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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Larry King to End LKL This Fall; Kagan Hearings Coverage Examined
Aired July 4, 2010 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: I found out an hour and a half before Larry King told his viewers that he is calling it quits as a CNN host. I wanted to know, was it the ratings, the problems in his marriage? Was it his decision?
I got a chance to ask Larry, and today we'll explore that decision, how he changed television, the impact on CNN, and whether that kind of celebrity talk show can survive. It's a debate that cuts to the heart of what journalists do or fail to do.
Rolling Stone's Michael Hastings told me last week that beat reporters give top generals an easy ride. CBS's Lara Logan told me that was arrogant and sided with General McChrystal. This morning, we'll examine the fine line between cultivating sources and protecting them.
Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan was grilled this week in Senate confirmation hearings. And what's that? You didn't catch the hearings? Could that be because cable news largely blew them off? We'll ask the Web's top court watcher about that.
Dave Weigel resigned as a "Washington Post" blogger after leaked e-mails showed him talking trash. Pretty ugly trash about conservatives. Did he deserve to lose his job? We'll ask him.
Plus, Buzz Bissinger is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author. So why the blank is he dropping f-bombs on Twitter?
I'm Howard Kurtz, and this is RELIABLE SOURCES.
KURTZ: At the outset, 25 years ago, it looked like what it was -- a radio show put on the TV. The host sat there with an oversized mike and chatted with guests and took calls from viewers. But "LARRY KING LIVE" blossomed into a phenomenon that changed the nature of cable television.
In recent years, the press has turned negative as declining ratings prompted critics to question whether the program was a relic. But whatever you think of Larry, you've got to say this: from coaxing Ross Perot into a White House bid, to chatting up Monica Lewinsky, to sparring with beauty queen Carrie Prejean, the man's had one heck of a run. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": This is the premier edition of "LARRY KING LIVE".
ROSS PEROT, PREVIOUS PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm saying all these nice people that have written me, and the letters fill cases. You know, if you're dead serious, then I want to --
KING: Start committees --
PEROT: -- I want to see some sweat.
KING: -- in Florida, Georgia --
I understand we're going to go to a live picture in Los Angeles. Police radio is saying that Simpson, the passenger in the car, has a gun at his head.
(singing): I can't refuse, Marlon.
MARLON BRANDO, ACTOR: Good-bye.
KING: The attraction was first. It was not who it was, it was it.
MONICA LEWINSKY, FMR. WHITE HOUSE INTERN: It was that --
KING: It was what it was.
LEWINSKY: It was that chemistry. And was the fact that he was president part of that chemistry? I don't know.
CARRIE PREJEAN, FMR. MISS AMERICA CONTESTANT: You're being inappropriate.
KING: All right.
PREJEAN: You're being inappropriate.
KING: "Inappropriate King Live" continues.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: This week, the 76-year-old broadcaster announced that he's giving up the host chair sometime this fall.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KING: I'm incredibly proud that we recently made the "Guinness Book of World Records" for having the longest-running show with the same host in the same time slot on the same network. With that chapter closing, I'm looking forward to the future, what my next chapter will bring. But for now, for here, it's time to hang up the nightly suspenders.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Was it time for him to go or did King stay on too long?
Joining us now to examine his career, his legacy and how CNN will replace him, here in Washington, Tammy Haddad, president of Haddad Media and the former exclusive producer and one of the creators of "LARRY KING LIVE"; David Zurawik, television and media critic for "The Baltimore Sun." And in Los Angeles, Lisa Bloom, founder of the Bloom Law Firm and a CNN legal analyst.
Tammy Haddad, you were Larry's first executive producer. How did he make the transition from nice guy, non-threatening host, to nice guy, non-threatening interviewer of presidents and White House candidates?
TAMMY HADDAD, FMR. EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, "LARRY KING LIVE": Well, I don't view him as that non-threatening. Just because his attitude and demeanor wasn't threatening, it didn't mean that he didn't get the story out, and he didn't talk to people and get something out of them that wasn't out there before.
You know, it's all how you look at it. Let's go back to what was going on at the time.
Cable news was young. The idea that people would come on shows, other than on Sunday mornings, to talk about real issues, it just didn't exist. I mean, people weren't coming on TV in prime time -- congressmen, senators.
What Larry did is he made that all palatable, because he was a friend and he was everyman.
KURTZ: And people forget now how revolutionary that seemed at the time.
All right, Hollywood, California, hello.
Lisa Bloom, the show had a weird alchemy. I mean, just on the anniversary week, he talks to President Obama one night and Lady Gaga another night.
LISA BLOOM, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, Howie, you're being inappropriate, OK? You're being inappropriate.
BLOOM: That was probably my favorite moment of all time.
Look, I've been a guest on Larry King's show many times. I've guest-hosted for him and I've talked to him here in the makeup room at CNN LA any times over the last year. I mean, he's just genuinely a nice guy. He's kind of the nebbishy Jewish guy from Brooklyn who never got pretentious, who never got full of himself, unlike so many others on cable news. And I think that was his strength.
He intentionally asked very short, simple questions because the show was about his guests, it wasn't about him. And don't forget, he's not just a star in here, in the United States, but internationally.
"LARRY KING LIVE" is on all over the world. I've watched him in Shanghai. I've watched him in Nicaragua, in Morocco. I mean, he's a gigantic presence all over the world.
KURTZ: No question about that.
As the television historian here, David Zurawik, how important was Larry King to the whole talk show culture? And did that culture ultimately pass him by?
DAVID ZURAWIK, "THE BALTIMORE SUN": Well, you know, first of all, I don't think it passed him by. Let me take that part of it. In terms of presence, just, on-air presence, which is rough when you're that age, the Carrie Prejean --
KURTZ: It's rough when you're this age.
