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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
L.A. Mayor Admits Affair With Telemundo Anchor; Bush Commutes Libby's Sentence
Aired July 8, 2007 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice-over): The mayor's mistress. Telemundo anchor Mirthala Salinas announced the separation of L.A.'s Antonio Villaraigosa and his wife without disclosing she was having an affair with the city's top official. Talk about getting in bed with your subject. Why is Salinas still employed?
Scooter's get out of jail card. Is the press reflecting public outrage about the president's decision or stoking it?
Free at last: BBC journalist Allan Johnston released by his captors in Gaza after 114 days.
Plus two top bloggers on the addictive appeal of FaceBook.com.
And celebrity chronicler Tina Brown on how the media culture created and exploited Princess Diana and gave rise to today's blonde bubble heads.
KURTZ: She is a Telemundo anchor and reporter in Los Angeles, and one month ago she reported on the air that the city's mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, and his wife were separating. What Mirthala Salinas didn't say was that she was part of the reason, because she was having an extramarital affair with the mayor.
Villaraigosa confirmed the long-rumored relationship this week after the story as broken by a blogger and confirmed by the "Los Angeles Daily News".
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA, L.A. MAYOR: It's true: I have a relationship with Miss Salinas. And I take full responsibility for my actions.
I can tell you emphatically that that question is outrageous. And the answer is no, she is not pregnant. And that's why -- the fact that you would ask a question like that -- that's precisely why I said that the details of this relationship are a personal matter.
(END VIDEO CLIP) KURTZ: The political damage to Villaraigosa, who has already fathered two children out of wedlock, was clear. But what about Salinas and her bosses? What planet have they been living on? The 35-year-old anchor reads a story about a mayor whose marriage she is helping to break up and then says she wants her privacy?
Telemundo executives initially defended her but have now placed her on a paid leave of absence.
Joining us now to talk about this and the coverage of several other hot issues, Katty Kay, Washington correspondent for the BBC and anchor of "BBC World"; Ryan Lizza, senior editor of "The New Republic", who will be starting in August at "The New Yorker" magazine. And in San Francisco, Debra Saunders, columnist for the "San Francisco Chronicle".
Katty Kay, I know Europeans have a more relaxed attitude about politicians having mistresses. But as a journalist, what do you make of what Salinas did?
KATTY KAY, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, BBC: Well, it was extraordinary that she went on the air and broke the story. That was really, you know, the icing on the cake, not that she just had the affair but she was the one that broke the news to everybody.
It struck me as strange that she could stay on this story after she even told her bosses that there was a conflict of interest here, and they took her off that political beat. But they did keep her on the air.
You know, can you get very close to your sources, but she clearly got too close. And they should have taken her off earlier.
KURTZ: Too close. That would be the understatement of the day.
Debra Saunders, let me play my favorite sound bite in this whole thing. Here is the mayor talking about his girlfriend.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VILLARAIGOAS: I can tell you that at some -- at the point where Miss Salinas, a consummate journalistic professional, I may add.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: A consummate journalistic professional. What about Telemundo? How -- you know, initially they defended her. The general manager, Manuel Abud, said that she's one of our most respected reporters. Now they've got her off on a paid suspension. What do you make of the way the station has handled this?
DEBRA SAUNDERS, COLUMNIST, "SAN FRANCISCO CHROICLE": Telemundo looks horrible. But it's not just Salinas who's a problem here. Her managers clearly knew what was going on, and still they let her go on the air to talk about the breakup of the mayor's marriage. And they -- they obviously didn't feel that they had to disclose anything. So the managers look as bad as she does, in my view.
You know who also looks bad in this, is "Los Angeles Times". Four years ago, Howie, I was on this show talking about a series that the paper did on Arnold Schwarzenegger.
And they went back and they looked at incidents that were supposed to have happened with him 20 years ago. They had a bunch of reporters. They just searched for everything that they could -- they could find on him.
Now, four years later, they have a mayor. Everybody knows that the marriage is breaking up. He's not wearing his wedding ring. There's talk about this affair with Salinas. And they don't bother breaking the story.
KURTZ: Hold on. Hold on. Hold on. First of all, he lied about the wedding ring. He said it kept slipping off, and that's why he wasn't wearing it.
But you're suggesting that the "L.A. Times" sat on the story. Because everybody knows, supposedly, an affair is taking place doesn't mean that it meets the journalistic standard for publishing something.
SAUNDERS: You know, Howie, you're absolutely right. Although, you know, the "Times" stories on Schwarzenegger, they didn't really nail them down.
Now, Beth Barrett from the "L.A. Daily News" is a great reporter. She -- she nailed this story. She got a hold of Villaraigosa's mother-in-law, which is a smart way to get it, and she nailed it.
But the "L.A. Times", which just decided that they had to put all of their resources into looking at 20-year-old allegations against Schwarzenegger, they just obviously didn't put that kind of work into looking at Villaraigosa. Now why? Partly, I think, it's because readers were furious with the "L.A. Times" for doing the Schwarzenegger stories.
KURTZ: Let me get Ryan in here.
RYAN LIZZA, SENIOR EDITOR, "THE NEW REPUBLIC": Let me-- let me defend the "L.A. Times" for a second here. I mean, my understanding is their coverage of Schwarzenegger was not about him having an affair. It was about sexual harassment. It was about groping people. It's a totally -- it's a totally different issue.
