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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Magnifying Power of the Media; Obama's Press Conference
Aired September 12, 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: The magnifying power of the media is a powerful tool and can also be a dangerous weapon. How did one kooky pastor's plans to burn a bunch of Korans become an international sensation? Why did journalists fan the flames of anti-Muslim hatred by playing up the bizarre antics of Terry Jones? Should he have been on every morning show?
The president meets the press -- he should do more of that, you know -- but can't escape questions about Koran burning and the so- called mosque in Manhattan.
CNN turning over the Larry King franchise to Piers Morgan, a charming British fellow who serves as a judge on a televised talent show. But how much do Americans know about his controversial tabloid past? We'll have a full report.
And David Westin resigns as president of ABC News after cutting a quarter of the staff. Can the broadcast networks overcome tough times and sinking ratings?
I'm Howard Kurtz, and this is RELIABLE SOURCES.
It wasn't very long ago that Terry Jones was an obscure pastor in Gainesville, Florida, who had written a book called "Islam is the Devil." And he might have remained in obscurity, except he came up with a stunt, a dangerous stunt, a provocative stunt, an inflammatory stunt. He would observe the ninth anniversary of 9/11 by burning a pile of Korans.
Now, it started slowly, but this fringe character started to get some attention. In July, he spoke to CNN's Rick Sanchez.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICK SANCHEZ, CNN: Why would you want to do this to 1.5 billion people, as you say, in the world by burning their most sacred book? That's crazy.
PASTOR TERRY JONES, DOVE WORLD OUTREACH CENTER: Well, for one thing, for us, the book is not sacred.
SANCHEZ: But it is for them. But it is for them.
JONES: By us doing this action --
SANCHEZ: So if I don't --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: And this week, just as the controversy over the so-called mosque in Manhattan seemed to be winding down, the media gave Terry Jones a mighty megaphone. When David Petraeus told "The Wall Street Journal" that such a bonfire might endanger American troops, the echo chamber got even louder.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS: Before this week, most people had never heard of Pastor Terry Jones.
MEREDITH VIEIRA, NBC NEWS: Now one Florida church is planning to burn copies of the Koran on the anniversary of 9/11 this weekend.
DIANE SAWYER, ABC NEWS: Today the pope called on him to stop. And we asked the pastor, what would Jesus do?
ED SCHULTZ, MSNBC: Coming up, a psycho pastor in Florida is turning 9/11 into "Burn a Koran Day."
MONICA CROWLEY, GUEST HOST, "THE O'REILLY FACTOR": Some kooks in Florida are plotting a very insulting display against Muslims later this week.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC: Why burn the Koran? So that people will say the name of their congregation and their pastor on television, which personally I can't stomach.
TERRY MORAN, ABC NEWS: Do you really think that Jesus Christ, if he were here today, would say, "Pastor, go burn that holy book"?
MORAN: Jesus Christ would say that?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: By midweek, ABC's George Stephanopoulos was asking the president to weigh in.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: I wonder what this must feel like from behind your desk. You're president of the United States, you have to deal with the fallout. And here's a pastor who has got 30 followers in his church. Does it make you feel helpless or angry?
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, it is frustrating. Now, on the other hand, we are a government of laws, and so we have to abide by those laws.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: The story got even stranger when Jones said he was calling off the book burning in exchange for a deal to move the controversial Islamic center in New York away from Ground Zero, except there was no deal, just more live coverage, more stories, more interviews.
Finally, the pastor said yesterday there would be no book burning, which he announced, naturally enough, on "The Today Show."
So are the media to blame for turning this revolting spectacle into an international circus?
Joining us now, David Corn, Washington bureau chief for "Mother Jones" magazine; David Frum, founder of frumforum.com and a former speechwriter for President Bush; and Lauren Ashburn, presidents of Ashburn Media and former managing editor of "USA Today Live."
I'm going to ask you for a concise answer, all of you, to this question: Why did the media lavish so much attention on one eccentric pastor with a couple of dozen followers for this pathetic stunt that he pulled?
DAVID FRUM, FRUMFORUM.COM: Because when you have the mosque controversy in New York, you have one fact. When you have that, plus the book burning, you have a trend. And that justifies the "TIME" magazine cover and that allows people to cover the mosque story the way they really want to cover it.
KURTZ: Lauren Ashburn?
LAUREN ASHBURN, PRESIDENT, ASHBURN MEDIA: Ratings. Ratings, ratings, ratings, ratings. Right?
I mean, why don't we cover President Obama's presser, right? Why don't we talk about that?
Well, kind of not that interesting. I mean, what's interesting here is, oh, my gosh, here's this guy with 50 people who follow him, and he's going to burn a Koran.
KURTZ: And without the networks putting Terry Jones on TV, and without all these newspaper stories, David Corn, it's a non-story.
DAVID CORN, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "MOTHER JONES": I disagree. You know, it's not a problem -- this is what happens with our new media.