ZURAWIK: It is for me, too. But the way he handled that inappropriate stuff, I thought he handled -- it was one of his finest moments. I thought he handled it with such class and such command. I really liked him at that moment.
KURTZ: Give us the larger picture.
ZURAWIK: Well, she said his comments were inappropriate and --
KURTZ: No, no, no. But talk about his place in history.
ZURAWIK: No, no, no, no. But in terms of history, Howie, you have to go all the way back, I think, to Walter Winchell and when print started to move into radio.
That's where Larry reached back to. That's where, really, that sort of three-dot column was his style. I think it was even his persona.
So he makes print into radio. He makes radio into TV. He does TV into cable TV. That is an amazing range for him to do.
Now, did he do as well coming into this new age of media? Maybe not. But that's a long, long run.
KURTZ: We'll come back to that. But I still feel that the idea that, you know, now, the president and vice president goes on "The Daily Show," nobody bats an eye. It was controversial in 1992 for Bill Clinton to go play the saxophone on "Arsenio Hall" and all of that.
KURTZ: Now, Larry King is going to continue and do specials here at CNN, Tammy Haddad. He told me he was not leaving because of the ratings, which have dropped severely over the last year; not leaving because of the problems with his wife, Sean Southwick -- they had separated, they're now reconciled.
But, look, it's hard to imagine he'd be walking away if he were number one in that timeslot.
HADDAD: Well, I think that's right. And I think that CNN has not created an atmosphere now that appeals or is favorable to his kind of interviewing style. And they've -- you know, they're looking more at hard news.
I mean, Jon Klein has been on the show and talked about what he's looking for, for CNN. And I'll tell you something else. I think that Larry has a place. He's got to do a lot of great interviews for CNN and other people.
And other people are going to come after him, because what people forget is anyone can do this one day. Anyone can talk to Lisa. But what they can't do is, every single day, make news, talk to people, engage them, and bring people into the process. It's a different kind of thing.
KURTZ: Oh, Lisa knows this because she hosted a daily talk show, or an interview show on Court TV for years.
But now he not only has to compete, Lisa Bloom, against Fox's Sean Hannity, but against MSNBC's Rachel Maddow. The competition has gotten a lot tougher.
BLOOM: Well, I think Larry has competed with them by not competing. It's not a news show, it's a talk show.
He's had celebrities -- Lady Gaga, you know, and presidents. It's a different kind of show. It's a minimalist show. And I don't think the problem is the competition. I think perhaps he's just losing the audience for that kind of a show.
It's not flashy. It's minimalist. He actually lets his guests talk. You know his motto, which I've always tried to take to heart myself when interviewing people, is, I never learned anything when I was talking.
I mean, can you imagine even Keith Olbermann or Bill O'Reilly having a motto like that?
HADDAD: But, wait. But, Howie, we should bring up one other point, because Larry's show, like any show, doesn't occur in a vacuum. It's the show before it, what the numbers are getting. It's the show before that.
It's just like when I was at MSNBC with "Hardball." If our -- if the audience before us declined, if that show declined 50 percent, it's going to hurt you. So he's not operating alone.
KURTZ: So you're saying that CNN's other problems in prime time also undermine, to some extent, Larry King's ratings.
David Zurawik, we're in a hyper-partisan era now. And did people's expectations of what they want from TV change from 1985 -- in 1985, CNN was it. There was no other cable news network. But people now like more aggressive, more controversial interviews.
ZURAWIK: You know, Howie, I don't know -- I think they do. But I don't know if it's only the partisan nature of what's changed. It's our sense of attention, the whole culture, our sense of celebrity.
Once upon -- even in '80, you could interview a Broadway star three weeks after he opened, and it would still be news. Now it's so fast, that two hours after the opening, it's been Twittered to death, you know, and there's nothing left. That's changed.
The other thing I think we have to look at with King's ratings -- and Tammy is absolutely right. And Tammy also knows this as well as anybody. I think CNN and maybe the people producing that show have to look at the last year, the last couple of years of, were they off the news end and as on it as they had to be?
You know, I think back to something like "Nightline" with Ted Koppel, where every night they were right off with whatever was happening in news. They needed to get that show a little better in its bookings, I think. I really --
KURTZ: And "Nightline" is doing well now. Yes, but you had Larry King talking to Mick Jagger on one of the primary --
KURTZ: -- nights, when people probably wanted politics.
KURTZ: Tammy, can this format, which I think of as an old- fashioned variety show -- a little bit of this, a little bit of that --
KURTZ: -- can it survive without Larry King?
HADDAD: Well, I think it's going to be very tough. I mean, I've read the names of candidates.
Do you want to reveal who is going to go in there today? KURTZ: Well, I mean, I --
HADDAD: I just want to know.
KURTZ: -- don't have any inside information, but, look, a lot of people have said that Piers Morgan -- a lot of people know he's a judge on "America's Got Talent" -- has got the inside track. Larry was --
BLOOM: How about Howie Kurtz?
KURTZ: Larry --
HADDAD: Howie Kurtz --
KURTZ: Are you nominating me?
HADDAD: Lisa, that's what I'm saying.
BLOOM: Howie Kurtz.
HADDAD: I worked with him at "The Washington Post" --
BLOOM: I second my own motion.
HADDAD: That's right. That's right.
KURTZ: I'm from Brooklyn, and that should be the first requirement.
BLOOM: That's right. Perfect.
