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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES

Blagojevich Charged With Pressuring 'Chicago Tribune' to Fire Editorial Board; Leno Jumps to Prime-Time

Aired December 14, 2008 - 10:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice-over): Chicago shakedown? Prosecutors charge Rod Blagojevich with pressuring "The Chicago Tribune" to fire editorial writers who criticized him or he would block the parent company's effort to sell Wrigley Field. We'll talk to the editor targeted by the Illinois governor.

Should the Tribune have withheld its story on the wiretaps? Are journalists in love again with Patrick Fitzgerald? And how did Sam Zell and the Tribune Company wind up in bankruptcy?

Leno's leap. Will putting Jay on in prime time change the game in TV programming?

Jailing a journalist. Does a new movie glorify the Judith Miller saga with Kate Beckinsale in the starring role?

Plus...

REVEREND JEREMIAH WRIGHT, TRINITY UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST: ... the gates of hell!

KURTZ: ... haven't we heard enough of this guy?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: The governor of Illinois, it is clear, did not like "The Chicago Tribune's" editorial page. He did not like the audacity of writers who dare criticize his notorious pay-to-play style of political dealing and encouraged state lawmakers to look into impeaching him. So Rod Blagojevich decided to turn the screws. A criminal complaint, as you've probably heard, says the Democratic governor told his aides to threaten the Tribune Company.

The aides say they conveyed the message that the state might not help the company sell Wrigley Field unless Tribune played ball. The governor's chief of staff reporting back that he had told the Tribune vice president, "There is a risk, that all of this is going to get derailed by your own editorial page."

U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, reading from the wiretapped conversations, quoted Blagojevich's words about the despised Tribune editorial writers, cleaning it up in just a bit.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PATRICK FITZGERALD, U.S. ATTORNEY: In the governor's words, "Fire all those (EXPLETIVE) people, get them the (EXPLETIVE) out of there, and get us some editorial support."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: So much of a bleeping story to unravel here with the help of some of Chicago's top journalists.

Joining us now, John McCormick, deputy editorial page editor of "The Chicago Tribune" who Governor Blagojevich tried to get fired. He's in Chicago. Here in Washington, Lynn Sweet, columnist and Washington bureau chief for "The Chicago Sun-Times"; Clarence Page, columnist for "The Chicago Tribune" and a member of the Tribune's editorial board; and Stephen Hayes, senior writer for "The Weekly Standard."

John McCormick, your name keeps coming up in these transcripts. Blagojevich calling you a bad guy. Why did the governor repeatedly target you by name?

JOHN MCCORMICK, DEPUTY EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR, "THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE": Can we put an "allegedly" in there?

KURTZ: All right.

MCCORMICK: I would assume the governor learned that I had written the majority of the editorials that were about his role but had not written all of them. Personally, I think I would have targeted Clarence's and my boss, Bruce Dold. Don't you go after the editor of the editorial page?

KURTZ: Well, but now this has made you famous, at least for a week.

Now, the "alleged" is that there was any criminal conduct here. There's no question that these wiretapped conversations took place.

Did you -- let's just clear this up -- did you feel any pressure, any whisper, any insinuation, any suggestion from anyone from the Tribune Company that maybe you just ought to cool it for a while?

MCCORMICK: You talking about before -- no, no. None, zero. And that's categorical. I want no wiggle room there.

Nothing from anyone at Tribune Company, top to bottom. Nothing from state government. And nothing from the Justice Department.

KURTZ: All right.

MCCORMICK: I knew nothing about this before Tuesday morning, when you did.

KURTZ: When everyone else found out. Lynn Sweet, the governor's chief of staff, John Harris, who is also charged in this criminal complaint, tells Blagojevich he talked to the Tribune's executive vice president and was told that Sam Zell, the owner of the Tribune Company, got the message and is very sensitive to the issue.

What do you make of that?

LYNN SWEET, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: What do I make of it? Frankly, I think that John Harris, who did resign, was probably playing the governor and telling him what he wanted to hear. I mean, I wouldn't leave that out of the equation because that's what people sometimes did. With Governor Blagojevich, I have come to learn if he has a cockamamie scheme out there, just kind of tell him what he wants to hear. They certainly have a lot of facts to unravel.

KURTZ: So it doesn't mean it was necessarily carried out.

SWEET: Right.

KURTZ: Clarence Page, why was Blagojevich obsessed with the Tribune editorial page? Are guys that powerful?

CLARENCE PAGE, COLUMNIST, "THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE": Yes. We like to think so. Seldom do we find that to be true, but in this case, editorially, we had strongly pushed the legislature to consider the man's impeachment. And that is apparently what really got under his skin, judging by the transcripts.

That impeachment notion, he sees it as a reality. We have 13 percent approval. I don't blame him. And he saw us as being a major spearhead.

KURTZ: Steve Hayes, let's assume that the governor's chief of staff did deliver the message to Tribune Company officials. What should Sam Zell have done on being told that basically, unless you did something about your editorial page, this Wrigley Field deal, which is worth $100 million to Tribune Company, might go down the tubes?

STEPHEN HAYES, SR. WRITER, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": He should have told John Harris to go bleep himself. I mean, I think, you know, it sounds like there's a lot of facts to unravel. I agree with Lynn.