It's a lot -- it's a lot harder as a journalist to justify prying into someone's personal life and whether their marriage is breaking up than it's a slam dunk when it's something like sexual harassment.
And one thing about this whole case that's kind of fascinating is that we're here mostly talking about this as a media story. This is -- the issue here is whether this journalist should have been covering this guy. It shows how far we've come as far as, you know, extramarital affairs and politicians. I think most people don't want or don't care about the private life of Villaraigosa. They care about the ethics of this journalist covering him. And that's the sort of more interesting story.
KAY: I think it's very true that the bar has gotten a lot lower. I remember when president...
LIZZA: Especially in California.
KAY: Especially in California, where actually, politics hasn't been that exciting. I think most people are thinking, great, California politics has suddenly got exciting again. And they're actually reading about it on the front page of the paper, which usually they don't in California. It has actually made people pay attention to what's happening with the mayor.
But I remember when President Mitterrand of France died. And there in his funeral cortege was his mistress, his illegitimate child and his wife. And the shock here in the states was my God, how can this happen? How can a European leader have an affair and the public totally accepts it?
And what you're saying, I think, is true, that people are much more tolerant now. I mean, look at the -- look at the Republican candidates for office. It shows that we've got a lot -- the bar is a lot lower.
LIZZA: Right. We don't tolerate journalists sleeping with their sources yet. But we may tolerate politicians having an affair.
KURTZ: Well, at least we don't tolerate the latter.
Now, Debra Saunders, there have also been reports that Mirthala Salinas has had other relationships with politicians before Villaraigosa. For example, the current assembly speaker in California, Fabio Nunez, during his divorce also said to have been romantically involved with her.
But here we have -- and I should add that there is -- by a couple of accounts, the bosses at Telemundo say that she only told them she had a friendship with the mayor, not a romantic involvement.
But what do you make of both of them, the mayor and the anchor, saying, "We deserve privacy in this matter"? Haven't they forfeited the right to privacy in this situation or not?
SAUNDERS: Well, people are going to cover the breakup of a mayor's marriage, especially, as with Giuliani, when the mayor's wife is going to be living in the mayor's mansion. And the mayor isn't necessarily staying there. I mean, people are going to be looking at this story.
Their are cries for privacy just don't quite work.
KURTZ: Right. SAUNDERS: I mean everyone -- everyone agrees that Salinas crossed the line, shouldn't have been having this relationship. And it seems pretty clear that Telemundo knew and winked at it and didn't really mind.
KURTZ: Right. Let me jump in. Boy, if this had been happening in New York instead of Los Angeles, I think the story would be about ten times as large.
Turning now to the week's big political news here in Washington, President Bush unleashed a store of criticism when he commuted the 2 1/2 year sentence of former White House aide Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who was convicted of perjury in the CIA leak investigation.
Many conservative commentators, including those who demanded justice when Bill Clinton misled a grand jury over Monica Lewinsky, hailed Bush's move, except for some who said Libby should have gotten a full pardon.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICH LOWRY, EDITOR, "NATIONAL REVIEW": I really think this is a gutsy move on the part of President Bush. It would have been outrage if Scooter Libby went to prison in such a politicized case.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: MSNBC's Keith Olbermann was so outraged he said the president should resign.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC: In that moment, Mr. Bush, you ceased to be the president of the United States. In that moment, Mr. Bush, you became merely the president of a rabid and irresponsible corner of the Republican Party. And this is too important a time, sir, to have a commander in chief who puts party ahead of nation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: White House reporters hammered spokesman Tony Snow about how Bush made the decision.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Was it appropriate for the vice president to weigh in about the fate of his own friend and someone that served him for years?
ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: If Scooter Libby went to jail, that he might then talk about some secrets in the White House that would damage the president?
TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: No.
BILL PLANTE, CBS NEWS: How do you stand there with a straight face and say that this is not a political act? What he did was inherently political.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: But is -- is the press outraged about this because of the way Bush made the decision, for example, not even consulting the Justice Department, or because it's Dick Cheney's former aide and it involves the selling of the war?
LIZZA: I think it's all those reasons, and it's just such a clear-cut case of hypocrisy. It's just such a clear-cut case of the president doing something for a friend that he would not do for other people who have committed perjury and have been proven guilty in front of a jury.
And he's really boxed in conservative defenders who want to make the case that Libby should be pardoned.
If Bush had said, "This is one big political mess. This case never should have been brought," and he had just pardoned him outright, it would have been very easy for his conservative defenders to sort of, you know, to make that same case.
What he's done is he's said the jury found this guy guilty, but I think the punishment doesn't fit the crime.
KURTZ: Right. Right.
LIZZA: Right? And -- and we know from looking at other cases that the punishment does fit the crime, that this is a very standard sentence for someone to get.
KURTZ: Katty Kay, is there a big media investment in this story? Because we've covered it so heavily, because Judith Miller of "The New York Times" went to jail and other journalists were threatened with jail? Is that why this has just become so huge?
KAY: I think there's something else going on here, too, about why the media are so invested in the story. And I think it's partly historical, that there was very little debate back in 2003 in this country about going to war. And it was an area where the media didn't necessarily, and said so since, step up to the plate and ask the very tough questions.
