been on television pretty much nonstop for the last 48 hours.
Is that entirely appropriate, or is there any danger here in your view that the media might be making people more scared than they need to be about incidents that didn't, after all, claim any lives?
SHISTER: I don't know how people could be more scared than they already are. I'm always a big proponent of having more information as opposed to less.
It's a serious threat that didn't happen. I think that if we uncovered a big terrorist threat that didn't happen in the United States, we would certainly want the word out to the entire world. I think that we can't be parochial or provincial about this. I think anywhere in the world where a major terrorist plot is stopped is important news.
ZURAWIK: I think this is one of the few times Gail and I will agree on something.
I absolutely -- I was -- I was watching CNN in and out all day yesterday. I think this is absolutely where 24-hour cable news shines when a story of major importance, where the public has not just an appetite but really needs information. And it -- Howie, when it connects directly to public safety in a way, we can live our lives smarter the more information we have. This is really a public service.
Just in terms of Paris for one second, this is when time is really valuable on cable news. As we all know, there are hours when it's not so valuable on cable news. But this is when it really earns its way in this society, doing exactly what is happening now.
KURTZ: But on your point about the 24-hour nature of cable news, what often happens is there is an incident, a Jeep goes on fire, or a bomb is disabled, and a very important story. But then not a lot changes over the next 12, 14, 24 hours.
KURTZ: We don't have -- we have trouble getting new details. And so you end up with reporters doing standups at Washington Reagan Airport or New York's LaGuardia talking about the mood there, and there isn't much going on because it happened across the ocean.
ZURAWIK: You remember we had a case when we were preempted on this show because of somebody in Congress in a restroom there with some suspicious character. They sorted it out in about half an hour. But they had closed down, remember, Capitol Hill, and coverage went on for 12 or 14 hours after it was pretty much resolved because it was that kind of story.
Yes, you know the tendency is great. There is a great tendency to exploit it and go too long with some stories. But on this terror story, it's very hard to go. I would rather have them err on going too long and giving us too much information.
SHISTER: Yes. But Howie, I'd like to jump in here. I think the very strength of 24-hour cable is also its weakness, based on what you said.
Basically, you have this huge unrelenting maw that has to be filled. And sometimes even on a huge story there just is not ways to advance this story every minute. There is not new news. And you're put in a situation where either you have to filibuster, which we see all the time in cable, or you have to repeat the same stories over and over.
I know that on CNN and FOX News you often see the same news clips 100 times in a row because it's the only clips they have. Paris Hilton, I saw the same clip of her getting out of jail and walking into jail 100 times. And frankly, I'd rather see a test pattern than that over and over again.
KURTZ: Right. And at the Glasgow airport we saw that Jeep on fire all day long. I guess obviously some people aren't watching TV on a Saturday, they're tuning in late. They want to see the pictures.
But you raise an interesting point, Gail, and that is, you know, when it's a false alarm, like the example Dave just mentioned, or when those seven clowns were arrested in a plot on the Sears Tower -- it turns out I don't think they could have even found their way to Chicago -- I think that some of those moments, that cable news does go overboard. Just constantly getting up the music and the terror logo and so forth. But here you have actual -- actual attempts in two different parts of the U.K. that could well have claimed many lives.
SHISTER: Well, I'm a big proponent of not being on the air unless you have something new to report, or there is a way to advance the story. I'm not sure what qualifies having wall-to-wall nonstop coverage.
The foiling a plot, I don't know if that qualifies wall to wall. It certainly qualifies to have a lot of coverage, but you run into the same problem where you end up being repetitive, and you can also -- in some ways you're pandering to people's fears, because you start -- as soon as there is an ongoing story, you know the television is going to package it.
They're going to give it a little subhead. They're going to have the music. They're going to come up with catchy phrases. And people who are tuning in for the first time can be very afraid of that because it's being repeated over and over and over.
ZURAWIK: Oh, I think our first job is to provide information to people. I say trust the citizens.
If you give them too much information, if the image's repetition gets excessive, let them tune out. But don't withhold it from them. Don't overact as a gatekeeper.
We provide information. That's our main job as journalists. Give it to them. And 24-hour news tends to do pretty well in that respect.
KURTZ: Well, and one last point, Gail, which is that newspapers and even network news, the type that comes on in the morning, or at 6:30, have the relative luxury of being able to vacuum up as many facts as they can and putting it on once, printing it once, showing it at the top of a newscast. Twenty-four-hour cable, I mean, if you -- if you turn it on at 3:00 in the afternoon, and you haven't been watching all day, you want to know the latest. You want to know that a plot was foiled or was not successful at killing people at the Glasgow airport.
Isn't that right?
SHISTER: Well, yes. And I don't think anybody would dispute that there is no way for print medium or a 6:30 p.m. newscast to compete with the immediacy of cable or the Internet. There is no way to compete with that.
What you're not getting when there is this constant pressure to be on now, now, now, even if you don't have anything new, is that you're not getting context. And that is the luxury of having more than two and a half minutes to put a story together. It's also the downfall of it, because by the time people do pick up a paper, or see the 6:30 news, they know the basic facts.
KURTZ: Right. All right.
SHISTER: So it's tough.
KURTZ: And that's why we need newspapers, too.
Gail Shister, David Zurawik, thanks for doing double duty.
We'll bring you that Tina Brown interview next week, but up next on RELIABLE SOURCES, Rupert Murdoch declares war on "The New York Times" and inches closer to grabbing control of "The Wall Street Journal".
Stay with us.
KURTZ: When Rupert Murdoch first made a bid for Dow Jones and "The Wall Street Journal," the owners, the Bancroft family, said no way would they sell to this crude media heathen. But then they thought about the $5 billion he was offering and, well, what do you know?
KURTZ (voice over): They've now approved an agreement that will supposedly protect The Journal's editorial integrity by creating a committee to make sure Murdoch doesn't do anything too awful. But the committee won't even have the power to approve the hiring and firing of editors, as a similar panel does at Murdoch's "Times of London". In other words, the family caved.
Murdoch tells "TIME" magazine that, sure, he meddles with his tabloids, such as "The New York Post" and "London Sun." "They're different animals. You have got to make people want to read them," he says.
How about FOX News? "Do we put on things that favor the right rather than the left? I don't know," Murdoch says, before adding that he doesn't think so but, "It's subjective."
Still, the Australian-born mogul insists there will be no change in The Journal's business coverage except that he wants to expand the paper and challenge "The New York Times". The Times ran two front-page pieces this week on Murdoch's past interference with his journalists and attempts to curry favor with politicians. This brought a virtual declaration of war from his company.
"While News Corp has cooperated with the paper," it said, "the agenda for this unprecedented series is so blatantly designed to further The Times' commercial self-interests by undermining a direct competitor poised to become an even more formidable competitor -- that it would be reckless of us to participate in their malicious assault."
The Times, says News Corp, is using its news pages to advance its own corporate business agenda.
I don't believe that. Murdoch is the one who sometimes interferes with news coverage, not Arthur Sulzberger. But we should find out soon enough whether Murdoch will keep his promise at The Journal now that the Bancroft family has decided that money trumps integrity after all.
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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