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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES

WikiLeaks Controversy; Interview With David Rohde

Aired December 5, 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: Journalists love to feast on leaks, to get sources to slip them documents they can turn into eye-catching headlines, but the WikiLeaks dump is raising some uncomfortable questions. Should "The New York Times" have published the secret State Department cables? Are news organizations helping WikiLeaks boss Julian Assange damage American security, or are the media over- dramatizing the revelation?

A reporter kidnapped by the Taliban and the new bride who tried so hard to win his release finally tell their searing story. David Rohde spent eight months as a captive in Pakistan, while Kristen Mulvihill worked with the Obama administration and "The New York Times" to keep the news under wraps, a tragedy with a happy ending.

Plus, CBS cleans house at "The Early Show," dropping Harry Smith and Maggie Rodriguez. Can the new anchors revive that troubled franchise? We'll ask former CNN correspondent Erica Hill.

I'm Howard Kurtz, and this is RELIABLE SOURCES.

Today brings us the seventh installment of "The New York Times" series on secret State Department cables, part of an international uproar orchestrated by the shadowy group known as WikiLeaks. Revelations about U.S. attitudes towards Iran, North Korea and other countries, the disclosure of Hillary Clinton asking for personal information on U.N. diplomats, all newsworthy by the usual standards of journalism. But with WikiLeaks' boss Julian Assange clearly trying to undermine the United States, were The Times and London's "Guardian" and "Der Spiegel" and other news organizations letting him set their agenda?

The story exploded in the media. The debate still going strong.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: The release of these new secrets, just this first new batch, has badly damaged already the U.S. around the world.

DIANE SAWYER, ABC NEWS: More State secrets exposed by WikiLeaks. The U.S. denounces the founder of WikiLeaks, but he fires back.

NEWT GINGRICH, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: The WikiLeaks guys should be in jail for the rest of his life. He is an enemy of the United States, actively endangering people, and he's going to get a lot of folks killed.

BOB WOODWARD, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I think the press is to be commended for dealing with this responsibly.

GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS: He probably should go to jail, and probably tried for treason.

MICHAEL HASTINGS, "ROLLING STONE": And I think trying to smear WikiLeaks as anti-American this or that totally misses the point. This is an organization that supports democracy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Assange defended his approach in an interview with TIME's Rick Stengel.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

JULIAN ASSANGE, FOUNDER, WIKILEAKS: This sort of nonsense about lives being put in jeopardy is trotted out every time a big military or intelligence organization is exposed by the press. It's nothing new, it's not an exclusively American phenomenon by any means.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

KURTZ: So, with the Obama administration conducting an investigation of WikiLeaks, how much responsibility do American news outlets bear?

Joining us now in New York, Richard Stengel, managing editor of "TIME" magazine who conducted that interview; Jeff Jarvis, founder of the blog "Buzz Machine" and director of the Interactive Journalism Program at the CUNY University of New York; and here in Washington, Mark Mazzetti, national security correspondent for "The New York Times."

Mark Mazzetti, you're a reporter, and you get access to a lot of these very interesting cables. Any qualms about using material supplied by an organization controversial, some would say, anti- American such as WikiLeaks?

MARK MAZZETTI, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Yes. You sometimes have to sort of take the information, understand what the source is, and sort of distance yourself in a way to sort of take the information as it stands and understand --

KURTZ: To ignore the fact of where it's coming from, do you mean?

MAZZETTI: Not -- no, not ignore the fact. But the information -- first of all, we have to make sure it's legitimate, right -- the Iraq War logs, the Afghan war logs? -- understand that it's newsworthy information and it's accurate information, and then take the source and take the good with the bad.

But you have to, first of all, see what they're giving you. Sources always have an agenda, and you have to understand that what they might be giving you as part of their agenda. But we have our open agenda as a news organization, and it's to report what's newsworthy, and to, in way, illuminate what the government is doing. And so that's what we try to do in this case.

KURTZ: Rick Stengel, we'll get to your interview with Assange in just a moment, but I want to ask you about some of the criticism. Here's Max Boot, foreign policy expert, writing in "Commentary" magazine, accusing the news organizations involved in this of collaborating with an accused rapist, says, "The conduct of all concerned is reprehensible and beneath contempt." "This is journalism," he says, "as pure vandalism."