And I think that the whole Libby trial and the reaction to it is almost a proxy for the debate that America should have had four years ago. That -- and that the level of passion on both sides is because there's a feeling that they didn't have the debate. It's almost like the country is going through this debate now four years too late.
LIZZA: I think she's right. I think there is a little bit of a sense of guilt among the press corps who don't think they covered Bush as hard as they should have during the first term.
KURTZ: Debra Saunders, some of your fellow conservative commentators railed against Bill Clinton in the late '90s over the Monica mess, talking about the importance of perjury and the rule of law. Now, not so much?
SAUNDERS: Yes. And you can maybe say I'm one of those people. I talked about that at the time.
I thought Bush did the right thing here. A jury did find Libby guilty; perjury is a serious crime. He should pay for it. I don't think there's an interest in him going to prison.
But you know, this isn't about Iraq. It is about perjury. It is serious. And, you know, there was a debate before we went off to war in Iraq. There was a serious debate.
And by the way, the sentence that started this all about Saddam going to Africa for uranium, that was made in a State of the Union speech after the Senate and House voted to go -- after the Senate voted to go to war.
SAUNDERS: So I mean, the idea that this is about Iraq, it just doesn't work.
LIZZA: Look, in this case it's about someone committing perjury and obstruction of justice and being charged.
KURTZ: Very briefly, what about the liberals who defended some of the controversial Clinton pardons that are outraged about this Bush commutation?
LIZZA: Look, there's hypocrisy on both sides. Washington is a town -- you know, it's a town that's in a permanent state of amnesia.
And, look, impeachment is a very different process than -- than a jury finding someone guilty. And to hold Debra's position...
KURTZ: Hypocrisy on both sides. We will have to leave it there.
When we come back, Bill Clinton -- we were just talking about him -- campaigns with his wife and the media psychiatrists go at it again. And the Live Earth concerts -- is NBC taking a stand on global warming?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: She is, by a long stretch, the best qualified non-incumbent I have ever had a chance to vote for for president in my entire life.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Bill Clinton campaigning for his wife in Iowa this week. And Ryan Lizza, the press has just gone wild over this: "He's overshadowing her"; "No, he's showing unusual restraint"; "No, he's reminding people what they didn't like about his administration." What do you make of this?
LIZZA: We can use any one of those story lines. Bill Clinton gives you, you know, an opportunity to talk about any of those.
And, look, the press is obsessed with the Clintons. And they're obsessed with -- with -- with going back and redoing all of our favorite topics of the Clinton era. This is something that the Clinton campaign is going to have to deal with.
KAY: And they're obsessed with the relationship between Bill and Hillary.
KAY: Well, because what they went through and the fact that they survived during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, which was such a public humiliation for her, and now that he is campaigning so intensely for his wife and seems absolutely determined, almost as payback, to make sure that she gets into the White House.
And then the whole relationship about how he overshadows her. And it is true that he is incredibly charismatic. And many members of the press would rather go and cover Bill Clinton than Hillary Clinton.
LIZZA: And we're not manufacturing this. The campaign realizes all of these complications. And they've -- they've polled this, and they've studied this and...
KURTZ: Well, I'm not sure I don't agree that we're not, say, playing it up.
Debra Saunders, "L.A. Times" this morning: "By presenting herself and Bill as a close, and usually supportive, couple, she offered reassurance to those who feared further scandal."
It seems like this is the issue when it comes to covering Hillary Clinton's campaign.
SAUNDERS: I think it was bad luck for Hillary Clinton that the week that she decides to trot her husband out is the week that the Libby commutation happens. Because it brings people back into the whole whirlwind of the Clinton years.
And I think a lot of people are going to look at this and think we had Bush -- four years of Bush, eight years -- eight years of Clinton. Do we want to have another four or eight years off another Clinton again? So that's been the down side of it for her.
Now, she's run an incredibly good campaign. I don't think this was a good week for it.
KURTZ: All right. Let me pick up another issue with you, Debra Saunders, and that is the Live Earth concerts, which took place around the globe yesterday. NBC and its cable networks carrying more than 30 hours of the musical proceedings, which were not only designed to heighten awareness of global warming, but to raise money for Al Gore's nonprofit group on climate change.
Debra, does this amount to NBC taking sides on this issue?
SAUNDERS: I don't think there's any question that NBC takes sides on this issue. But then again, so do most of the networks.
They seem to have decided that global warming is a fait accompli, that there isn't much controversy about it, what causes it, how bad it could be.
You know, what really bothered me about the coverage was they were talking about if you buy a couple different light bulbs or maybe if you turn off your computer and don't have -- so that you're not using as much electricity, that's how you're going to fight global warming. That's how fluffy the coverage has been.
You know, the people who believe that this is the threat, the real alarmists here, say that we're going to have to cut emissions 50 to 90 percent. So this isn't about making a few little lifestyle changes and using your iPod less.
And that's what bothers me about the coverage. It just -- it's so superficial.
KAY: Actually, I thought a lot of the coverage was quite critical of the concerts. I was surprised how much coverage there was of the carbon footprint that these concerts themselves were leaving, about the fact that some of the stars were flying in by private jet, about the amount of power that was being generated during the concerts.