You don't need to go through CNN, MSNBC, CBS, ABC to get your word out if you're a crazy kook with a matchbook and a Koran. By tweeting about it, which he did in early July, he got a few people who pay attention to these things to write about it in e-mail alerts. And then before you know it, people in other parts of the world are paying attention to this. KURTZ: But not in the United States.
CORN: Not in the United States.
CORN: And so their opposition is ginning up. And when General David Petraeus was asked about it in "The Wall Street Journal" interview, it wasn't because it was getting lots of coverage here. It had gotten some, but already there were plans of gigantic demonstrations in Afghanistan, Indonesia, and elsewhere.
So, this shows in some way the helplessness. We all think this guy's a kook and shouldn't get the attention. And we'd like to see -- even though we used to complain about gatekeepers in the media, the gatekeepers in this instance keeping the gate shut on him, but that can't work anymore.
KURTZ: Well, Petraeus' people -- the Pentagon also pushed out his statement to a lot of media outlets. And a lot of people thought that really elevated the story.
But why can't we serve as gatekeepers? Every newsroom every day gets a call about a small demonstration here, somebody with a crazy sign over there, here's a hostage tape from some country. We don't run all of that.
ASHBURN: And we don't run suicides, either. I mean, right?
KURTZ: Somebody on a bridge.
ASHBURN: People who want attention -- right, somebody who's going to jump off a bridge, they want that attention. Do we cover it? We absolutely do not.
FRUM: But there's a pre-existing narrative. There were a lot of people this summer who wanted to write a story about America in the grip of anti-Islamic prejudice. And one incident does not prove your point to do. And that's why this was seized upon in the United States, it was necessary, it was valuable.
KURTZ: So do you think that the so-called liberal media pumped this up because here was a Christian leader, a small-time one, to be sure, who looked like a crazy bigot?
FRUM: I don't think this was uncongenial.
KURTZ: You're saying there was a political element to this?
CORN: But at the same time, the people who track this stuff do say there is a rise in anti-Islam activity going on. And you can tie that to the controversy over the so-called mosque or the Islamic center or not. But it's interesting, one of the --
FRUM: People track this stuff in the FBI, and the FBI numbers don't say such a thing. And they come out 18 months late anyway.
KURTZ: I want to come back to the media role and I want to talk about Fox News, because I was surprised at first. Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly were playing this down, barely talking about it. And I thought, well, he's not a liberal loon. It turns out Fox had a deliberate strategy not to give oxygen to this story, and some would say Fox had it right.
ASHBURN: And so did AP. AP made a decision on Thursday. They came out with a memo from the deputy managing editor that said we are not going to put audio or images out about this.
KURTZ: But let me ask you about that.
ASHBURN: Wait. Wait. We are going to do one spot story a day.
ASHBURN: Hey, context.
KURTZ: So Fox says if this had gone through yesterday, and there had been a bonfire in Gainesville, Fox News said it would not show the pictures. AP said it would not show the pictures.
CNN changed its position. Originally, it was going to cover it, then it said it would not show the pictures.
But can't you do that? Wouldn't those organizations be accused of suppressing the news?
ASHBURN: But now there's also a problem now because of the -- because you've got an obligation.
CORN: It wouldn't matter because it would be on YouTube, and people who wanted to see it would see it, and it would be seen around the world by the people whose passions are inflamed.
I think in the Fox News case, because they went so heavy on the so-called mosque controversy, this gave them the chance in their mind also to look reasonable. You know, I do think that a lot of the controversy over the Islamic center is fueled by anti-Islamic prejudice. Not all of it, but at the rally yesterday there were people shouting things like "Kill all Muslims!" and holding up signs that were just not anti-mosque, anti-Islam.
And so there's a lot of that worked up into this controversy. But by saying we're not going to show one nut job, they could act like they're being responsible.
KURTZ: Back in July, when Terry Jones had tweeted he was going do this and it got a little of attention, most Americans were aware of this -- we saw the clip at the top of the show, Rick Sanchez putting him on CNN.
Should he have done that? Why does Terry Jones warrant any air time at all?
FRUM: Well, it is exciting, and that is a kind of tabloidy show. And you hope -- there's a part I think of every journalist's mind that sort of hopes for a big global reaction.
One of the things I think we ought to be thinking a little bit about, though, is what is the precedent here that is being set? If we're to agree that things that might offend people on the other side of the planet are not to be discussed, is Salman Rushdie's book not to be discussed? Are the Danish cartoons not to be shown?
We can all agree in condemning Pastor Jones as needlessly inflammatory. But sometimes people are needfully inflammatory.
KURTZ: But hold on here. My argument is that he didn't deserve much at all because he is essentially a fringe character.
Now, if somebody with more of a following, with more of a standing, with more stature does something that's going to upset people in Afghanistan, I'm not saying we shouldn't cover that. I think this was a case of media malpractice of the most irresponsible sort. It's like the balloon boy hoax but with serious consequences --
ASHBURN: It's identical to that.