It sounds like he did the right thing. I mean, if there was no pressure, if the editorial board felt no pressure, if it wasn't -- you know, editorial writers weren't included in the rounds of staff cuts, I think it sounds like...

(CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: But I would say the right thing would be, A, to go down to your newsroom and say we've got a story here, the governor's emissary just tried to pressure this newspaper. And B, pick up the phone and call the cops.

HAYES: Yes. No, I think that's true. I mean, certainly the story -- I mean, that is a big story. Certainly run down to the newsroom and say do this. I was talking about strictly on a staff level.

KURTZ: Sure. I just wanted to elaborate on that.

HAYES: Yes.

KURTZ: Now, when Patrick Fitzgerald -- go ahead, John.

MCCORMICK: Howie, can I cut in for just one second?

KURTZ: Please.

MCCORMICK: We really don't know -- well, first, we don't know if an approach was ever made to Sam Zell. Second, we don't know that he did or didn't do exactly what Steve just suggested.

There's another possibility. If you read the wording, if you read the criminal complaint, it's possible -- well, we know that the feds had listened to a conversation about squeezing the Tribune before anyone allegedly set out to squeeze the Tribune. That means the feds know that an approach was coming. So let's not -- you know, another on our list of possibilities is that they came to someone around Sam Zell and said we think you're going to get a phone call, here's what we would like you to do.

KURTZ: I see. All right. Well...

SWEET: And negotiations were going on anyway...

MCCORMICK: I haven't heard that.

SWEET: ... dealing with other state officials and the sale...

KURTZ: There's a lot we don't know.

SWEET: Yes.

MCCORMICK: There's a lot we don't know.

KURTZ: And that's why we're just at the beginning of this story.

But while this was happening on the corporate side of the Tribune Company, the newsroom was having its own dealings with U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald. And at his news conference on Tuesday, the prosecutor actually was grateful to "The Chicago Tribune" for holding off for about eight weeks the story that the reporters had nailed down that there were wiretaps installed on the governor of Illinois.

Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FITZGERALD: We made an urgent request for the Tribune not to publish that story. That is a very rare thing for us to do, and it's even a rarer thing for a newspaper to grant. And I have to take my hat off that the Tribune withheld that story for a substantial period of time, which otherwise might have compromised the investigation from ever happening.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Would you have held that story? Isn't that colluding with law enforcement?

SWEET: Well, I think these kinds of tough calls are very situational, Howie. And in this case, if I suppose if you were convinced that a crime was in process, which is more or less how Patrick Fitzgerald portrayed this crime spree, I think you would have to.

The other thing is they probably made a deal to give the Trib the scoop when they could get it. The Trib did have the scoop last Friday. So I would say if the interest of the newspaper is to have the scoop, and they were guaranteed that, then I could see why you would make this agreement.

KURTZ: Steve?

HAYES: Yes. I mean, my first reaction when I saw Patrick Fitzgerald make that comment was to say, you know, it's a good thing it wasn't "The New York Times" and it's a good thing it wasn't a national security secret, because then we all would have known probably a lot earlier. I agree with Lynn...

KURTZ: Although The Times has also held up and delayed publication at the request of the Bush administration.

HAYES: At times.

KURTZ: I don't want to get diverted here.

HAYES: No, at times, I think.

KURTZ: You want to jump in here?

PAGE: That's true. Well, these are situational. Every situation is different. Whichever way the journalist decides you're going to get criticized, I think we would have been criticized a heck of a lot more if we had revealed that information sooner, because it would have definitely been impeding on the investigation.

KURTZ: And the Tribune would have been blamed for blowing the investigation.

PAGE: Absolutely, right.

KURTZ: That's why these decisions are so difficult.

Now, obviously, the business involving the Tribune is just one aspect of this. What's gotten far more attention is the alleged attempt by the governor to get something in return for or "sell the seat" of President-elect Obama, deciding who he's going to appoint. And that has created a lot of chatter in the newspapers, on the airwaves about Obama's connection to the Chicago political machine.

Here's a brief example.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: Reverend Wright and Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn and Tony Rezko and Father Pfleger -- the Chicago way. Is this -- Blagojevich the Chicago way? Is Barack Obama -- he's friends with all these guys. What are we to glean from that?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Lynn Sweet, is it fair for the media to engage in some sort of guilt by association here?

SWEET: Well, no it's not. But what is fair is to tell the context, which hasn't been told a lot, of the whole Chicago political scene that some of the major players who will be in the White House come out of. Because it's not only President-elect Obama, but you have the chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, from Chicago, who comes from the Chicago political scene; Valerie Jarrett, who will be a top adviser, worked in City Hall; David Axelrod, top strategist for Obama in the campaign. You know, he's an adviser to Obama, he was an adviser to Mayor Daley.

KURTZ: But there are a lot of interconnections. That's politics.

SWEET: And I think people are just fascinated with this Chicago story, the different Democratic tribes, the feudal families, the feuding.

KURTZ: Right, but there's this undercurrent of suggestion here that Obama and his people, in talking politics, may have done something wrong.

And here's my question to you, Clarence Page. On the tape, Blagojevich calls Obama a mother-blank, and is ticked off that he would only give appreciation in exchange for getting his preferred candidate named to the Senate seat (INAUDIBLE). Isn't that pretty close as a politician can come to being exonerated?