And they've tried to be carbon neutral, but they couldn't be carbon neutral. Just the amount of electricity consumed in putting those concerts up.
So I thought there was actually quite a lot of critical -- I was surprised at how critical the coverage was.
LIZZA: There was criticism. And the fact of the matter is that on some issues, there isn't much of a debate anymore. And global warming, that's one of them.
KURTZ: There -- is an overwhelming scientific consensus...
KURTZ: ... that global warming exists and is a problem.
But there is certainly a very vigorous debate over how serious a problem and what to do about it. LIZZA: Right.
KURTZ: Now, but let me come back to NBC's journalists, because they were sort of the unofficial emcees of this thing. So you had Ann Curry on the "Today Show", talking about how these concerts sent a powerful environmental message. NBC's Carson Daly saying, arguably, no cause is bigger than that of saving planet Earth.
LIZZA: I think it's a testament to how far Gore has gone in making his case and making it, basically, no longer debatable about -- the global warming issue is not that -- is not that debatable. And we -- everyone agrees that this is a problem. And I don't understand what the -- what the issue is here. Why...
KAY: Certainly, a couple of years ago you wouldn't have had this level of coverage or the consensus that global warming is a problem and that it is caused by human activity here in the United States.
I was always shocked when I came back from Europe over the last few years about how much further along the debate was in Europe than it was here in the U.S.
The U.S. has taken a while to catch up with the rest of the west on accepting global warming and accepting the causes for it. And now it really has done -- and embraced it, almost, in such a way that you do have this sort of reaction.
KURTZ: But people are more skeptical, at least, of the need for some sort of dramatic public action. Look at this and there is the left-leaning media again, getting in bed with Al Gore and trying to trump up this issue. Is that not a problem?
LIZZA: Nobody has ever accused the -- the media of being a friend of Al Gore.
KURTZ: Until lately. He won the Oscar and so forth. He gets great press now.
LIZZA: But that was never the case. Look, to be perfectly honest, the environment is one of those issues where the media tends to skew a little bit to the left. There's no doubt about that.
KURTZ: Quick other question of Al Gore. A lot of coverage this week of the drug arrest involving his 24-year-old son. It's not the first time he's been in trouble.
Is it fair for us to focus on the child of a famous politician the way we'd never if it was just somebody with -- who is a regular person.
KAY: He's certainly (ph) an adult. He's actually an adult. And he has a famous name.
This was a story that actually was picked up by the British press, too. I was surprised to read that it was in the British newspapers, as well. Al Gore is in the public eye, as you've been suggesting, particularly at the moment with these Live Earth concerts. And I think, you know, again, I mean, as Debra was saying perhaps about the Clintons, there's an unfortunate conflict of timing.
KURTZ: All right. Ryan Lizza, Katty Kay. Katty Kay, stick around. I'll thank Debra Saunders, as well, in San Francisco.
Up next, a BBC journalist is freed in Gaza after nearly four months in captivity. We'll ask Katty Kay about his ordeal.
KURTZ: Allan Johnston, Katty Kay's colleague at the BBC, was held by kidnappers in Gaza for nearly four months and forced to make a couple of hostage videos. Johnston was finally freed this week after the Hamas government interceded with his captors.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALLAN JOHNSTON, FREED BBC JOURNALIST: The last 16 weeks, of course, were the very worst, you can imagine, of my life. It was like being buried alive, really, removed -- removed from the world and occasionally terrifying. You were in the hands of people who were dangerous and unpredictable and always frightening. And you didn't know when it might end.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: I see how happy you are to hear his voice. What was it like for you and others at the BBC to have your colleague held hostage for 114 days?
KAY: Well, for us it was nothing, compared to what was like for Allan, of course. There he was, as we now know, in a dark room, no access to sunlight. He did have a radio, he says, very luckily. But never knowing whether he was going to get out alive.
It was absolutely terrifying.
KURTZ: And you didn't know either.
KAY: And nobody knew. I mean, there was -- when he was first taken, we all thought this would be one of those Gaza incidents where he was released after a few days. He wasn't. It became very quickly clear that this was far more serious.
The BBC mounted a huge campaign. We held vigils every week to remind us and to remind the press that Allan was still there.
And a lot of the tribute, I think, for the fact that he was released was Allan's own work, the fact that he had been so popular amongst the Palestinians. The Palestinian people, both in Gaza and in the West Bank, put pressure on the authorities to get him out. He was a very popular figure there. KURTZ: Now when he talked to reporters, he addressed this question of what the rest of the media had done. Because as you know, news gets very old in our business very fast. Let's look at what he had to say on that point.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHNSTON: I felt at one point, you know, that all the journalists in the world were kind of coming to the rescue. At least, at least -- they maybe couldn't rescue me, but they were -- they weren't going to let go. They weren't going to let the story die.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So did the BBC feel a special responsibility to try to keep his plight in the spotlight?
KAY: Absolutely we felt a responsibility. And there was this big campaign mounted from the top right down to the bottom, with 200,000 people signing a petition online, getting him -- wanting him out; with constant press conferences; with these vigils. We reported on the story all the time.
And I think that pressure kept his plight in the spotlight. I think the pressure from the Palestinian journalists, the local people, kept his plight in the spotlight, as well.