KURTZ: -- and people are really mad. Based on my e-mail, people saying -- people are really mad at the news organizations for what they did this week.
ASHBURN: OK. But Howie, it's great that we're sitting here, that every week after week you're turning a critical lens on the media. But how many times are we going to sit here and fall for balloon boy and go after this guy?
Why aren't we challenging the heads of networks and the heads of the cable divisions to say, all right, I want to find out who exactly made that decision to put that person on the air, and why did you to it? Did you do it because somebody at MSNBC had it and you had to beat them? Did you do it because you thought, oh, my gosh, ratings? And let's figure out who makes those decisions and put policies in place so that there is some sort of context.
CORN: I think you're right in that we spend -- the media spends so much more time on this issue, but it also had become an international event in which people were rioting and --
KURTZ: There was a "New York Times" story in the last week of August. It still didn't get much traction until the Petraeus comment in "The Wall Street Journal."
CORN: I still think you have a problem here of trying to keep a lid on some of -- I think in terms of proportionality, it shouldn't get this attention. But I'm saying no matter what you would decide if you were running CNN, Howie, I don't think it would have had a big impact on keeping this guy off the screen, this crazy guy off the screen.
FRUM: And this agreement, this agreement not to cover it, has dangerous potential, because we did go through this before. Every news organization in America agreed not to show the Danish cartoons, not to allow people to see what those were about. And that seems to me to have been wrong. And that was information that people were entitled to, and that was collaboration in a way with forces of suppression around the planet.
KURTZ: Just to be clear, I'm not calling for collusion. I'm calling for individual news organizations to make responsible decisions regardless of what everyone else is doing.
Now, let me just play some tape here, because on Friday -- and this was when Terry Jones was starting to waver, maybe he wouldn't do it, he would delay it if he could see the imam in New York -- this guy was on every network morning show. And I thought the toughest interview was conducted by Meredith Vieira on "The Today Show."
Let's take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VIEIRA: When you incite hatred and bigotry, don't you expect this kind of outcome? You've incited this.
JONES: We do not feel responsible. We do not pull the trigger.
VIEIRA: There are people of all faiths, sir, today who are calling you intolerant, bigoted, dangerous. They've even called you crazy. What are you?
JONES: I am just a man who is trying to do what God has told us to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So, you're running "The Today Show." Would you put him on?
ASHBURN: Absolutely not. I wouldn't have put him on first. At the point in which we are losing lives and people -- there's a chance here for this to turn into something extremely violent, then you have an obligation to stop it.
In this instance the government saved the media. I mean, the media is the one that put this guy in charge, put him out there. And then all of a sudden, the government has to come in and say, OK, we're going to fix the --
KURTZ: Look, you had Defense Secretary Gates --
KURTZ: But you seem most uncomfortable at this table with the notion of making a deliberate decision that this is not worth it.
FRUM: Yes, because I know what's going to happen next time.
CORN: Tell us, David.
FRUM: I'm completely with you. Obviously this guy is dismissible. This is not a story, you should not have made a fuss over it.
But I am mindful of the Danish cartoon story when the gatekeepers did keep the gates, and did keep them wrongly. And next time there's going to be someone who is going to have something to say, something maybe more serious, that is going to be disliked by some people in the Islamic world. And there may be American and media collusion saying this person should not speak, this message should be silenced.
And to have the president and the secretary of defense weighing in, I understand why they did it. In this circumstance they were right. But next time they won't be right. We need to be a little more careful here.
ASHBURN: What is wrong with AP's view of this, which is let's limit it to a story a day? This is a small guy. What's wrong with that?
FRUM: Nothing is wrong with that.
CORN: The media criticism, the answer is almost always proportionality, the amount of time we spend on this versus the amount of time we spend discussing Afghanistan strategy.
KURTZ: We often have our foot on the pedal way too hard.
Let me show you how MSNBC's "Morning Joe" handled it. They had the pastor on. Mika Brzezinski turned it over to "Newsweek" editor Jon Meacham, who told pastor Jones this --
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JON MEACHAM, EDITOR, "NEWSWEEK": I would simply appeal to you as a fellow Christian that the course you've suggested is going to be incredibly dangerous, and would ask you to desist in the name of new testament theology.
MIKA BRZEZINSKI, MSNBC: All right. Well said, Jon Meacham.
And Pastor Terry Jones, we appeal to you to listen to that. And we don't really need to hear anything else. So thanks.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Didn't let him say a word.
ASHBURN: We create this monster. We created this. You know, here, OK, we're the one who put him on, now we're the ones -- we're begging him not to do it.
KURTZ: So even cutting him of like that is fueling the flames?
ASHBURN: Of course it is.
CORN: But there was some responsibility. Yesterday, at the rally against the Islamic center in downtown New York, there was at least one person -- someone sent me a photo -- burning a Koran. And you didn't see that plastered all over the media. You didn't see people running to interview this fellow. And so --
KURTZ: And so a positive note on which to end. I've got to get a break.