HADDAD: Well, Piers -- but to specific people, Piers Morgan, who most of Americans know from that show, has a long history of interviewing in the U.K. He actually had the historic interview of this last election of the new British prime minister. He interviewed Sarah and Gordon Brown, the prime minister who lost, and had an interview that, not unlike Larry King with Ross Perot, really took you inside the political process.
And so, I would guess that CNN looked at that, looked at the interview and said, well, wait a minute, this is -- he's likeable, like Larry, he's someone that's comfortable at night. By the way, I think you're all wrong about switching the guests around at 9:00. The key to "LARRY KING LIVE" was you would look at 9:00 to see what it was.
I agree that politics probably worked better for them, and that they've moved, maybe, to softer. I don't know. That was their call.
KURTZ: I've got to jump in. We're short on time.
Lisa Bloom, we're talking about the CNN brand. What do you make of the decision to hire the former governor of New York, the resigned governor of New York, Eliot Spitzer, for the 8:00 p.m. Eastern show? BLOOM: I don't like it, Howie. I think it's a slap in the face to women, frankly.
This is a man who made a career as a prosecutor, going after prostitution rings, and then was caught in a call girl scandal himself. I think that's the height of hypocrisy.
With all the terrific journalists out there, with all the fantastic hosts they could have chosen, I don't think that was a good choice. And I think a lot of women I've talked to, specifically, find this really offensive. Also, don't forget about having his wife standing next to him with that "Stepford Wife" gaze when he resigned. I mean --
KURTZ: All right --
HADDAD: I think he's got some explaining to do.
KURTZ: Zurawik is going to get the last word here.
If they hire one of these talent show guys for the new Larry King --
KURTZ: -- Piers Morgan, right, what does that do to your perception of CNN as a new network?
ZURAWIK: It doesn't -- I mean, as you said last week on the Spitzer question, it doesn't feel like CNN to me. And it really worries me.
Listen, this is a crucial time for CNN. It's reinventing prime time. And that might sound like a small thing, but it's really reinventing its image in a way. And if they get it wrong with this 9:00 show, it's going to be big trouble for them. And we'll --
KURTZ: And something tells me if they get it wrong, you'll be back to tell us about that, and you're not going to pull any punches.
David Zurawik, Lisa Bloom, Tammy Haddad, thanks very much for joining us.
BLOOM: Thank you.
KURTZ: When we come back, hearings? What hearings? Elena Kagan faces the Senate, and television is supremely bored.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: The biggest hint that the Elena Kagan confirmation hearings weren't big news came from the one sound bite that television played again and again. It had nothing to do with military recruiting or abortion or civil rights.
Here -- take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: No, I just asked you where you were at on Christmas.
ELENA KAGAN, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: You know, like all Jews, I was probably at a Chinese restaurant.
GRAHAM: Great answer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: But the cable news networks quickly grew bored with the Supreme Court confirmation. By the first afternoon of questioning, we were hearing more from Chris Matthews, Bret Baier, and John King and Candy Crowley, and their assorted pundits, than from Kagan, who mainly provided a visual backdrop. By the second day, the cable channels had almost totally checked out.
Joining us now to talk about the coverage, Tom Goldstein, a Washington lawyer and the founder and publisher of SCOTUSblog.com.
So, how is it that a lifetime appointment to the nation's highest court barely drew cable news coverage this week?
TOM GOLDSTEIN, FOUNDER & PUBLISHER, SCOTUSBLOG.COM: Well, interest in Supreme Court confirmation hearings seems to be going down rather than up, even though the importance of the Supreme Court seems to be growing. The deal is, I think that people like process. They can wrap their hands around process. And when Democrats control the Senate and there's no chance of her being blocked, and she's not incredibly controversial, people go, I guess I'll go onto something else.
KURTZ: I was embarrassed that there was less coverage on cable of this confirmation hearing than the "Balloon Boy." And, in fact, less coverage than of all the speculation about who President Obama would pick before he picked Elena Kagan.
Are legal arguments just not well suited to television?
GOLDSTEIN: Well, actually, I think they are. The senators, I actually think, did a good job this time trying to put front and center a lot of the big questions the Supreme Court confronts -- how her vote could be important to them. So if people did tune in, I actually, for the first time in a long time, think that they could have learned something.
KURTZ: Well, but if they did tune in to MSNBC or CNN or Fox News --
KURTZ: -- they mostly would have seen pundits talking about the testimony instead of showing the testimony.
KURTZ: On the one hand, PBS, which you work with, and C-SPAN actually carried the back and forth.
There seems to -- contrary to what you just said, there seems to be a media consensus that this was a "vapid and hollow charade," to use Elena Kagan's words from 15 years ago, about the Supreme Court confirmation process.
Did you find important signs of her judicial philosophy?
GOLDSTEIN: Well, I wouldn't say that it was a vapid charade. Neither would I say it was like the greatest constitutional law class ever that was the most accessible.
I do think we learned some things about her. I do think you came away with the sense that she's on the center-left. And also, even if you didn't learn about her, you could have learned about the law.
I thought the Republicans actually did a great job -- Senator Sessions, for example, Senator Kyl, Senator Graham -- in talking about why they thought a conservative approach to the law was right. And the country deserves to hear about that.
KURTZ: The reason we didn't learn more, of course, is that like every nominee these days, she was being cautious -- "I can't discuss that. This could be possible case."
KURTZ: But she did provide some answers.
GOLDSTEIN: Some. That's right. She didn't shut it down.
KURTZ: So, why this disconnect between -- all right, you know, you're a lawyer, you're probably more interested in this stuff than the average person -- this disconnect between the substance of the topics that they covered, which include some pretty important topics in this country --
KURTZ: -- and this sort of giant collective yawn we heard from the media establishment, which wanted, I guess, fireworks?