PAGE: Yes. Even Sean Hannity acknowledged that, which tells you something, because I think Sean and a number of other conservative pundits have tried to make this out to be a new Whitewater. And, you know, back in the early '90s, Arkansas was the most corrupt state. Now they're pushing Illinois as the most corrupt state. Who's next?

SWEET: Which is true, but it has nothing to do -- and this is where I think viewers and readers have to be careful here. We have a few storylines going on at one time. It doesn't mean they intersect at the corner, corruption and -- that's an important thing to make clear.

KURTZ: John McCormick in Chicago, is the press and should the press be pursuing a lot of the unanswered questions here about these interconnections among these Democratic politicians?

MCCORMICK: A fascinating thing is going on in the legal realm, but also in the political realm. The Tribune had a story Saturday morning, Friday night, talking about FBI recordings of Rahm Emanuel speaking with, I believe, John Harris, the governor's chief of staff, delivering a list of candidates who would be acceptable to the president-elect as replacements.

Well, as far as that goes, that's fine. But, you know, was there anything -- Mr. Emanuel has been under a cloud all week. He may be -- he may just be absolutely innocent of anything. But yes, I think we've got to chase the political -- the same story, by the way, reported that that list of acceptable candidates didn't include Jesse Jackson Jr., another interesting theme. Why not?

KURTZ: In your view, Steve Hayes, has the press asked the normal, usual, logical questions about the interconnections here -- you know, keeping in mind they're politicians, they're going to talk politics when there's an appointment -- or have we been a little easy to say, well, Obama clearly didn't have anything to do with it?

HAYES: Well, I think the point that you started with is the key point here, and that is that clearly, Blagojevich's people and Blagojevich himself were angry with the Obama people. So that's the most important point.

But I will say, you know, as a conservative, I think one of the things that we're seeing as a double standard here with respect to the questions that are asked and how the stories are played, you know, if this -- if this were a Republican game, if this were a Republican, you have contradictions between David Axelrod and Obama.

KURTZ: All right. So Rahm says he misspoke when he said that Obama personally discussed with the governor who might be the candidate for the Senate seat.

HAYES: Exactly.

SWEET: Also, there's another one. He also said, the governor, always wanted Valerie Jarrett to be in the White House. You have Rahm now delivering a list that has Valerie's name on it, allegedly.

HAYES: Right.

KURTZ: You're saying we're too easy on this because he's a Democrat.

HAYES: Well, I just think, you know, we got used to -- throughout the Bush years, we got used to front-page stories in the best papers in the country and all over the broadcast networks saying Bush and aides contradict one another. The State Department saying something different than the Defense Department.

KURTZ: And we're not seeing that here?

HAYES: We're not seeing -- I don't think we're seeing that at all here.

PAGE: Yes we are. Of course we're seeing it. This is a secret? You know, I mean, remember Whitewater, Clinton? Don't tell me that the press is easy on Democrats.

HAYES: No, no, no. But this stuff is buried. You look at "The New York Times" story, it's at the bottom of the stories. It's not a headline.

(CROSSTALK)

PAGE: Everybody's been talking about that all week, about Axelrod.

SWEET: I think people are going wherever the story leads, even if it's off the original...

HAYES: It was mentioned once in "The New York Times," reporting on this at the bottom of the story.

KURTZ: Let me blow the whistle here, because I've got one more piece of tape I want to play. This is the president-elect holding a news conference on Thursday that was supposed to be about health care. Most of the questions about Blagojevich.

Here's Jackie Calmes of "The New York Times" asking a question.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JACKIE CALMES, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": In your statement, when you addressed the controversy over Governor Blagojevich, you did not repeat what your spokesman said yesterday about having him -- that he should resign. Why did you not...

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT-ELECT: Number one, I think like most of the people of Illinois, I was appalled and disappointed by what we heard in those transcripts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Are journalists scandal-obsessed here, or is it perfectly natural that this would dominate the news conference?

SWEET: Perfectly natural. I mean, this is a sensational blockbuster story here. And one of the things that we have to remember here is that President-elect Obama wants to have a new level of transparency, and this is the first test.

KURTZ: And on that point, John McCormick -- I've got about half a minute -- did Obama practically invite these questions that are continuing by putting out so little information about this, about who spoke to who when?

MCCORMICK: Steve Chapman who is Clarence's and my colleague, a columnist at the Trib, has a column this morning, the headline of which is, "This is Obama's 'My Pet Goat' Moment." That when the story broke, he was -- and I don't want to put a word in the president- elect's mouth, but he was saddened, I believe, initially. I think they were slow off the mark.

KURTZ: Yes. Very tepid initial response.

PAGE: That's typical.

KURTZ: Very cautious. Then he upgraded to appalled.

MCCORMICK: Two days later he was appalled.

(CROSSTALK)

SWEET: It wasn't until day three that he said he would do -- he would at least ask his staff what happened. Three days.

KURTZ: All right. Let me get a break here.

When we come back, praising the prosecutor. Is the man who sent Judith Miller to jail becoming a media darling in the Blagojevich drama?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: That "bleeping" videotape we played as we went to break was courtesy of "The Late Show."