When we come back, the president meets the press, and he can't escape questions about the Koran-hating pastor. And the media's other favorite melodrama, the so-called mosque.
KURTZ: When President Obama held a news conference on Friday, ABC's Jake Tapper asked a question about Pastor Terry Jones, but not by name. Let's take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAKE TAPPER, ABC NEWS: Were you concerned at all when the administration had Secretary of Defense Gates call this pastor in Florida that you were elevating somebody who is clearly from the fringe?
OBAMA: My hope is that this individual prays on it and refrains from doing it. But I'm also commander-in-chief, and we are saying today riots in Kabul, riots in Afghanistan that threaten our young men and women in uniform.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Lauren Ashburn, I was relieved that the pastor didn't dominate the news conference, it was mostly about the economy. But that became the story. That's what everyone wrote about and talked about the next day.
ASHBURN: And, Howie, gosh, why didn't you lead this show with the economics and President Obama's presser?
KURTZ: Because it's gotten very short shift from our colleagues in the media business.
ASHBURN: What I'm saying, my point is, is that here we are talking about him. I mean, you're happy that he didn't dominate it, but he did. But, yet, you didn't lead with the economic policy that President Obama laid out.
CORN: Let me protect Howie for a second. Part of the issue was, I was at the presser, and the president didn't say anything new about his economic policies. I mean, I think we should have a continuing discussion about what --
KURTZ: Go ahead, David.
FRUM: I was going to say the president also dropped a hint of a way that the story has been seriously undercovered, which is, what is the method of transmission by which an act in Florida become a riot in Kabul? That is not a spontaneous process.
There are people in Afghanistan who do this and make a point of it. That's what happened with the Danish cartoons. Let's cover a little bit that transmission belt (ph), and the malicious people who are involved in running that transmission belt (ph).
KURTZ: But what was interesting, too -- I want to ask you about something else -- you did write about the economic portion of the press conference --
CORN: I did, yes.
KURTZ: -- for "Mother Jones," and your headline was, "More Drama, Obama."
CORN: Yes, but my point was, at --
KURTZ: You're a theater critic. You didn't like the fact that he didn't get all wound up when he talked about the economy.
CORN: What I said was he showed a lot of passion and conviction, which a president has to do, I think, to be successful, when he talked not so much about even the pastor, but about the Islamic center and about religious freedom. And I thought that was wonderful.
And I made the point that when he talks about the economy, and trying to connect with people and convince them that his policies are best, he didn't have as much passion. And I think that is a problem for any politician.
ASHBURN: I'm not trying to attack Howie, and I would love to be invited back. And invite me back, pretty please.
But my point is, is that we just fuel this. If it's exciting, if it's about burning a Koran, we're going to cover it. If it's about economic policy, gosh, he really didn't break any news.
KURTZ: Which happens to be the subject right now that most Americans care about.
Lauren Ashburn, David Frum, David Corn, thanks for joining us.
And coming up in the second part of RELIABLE SOURCES, Piers Morgan gets the nod as the next Larry King. But which version is CNN getting, the former tabloid editor, the talent show judge, the guy who hangs out with celebrities?
Plus, as David Westin steps down as president of ABC News, we'll talk to a former CBS News president about struggling broadcast news operations.
And later, Sean Hannity does some creative editing, and the blogger who shared his medical emergency with the world.
KURTZ: He's a superstar in his country, and a controversial one at that. In this country, he's best known for judging singers and performers alongside Sharon Osbourne and Howie Mandel.
Now Piers Morgan is about to become far better known as the man who will succeed Larry King. But how much does America know about this chap beyond the fact this he hams it up on "America's Got Talent"?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PIERS MORGAN, JUDGE, "AMERICA'S GOT TALENT": Well, look, the three of you are three of the most disgusting thing I've ever seen in my life.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right.
MORGAN: However, that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy the act. It was sort of repulsively compelling. Look, it's been great watching you, but I'm going to have to say no.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Well, Piers Morgan of one editor of Rupert Murdoch's "News of the World," the sensational London tabloid that has reporters conduct stings such as the recent ones against Sarah Ferguson by lying about their identity. Then he became editor of "The Mirror" and was eventually sacked for publishing photos of British soldier supposedly abusing Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib, photos that turned out to be a hoax.
But Morgan is widely regarded as a good interview. Here he is talking with former British prime minister Gordon Brown, talking about his daughter and what happened a few days after her birth.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: I remember that time very well, Gordon. I remember the press conference you gave which we saw there where you were so happy. And I talked to you in that period. But looking back on that, tell me first about after Jennifer was first born. Obviously, she was premature and very small. But you were very excited, weren't you?