GOLDSTEIN: It wants fireworks. That's the problem. And cable news has so many great values, but it really does thrive on the prospect of an explosion. And there really wasn't a prospect of an explosion here.
We'll just start with the fact that there are 12 Democrats and only seven Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee. They were just completely outgunned in that respect. And, also, to be honest, the senators aren't great about focusing on a line of questioning.
So, if your expectations are really high, they're going to be dashed. But it is a -- I came away this time thinking, for the first time in a while, that it was a valuable part of the process.
KURTZ: Tell me one important thing you learned about Elena Kagan's approach to the law that was either ignored or minimized by the media.
GOLDSTEIN: Well, for example, she did talk about abortion in a way that I think got completely glossed over. And it's a huge issue for a lot of Americans.
Elena Kagan said something very specific. She said that she believes the law requires -- when there's an abortion restriction -- to be an exception for the health or life of the mother. And that's not something she had ever talked about going in there or ever written about. And there are dozens of examples like that, where you can come away understanding more about her.
KURTZ: And she was questioned about memos she wrote in the Clinton White House about partial-birth abortion.
GOLDSTEIN: Partial-birth abortion.
KURTZ: And so that would seem to be the stuff of major headlines.
GOLDSTEIN: Well, that's certainly what the conservatives would have wanted. You know, this is a little bit of a game, where conservatives are trying to get their base, get their constituencies to be worried, concerned, leading into the midterm elections. And Democrats and the administration are saying there's not much to see here. So, it's a battle for framing the debate.
KURTZ: I've got half a minute.
Would the hearings have been different in terms of the media coverage had there been some sort of smoking gun phrase like "wise Latina," Sonia Sotomayor, that Elena Kagan uttered either this week or at some time in her life?
GOLDSTEIN: Yes. And there could have been the Perry Mason moment at the hearings where we could have seen her attacked or, you know, questioned on those issues. And there was none of the setup like that.
It was always clear from day one that she was going to be confirmed. Really, only the Democrats were going to vote for her, given the political environment. And given that, there wasn't much mystery.
KURTZ: The media loves suspense.
Tom Goldstein of SCOTUSblog.
Thanks very much for joining us.
GOLDSTEIN: Thank you.
KURTZ: Coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, are embedded reporters in bed with top military officials? We'll go behind the heated debate kicked off by that "Rolling Stone" article with former Pentagon correspondents Fred Francis and Jamie McIntyre.
Blogger Dave Weigel lost his job at "The Washington Post" after his trash talk about conservatives was leaked. We'll ask him what he was thinking.
Plus, Vanity Fair's Buzz Bissinger on why he's savaging (ph) his critics and lots of other folks on Twitter.
KURTZ: It's the same question whether you're covering City Hall, the State House, the White House, or a war halfway around the world: can a beat reporter be aggressive when having to deal with the same sources week after week, or do you invariably come to identify with them, even protect them?
The question was underscored on last week's program when I talked to Michael Hastings about his "Rolling Stone" article, the one that got General Stanley McChrystal fired, and got a very different view from CBS' Lara Logan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL HASTINGS, CONTRIBUTOR, "ROLLING STONE" MAGAZINE: This is actually an interesting journalistic point. There's a reason why when General McChrystal took the job, everyone writes a glowing profile of him, because then that assures access later on.
LARA LOGAN, CBS NEWS: He talked about his manner is pretending to build an illusion of trust and his -- you know, he's laid out there what his game is. That is exactly the kind of damaging type of attitude that makes it difficult for reporters who are genuine about what they do. I think that's insulting and arrogant, myself.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So how does a journalist strike the right balance, especially in a war zone? Joining us now, Jamie McIntyre, former senior Pentagon correspondent for CNN, who now blogs on military and media issues at lineofdeparture.com.
And in Kansas City, Fred Francis, former NBC Pentagon and national security correspondent who now helps teach military officials, among others, how to deal with the media.
Jamie McIntyre, you write that there's a dirty little secret among beat reporters who routinely travel with top military officials, an unwritten code.
What is it?
JAMIE MCINTYRE, LINEOFDEPARTURE.COM: Well, generally speaking -- you know, the standard position for most reporters in most situations is everything is on the record, including what we're saying now, unless we specify otherwise. That kind of flips when you're traveling in the actual inner circle of senior officials, where the general rule of thumb is most of the stuff that goes on, and particularly after hours in social situations, is off the record unless you specify that you want to put it on the record. And that's what I think surprised a lot of people about Michael Hastings' article, was that he seemed to be able to waive all those ground rules.
KURTZ: Well, he insists that there were no off-the-record ground rules.
But let me go to Fred Francis.
Have you -- in your reporting days, when you were at the Pentagon, when you were in war zones, did you let things go unreported because of any kind of understanding you had with the brass?
FRED FRANCIS, FORMER NBC PENTAGON AND NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Sure. And it's an unwritten understanding. It's an unspoken understanding.
If you're a beat reporter, you need to have things go unwritten, unreported, because you want access. You want access for your audience. It informs your reporting in the long term if a general officer -- there's a gaffe or he says something that is impolitic, you let that go as a beat reporter, because you're there for years and years.
You know, you're not a lap dog. You're not an attack dog. You're a watchdog. And that's what makes you an effective journalist.
So, yes, you know, Jamie is right, you do let some things go. But it's for the greater good.
KURTZ: But in letting things go -- and I'll come back to Jamie -- Michael Hastings, for example, says that people like you, your colleagues who now do this full time, are protecting these guys.