Now, Patrick Fitzgerald had some very strong words at the news conference where he announced his criminal complaint. And we want to play that for you, and we have some reaction from Lisa bloom of truTV.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FITZGERALD: It's a very sad day for Illinois government. Governor Blagojevich has taken us to a truly new low. The conduct would make Lincoln roll over in his grave.

LISA BLOOM, TRUTV: To say that Lincoln is turning over in his grave is really inappropriate. The man is presumed innocent. He can talk about the charges. He can talk about the allocations. I think that was over the line.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Clarence, we in the press love these inflammatory sound bites, but a prosecutor is not supposed to go beyond the bounds of the criminal complaint.

PAGE: Well, theoretically, that's true. But, well, we know Fitzgerald is a very aggressive prosecutor and one who is a crusader. And he's making his case before the media here in a rather remarkable way, but his investigation apparently was cut short by the pressures he felt to move before Blagojevich appointed a new senator. So I think that's probably why he's talking the way he is.

KURTZ: Now Steve Hayes, suddenly he's being treated as Eliot Ness. But this is the same guy in the Valerie Plame leak investigation who many in the media portrayed as an out-of-control zealot who is threatening freedom of the press and threatening reporters with jail and putting Judith Miller in jail for 85 days.

A little bit of a flip here?

HAYES: Yes, I think there is a flip here to a certain extent. I mean, it's amazing what a Scooter Libby conviction will get you.

I think, you know, reporters now like him in part because, as you just pointed out, he gives great quotes. Even if it's over the line, this is stuff that everybody used in the next day story or on video at the time.

KURTZ: And played endlessly. But on the other hand, Lynn Sweet, prosecutors are not supposed to prejudge guilt or innocence. They're supposed to say here's what the evidence says.

SWEET: My sense is that maybe that's what the satisfaction he got in turn for having to cut off the investigation before the crime occurred, and that maybe he was going to get his licks in. And if he went over the rhetorical line, I think there were plenty of other quotes.

The man was a quote machine, Howie, at that press conference. OK? So if he stepped over the line with that one, that maybe he shouldn't have, I could tell you, we could go through this and get 25 other quotes that were in the line and were just as damning to him with any jury pool in Chicago that you could get.

So I would just say, when you look at this situation, very unusual. In this case, there's a lot you could say about Fitzgerald, whether or not he went over the line in one flamboyant quote is beside the point because there were so many others...

KURTZ: Well, in two or three or four or five flamboyant quotes.

(CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: Let me go to Chicago, John McCormick.

Would you say that Fitzgerald is now being lionized by the Chicago press?

MCCORMICK: No. I don't think so. I mean, this is someone who has spent seven years -- finally we have someone who is trying to clean up Illinois politics.

Don't forget, we have what John Kass of the Tribune refers to as the combine. These are not ideological politicians.

You know, we have a Republican ex-governor sitting in federal prison now. We have another governor who may be lining up to bunk with him. You know, this isn't about ideology. He's a non- ideological prosecutor. And let's remember that a lot of prosecutors who say all the right things at press conferences often are dishing to reporters on the QT, over here in the corner. That's not Fitzgerald's way. He doesn't leak, he doesn't use us behind the scenes. At least he sure doesn't leak to me.

KURTZ: All right. Well, I just want to remind people that sometimes prosecutors overreach and the evidence does not turn out quite the way it looks at first blush.

Let me get a break here.

Up next, the Tribune Company isn't only under investigation, it's bankrupt. We'll talk about that in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: The day before the feds arrested Rod Blagojevich was an equally dramatic day for the Tribune Company. One year after real estate magnate Sam Zell bought the media conglomerate, which owns such newspapers as the "Los Angeles Times" and "Baltimore Sun," along with 23 television stations, Tribune declared bankruptcy.

Clarence Page, how much of is this due to rough times in the newspaper business?

PAGE: Well, Sam Zell when he came in there were no other bidders. For the whole company, anyway. There were incremental bidders.

KURTZ: Sure.

PAGE: But yes, rough times. We knew when Zell made this purchase, more highly leveraged than any in history of its type, we knew there were a lot of risks involved. Unfortunately, those risks are starting to cave in now.

KURTZ: Let's here what Sam Zell had to say after the bankruptcy. Let's play that tape.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SAM ZELL, TRIBUNE OWNER: Under the circumstances, it was like a giant tsunami or perfect storm. And when you lose that kind of revenue, there's no way to overcome it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: And he talks about a perfect storm, but this guy, who knew nothing about the newspaper business beforehand, thought it was a good idea to buy a company in a deal that would load it down with $13 billion worth of debt.

SWEET: Even when he bought the company, the newspaper business was going in a downturn. The Chicago papers -- my paper was hit with its own scandals, with our -- you know, where that ended up costing us millions of dollars. The Tribune was laden with debt.

It just shows that there could have been a better -- you know, the business model somewhere is there, but both papers have this -- you know, had these management issues. But the Tribune brought it on themselves having this wonderful company with these newspapers, not understanding what it meant to have debt. And Sam Zell, who had been -- knew or should have known, as lawyers would say, what was going on.