And it's -- Allan -- you know, it's characteristic of Allan that he gets out of this awful ordeal, and the first thing he says is remember all the other people that are still being held hostage in other places. He is a very self-effacing guy. He's an absolutely dedicated serious journalist.
I actually haven't met Allan. But I've spoke to him many times on the line.
KAY: I remember he would be one of those journalists that, at 3 in the morning, if something happened, he would be there for you.
KAY: He would be on the phone to tell you what was going on in Gaza.
KURTZ: I've got about half a minute. Early we had FOX's Steve Centanni and his cameraman kidnapped in Gaza, eventually released. Has Gaza under Hamas just become too dangerous a place for journalists to go?
KAY: Allan says he's not going to go back. He was committed. He's not going back there. And there are no other western journalists there.
KURTZ: So the answer is, in effect... KAY: It's become too dangerous.
KURTZ: ... we can't cover it anymore?
KAY: And that's one of the tragedies of something like this happening, is that we need to know the story. When journalists get kidnapped, the story dies, because we don't hear from them anymore.
Katty Kay of the BBC, thank you very much for joining us this morning.
Coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, Tina Brown on Princess Diana and the rise of today's celebrity culture.
Two top bloggers face off over FaceBook. The social networking breakthrough, or was it just a colossal waste of time?
And lying to get a big story. Is that kosher?
KURTZ: Tina Brown has been on both sides of the celebrity culture, as a chronicler and an object of unflattering gossip. We'll talk to her about the star system she helped spawn.
But first, here is T.J. Holmes at the CNN center in Atlanta with a check of the hour's top stories.
KURTZ: Thanks for the update, T.J.
After the break, Tina Brown on the media culture that created and ruined Princess Diana, and who's filling the vacuum left by her death. Stay with us.
KURTZ: She's a chronicler of celebrity and a celebrity herself. A British journalist who got her start writing about the world's most famous princess and became America's most prominent magazine editor.
Perhaps it was inevitable that Tina Brown would wind up writing about Princess Di and trying to make sense of the constant media frenzy that surrounded her. Brown's book is called "The Diana Chronicles". I spoke to her earlier from Los Angeles.
KURTZ: Tina Brown, welcome.
TINA BROWN, AUTHOR, "THE DIANA CHRONICLES": Hi, Howie.
KURTZ: Diana was a product of modern celebrity culture and maybe ultimately its victim. Isn't that a culture that you helped create as editor of "Vanity Fair"?
BROWN: Guilty as charged, you know. But the fact is, is that when we began doing it at "Vanity Fair", we were doing that, putting celebrities on the cover, sort of in contrast to and in opposition to the rest of the media culture, which was all kind of very gray.
So you know, the amazing thing is now the proliferation of outlets, everybody's putting celebrities on the cover. There really isn't a difference between the "Vanity Fair" kind of cover and everybody else's cover. So that's the difference, really, today. The incredible acceleration of it.
KURTZ: I guess I'll have to blame you for that. But beyond that, now we have, for example, Paris Hilton getting out of jail, an orgy of media coverage, really, around the world. But she's no princess, let's face it.
So has there been a cheapening of the celebrity culture in order for us all to have new people, new stars, new folks to fixate on?
BROWN: Well, I have this theory that, you know, the Britney Spears, the Paris Hiltons, the Lindsay Lohans, are almost filling the void left by Diana.
I mean, Diana sold copies like no one has ever done. I mean, she was the ultimate celebrity commodity, in that she put on sales like no one else has ever seen.
So these girls, these new girls are almost filling the void left by her. And people like John F. Kennedy Jr., who was one of the last golden icons, who people really admired and really thought were glamorous.
These new ones are really just, I mean, everybody is famous and nobody is interesting. They're just people to fill them more, because there are so many outlets. There just aren't enough celebrities to go around.
KURTZ: So to some extent it's the media's fault, lusting for somebody to put on the cover, put on the top of the entertainment show?
BROWN: They've got to have their blondes. And it doesn't really matter whether it's a Simpson or whether it's a Nicole Richie or who the hell it is. But as long as they're just there and they're blonde, it's good enough.
KURTZ: Now I'm struck by the parallels between you and your subject. I mean, you started out covering Princess Diana as a young reporter for the "London Tatler". You became acquaintances. You had lunch with her a month before her death.
And you have been pursued by the media, and people have gossiped about your marriage. And some unkind things have been written. So did you identify in some ways with Diana? BROWN: Well, I mean, certainly I felt a bond with the story, in the sense that having covered it from 1981 and at the time, I watched her come up as this kind of young girl out of nowhere. I myself was only 25 at the time when I was editing "Tatler". So of course, I felt a kind of link to that story all the way through.
Then when she moved into celebrity culture, I was at "Vanity Fair" covering celebrity culture. So I felt kind of very close to that story.
And then met her at the end when she came to do her auction when I was at the "New Yorker", where she had then moved into her sort of global princess thing. So I've certainly felt a bond with the story.
But in terms of being written about, I actually do think that when an editor or a writer is written about a lot, it does kind of raise your consciousness about coverage.
And it does make you, I think, better at your profession. Because you -- you really understand what it is to be kind of inaccurately portrayed or, you know, unfairly tracked or, you know, sort of feeding that more. You understand what that whole system is like.