What's your thoughts on that?

RICHARD STENGEL, MANAGING EDITOR, "TIME": You know, our job is to publish and be damned, Howard, and that's what we have done. Those accusations against Assange in some cases are unfair. I mean, the criminal here, if there is a criminal, is Bradley Manning, who is the PFC in the Army who leaked those documents to Assange in the first place.

Our job is to shed light on this. Our job is to give greater transparency and put it in context, as Mark was saying.

KURTZ: But Rick, you say right here in your editor's note in "TIME" magazine that these documents released by WikiLeaks "harm national security," and that Assange meant to do so.

STENGEL: Right. I know. But there's no way around that.

I mean, I believe that's Assange's intention. I believe on balance that they have been detrimental to the U.S. But our job is not to protect the U.S. in that sense. I mean, the First Amendment protects us in terms of releasing this information which does enlighten people about the way the U.S. conducts foreign policy.

KURTZ: Jeff Jarvis, I know you argue for a greater transparency of information, but why should "The New York Times" and "The Guardian" and others let Julian Assange set their agenda?

JEFF JARVIS, FOUNDER, "BUZZ MACHINE": It's not even Julian Assange. It's not even WikiLeaks, Howie. The world has changed. Someone can know information now and spread it for the whole world in an instant.

I think we have to look at this the other way around and say, why isn't government more transparent? Government should be transparent by default, secret by necessity.

Part of the lesson of the WikiLeaks leaks is that too much is secret, much of what is secret is done in our name, and we should know it. And also, as Fareed Zakaria said in "TIME" this week, the revelations about our diplomacy core are actually all in all good, actually say that they do a good job. And I think that what we should be doing is turning around and recognizing that this is the future. We are in a transparent age. It used to be the secrets went -- brought power. Now transparency brings power.

KURTZ: I'm going to argue with you about that in just a moment.

But I want to come back to Mark Mazzetti and ask -- The Times has been withholding some of the information, some of the names, some of the details, in these cables, after consulting with federal authorities. Explain how that process has worked.

MAZZETTI: It's been an ongoing discussion between our news organization and the Obama administration, specifically the State Department. We have told them the cables that we intend to put up on our Web site, and there's been a discussion about what concerns them about what's in particular cables.

KURTZ: Is this happening in phone calls every day?

MAZZETTI: Yes. It's pretty regular discussions.

And I'm not on the calls, but in general, it's to sort of find out what we might not know about in terms of things that can harm national security, things that can put people in danger. That's what we're primarily concerned about in posting these cables, is are we putting specific people in danger? Some of -- you can read a cable, and you can understand some of that, but some things we might not know. And so that's why we're having these discussions.

KURTZ: Rick Stengel, let's turn now to your interview with Julian Assange.

I found some of his answers to be absolutely disingenuous. For example, you ask whether secrets are ever necessary, and he says, well, his secrets are necessary, protecting his sources, but "Our responsibility is to bring matters to the public."

You asked him about the negative public reaction, and Assange said the response by the American public has been very favorable. Huh? Is this guy living in an alternate universe, very favorable?

STENGEL: Well, no, he's a zealot, Howard. He's an anarchist. And so I think -- and I agree, his answers, for the most part, did not make sense. They were defensive. They don't necessarily follow together.

He does have a very bizarre world view where he believes in First Amendment absolutism. He's a kind of anarchist, on the other hand. He doesn't really believe in centralized government. I mean, it's hard to say exactly what he believe, but it doesn't all entirely make sense. I agree with you there.

KURTZ: When you asked him whether this was an act of civil disobedience -- in other words, trying to find out what was his moral justification for spewing this stuff out -- he said, no, he's trying to make the world more civil. STENGEL: Yes. I mean, he would claim -- his argument is that by making the world more transparent, you make it more just. He says there's an information disequilibrium in the word, and that it's not about powers of might, it's about powers of knowledge. And the U.S. has more knowledge than anybody else, and by leveling the playing field, he's making the world more just. That's his argument.