KURTZ: Let me turn to John McCormick, because this deal was done under an employee ownership arrangement, with Sam Zell only putting up about $300 million of his own money. So the stock now not worth much for you employees. Is there some resentment about all of this?

MCCORMICK: There is no more stock. Clarence and I do not have stock in Tribune Company because there is no such thing anymore.

But, you know, Lynn just hit on a good point. This is -- we're told and I hope, this is all about debt restructuring. Every single properly owned by the Tribune Company is now making money, or so I was told the other night by someone who ought to know and is high enough up to know. Every single one.

So the question is, are we making enough money to push the debt? Lynn's right. Lynn went right to the heart of it.

KURTZ: All newspapers are struggling right now with this economic downturn, but the Tribune case seems to be unique because of all the debt.

HAYES: Yes. Well, certainly. And as you point out, I mean, this wasn't news to Sam Zell when he bought the Tribune Company.

KURTZ: Right.

HAYES: And everybody knew this and everybody knew the state of newspapers. So he's right that it's a perfect storm, but I think a lot of people predicted that something like this could happen.

SWEET: It's a perfect storm, but it was raining when he bought the paper.

PAGE: That's right.

KURTZ: I think that weather report will wrap it up for us. I didn't know you do weather, as well as news analysis.

All right.

John McCormick in Chicago...

HAYES: Thanks, Howie.

KURTZ: ... Clarence Page, Steve Hayes, Lynn Sweet, thanks very much for joining us this morning.

Coming up on the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, Jay's not walking. NBC moving Leno to prime time. Is this programming genius, or will the late-night funnyman get clobbered by the likes of "CSI?"

And later, "Nothing But the Truth," a new movie loosely based on the Judith Miller saga. We'll talk with writer and director Rod Lurie about his cinematic take on journalism.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY LENO, "THE TONIGHT SHOW": A lot of people were shocked when they heard. Not that I was moving to prime time, that NBC still had a prime time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: Love that rim shot.

In the annals of television program, this was one audacious move. Jay Leno looked ready to bolt NBC, which signed a deal five years ago to hand his coveted "Tonight Show" gig to its late-night man, Conan O'Brien. But this week, NBC boss Jeff Zucker dropping the bombshell, Leno will relaunch his show for NBC in prime time, an hour of topical comedy at 10:00, five nights a week.

Big savings for the network, and for Leno the chance to connect with viewers before they start dozing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LENO: When you work in late night television, you're always fighting sleep. The worst thing for us is 12:00 to 12:06 on all the networks because you have that long six-minute commercial and people just go, all right, enough already. And they turn off the TV and they go to bed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Love the outfit, Jay.

Joining us now to talk about the impact on the networks, from Los Angeles, Ray Richmond, entertainment and media columnist for "The Hollywood Reporter," and Sharon Waxman, former "New York Times" reporter who will serve as editor-in-chief of the soon-to-launch Web site "The Wrap News."

Ray Richmond, putting Leno on at 10:00, some people saying pretty clever move by NBC.

RAY RICHMOND, MEDIA COLUMNIST, "THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER": I think it's called (ph) a desperate move by NBC, Howard. You know, they basically -- it's $3 million, $3.5 million to produce an hour of prime time, maybe sometimes even $4 million and $5 million. This way with Leno, it's a cost-cutting move, they can do it for $200,000, $300,000 an hour. It also keeps him out of the hands of the competition, out of the hands of ABC and Fox. I don't know if it's clever so much as desperate, because you've got -- you have a network that already has looked like they're going to be going out of the 10:00 business. And this way they sort of can have their cake and eat it, too. They can go out of the 10:00 business but sort of be in it.

KURTZ: Right.

RICHMOND: But I can't imagine -- let's say you're on a date and you're out, and it's 9:45, and the guy says, "Oh, my god, it's almost 10:00. We've got to get home to see Leno." I think that's the end of that relationship.

(LAUGHTER)

KURTZ: Well, Sharon Waxman, I think that Ray hit on the essential point here, which is, without a deal, Jay would have been gone, toast, history, and probably gone to another network and kicked Conan's tuchus at 11:30.

SHARON WAXMAN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, WAXWORD.NET: Yes, well that was a strange situation where you had NBC having made a commitment to bring Conan in this next year, which means they're taking off the air the guy who wins in that timeslot for years. That's Jay Leno.

So this way they get to keep them. They get to have their cake and eat it, too.

I've got to say, I feel bad for Conan though, because for years now he's been waiting to kind of come into his own and finally be the guy, be the main event in late night, and not just be following Leno. And now here he is again just following Leno, except he's following him at 11:00 instead of 12:00.

KURTZ: Yes. Now he's mopping up.

RICHMOND: He's got a 60-year-old guy he's got to follow, too, in an 18-to-45-year-old demo world.

KURTZ: Well, but you made the point about you think it's a desperation move because it saves NBC a lot of money, but look, we're in an era when all the networks are cutting back and dramas are expensive, when you put on "CSI" and shows like that, $5 million just for an episode. You get, I don't know, 44 weeks a year out of Jay. You don't have to do mostly reruns.

So what exactly is wrong with that?

RICHMOND: There's nothing wrong with it from a fiscal standpoint, Howard. The problem with it is that you're putting on a guy who's going to be 60 years old by the time this thing kicks in next fall. He's completely out of the demographic that you're chasing, the 18 to 34 and the 18-to-39-year-old...