MCINTYRE: Well, you know, there's a -- you know, first of all, what I tell a lot of these people is, you know, there's this idea that if it's off the record, you're never going to ever report it. That's just not true.
And the senior commanders and these officials, they know that. They know there's things that they can't even say off the record, because if it's good enough, it's going to get reported.
I mean, I can think of a hundred examples of egregious things that could happen in an off-the-record situation that I would be bound, as a reporter, to report. But in those cases, I go back to my source, I say, look, I can't ignore this. I'm going to have to report it, or I'm going to have to confirm it somewhere else.
And there may be a price to pay for that. That person may not deal with me.
FRANCIS:. Well, I disagree.
MCINTYRE: Go ahead.
FRANCIS:. I disagree. I disagree with Jamie there.
I know what he's talking about. You know, sometimes if a general officer or a senior official says something that's so outrageous, so egregious, that you have to go back and say, "I know that was off the record, but I'm going to report it anyway and I'll pay the price down the road," I disagree with Jamie.
Once you say it's off the record, it is off the record. That's the rule. Unwritten, written, it's off the record.
And that's what makes you a valuable reporter. And it's not just at the Pentagon, it's at the Justice Department, it's at the Senate, and it's certainly at the White House. And it's certainly at "The Washington Post," Howie. And you know what.
MCINTYRE: Well, you know, again, I could come up with a scenario -- let's say you -- let's say you're in an off-the-record situation and you witness a war crime.
FRANCIS: That's illegal. That's different. That's breaking the law.
MCINTYRE: OK. So, Fred, it's just -- there's the illegal conception. I would point out that making contemptuous remarks about the commander-in-chief is illegal in the US military --
KURTZ: Well --
MCINTYRE: -- it's a violation of --
FRANCIS: Under the USA -- MCINTYRE: -- military code.
FRANCIS: Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice it's illegal. But it's -- we're talking about breaking the law. Listen --
KURTZ: Let me jump in, because I want to move this slightly. And let me also just say, speaking for myself, if somebody tells me something off the record, I absolutely, positively can't use it. But I can go talk to 10 other people and try to get somebody to say it on the record, or on background, or in some form that I can get it into the newspaper.
Jamie McIntyre, you took on Lara Logan on your blog about her appearance on this program. And you said that she had grievously wounded the press corps with misaimed friendly fire. You went on to say that, "Logan had reinforced the stereotype of embed reporters who are in bed with senior military officials."
But I don't see that much difference between you're telling me there's an unwritten code and her saying there's an unspoken agreement not to report everything you see in a war zone.
MCINTYRE: Well, she's right about that. And in my blog, I said she was right about a number of things in that interview. But what -- the most damaging thing she said was when she made the comment disparaging Michael Hastings by referring to the fact that he hadn't served his country the way the military did. The problem with that comment --
KURTZ: I didn't agree with that either.
MCINTYRE: The problem with that comment is -- and I appreciate the sentiment of appreciating the sacrifice of people in the military. Anybody who covers the military gets that. But it feeds this perception -- that comment fed this perception that we're more interested in protecting the members of the military than pursuing aggressive journalism.
And in that sense, it was very --
KURTZ: Yes, that's --
MCINTYRE: -- a very damaging comment to make.
KURTZ: Nor do you have to have served in the military to be --
MCINTYRE: Absolutely not.
KURTZ: -- a fair and effective journalist in a war situation.
MCINTYRE: Right. I mean, it was just a really bad argument to advance. And, again, it just fed that negative perception.
KURTZ: Go ahead, Fred. FRANCIS: Now, listen, Howard, you know, at my company, 15- Seconds, we teach our clients -- many of them general officers -- never, ever go off the record unless you're with a reporter that you have a longstanding relationship with. Never, ever do an interview with a reporter that you don't know that reporter's background. Do the research.
And never, ever do an interview that's longer than 20 or 30 minutes. If you let me root around in your head for a couple of hours, a couple of days, you're not going to remember what you told me.
KURTZ: And especially if there's --
FRANCIS: What I'm saying, Howard, is General McChrystal, this was entirely his fault, regardless of what Hastings -- and I disagree with many of the things Michael Hastings said or did.
KURTZ: OK. But nobody is letting McChrystal off the hook. Clearly, he -- who knows what he was thinking in allowing all of that kind of access night and day?
But here's the question. The argument, Fred, is that Michael Hastings is this freelancer. He's not a member of the club. He comes along, and if he didn't violate off-the-record restrictions, which he says he didn't, he blew the whistle on General McChrystal in a way that none of the beat reporters would.
FRANCIS: And I agree that that's what he did. And I agree that he did the right thing. You know, I mean, if they're going to allow somebody from the outside, especially somebody with his background and from a publication like the "Rolling Stone" to hang around a military headquarters for that long, you know, they deserve what they get.
MCINTYRE: And the other thing is --
FRANCIS: It's just not very smart.
MCINTYRE: And the other thing that Fred ought to be telling his clients is that whether they're on the record or off the record, they should not be saying things that they don't want to see show up somewhere, because off the record is not a blanket protection against any kinds of misdeeds or wrongdoing. It's simply not.
KURTZ: But what about this whole question, Jamie, of access? By not reporting things that you think are unnecessarily gratuitous, people joking around, off-color banter, all of that, what do you get out of it? How does it help your reporting, other than maybe you get a leak on something that's half an hour before it's going to be announced?
MCINTYRE: Well, the most insulting thing that Michael Hastings said was that reporters like me and Fred and (INAUDIBLE), that we write favorable stories in order to ensure access. We don't write favorable stories. We write stories that we consider to be accurate, that have context, that are balanced, that are going to be seen as fair.