KURTZ: Well, this taps into Jeff Jarvis' point.

And I wanted to pick up this argument with you, Jeff. I would agree, way too many government documents are stamped "secret," reflectively automatically and in a way that shouldn't be done. But shouldn't officials be able to have, you know -- is there a need to have more transparency when it comes to U.S. officials having private discussions about nuclear -- the strategy to prevent Iran for going nuclear, how to deal with the nuclear threat from North Korea, private assessments of Vladimir Putin?

That sounds like nonsense.

JARVIS: There are certain things that do need to be secret, Howie. I don't disagree with that at all. But I think that we start with the position that everything is secret, and that means that the government has no credibility on declaring what secrets are, and that's what's happened here.

Now Assange has more power than the government does in this realm. The only way to grab that, the only -- the best weapon against leaks is transparency.

So I'm very, very disappointed in the White House, that their first response was to clamp down on security. It might seem obvious, but I think the other way to look at this is to say we're going to become -- Obama said this was going to become the transparent government. Well, telling you who walks through the front gate of the White House is a gimmick. It's not really about transparency.

The White House should grab the opportunity here to say we'll redefine what transparent government is. And then if someone reveals things that are secret, they are clearly in the wrong. But now Assange and all these secrets is not so clearly in the wrong. Three million people saw those cables that are out there. Why shouldn't the rest of America?

KURTZ: By the way, it is possible to say no to this sort of thing. "The Wall Street Journal" and CNN both turning down the opportunity for an advanced look at these WikiLeaks documents. CNN said that it objected to a confidentiality agreement that would have been required by WikiLeaks. They did not explain exactly what that confidentiality agreement involved.

So, Mark Mazzetti, unlike in the case of the Afghan War documents, where "The New York Times" and the other newspapers got hold of them, The Times didn't get this directly from WikiLeaks. You got your leaks, so to speak, from London's "Guardian."

MAZZETTI: That's right.

KURTZ: Why did WikiLeaks stop doing business with "The New York Times?"

MAZZETTI: I'm not entirely sure. I mean, my senses is that maybe Julian Assange wasn't particularly happy with either the coverage from the Afghan and Iraq War logs, and maybe some of the coverage of him.

KURTZ: Well, the profile by your colleague, John Burns, called him erratic, accused him of "delusional grandeur." I love that phrase. And so it's possible that he --

(CROSSTALK)

MAZZETTI: I don't think he particularly liked that, right.

KURTZ: Right. But The Times was so determined to get in on this game, so to speak, that it got the material from another newspaper.

MAZZETTI: Well, that's right. And I think that "The Guardian," in giving us the documents, saw this as part of an ongoing collaboration that we had going back to the summer. And so, again, I don't know what the sort of inside the negotiations between The Times and "The Guardian" were, but, yes, we did not get them from directly from WikiLeaks.

KURTZ: Right.

Rick Stengel, does Assange's interview with you -- he also did an online chat with "Guardian" readers -- suggest that he really cares about influencing public opinion at a time when the government is trying to crack down on him, hackers are attacking his side, Amazon has kicked WikiLeaks off of its server, and there's even a question about whether he'll be prosecuted?

STENGEL: Look, I think his goal is to have greater transparency, as Jeff said. And I agree.

I mean, our whole cover story is about the over-classification of documents. I mean, in the last 10 years, there are 10 times as many documents that are classified as secret as there were before, and probably four or five times as many people who have access to those documents. I mean, the fact that they wouldn't be leaked under those circumstances is kind of silly.

You know, Pat Moynihan, who led a commission into the investigation of secrecy in government, said the problem isn't the leaking of documents, the problem is the over-classification of documents. And that is a problem.

At the same time, I think Jeff's point, like Assange, is a little bit naive in the sense that secrets are not going to go away. There will be fewer of them, but they'll be more deeply buried.

KURTZ: Do you want to respond to that, Jeff Jarvis? JARVIS: Well, I want to say that all of us journalists around this virtual table should be thinking very seriously about the threat that can be made to our First Amendment rights. Matthew Ingram, a Canadian journalist, wrote at GigaOm.com today -- and I think a very important post -- saying that WikiLeaks is a publisher. It, took, has First Amendment rights, and we should be defending its First Amendment rights.