KURTZ: But wait, wait. You're committing ageism here. You're saying that because somebody is going to be 60 they couldn't possibly appeal to a 25-year-old viewer?

RICHMOND: No.

KURTZ: Come on.

RICHMOND: Of course they can, but that isn't the way Madison Avenue thinks. So...

WAXMAN: OK. That may be true, but honestly, the networks have long, long needed to shake things up in their prime time programming block.

They've been in this -- they've been in lockstep, lock sync for so many years. I actually think it's a really good move.

If it doesn't work, you can change it. But this idea that you can just keep doing the same thing, and as you watch your viewership go steadily down, down, down, down in the age of the Internet and TiVo and all of that is crazy.

And NBC is making huge cuts as a network generally. They're merging things. They're doing what they have to do to survive, which is what Jeff Zucker said last week, and I think that's absolutely right. Something bold like that is the kind of things that the networks should have been doing long ago, in my opinion.

RICHMOND: I agree with Sharon that bold is what's called for here. I just don't think that necessarily Jay is the one you want to be putting out there as bold. They should have kept him at 11:30. They should have never moved him. And I think this is almost an acknowledgment that they blew it.

KURTZ: Well, maybe you're right, that they...

WAXMAN: Well, yes, but that ship already sailed. I mean, they already made a commitment to Conan. So you want to see him on ABC? That was the problem.

KURTZ: Yes. I think the question is whether or not gags and skits and political satire is going to work 10:00 at night the way it does work at 11:30. We shall see.

All right. Now, this is definitely good news for "Nightline," which clearly, if Jay had jumped to ABC, would have been deep-sixed or probably would have certainly lost the 11:30 timeslot.

Would you agree with that, Ray?

RICHMOND: Oh, yes. There's no question "Nightline" would have gone away because, you know, they would have had Jay there. They would have replaced Jimmy or put Jimmy in a different timeslot, Jimmy Kimmel. There's no question that whatever tiny bit of intellectual discourse that occurs during that late night hour has been saved as a result of this, but it still may just be a short stay of execution.

KURTZ: And you know, "Nightline" has been doing pretty well, Sharon Waxman, in the post-Ted Koppel era, finishing number two many weeks. And now if it's up against Conan instead of Jay, more people might check it out. True?

WAXMAN: Yes. I think that's true. I mean, I'm just personally happy as one of the last bastions of good journalism on television. I'm glad it may indeed have another chance at survival in this timeslot.

KURTZ: All right. Want to get your take on a move that Fox News announced this week. We already knew that Alan Colmes was leaving "Hannity and Colmes." Now we hear that there won't be a new co-host. It will be Sean Hannity, it will be called "Hannity."

And the question I ask you, Sharon, only semi-facetiously, is with Colmes gone, will anyone notice?

WAXMAN: Yes, I think that's the question. I mean, at least the show will now be more pure to its true nature. You know?

Colmes was, for years, kind of a straw man and was often the butt of jokes all over the Internet, on standup, on Jon Stewart. They did a long takeoff on that on Jon Stewart the other night. So this just keeps it true to its true nature.

(CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: On the other hand, let me just point out, Ray Richmond, that Fox says that the show will have a panel that will include one liberal, another conservative, and what's called an x-factor guest.

RICHMOND: I think they could have replaced Colmes with a box that just said "Yes" repeatedly, and it would have had literally the same effect. Or a mannequin or a tackling dummy. You know, basically he was there to be a tiny, tiny blip on their partisan radar. You know, this is...

KURTZ: But at least he got a chance to question most of the guests -- Hannity would often get exclusives with the big GOP stars -- and provided some balance, which some would say will now largely be lost.

RICHMOND: Yes. I just can't -- the idea of Fox News and "balance" in the same sentence to me has always been a joke. Just like MSNBC and balance is now a joke.

WAXMAN: The more interesting thing to me is that Fox is sort of going full bore as an opponent to the new administration in Washington by keeping all the shows, the Bill O'Reillys, the Sean Hannitys, and renewing everybody's contracts and getting rid of Alan Colmes. I mean, that sends a very strong message as to what kind of posture they're going to take.

KURTZ: And this is something we'll keep an eye on in 2009.

All right. Sharon Waxman and Ray Richmond, thanks for joining us. RICHMOND: Thanks, Howard.

KURTZ: After the break, Judith Miller goes to jail protecting a source and a Hollywood director casts Kate Beckinsale in the role. We'll ask him about the new movie "Nothing But the Truth."

That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: The Judith Miller story always had a certain cinematic quality. An embattled "New York Times" reporter engaged in a titanic test of wills against special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, refusing to testify against her confidential source, White House aide Scooter Libby, in the probe of who outed CIA operative Valerie Plame. And finally, spending 85 days in jail for working out a deal to take the witness stand.

Well, now it's a movie of sorts, with Kate Beckinsale playing the Miller character and Alan Alda as her lawyer. It's called "Nothing But the Truth," and in one scene that we'll see here, the prosecutor, played by Matt Dillon, meets informally with the reporter to tell her he's going to haul her right into court.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH")

MATT DILLON, ACTOR: Your source is in a great deal of trouble.