And as Lara Logan, I think rightly, pointed out on your program, she's done a lot of hard-hitting stories. That hasn't blunted her access.
MCINTYRE: The military is not looking for a free ride. They're looking for a fair shake. And if you can show them that even though you've been very critical of them, you've been fair, you can keep getting that access.
KURTZ: And that will have to wrap it up.
Fred Francis, sorry.
Jamie McIntyre, thanks very much for joining us.
KURTZ: Up next, should a "Washington Post" blogger have lost his job over leaked e-mails? And does privately attacking conservatives mean you can't be fair in your reporting?
Dave Weigel in the hot seat, in a moment.
KURTZ: David Weigel had been a "Washington Post" blogger for all of three months, assigned to cover conservatives, when his career came to an abrupt end. Weigel resigned last week after someone had a private e-mail exchange called Journo-List leaked some of his messages. It called for Matt Drudge to set himself on fire, wished for Rush Limbaugh to fail while he was hospitalized with chest pain, said that conservatives are using the media to "violently, angrily divide America and protect White privilege."
But many blame The Post for letting Weigel go, along with two Web sites that ran the leaked e-mails, FishBowlDC and Tucker Carlson's Daily Caller.
Keith Olbermann gave them all a "Worst Persons" award.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC: Somebody at The Post and most of the people critical of David Weigel today seemed to be under the impression that to cover conservatives, you have to be one, and you cannot be critical of them, even in a private setting. Nonsense.
Weigel was a blogger. He made no bones about it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So, what actually happened, and what does it mean for blogging within the confines of traditional newspapers?
Joining us now is David Weigel.
What was you gut reaction when you found that these messages, these e-mails that you thought were off the record, had been leaked?
DAVID WEIGEL, FMR. "WASHINGTON POST" BLOGGER: Well, horror, because I didn't know what else somebody had and how else they would leak it. The thing is, there were a lot of e-mails sent over the course of about a year and a month I was on this list. Those e-mails were a part of conversations I was having.
Something I said about Martha Coakley that was actually an answer to somebody who was dismissive about whether her statements on baseball should affect her political career. She argued that was sexist. I said, "No, she's a lousy candidate."
Out of context, that looked like I was saying Democrats should learn and defend their health care bill, and not back down from Martha Coakley. So, it was all this out-of-context stuff --
KURTZ: But why exactly did you think that sharing e-mails with 400 journalists would absolutely remain confidential?
WEIGEL: Well, because they were journalists. It was all off the record.
The rules for the list were, you had to be a journalist, you had -- or a think tank worker. You couldn't be with the government. You had to be either non-ideological or a liberal to be on it, because there was that fear of things getting out.
And everyone, when they signed up, agreed we were going to keep this off the record. I keep things off the record all the time every day. I have a conversation with somebody, they want to take something back, I let them take it back.
I mean, the way our industry works is not by insulting people like I did. I don't defend that at all. But it does work by assuming things that you say are confidential be confidential.
KURTZ: You don't defend it. In fact, you've apologized for many of these messages. You said -- you wrote a piece saying you were stupid and mean.
How do explain the viciousness of some of these messages?
WEIGEL: Oh, it's -- you just said it, and I said it and you said it again, I was just vicious and mean. I mean, I wanted to be a reporter and I --
KURTZ: You don't seem like a vicious guy.
WEIGEL: Well -- (LAUGHTER)
WEIGEL: No, in private, I was a little bit more cocky -- a lot more cocky about the people I was covering, because, honestly, I had a very quick rise.
I was reporting and breaking stories and doing the usual, doing long magazine pieces. But because of the era I got into journalism in, 2004, 2005, 2006, there were rewards in the blogosphere for being really out there and getting in fights and showing off.
Usually, people do this and then at the end of the day, knock off and are fine with each other. I mean, some of the people who were offended in these e-mails, I've talked to them personally and they've said, "Hey, we know you did this. You did this in private, too." But --
KURTZ: But some people have been criticizing "The Washington Post" over your departure --
KURTZ: -- where I work.
And why did you decide to offer your resignation?
WEIGEL: I didn't want to hurt The Post. I mean, I think it's fine to -- the kind of journalism I do, I'm very proud of it. I'm not proud of what I said in private, but I'm proud of the opinions I have.
But The Post needs to be able to convince everyone it talks to that it is an institution that is impartial and that is -- you know, its reporters come their stories with no biases. And on this, I think a lot of my sources have forgiven me. But it was, frankly, going to be trouble for other people, I think, if I was on staff. If I was just a -- if I was allowed to keep writing what I was writing, people who want to make an issue of The Post every single day would have had something to point to.
KURTZ: But weren't you hired, in part, for your opinions? You weren't hired as a straight beat reporter.
KURTZ: You have a column online and you have a point of view.
WEIGEL: That's true. But, I mean, I don't think it's fair to everyone else at my -- at an organization I work for to defend what I was doing. I mean, and no one owes anyone a job.
I'm going to find another job in journalism and I'll be fine. So no one who, at The Post, who goes there and grinds out nonpartisan copy, doesn't, you know, get to go on TV and make -- you know, if you have an opinion, should have to answer for what I was doing. KURTZ: You've already become a contributor this week at MSNBC.
KURTZ: So it looks like you won't be on food stamps. But some people had the idea that you, because The Post had some liberal bloggers, like Ezra Klein, who started that Journo-List, that you were the conservative brought in to write about conservatives.
What's that a misconception?
WEIGEL: Yes, that wasn't what I've ever pretended to be. I like the conservative movement a lot, and I keep saying that. I just -- I feel like the left is a collection of interest groups. The right is a collection of crusaders and people who believe in ideology and don't believe in getting things from the government.