We in journalism are going off, and many of us attacking WikiLeaks. We should think twice about that, I think, ,because we should be defending transparency as a principle, and defending openness as a principle. And as Rick said, we publish and be damned, so certainly has WikiLeaks.

KURTZ: Well, certainly some people are damning the profession as a result.

Jeff Jarvis, Rick Stengel, Mark Mazzetti, here in Washington, thanks very much for joining us.

When we come back, more on the WikiLeaks uproar from the government's point of view with former Pentagon spokeswoman Torie Clarke.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: For another perspective on this thorny WikiLeaks controversy, I spoke earlier with Torie Clarke, who was a spokeswoman for the Defense Department during the Bush administration.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: Torie Clarke, welcome.

TORIE CLARKE, FMR. PENTAGON SPOKESWOMAN: Thank you very much.

KURTZ: Is there a journalistic distinction, or a moral one, between what WikiLeaks did and what "The New York Times" did?

CLARKE: It's a great question. I don't know the real answer.

I have been thinking about this for weeks and saying, OK, pretend this was furniture that somebody had stolen, and then a store down the street was selling it, knowing that it was stolen goods. That, obviously, would be wrong.

When someone comes in possession of stolen information, is there something wrong with that? Obviously.

You know, I just keep going back to the heart and soul of all of this. This was classified information that shouldn't have been leaked, whatever the content was. That's wrong. People ought to be punished.

KURTZ: Do you approve of what Julian Assange is doing?

CLARKE: No.

KURTZ: So why should American news organizations help him do it?

CLARKE: I understand why some news organizations do this. I understand why "The New York Times" felt as though they had some obligation to do this, and if they didn't put this information out, some others would have.

KURTZ: So, therefore, you provide context and you provide --

CLARKE: Right. Right.

KURTZ: -- and you withhold certain details, which the "Times" did.

CLARKE: Yes. And I --

KURTZ: But still, he's calling the shots.

CLARKE: He is calling the shots to a large degree. And we've learned that others who didn't play the game the way he wanted it played, he didn't go back to them again with some of the information. But again, I hate to say this, but I can sort of see both sides of this.

Do I wish "The New York Times" had never put that out? Absolutely. Do I understand why they did it? Yes.

And then, there's the behind-the-scenes piece of this. And I've had some experience in this world in which "The New York Times" and other -- what you and I would consider mainstream news organizations, have acted as responsibly as they could in dealing with this sort of information.

KURTZ: Was that your experience at the Pentagon when not just at The Times, when journalists would come to you or your bosses and say, we have some national security information here --

CLARKE: Right.

KURTZ: -- and you might ask them not to publish it or you might ask them to publish part of it?

CLARKE: Yes. Yes.

KURTZ: And what was your experience in those instances?

CLARKE: And this is something -- you know, this is close to a decade ago, so it was a different era. But, yes, we had several instances.

I would probably say -- I probably lost track of some. We probably had a few dozen instances in which news organizations would come to us and say, yes, we've gotten a hold of this classified information and we realize some of it might do real harm to national security. And we would sit down with them. Several of us would sit down with them -- and sometimes it was the very top of "The New York Times" to the reporters working on the story -- and negotiate with them and say, well, we understand you're going to do something here, so please, please, please, leave this out because that could be really harmful.

And we found and my experience was they operated in really good faith. And my understanding, as awful as this WikiLeaks thing is, my understanding is, again, "The New York Times" and others have sat down with the government, Pentagon, State Department, and said, OK, we get it, we'll redact that information.

KURTZ: Isn't there a fundamental clash here between the interests of the government, which is to be able to conduct secret diplomacy and not do everything in public, and the interests of journalists, which are to ferret out important or even juicy information?

CLARKE: Yes, absolutely. But I don't think that clash necessarily has -- always has hard and fast lines or very clear definition. Often, it's gray, murky areas, and you have to work through it. And you have to understand, we both have goals here, we both have responsibilities, and you have to work through it.