KATE BECKINSALE, ACTRESS: I have no intention of discussing my source.

DILLON: Hey, hold on. I'm doing (ph) the yadda-yadda. Remember?

BECKINSALE: OK.

DILLON: OK. Look, you're going to be asked to appear before a grand jury. You're going to be asked to identify your source. I'll be doing the asking. Now, if for some reason you don't reveal your source, you'll be held in contempt, and that means jail time.

Well, that's all I've got to say. You'll be notified of the court date.

BECKINSALE: I'm afraid I'm going to disappoint you, Mr. Dubois (ph).

DILLON: That's not possible.

(END VIDEO CLIP, "NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH")

KURTZ: Rod Lurie wrote and directed the film. And I spoke to him earlier from New York.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: Rod Lurie, welcome.

ROD LURIE, FILMMAKER: Thank you very much, Howard.

KURTZ: Now, your film is based on the Judith Miller saga, but not entirely. Miller, for example...

LURIE: Right.

KURTZ: ... never wrote a story about Valerie Plame. That would have been Robert Novak. And the Supreme Court never heard her appeal when she was trying to stay out of jail.

So why did you try to go in a more fictional direction?

LURIE: You know, in fact, Howard, the entire premise actually began when I was on a show called "Commander-in-Chief." I was the creator of that show, and I wanted to do a story -- if you'll recall, that was a show in which Geena Davis played the first female president of the United States.

KURTZ: I recall it well.

LURIE: And anyway, I had this idea. A guy writes a book, a journalist writes a book, has sensitive information about the president in it. They try to get his source, he is thrown into jail.

And the twist was that Geena was going to let him -- was going to pardon him and say that in this country, we do not jail our journalists. That was going to be sort of the idealistic approach that the show took.

Anyway, I got thrown off that show. They brought in another man to try to run the show.

KURTZ: So you're just salvaging your idea here.

LURIE: Well, what he did, actually, was take a -- he took a blowtorch to every idea that I had, including that one. I really wanted him to do it.

And it was about that time that Ms. Miller was thrown into jail, and I really wasn't following her story too closely. And I certainly was not following the saga of Valerie Plame. I just loved the concept, the setup, that you've got a female journalist going into jail to protect a source.

KURTZ: Let me just stop you there. I mean, Kate Beckinsale had lunch with Judy Miller. What I'm trying to understand is, is this based on her story, is this kind of a Judy Miller story?

LURIE: It's not based on it. You know, and you've seen the film and you know that it really deviates pretty wildly at several points of the story.

Kate met with Judith Miller after -- you know, she was hired long after the screenplay was written. And she met with her not to get her story, but just to get her take on being a journalist for an important newspaper in jail and, what did you do, how did the women treat her, that sort of thing. It wasn't really about trying to be Judith Miller at all.

KURTZ: Right. But yet you've been quoted as saying that you're concerned that some of the animosity toward Judy Miller might boomerang onto this movie.

LURIE: Well, that for sure is true. You know, I've got to tell you, Howard, something that I never really realized, and that is the extent of animosity that there seems to be for Judith Miller in New York.

You know, we had a screening in New York not long ago and, in fact, Ms. Miller was invited to attend. And I started reading blogs after the fact. And it's from sort of the inner circle of journalists in New York City. And really, the vitriol towards her is like nothing that I've ever read toward another member -- toward a fellow journalist.

KURTZ: Right. Some of that has more to do with her prewar reporting in Iraq, as opposed to the whole CIA investigation that she got caught up in.

But let me ask you this -- in this movie -- OK, we've stipulated it is not Judy Miller.

LURIE: Right.

KURTZ: It is a female journalist played by Kate Beckinsale.

LURIE: Yes.

KURTZ: Is she an unabashed heroine who, after all, went to jail to protect a confidential source, or is she more ambiguous because she did, after all, out an undercover CIA operative?

LURIE: Well, I think that the ambiguities in the film are what make it rather special. And Kate Beckinsale, who is rather extraordinary in the film -- she just got nominated the other day...

KURTZ: Nominated for?

LURIE: For the Broadcast Film Critics Awards, which were just announced here.

And in any case, she plays it with a wonderful sort of ambiguity. You know, in the beginning of the movie she talks about the story, and she even says something to the effect of, this is really going to bring him down. Now, no journalist should be speaking like that, certainly not in public and certainly not in a staff meeting, but she does. And she shows that she has a lot of ambition. And there are other ambiguities and other shadings.

Certainly, you know, she has a very strong moral conviction that the government should not be in the business of throwing journalists into jail for protecting their sources. And the movie is a bit of a call for the federal shield law, which is obviously still pending.

KURTZ: Right. Now, there is a scene where the Kate character is interviewed by a big shot celebrity TV interviewer. And before that, Kate, while still in jail, is asked whether she would agree to such an interview.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH")

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We just need to get you out in front again. And for what it's worth, Molly Meyers (ph) will get the eyeballs on you.

So?

BECKINSALE: OK. But it's got to be live. She's not going to edit me and do a doddering idiot.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Absolutely.

BECKINSALE: And I'm not (EXPLETIVE DELETED) crying either.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What about your son, Timothy? When was the last time you saw him?