There's people on the right who will irritate me, but inside the right, there are people irritated by comrades. And they -- you know, there are a lot of conservatives who have -- who are annoyed one day for another -- Matt Drudge, as I was. You know, I mean I was annoyed because Matt Drudge was responsible for me getting lots of hate mail.
There are -- you're allowed to have opinions about the people you cover, generally. But to the broader question of whether I pretend to be a conservative, no. I mean, I've always been a kind of idiosyncratic, more libertarian than not --
WEIGEL: -- reporter. And I was more interested in getting stories from conservatives than being --
KURTZ: I've got --
WEIGEL: -- ideological.
KURTZ: I've got half a minute.
Is there room --
KURTZ: -- in mainstream newspapers for bloggers with plenty of opinions who also report, or is that an uncomfortable fit?
WEIGEL: I think there's room for it. I mean, but I think it's going to be the source of a lot of attacks from, you know, partisan anti-media groups who just want to score points against mainstream media organizations.
So, people have to be ready for that. You have to be ready to defend your opinions.
I don't think you should have to defend the opinions you have in private, because people are -- every day, you know, people who are in this town are exchanging private opinions. They would not broadcast them. They say things at dinner parties with lots of people around that they would not want out.
You shouldn't have to say -- you shouldn't have to explain that away. But you should be allowed to say I'm a blogger with these opinions and I'm breaking news, my readers know what they're getting when they read this Web site. I think that's perfectly defensible just for me in a different publication.
KURTZ: All right. Dave Weigel, thanks very much for coming in.
WEIGEL: Thank you.
KURTZ: After the break, you can't say that on television, but apparently it's fair game on Twitter. A Pulitzer Prize-winning author on how some well-placed f-bombs helped boost his social networking status. Vanity Fair's Buzz Bissinger in a moment.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: He's a Pulitzer Prize winning author, a Major League sportswriter, and has a gig with "Vanity Fair." So why is Buzz Bissinger so angry?
The reason I know he's really steamed is that I've been following him on Twitter, where he's been dropping f-bombs every few words and sending nasty messages -- short, but nasty -- to his detractors.
Is there a method to this madness?
Buzz Bissinger joins me now from Philadelphia.
So, first of all, you have a pretty nice life. What are you so teed off about?
BUZZ BISSINGER, "VANITY FAIR": You know what? I've always been angry, I've always been outspoken. My father was very outspoken. Anger runs in the Bissinger family.
And, you know, I found Twitter is just a great place to vent it, to get it out quickly, to get it off my chest. I say what I feel. You know, none of it is contrived. And I've fallen in love with it, although some people call me a "Twidiot."
KURTZ: So you aren't very active on Twitter.
KURTZ: And then a couple of guys took shots at this book you wrote with LeBron James.
BISSINGER: Right. KURTZ: And you didn't like that.
BISSINGER: No. I mean, I have to confess, I was drunk at the time. And I looked at my e-mail, because you always look at your e- mail because you're a journalist and you're hoping that you've won a million dollars, and that didn't work.
E-mail was boring. And then I went on to Twitter. I had a pathetic number of followers.
But then I wrote this Twitter where this guy said, "As bad as what LeBron James play was in the fifth game against the Celtics, it wasn't as bad as the book he wrote with Buzz Bissinger." And I said, wait a sec, that's his performance. I've got nothing to do with this. And I got pissed off, and I told them to go f-bomb himself, because I think writers have become punching bags.
I mean, Howie, you see this. I'm sure that some of the online comments you get to your columns are unbelievable -- vindictive, venomous --
KURTZ: OK --
BISSINGER: -- nothing to do --
KURTZ: But unlike you, I've kind of decided, why should I waste my time on random bozos who think I'm a creep?
BISSINGER: Because I can't do that, because I know they're -- because they're anonymous, and at least I feel that I'm defending myself, and I put it right back in their wheelhouse. Some respond, some don't. And I respond in exactly the same way that they respond to me, which is usually, you know, as I say, with venom, vindictiveness and mockery, because I just don't like it.
KURTZ: I love the fact that you were a drunken Twidiot, and that's how this got started.
BISSINGER: I was a totally drunken Twidiot. Totally.
KURTZ: So what has happened to your number of followers on this social networking site?
BISSINGER: Well, people picked up on it. You know, Deadspin wrote about it, because, you know, let's face it, I had the famous meltdown on "Costas," where I went nuts against blogs and, you know, really self-destructed. So, there was a sense of well, wait, this guy's sort of writing a mini blog, which, frankly, is true.
Then the media rankings came out. In "Sports Illustrated," I was ranked number one for the month of May.
The short of it is I've gone from about 500 followers to -- I count pretty much four or five times a day. So I have about -- to about 6,653. KURTZ: All right.
Now, since you mentioned this meltdown on Bob Costas' HBO show, we thought we might get you riled up by playing a little bit of it. Let's take a look from a couple of years ago.
BISSINGER: Thanks a lot, Howie. I really appreciate this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BISSINGER: Seriously, because it is the complete dumbing down of our society, the complete dumbing down --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What?
BISSINGER: Yes. Blogs are --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE).
BISSINGER: Blogs -- this column, most --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of them.
BISSINGER: I've got to tell you, I don't spend a lot of time on your blog, but I watched your blog today, and you took an item from Leach -- what's his name, from Vegas?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Robin Leach.
BISSINGER: So you're -- you're taking an item in your blog from Robert Leach's blog about some rumor he heard about Tony Romo. You have no idea if it's true. You don't know if it's (EXPLETIVE DELETED) or not.
But let me read about Big Daddy Balls (ph), or whatever his name is --
BISSINGER: -- which is in --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's the point of this?