GORDON BROWN, FMR. BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: We thought everything was fine. Probably after a week, Sarah and I -- she was in special care. I turned to the doctor and said, "She's not going to live, is she?" And he said, "No, I don't think so. She's not going live."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Joining us now to talk about Piers Morgan, his reputation back home and his future at CNN, Emily Bell, founder of "The Media Guardian" section of London's "Guardian" newspaper, now a director of Columbia University's Digital Journalism Program. Also in New York, Tom Leonard, reporter for "The Daily Mail" and a former media editor for "The Daily Telegraph." And here in Washington, media critic for "The Baltimore Sun," who blogs at ZonTV.
And Emily Bell, you know Piers Morgan from his days as a tabloid journalist. Explain a little bit more about what happened at "The Mirror" over those Abu Ghraib photos. And what did that do to his reputation?
EMILY BELL, DIRECTOR, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY'S DIGITAL JOURNALISM PROGRAM: Well, I think, you know, as you said, Howard, there was already a question mark over some of his journalistic judgment because he's had this previous spat over share trading on his city desk.
And then, so three or four years later, you had these photographs which appeared on the front page of "The Mirror," apparently of British soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners. And it was in the wake of Abu Ghraib, and it was, if you like, an honest mistake, because these were not hoaxed by the paper. They were sold or given to the paper.
But "The Mirror" was hoaxed, and I think it was a two strikes and you're out situation for Morgan. I think that it was just at the time, it was too sensitive for him to really sort of maintain his job, particularly after the first, what was known as the (INAUDIBLE) scandal.
KURTZ: Right. Right.
And I want to talk to Tom Leonard about that. Although, by the way, Morgan never quite admitted that the pictures were fake and he think it's an open question.
So what happened with this financial scandal where I guess two columnists for his newspaper had written about a company that he bought stock in?
TOM LEONARD, REPORTER, "THE DAILY MAIL": Well, I mean, what had happened was initially, is that it turned out that he bought shares in Viglen, which is a computer company, a few days before they were tipped by two of his financial journalists who wrote a column called "City Slickers." It later turned out, actually, he had bought rather more shares than was initially admitted by the owners at "The Mirror." Both of the journalists, the city journalists, ended up being sentenced, and one of them even did time in prison. Piers Morgan got away, kept his job, and lived to fight another day. And as Emily said, you know, not that long after came out (ph) with the Abu Ghraib pictures.
KURTZ: Right, which was about six year ago. Let me turn to --
LEONARD: Faked pictures.
KURTZ: Exactly. Let me turn to David.
As I mentioned at the top, he likes to hang out with celebrities. I want to show you a little bit of tape of one example of that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: I mean, I can think of all sorts of things I've always wanted to be, dreams that might come true. And you know what? In Vegas, they do.
PARIS HILTON, SOCIALITE: Mm-hmm. Vegas rocks.
MORGAN: What do you think of Vegas?
HILTON: I love Vegas. I've been coming here my whole life.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So my question is simply, what does the hiring of Piers Morgan do to the CNN brand?
DAVID ZURAWIK, TELEVISION CRITIC, "THE BALTIMORE SUN": Well, Howie, let me just back up for one second on that "City Slickers" thing.
It was 20,000 pounds worth of -- that's a lot. And when you couple that kind of ethical mistake or ethical transgression with the fact that you're pairing him now with Eliot Spitzer, there's a synergy there that is not good. So that's a serious thing that he did there, that "City Slickers" thing.
Now you take this guy and he's posing in this kind of thing, he likes being with celebrities. I mean, I think this is just -- the word that comes to mind for him is hot dog. He's a hot dog. He is not a serious guy.
Now, I don't say you have to put a serious person into that slot. But this is a guy -- also, you know, in this interview when he was named this week, he said, well, I'm doing all these other jobs, but if something big breaks I can run in the studio and do the show. Howie, that's not how you do a show that's going to be successful. He's all over the place.
KURTZ: All right.
ZURAWIK: I think he's just the kind of guy who's kind of a blustery phony, who comes on and just blows his way into the room.
KURTZ: Well, I'll reserve judgment on that. And by the way, there's no law in television against being a hot dog.
KURTZ: Emily Bell, so how did Piers Morgan go from his tabloid years to being a pretty successful TV celebrity in Britain?
BELL: Well, I think that was something of a mystery to all of us, actually, even to Piers as an editor. Because once he -- after he was sacked from "The Mirror," he had a very unsuccessful business venture for a short time, actually with Rupert Murdoch's son-in-law, which is an interesting, kind of small fact here.
And then he sort of reemerged. I mean, don't forget that because as a tabloid editor in Britain, he would know all the studio bosses very well. He did have a hotline to all the top celebrities in Britain.
And he does have a certain sort of charismatic -- there are two side to Piers Morgan. One is slightly petulant, doesn't have much of a sense of humor about himself, a little bit mean. The other side to him is very charismatic, quite smart. I don't think -- he's not stupid. And he is a very, very good interviewer.
And so he was picked up by ITV, and he appeared on "Britain's Got Talent," which was, if you like, the forearm to "America's Got Talent." And for those of us in my generation, Tom's generation, I think were sort of slightly surprised to see Piers suddenly reinventing himself as a TV celebrity.