And I think it enables you, in fact, to both cover things with more clarity and fairness, and secondly, to report on things with more insight, actually, about that whole world.
KURTZ: You learn what it's like to be in the front of a very harsh spotlight.
KURTZ: And you also learn what it's like when journalists publish things that aren't true. And that can be frustrating.
KURTZ: What kind of relationship did Diana have with the seemingly hoards of journalists in Britain who chronicled her every move?
BROWN: Well, it's very interesting. You know, Diana did have this kind of love-hate dance of death, ultimate flirtation with the media that went on throughout her life.
I have this theory that her love for the camera, in a sense, and her ability to respond to it began because her father was a passionate amateur photographer. And as a child, she used to pose for his camera all the time. It was his way of expressing his interest in her, because he was not a very demonstrative man. So she always associated the camera with love.
When she was a young girl being pursued in the courtship of Charles, she had this sense of how to give the media their picture, how to give them the perfect quote. She knew their names. She knew where they lived. She knew the names of their wives. She was incredibly, intimately sort of aware of who these reporters was.
Then as she became more professional, more tuned in, more of a kind of global princess, she really understand -- understood the tricks of the media. And she knew how to do the whole Diana show.
She would have editors to lunch all the time at Kensington Palace, and she would look into their eyes, and she would cross and uncross her legs and she would be charming. And she would spin, and she would just drop in a little bit of bad stuff about the royal family with a charming smile.
And they absolutely just ate it up. So she was brilliant, actually, Diana at sort of manipulating the media, on the one hand. On the other, of course...
KURTZ: Yes. We're so easy.
BROWN: You're so easy. And believe me, there was no one who wasn't.
What she couldn't control was the paparazzi, because they became a different force. They changed from being the kind of respectful royal photographer into becoming this wolf-like, you know, international press cadre who really pursued her everywhere, because she was such a commodity.
So she sold. So they just killed for pictures. And ultimately, those people became so aggressive that, you know, she couldn't control that in the end.
KURTZ: Right. Now the very revealing biography of her by Andrew Morton, did Buckingham Palace know that she cooperated with this rather extensively?
BROWN: What was so amazing about Diana was that she really could fool everybody all of the time. I mean, the Andrew Morton biography, in which she cooperated totally and to the hilt and even changed things in the manuscript galleys. I mean, she -- the book came back. She made her comments; she made changes. That was really her book, actually. But, you know, masked as a third person book.
She always denied any involvement. And the royal family, they knew she'd been involved, because they could hear her voice in those pages. They challenged her. She would say, "Andrew who? No idea. What are you talking about? I didn't even know anybody called Andrew Morton."
I mean, she was unbelievable. She would just lie through her teeth. It was brilliant. And of course, we would never know even to this day that she was the source of that book if she hadn't died.
KURTZ: And as far as the therapist, I'm always interested in how people get their information in the media. You write about her therapist.
BROWN: Yes, which one?
KURTZ: The one who was cooperating with the London newspapers?
BROWN: Oh, yes. Absolutely, that was incredible. Everyone was selling Diana out. I mean, what was awful was that, because she was such a commodity, because she was such gold dust to the media, everybody in that palace, by the end, was on the payroll of Fleet Street. Checks were whirling around. I mean, they just paid off everybody.
And even her intimate therapist that she saw pretty much every morning, Simone Simmons, was actually on the payroll at the time of the daily -- of the "Daily Mirror" at the end of Diana's life, which Diana had no idea.
So these stories were appearing, and Diana is chatting away to her healing therapist, as she was. And, of course, a lot of it wound up in the "Mirror", which is an amazing thing, really. I mean, the poor girl at the end was totally isolated in a sense.
KURTZ: Right. Now Tina, you sprinkle this book with plenty of sex. We read about Diana doing a striptease and what Charles liked to be called during moments of passion. Ten years later, why go there?
BROWN: Because ultimately, the question of what was happening and the chemistry, sexually, in that marriage, became a really important issue. Because no one could answer the question, why on earth would this Prince Charles prefer Camilla Parker Bowles to this beautiful, ravishing young blonde woman who the whole world was madly in love with?
So it was very important as a biographer of Diane, to explain well, what was the problem here? And the problem was a sexual chemistry that just didn't work between them in the end, a bedroom transaction that just wasn't satisfying. And it needed to be discussed, because otherwise, what was my explanation for this marriage?
You write that the British media felt a fair amount of guilt after her death. But weren't many of them rather cruel to her at times over the years?
BROWN: Yes. It was -- the British media were absolutely their worst, I mean, in the Diana years. They pursued her, they invaded her. They agreed to be spun by her. They were, you know, in her court. They were out of her court. I mean, they absolutely played a pretty despicable role throughout.
And then at the end, of course, when she died, they got attacked by this terrible kind of grief, and -- because they were all a bit in love with her is the truth. I mean, all those royal hacks, I mean, they were madly in love with Diana. And when they thought that they may have actually helped to kill her, they just went into this great maudlin kind of display of the great crocodile tears that they shed. It was unbelievable.
Then, of course, when they learned that Henri Paul was drunk, they went festive. I mean, they thought, "My God, we're off the hook, you know. We're totally off the hook here." And they were delighted to discover that, in fact, they weren't, in their minds, guilty.