KURTZ: Your one-time boss, John McCain, told me in an interview this week for "The Daily Beast" that he wishes "The New York Times" hadn't done it. And here's his quote: "It's harmful to the United States of America and our national security interests. And the imprimatur of 'The New York Times' gives it" -- this whole batch of leaked cables -- "a certain degree of respectability."

CLARKE: I agree. I think this is one of the toughest issues we're dealing with. I think it is a stark example of the state of turbulence of journalism, particularly in the United States, and the impact of information technologies that can take something that, you know, 10 years ago, the leaking of one piece of information, discrete information, to an organization would only have a certain amount of impact.

This has global impact. And we're paying very little attention to the impact of this in other parts of the world.

So I totally understand his concern. I totally agree with his strong emotions about how harmful this can be. At the same time, I think we're just dealing with a very turbulent time and very unknown circumstances without a lot of rules and regulations yet.

KURTZ: And journalists can say, ah-ha, these -- look at these cables. They show that U.S. diplomats are saying very different things in private about foreign leaders, about strategies toward Iran, North Korea, France, you name it, than they are in their public statements.

But should we surprised by that?

CLARKE: We shouldn't be surprised by it at all. It's been going on for decades, and I think most journalists know that. This is not unlike a reporter who's trading e-mails or text with an editor, will say things about what's in his story or about a character in the story, or a person in the story, that you would never --

KURTZ: That you wouldn't say it in front of a television camera.

CLARKE: Exactly. So that's human nature. Thanks part of what you do. But again, certain things have gone on for some time.

This latest dump of the WikiLeaks, we have, for decades, worked with moderate leaders in the Middle East -- and they may not be perceived in the public as moderate, but they are. And they have worked with us and others behind the scenes for a long time trying to achieve some balance and some moderation in that region.

Not easy for them to admit to publicly. They often will say, we can't admit to it publicly --

KURTZ: Right.

CLARKE: -- but we're going to help you. That's a good thing. Now that cover has been blown, to a certain extent.

KURTZ: A thorny set of issues, to be sure.

CLARKE: Absolutely.

KURTZ: Torie Clarke, thanks very much for joining us.

CLARKE: Thanks, Howie.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: Coming up in the second part of RELIABLE SOURCES, we are finally learning the full story of what happened when "New York Times" reporter David Rohde was kidnapped by the Taliban. He and his wife will be here.

And later, CBS' "Early Show" has a house cleaning, sweeping in former CNN anchor Erica Hill. I'll ask her about the challenge facing the third place morning show.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: It was a calculated gamble that ended in disaster, leaving an American journalist in Taliban hands. David Rohde of "The New York Times" spent eight months as a captive in Pakistan, while his new wife, Kristen Mulvihill, worked with the newspaper and the Obama administration to try to win his release, in part by persuading the rest of the press not to report the kidnapping.

The couple tells the harrowing tale in a new book, "A Rope and a Prayer." I spoke to them earlier here in the studio.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: David Rohde, Kristen Mulvihill, welcome.

KRISTEN MULVIHILL, AUTHOR, "A ROPE AND A PRAYER: A KIDNAPPING FROM TWO SIDES": Thank you.

DAVID ROHDE, AUTHOR, "A ROPE AND A PRAYER: A KIDNAPPING FROM TWO SIDES": Thank you very much.

KURTZ: Now, you're no stranger to covering war. In fact, you were detained in Bosnia back in 1995 for 10 days.

You had just gotten married a couple of months earlier. You were in Afghanistan. You agreed to meet with a Taliban official, and you didn't tell your new wife.

Why, why and why?

(LAUGHTER)

ROHDE: I knew -- or I thought that she would say, "Don't go to the interview." And I had just married her. And if she had said, "I don't want you go to the interview," I wouldn't go to the interview.

And that was a mistake, obviously. I should have talked to her about it.

I sort of avoided the conflict, which is always a bad idea. And particularly in a relationship. And, you know, I regret it. It was a mistake. And I --

KURTZ: And it was a mistake in more ways than one.

ROHDE: Oh, yes.