BELL: And particularly, he's broken into America, which so many people from Britain have tried and failed to do.
KURTZ: It's a tough market.
Tom Leonard, the fact that he likes to hang out with celebrities, that he's become a celebrity himself, that doesn't necessarily mean he's not a journalist, does it?
LEONARD: You're right. And obviously his background was as a show business reporter, and he was the first of the show business reporters to be -- to get one of their -- to be made an editor of one of the fleet street red top titles.
But yes, he edited "The Mirror," and "The Mirror" is a tabloid newspaper, but it's got news coverage, as well. And also, to be fair to him, he tried to turn it around.
He tried to make it into a more serious paper. He hired serious columnist for it in a bid to try and take it more up market.
So his background is not entirely -- I mean, this is a guy who made a living very early on from rubbing shoulders with celebrities, literally. I mean, this is a man who pioneered a certain type of journalism where the idea of to be photographed with the stars.
KURTZ: By the way, David Zurawik, Morgan bristled during a conference call with reporters when Eric Deggans of "The St. Petersburg Times" called him a non-journalist. He said, "I've interviewed Tony Blair 56 times."
But he did something else that was interesting that I kind of liked. He took shots at Bill O'Reilly and Keith Olbermann and Glenn Beck and Rachel Maddow. He said, "They're self-indulgent and they spend a lot of time attacking each other." And that he, in the 9:00 p.m. show on CNN, is not going to be spewing his own opinions.
ZURAWIK: You know, and that's what made me say, Howie, honestly -- I didn't say "hot dog" loosely. You know, he said that about Bill O'Reilly, and it proves to me he doesn't watch Bill O'Reilly, because Bill O'Reilly doesn't talk about the competition. Bill O'Reilly considers himself so far above the competition, he would never really --
KURTZ: Well, he talks about the left-leaning lunatics at NBC.
ZURAWIK: No. He said -- Piers Morgan said that Bill talks about Keith and Keith talks -- Bill does not talk about Keith. He didn't watch him. And that's what I mean about walking if front of a camera and saying stuff without doing your homework. That's exactly what drove me to that point.
KURTZ: Emily, you know, Larry King, to be fair, interviews a lot of celebrities, so that is part of the job for this kind of show. But I want to close by asking you about his interviewing skills, because we saw earlier him talking to Gordon Brown about a very personal tragedy. And he also interviewed Nick Clegg, who's now of course the deputy prime minister in Britain, and he got him to talk about how many women he had slept with.
There's got to be some talent there.
BELL: No, he really is able to -- I think that he got very good reviews actually in the U.K. for his early evening interview show. And I think that he brings actually a new generation of viewers potentially to CNN.
You know, I think that this is kind of quite a smart move for them, actually, because you don't want to hire another Larry King, because there is nobody who can really replace him. So they've really not hired another Larry King. And I think that it will just be a sort of a test of Piers' mettle to see whether or not he can step up for big interviews. KURTZ: Right. And he's welcome on this program to talk about his career once he comes over to CNN.
Emily Bell, Tom Leonard, David Zurawik, stick around.
Up next, David Westin quit as ABC News president. We'll look at the record of a man who presided over deep cutbacks while giving top anchor jobs to Diane Sawyer, George Stephanopoulos, and Christiane Amanpour.
KURTZ: There isn't a single program on ABC News that doesn't bear the imprint of David Westin.
In just the last year, the news division president picked Diane Sawyer to anchor "World News." He put George Stephanopoulos on "Good Morning America." He gave Stephanopoulos' old Sunday morning job to Christiane Amanpour. He moved Chris Cuomo to "20/20," and he replaced Martin Bashir at "Nightline" with Bill Weir.
But David Westin also clashed with his bosses at Disney, not just about talent decisions, but about financial ones. ABC News cut one quarter of its staff in recent months, a painful reduction for everyone involved.
So what does Westin's successor face along with his counterparts at the other broadcast news operations?
Joining us now in New York, Andrew Heyward, former president of CBS News, now working as a media consultant; Marisa Guthrie, programming editor for "Broadcasting and Cable" magazine; and David Zurawik, still with me here in Washington.
Andrew Heyward, Westin lasted 13 years, a little bit longer than you did at CBS. Does there come a point where all the budget-cutting and belt-tightening just wears you down?
ANDREW HEYWARD, FMR. PRESIDENT, CBS NEWS: I can't spoke for David, but of course it's one of the difficult aspects of the job. You're trying to manage a current business that's very challenging and facing a new competitive environment in a responsible way. You're trying to maintain the quality and integrity of network news. And you're also trying to meet corporate business standards.
So, ,at a certain points that does become hard. It's a job where you're kind of like the bull rider at the rodeo. You're judged as much as how long you stay on the bull as your style.
KURTZ: And a lot of people have gotten thrown off.
HEYWARD: Yes, but David did well.