KURTZ: All right. We've got about half a minute. Let's turn the camera back on you.
After "Vanity Fair," you became the editor of "The New Yorker". You had a very successful, if at times controversial, tenure. Then you left to start "Talk" magazine...
KURTZ: ... which eventually folded.
KURTZ: Do you wish you stayed with "The New Yorker"? Do you see yourself going back into magazines?
BROWN: Well, it's interesting. I mean, you know, I obviously regret that "Talk" sort of flamed out. And I adore "The New Yorker", so that turned out to be a mistake.
But at the same time, sometimes mistakes can lead you to do other really interesting things. And I don't regret, in a sense, the years since, because I learned a huge amount.
I went back to writing, which I'd always wanted to do, and still have. And I did a talk show, which is fantastic for me to be able to learn how to do TV, in a sense.
So actually, you know, I've had a lot of fun since that happened. So I can't really say that I regret leaving.
KURTZ: All right. Well, clearly, you learned a little bit about how to do TV. Tina Brown, thanks very much for being with us.
BROWN: Thank you.
KURTZ: Up next, Jeff Jarvis and Ana Marie Cox on why FaceBook is the hottest site on the Net, even after letting in older people like me.
KURTZ: For three years the phenomenally popular web site Facebook operated as a raucous college dorm, limited to those in school and recent graduates. But late last year, the gates were thrown open, and older folks, people like me, were allowed in.
I set up a page and began my quest to figure out the culture of the place. Why do people post 700 pictures of themselves, some of them on the racy side, announce to the world when their relationship status changes, decide to friend or poke random strangers -- yes, these are verbs -- and spend countless hours on the site?
Joining us now to help us figure out Facebook, Ana Marie Cox, Washington editor of TIME.com; and from New York, Jeff Jarvis, founder of BuzzMachine.com.
Ana Marie Cox, I've been corresponding with younger people in Facebook who tell me they spend hours and hours and hours on the site. What is the appeal?
ANA MARIE COX, TIME.COM: You know, I am a little bit mystified too, because there is basically nothing to do on it besides talk about yourself. But then again, when you look at the world of blogs and the world of online communications in general, people really love to talk about themselves. And apparently, other people like to listen, like the random updates that you get.
My Facebook page -- I admit, I'm on Facebook, as well -- I think now says I am currently trying to figure out what Facebook is all about.
KURTZ: Jeff Jarvis, you got on Facebook fairly recently. At first you wrote that you felt lonely. Now you've got 515 friends. These all have to accept you.
JEFF JARVIS, BUZZMACHINE.COM: More than you, I think, Howie.
KURTZ: Even more than me. And you write that you've become obsessed with this place. Why?
JARVIS: There's something going on here. The weekend I went on I got 150 friends in 24 hours. Now that's not a testament to my popularity; it means that they were all online on a holiday weekend and they were obsessed, too.
What I think Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, has really found here, the key to it is that it's real identity. The rest of the Internet is full of anonymity and pseudo-anonymity and people calling themselves you know, Bubba47.
Well, on Facebook I'm Jeff Jarvis, and the friends I have are really my friends. I think we're thirsting for that reality. And then the Facebook also opened itself up so people can write new things for its platform so people are just putting on all kinds of new stuff that makes the platform more active.
So I can form groups of friends. I can do things with those friends. I can reconnect with old friends. I think it's pretty amazing.
KURTZ: The hundreds of pictures that people put up of themselves with their friends, some of which are not suitable for viewing by prospective employers, suggest to me that there is a kind of a voyeuristic aspect to Facebook where you go snooping around in other peoples' lives. Some people have even used the word "stalking." In the good sense.
COX: I didn't know that there was a good kind of stalking. I think that there's definitely voyeuristic aspects to Facebook. I think there's also the appeal, I have to say that to Jeff, it's partially that you have a real person there, and partially it's a slightly elitist crowd at Facebook.
KURTZ: Hold it. There's 26 million members.
COX: Well, for a long time it was restricted -- for a long time it was restricted to only, like, Ivy League schools.
COX: It was started at Harvard and you had to be at a certain school in order to get in. Then it was high schools that went to Harvard. Then it was people -- then you could get on if you went to a -- if you were employed by a place that had a lot of recent, you know, college graduates. Now it's open to everyone.
KURTZ: But you still think it's elitist, why?
COX: But I still think there's something -- maybe I shouldn't say "elitist." It's something that you have to kind of -- you already know something when you come to Facebook. You are bringing -- there's an imprimatur of kind of little bit of being in the know, let's say.
And I think as far as its relationship to MySpace goes, MySpace being the other very popular social networking site, I think that because MySpace allows people to be anonymous, unlike Facebook, it is also more open to people who are a little bit weird, a little bit different. A little bit maybe who want to play games with their identity.
Facebook kind of asks you to be who you are, which is good for people who are good at that.
KURTZ: Jeff Jarvis, there is this, as you know, newsfeed that automatically tells you what all of your friends are doing, whether they went out to the movies, what they had for lunch, what books they're reading, when they broke up with a boyfriend or girlfriend.
Now one of my cyber friends on Facebook, Kelly Sayler, writes, "The newsfeed doesn't feed news. It feeds exhibitionism and egotism. The cult of celebrity," she says, "has trickled down to the masses and made us all alternately nosey and self important." Your thoughts?