BECKINSALE: It's been a long time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How long?

BECKINSALE: He came to see me when I was first brought here, but I've asked that he not visit me in this place.

(END VIDEO CLIP, "NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH")

KURTZ: Now, in watching that, I've got to ask you, it sounds like you're not necessarily the biggest fan of television news.

LURIE: Oh, I would say that that's not necessarily correct. I'm not a fan of certain kinds of television news.

KURTZ: Such as?

LURIE: Well, you know, sort of the more partisan news shows, the ones that call themselves news shows but, in fact, they are really opinion shows. And -- but in the case of this particular film, she's more of a celebrity interviewer, the woman that is coming in. But she is the person that can get the most viewers because she's the most famous. And because she is a celebrity interviewer, the interview may not really take the context of a hard news piece.

KURTZ: Right. In fact, she seems more concerned with getting her subject to cry than necessarily getting...

LURIE: Exactly.

KURTZ: ... at the underlying, complex issues in the case.

LURIE: Right. Right. Right.

KURTZ: Now, maybe it was a bit of an inside joke, but you have some clips of Dan Abrams on MSNBC talking about the case.

LURIE: Right.

KURTZ: And his father, Floyd Abrams, the New York lawyer who actually represented Judith Miller and "The New York Times" during that long battle in the Plame case...

LURIE: And is in the movie.

KURTZ: ... is the judge.

LURIE: And he's in the movie.

KURTZ: Why did you cast him as the judge? He's not a movie star.

LURIE: Yes, but that's perfect, don't you see? I mean, didn't he come across as very credible to you?

KURTZ: He seemed like he knew how jurists act on the bench.

LURIE: Well, that's what you need more than anything else. You know, Sidney Lumet loves to fill his movies with nonprofessional actors, and the impact (ph) with people who are experts in their field that they're playing on the screen. And it turns out great, and I thought that Floyd did an absolutely great job.

KURTZ: Now Rod, you're a former "New York Daily News" guy. You filmed some of the scenes at the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

LURIE: Right.

KURTZ: How much did you draw on your newspaper background in writing this screenplay?

LURIE: Well, in writing the screenplay, you know, I drew as much as I possibly could. And really, Howard, most of the experience came in how I directed the actors.

You know, for Kate, I was able to sort of be a technical adviser on how reporters behave. You know, small things, Howard, that you probably would recognize.

You know, most reporters I know, when they pick up a phone, they also pick up a pen at the same time, regardless of who they know or do not know is going to be on the other side, because they don't know if something important is going to be said to them. And it was tiny tics like that that I was able to give to Kate and to the other people playing reporters in this film and other films that I've done.

KURTZ: I've got my pen right here. I never let go of it.

LURIE: You see? KURTZ: All right. Rod Lurie, thanks for giving us "Nothing but the Truth."

LURIE: Thank you very much.

KURTZ: Appreciate it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: The film is going into limited distribution, will open across the country in January.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: I'm making a list of people I never want to hear from again. I've had enough of Joe the Plumber, Britney Spears, Larry Craig, Eliot Spitzer and Ashley Dupre. And high on the list, Jeremiah Wright.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ (voice-over): Barack Obama's former pastor kept a pretty low profile after a videotape of his hate-filled sermons badly damaged the Illinois senator during the Democratic primaries. You remember the media firestorm.

BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: Fox News has obtained portions of Reverend Wright's sermons that are anti-American, to say the least.

KURTZ: But apparently, Wright has been seething over his treatment by the media, and from the pulpit last Sunday he let loose.

REV. JEREMIAH WRIGHT, FMR. PASTOR, TRINITY UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST: Jesus said upon this rock, "I will build" -- listen to the promise -- "my church, and the gates of hell" -- listen to the promise -- "the gates of hell." Neither ABC nor CNN. The gates of hell!

Neither Hannity nor O'Reilly. The gates of hell!

Neither "TIME" magazine, "Chicago Sun-Times," "Chicago Tribune" -- the gates of hell shall not prevail against it! Nothing will be impossible with God!

KURTZ: At that point it was a safe bet that the folks at Fox who gave the reverend so much attention during the campaign would strike back.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: Well, Reverend Wright attacking me again.

O'REILLY: Should I have run that at all? Does the man mean anything anymore?

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS: I think he loves this. I mean, he's the one who said G. D. America and said all the horrible things about people. I mean, he's so full of hate, and now he's playing the big victim.

KURTZ: Wright's rant also drew a response from the woman he called "the dizzy broad" from "The View."

ELISABETH HASSELBECK, "THE VIEW": He, by choosing though words, in my opinion, pretty much proves my point that I've been making about him this entire time. I mean, to call someone who simply disagrees with you a dumb broad is not only archaic but sexist.

KURTZ: But here's who didn't cover Wright's fulminations -- CNN, MSNBC, the network newscasts, most major newspapers. "The Chicago Tribune" and "Chicago Sun-Times" ran modest stories inside the paper on their local preacher.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: And that's just fine with me. Wright's 20-year relationship with Obama was absolutely a legitimate story during the campaign, but the president-elect has long since severed ties with the excitable reverend, who is free to keep delivering diatribes against detractors. That doesn't mean we in the media need to give him a megaphone.

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

Thanks for watching.

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