KURTZ: Marisa Guthrie, do you believe that David Westin was pushed or perhaps nudged by Disney chief executive Bob Iger and other Disney executives in Los Angeles? MARISA GUTHRIE, PROGRAMMING EDITOR, "BROADCASTING & CABLE" MAGAZINE: Well, it's no secret that Westin had a tense relationship with Disney/ABC Television Group president, Anne Sweeney. And whether the final rupture with -- and Iger was a supporter. But whether the final rupture with Iger came with the decision to put Christiane Amanpour into "This Week" is speculation.
What we do know, of course, is that Westin provided over a brutal 25 percent staff reduction, and perhaps Westin's bosses and Westin himself decided that it was best to have someone in there that wasn't tainted by those brutal cuts. It was painful for everyone involved.
KURTZ: David Zurawik, he went through Peter Jennings' deaths, Ted Koppel moving on, Bob Woodruff's injury when he was the anchor, Charlie Gibson's retirement.
Did he keep the news division reasonably strong?
ZURAWIK: I think he did. I think in your piece when you wrote about it this week, you talked about him being snake-bit a little bit early on when he tried to make Woodruff and Vargas. And that was a very bold move. I remember it.
It made page one in a lot of papers not because there was a new network president -- that's not what it used to be -- but because he said new anchors for the digital age, and he was talking about all the platforms. And he was ahead of the curve in that way.
And if that had worked for him, I think it would have been different. But when Woodruff was seriously injured, Vargas went on maternity leave, and he had to go back to Charlie Gibson. Gibson came through, really came through and did a great job of settling that place down. But Charlie Gibson was not online.
You know, I remember doing a piece on the "Anchorman Blogs" (ph), and when I got to ABC, they were like, well, Charlie --
KURTZ: All right. So he's not a digital guy.
ZURAWIK: But it was the opposite of what Westin was trying to do. And so he had problems, and he managed those well. I think he really did a good job, Howie.
KURTZ: And on that point Andrew Heyward, one of the things that a news division president has to do is to keep a bunch of high-priced stars happy. And David Westin had a deal with Diane and Barbara and Charlie and Ted and Stephanopoulos.
HEYWARD: Yes, of course. That is part of the job. And that's actually probably the best publicized part of the job. The harder part, it seems to me -- and David was terrific at that -- the harder part is to innovate while also managing the business.
To Dave Zurawik's point, David certainly foresaw a future where news consumers would not be looking to network programming as it now exists for their prime resource of news or even a regular source of news. And all news leaders now have to figure out how to engage a generation that has completely different habits of news consumption and is no longer looking to these authorities.
In a way, you could say that the model has moved from one to many, the classic voice of God model, to one of many, as though you suited up for a medieval joust and found yourself in a hockey game.
KURTZ: And Andrew, you have to do this with, in ABC's case, 25 percent less staff. In other words, fewer bodies, and yet you've got to be more creative at a time when particularly younger people are watching less television news.
HEYWARD: True, Howie. But I think that that's part of -- as brutal as it is for the people who lose their jobs -- and we went through similar waves, and it's always horrible -- I do think there has to be a realignment of costs.
These businesses grew up to fight yesterday's war at a time when everything the networks did was difficult -- going to find stories, filming them, then taping them, editing them, distributing them. All of that was very complex.
Now it's easy and can be done by a college student or even high school student with a laptop and a Twitter account. So I think you do have a reorientation of the cost structure that has to happen as painful as it is for the legacy business.
KURTZ: Lots of new competitors.
Marisa Guthrie, NBC, of course, has MSNBC. But ABC and CBS have expensive news divisions, and yet they don't have a cable outlet. So you're always hearing these rumors that ABC might team up with Bloomberg, or CNN and CBS are going to combine, and then it never seems to happen.
GUTHRIE: Right. And the issues there are always control. Who's going to have editorial control?
And I talked to Westin back in July, and he denied that ABC News was in any "capital T," as he put it, talks about a merger with Bloomberg. But we have seen more and more of these news-sharing arrangements.
I mean, ABC has one with NHK in Japan, they have one with the BBC in England. And to Andrew's point, what's changing is these programs, each of them, have to earn their keep.
The corporate structure is such that there are no more handouts. So what we're going to see is no more multimillion-dollar anchors. What we've already seen is more Skype interviews, less investigations, and more news-sharing arrangements. And I think that's just going to continue, and the contraction will continue until we get to a point where the news -- the sole broadcast news divisions as we know them will go away.
KURTZ: All right. We want to pick up on that point. I've got to get a break so we can pay some bills. And we'll focus on the evening newscasts when we come back.
KURTZ: Marisa Guthrie just informed us that the era of multimillion-dollar anchors is over.
So, Andrew Heyward, Katie Couric, of course, went to your former network, CBS. Huge star, $15 million a year, and the ratings went down.
How do you get people to watch the evening news these days?
HEYWARD: First of all, a lot of people still do. There are about 20 million people watching one of the three newscasts. That's collectively a hit show by any standard.