JARVIS: No. I think we already live in public, and we all want to be famous, don't we? We all want to be on TV.
The newsfeed is really not about the wisdom of the crowd that we talk about, James Surowiecki's title of his book, the wisdom of the whole crowd, the whole Internet. Now it's the wisdom of my crowd.
So if I see that Ana Marie has suddenly signed up for a new app, and Ana Marie is smart and she knows what's hip, I can now go look at that too. And it's her way of telling her friends, look what I found.
KURTZ: Are you making a lot of new friends? People you didn't know before? Or are you just hanging out with your old friends?
JARVIS: Well, that's the etiquette of this. I asked on my blog -- how's that for being hip -- what one should do when strangers come to you and ask you to befriend them. And if you're in high school or college, I'm told, you befriend everybody, but at our snobbish age, we just befriend those who we're really friends with, because it's kind of an endorsement and because it's also the people who are going to populate that newsfeed of mine.
I wish I could have a kind of sandbox over here where I get no folks in the lobby. But generally no, the people I befriend are those people I really know.
KURTZ: Do younger Facebook users -- let's be honest here -- resent that their little playground has been invaded by some of the geezers we're talking to today?
COX: You know, I wonder if they do. I mean, I know that our intern at "TIME" was on Facebook long before anyone else at the office was. And she admits -- she brought up in an edit meeting once -- that everybody at Facebook was really upset when they first had viewed the newsfeed because it made all your information public.
And everyone around the table said, "But wait a minute. You're on Facebook. Everything is already public."
We didn't understand what her problem was. And she felt clearly upset that we were ignorant of what she thought the parameters of privacy were.
So I don't think that there's -- there are different rules for the age groups, I think, as Jeff laid out.
And I think that there's maybe going to be kind of a -- two de facto Facebooks. Maybe they'll be -- if you can't befriend everyone that comes to you, like Jeff said, if you're an older person, maybe Facebook will really split up into two crowds: Facebook and Facebook Jr.
KURTZ: Jeff, what about journalists on Facebook? I know that a number of my colleagues at "The Washington Post" have joined since I wrote about my weird experiences there. And you wrote recently that about half the editors of London's "Guardian" are now avid Facebook users.
JARVIS: I think it's a way, a new way to connect with audiences, with local audience, with people.
You know, it's important to say that, unlike MySpace or other services, when you go into Facebook, you don't see it all. Mark Zuckerberg, who started Facebook, said that you really see, at lowest, maybe one percent of the audience of Facebook and ever a smaller proportion as it gets bigger. So really, it's my Facebook, my crowd, my people and I can see what's what. So you don't kind of pollute the whole thing.
But it allows journalists to come in and join local societies, join other things. The "Guardian's" media podcast...
JARVIS: Everly Bell (ph), the head of online there, said that being on Facebook just increased their viewership, their listenership by 10 percent. So it's a new way to talk to people.
KURTZ: Sometimes -- sometimes when we're reporting, as well.
Jeff Jarvis, Ana Marie Cox, see you on Facebook.
Still to come, "Harper's Magazine" pulls off a big time journalistic scam, but should reporters resort to lying?
KURTZ: How far should journalists go in pushing the envelope -- the ethical envelope, that is -- while chasing a story? Pretty far, says Ken Silverstein, Washington editor of "Harper's" magazine.
He recently posed as Kenneth Case, a shadowy lobbyist representing the government of Turkmenistan. He had phony business cards printed up for the fictional Maldon Group and concocted a bogus web site.
KURTZ (voice-over): Silverstein described in his "Harper's" piece how two big-time Washington firms aggressively sought the Turkmenistan account, promising to lobby politicians, recruit think- tank folks to write favorable op-eds and perhaps arrange a junket to the country for journalists and policymakers.
Now, there's a long history of media sting operations. The "Chicago Sun-Times" set up a bar back in the '70s and found some inspectors happy to take payoffs.
"60 Minutes" mounted plenty of hidden camera operations in the '70s and into the '80s.
In the 1990s, ABC's "Prime Time Live" had two producers lie their way into supermarket jobs to expose unsanitary conditions and lost the resulting lawsuit.
NBC's "Dateline", working with police, still runs undercover probes aimed at child predators.
KURTZ (on camera): But these operations have fallen out of favor with most news organizations, and here's why: they involve deception.
That's the problem I had with Silverstein's methods. When you use lying and cheating to get a story, even a really juicy story, it raises as many questions about the journalist as his target.
In this case, Silverstein didn't even offer the firms he had scammed a chance to comment.
(voice-over) Silverstein has fired back in the "L.A. Times", saying, "I'm willing to debate the merits of my piece, but the carping from the Washington press corps is hard to stomach."
What he calls the "smug high-end Washington press corps, whose members socialize at big media dinners with the likes of rapper Karl Rove."
KURTZ: Now, I don't usually go to these dinners, and I didn't rap with Rove. I just have a problem with journalists who lie, no matter how lofty their cause.
In the end, you get to decide whether it's OK for us to bend the rules, or whether that tarnishes the media's already shoddy reputation.
That's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz. Join us again next Sunday morning, 10 a.m. Eastern, for another critical look at the media.
"LATE EDITION" with Wolf Blitzer begins right now.
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