BISSINGER: -- which is in your publication (INAUDIBLE).
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So, have you changed your mind about sports blogs since you went into --
BISSINGER: Howie, I really appreciate that you replayed that. That was really nice of you.
You know what? I actually have not changed my opinion of most blogs. I will concede that there are very good aggregator blogs that actually have a lot of information, and I learn from them. But I think most blogs are sort of ridiculous. And it's so ironic. They hate newspapers, except all their information is based on newspapers.
I will, in my defense, say when I Twitter, a lot of it's opinion and a lot of it is based on things that I know about.
KURTZ: Right. Now you --
BISSINGER: I've been very critical of LeBron James, for example, and I wrote a book with him.
KURTZ: Yes. But you strafe a lot of targets -- Paul Krugman, a Nobel Laureate and "New York Times" columnist. He had a piece the other day saying the economy could be facing a -- not just a recession, but a depression. And you went off on him.
BISSINGER: Well, I went off on him because he is a more miserable mope than I am.
BISSINGER: I mean, that guy has never, ever written a positive column in his life. I mean, you know, maybe he's right. So, maybe we should just go out and shoot ourselves right now.
And I'm just -- he just is miserable. Miserable. And it -- and see, this is the thing: it bothers me and it drives me crazy. I'm very impulsively angry. It is not an act.
KURTZ: Thank you for clarifying that, because I was a little unclear.
I've got 20 seconds.
What does the woman you refer to as "Wife three" think about your Twitter rantings and ravings?
BISSINGER: Wife number three is convinced that I've completely ruined my career, that I've made a mockery of myself as a writer, and she looks at these things, she's appalled by the language, and she says, "Does anybody read this?"
And I say, "Well, actually, a lot of people read it and a lot of people love it. And they say I'm the MVP of Twitter." And she just shakes her head sadly and walks away.
KURTZ: I think, in fairness, we should invite her on next week, get the other side.
BISSINGER: Oh, she'd be good.
KURTZ: Buzz Bissinger, thanks very much for joining us.
BISSINGER: My pleasure, man.
KURTZ: Still to come, Rick Santelli's latest rant, Elizabeth Vargas' romantic omission, and "The National Enquirer" forks over cash and gets results. All ahead in our "Media Monitor."
KURTZ: CNBC's Rick Santelli has a rather high-decibel way of offering advice to the federal government.
Check it out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICK SANTELLI, CNBC: Stop spending! Stop spending! Stop spending! Stop spending! Stop Spending!
That's what we want! Please stop spending!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Now, it's nice that he doesn't restrain himself.
But where exactly should we cut, Rick? Medicare, Social Security? Those are the big-ticket items. Schools, the Afghan War, tax cuts for your wealthy traders?
It's a great sounding rant. The debate, a bit more complicated.
ABC's Elizabeth Vargas focused on a juicy story this week: Michael Douglas' ex-wife Diandra, who got a $45 million settlement a decade ago, back in court to claim a share of the money from his new movie, "Wall Street II."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ELIZABETH VARGAS, ABC: A lot of Michael Douglas' biggest movies were made while he was married to Diandra Douglas -- "Fatal Attraction," "Romancing the Stone," "War of the Roses," "Basic Instinct."
Does this mean he can't do a spin-off of any of those movies without paying her half of whatever he gets?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Vargas, unfortunately, failed to mention that she dated Michael Douglas during the time between his separation and divorce from Diandra. An ABC spokesman told me Vargas did disclose the relationship through her executive producer beforehand and was told to go ahead anyway. And that, says the spokesman, was a mistake.
Here's an update. Barry Levine, executive editor of "The National Enquirer," said on last week's program that the tabloid had rejected a $1 million request from the Oregon massage therapist accusing Al Gore of sexual misconduct. Well, that was then.
Levine's not denying that The Enquirer has now paid Molly Hagerty a presumably smaller sum for an on-the-record interview detailing her four-year-old claim against Gore. The former vice president unequivocally denying any misconduct. His office saying he can't comment on every defamatory story in the tabloids.
The Portland Police have reopened the investigation.
Finally, a few words about a recent story about Politico's Patrick Gavin on the most frequent guests on this program, people like Roger Simon, Michelle Cottle, Clarence Page, David Zurawik, and Karen Tumulty, appearing more than 25 or 30 times. But that's over a decade, an average of maybe three times a year.
Gavin accuses us of, yes, clubbiness.
Well, first of all, some of the folks on Gavin's list like Eric Deggans in St. Petersburg and Jeff Jarvis in New York wouldn't consider themselves part of the beltway elite. And he left off such frequent guests as Michael Medved in Seattle; Sharon Waxman in Los Angeles; Debra Saunders; and Joan Walsh in San Francisco; and others who don't view themselves as D.C. insiders. No one else was putting Jonah Goldberg on the air when we started booking him years ago.
We're proud of the diversity of our lineup. I mean, what other program has hosted Jon Stewart, Whoopi Goldberg, Perez Hilton and Rabbi David Nesenoff?
If this is some kind of club, it's one that Patrick Gavin has been trying to join for quite a while. He has repeatedly asked and cajoled me to book him on this program.
Here's an e-mail Gavin sent me just a few weeks ago: "Why yes, I would love to come on RELIABLE SOURCES if you're doing any White House correspondents dinners curtain raisers this month."
Sure, Patrick, we would be happy to have you on some time in the next decade.
Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.
I'm Howard Kurtz.
Join us again next Sunday morning, 11:00 a.m. Eastern, for another critical look at the media.
"STATE OF THE UNION" with Candy Crowley begins right now.