I think the answer is that what used to happen, which is that younger people would start watching the evening news when they got to be their parents' age, that's not happening anymore. So the evening news is going to have to appeal to a certain fringe of the audience or a certain part of the audience, but networks are going to have to find other ways to engage with viewers who never intend to watch it. It's a challenging problem.
KURTZ: And what's interesting, Marisa Guthrie, is that Katie, Diane and Brian are the biggest stars at their networks, but Diane Sawyer undoubtedly made more money for ABC in the morning, on "GMA," than she does in the "World News" anchor chair.
GUTHRIE: Yes, absolutely. I mean, the morning shows on all of the networks support the newsgathering operation, which is terribly expensive, as we all know. And the evening news has always been a loss leader. And so, you know, but they have a symbolism.
They are -- the evening news anchors are the face of the network. But, you know, the symbolism, pride of place, these were all quaint notions trotted out 20, 30 years ago, when the parent networks were rolling in ad revenue. And that's no longer the case.
KURTZ: That's no longer the case.
David Zurawik, Andrew Heyward made the point it's still the biggest game in town. But at the same time, everybody calls them dinosaurs and writes their premature obituaries for the evening news.
ZURAWIK: Well, he's right, 20 million actually watched last week. That's a pretty good audience.
I think the problem is -- you know, Heyward was one of the guys who figured out ways to amortize costs of your evening news, make news magazines in prime time, pay for them. I think networks, if they do that kind of innovative thinking, can keep the evening newses on the air for a while longer. And I would hate to lose them for this reason: they are rapidly becoming the last bastion of traditional journalism on American television, and that's a huge loss when that goes away. KURTZ: A serious oasis. I hope it doesn't go away. But we're going to go away right now.
Andrew Heyward, David Zurawik, Marisa Guthrie, thanks very much for joining us.
Still to come, a Twitter hoax causes trouble for another "Washington Post" writer, and Sean Hannity brings us President Obama, the condensed version.
That and more in our "Media Monitor."
KURTZ: Time now for the "Media Monitor," our weekly look at the hits and errors in the news business.
And here's what I liked: The New Yorker's Peter Boyer digging into the secretive religious group known as The Fellowship in a place called "Frat House for Jesus."
You've probably heard of the C Street House, the Capitol Hill home where some members of Congress live, including Senator Ensign, whose roommates intervened after learning that he was having an affair with a top aide's wife.
Boyer goes beyond the scandal to examine The Fellowship, its founder Doug Coe, and his relationship with some disreputable folks.
This one made me wince. Just after "The Washington Post" sportswriter Mike Wise was suspended for putting a fake scoop on Twitter, another writer at the paper got into trouble over a Twitter hoax. But editorial writer Jonathan Capehart was a victim.
He posted something for the newspaper after seeing a tweet from California Republican Congressman Jack Kimble saying that, "Bush fought two wars without costing the taxpayers a dime." Capehart accused him of stunning ignorance, except that, well, there is no Congressman Jack Kimble. It was a bogus account.
Next time, Jonathan, check the Google.
Here's what I didn't like.
Sean Hannity is no fan of Barack Obama, and he's perfectly entitled to bash him night after night. But here's how the Fox News host analyzed Obama's recent speech in Ohio.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: Now, the president did have a rare moment of honesty during his speech, and I hope voters around the country are watching this --
OBAMA: Taxes are scheduled to go up substantially next year for everybody. HANNITY: All right, that's right. I know the anointed one will make sure that that happens.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: But just a second. Here's a little bit more of what Obama said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Under the tax plan passed by the last administration, taxes are scheduled to go up substantially next year for everybody. By the way, this was by design.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So Hannity's careful editing just happens to leave out Obama's explanation that the Bush administration had arranged for the tax cuts to expire in 2010, not to mention that Obama wants to extend the tax cuts for 98 percent of Americans while ending them for the wealthiest taxpayers.
Isn't that kind of editing -- what's the word -- deceptive? A tip of the hat to "The Daily Show" for catching that one.
And I kind of had to admire this, so it's seriously strange, but maybe not to people who broadcast their every move. Tommy Christopher, a political writer for the Web site Mediaite, was in an ambulance this week when he started tweeting his own heart attack with such Twitter updates as "Paramedics think I will live."
Now, Christopher says, "Those who knew me would get a kick out of it and those who didn't would see it as a wacky new media story." Right.
And he says, "What began as a meta-tweeting of my own narcissism quickly morphed into a wacky world-weird-Web story completely devoid of irony." But not completely devoid of laughs. The little known journalist became fodder for Jay Leno.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAY LENO, "THE TONIGHT SHOW": In what may be the strangest tweet of the week, a White House political reporter, a man named Tommy Christopher, tweeted about his own heart attack. The guy is being rushed to the hospital and he's in the ambulance tweeting about his heart attack. Is that unbelievable? Doctors are not worried about him losing his life because apparently he never had one.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Well, at least he still has a life. Tommy Christopher lives to tell the tale to the rest of us.
Get well soon.
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.