(LAUGHTER)

ROHDE: And I -- you know, and I -- my mistake was, you know, also, I was -- you know, I think it was competition. You know, many journalists have -- dozens have -- interviewed the Taliban successfully. I wanted this book to be the best thing it could. And I thought I really needed a Taliban interview. But it was wrong.

KURTZ: Right.

Kristen, after David was captured, a colleague sent you a note that he had written for you --

MULVIHILL: Yes. Yes.

KURTZ: -- that said, "This is my passion and I must do what I love."

MULVIHILL: Exactly.

KURTZ: What was your reaction to that? MULVIHILL: You know, for me, I was angry, initially, that he hadn't consulted me. And I felt we had just taken a vow. I took that very seriously.

I was angry in the initial moments, and then I quickly realized, you know, he took a risk, but the kidnappers kidnapped him. And through the course of the experience, I really feel nobody suffered more than David from his decision to go to the interview.

KURTZ: But it wasn't easy for you either.

MULVIHILL: No.

ROHDE: There were other parts of the note saying that, you know, I had figured -- I knew this guy had done interviews before --

MULVIHILL: Yes.

ROHDE: -- and, you know, had left with people his name, his phone number. The village we were going to be was, you know --

KURTZ: Well, a series of calculated gambles.

ROHDE: Yes.

MULVIHILL: Yes.

KURTZ: That's one that didn't work out.

Now, you were taken with your driver and an Afghan journalist. They, at one point, wanted to go public. You decided it would better for your long-term survival if this was not reported as a news story.

Why?

ROHDE: I actually -- when they asked me to do that, I did say that I should go public in the videotape at that point. These were all -- there were sort of three forced videotapes, and this was the second one. And I initially told the captors that I didn't think it should go public. Kristen made a separate decision on her own --

MULVIHILL: Yes.

ROHDE: -- to not go public here. So at their request, I did say in this tape, please report our story, please ask journalists to write about us.

MULVIHILL: And I could tell from the way he delivered that line that that was not coming from him, actually. It was a really tough call.

The decision to keep it private was not one we took lightly. We made that decision every week, we revisited it based on what was going on there.

KURTZ: Meanwhile, back home, you were grappling with these demands from the Taliban --

MULVIHILL: Yes.

KURTZ: -- for ransom, $15 million at one point.

MULVIHILL: Yes.

KURTZ: And you were not ruling out trying to raise money.

MULVIHILL: No. I mean, you know, I was advised to keep a conversation going, to keep them calling me. You know, to be willing to discuss ransom. We never had to pay any ransom.

KURTZ: Right. But the last thing you want is no contact.

MULVIHILL: Exactly.

KURTZ: Right.

MULVIHILL: Exactly. Yes.

KURTZ: And meanwhile, you're in captivity, weeks and weeks go on. You're accused of being a spy. You were depressed.

How did you cope?

ROHDE: I basically hung in there. I knew she was doing everything possible to help us. I was treated very well by my captors. The Pakistani military talks about the tribal areas of Pakistan as this remote and inaccessible mountainous area. I was given a bottle of water every day.

I was in a very large town called Miranshah. And they even gave me English language Pakistani newspapers.

So I'm lucky for how well I was treated. And I just -- you know, she had said in one of the notes she sent me, "You must be strong because I am strong." And that kind of kept me going.

KURTZ: Well, you were treated all right. But psychologically, you didn't know if you were ever going to get out.

ROHDE: It's true. And I think if we hadn't escaped, I might still be there today. The same area is controlled by the Taliban. The Pakistani Army has not confronted them.

KURTZ: You, at one point, talked with Hillary Clinton.

MULVIHILL: I did, actually.

KURTZ: What did you tell the secretary of state?

MULVIHILL: I actually asked her if there were demands made to our government that I was not aware of. And she said, no, there were not. She was fantastic. You know, throughout the case, I was working with former FBI agents, the FBI, the newspaper, security teams, all very kind of wonderful guys, but very macho. And when I spoke to her, I actually thanked her for her interest and her support. And I added that it was nice to have another woman in the mix, I will admit.

KURTZ: And at one point --

MULVIHILL: And she laughed at that.

KURTZ: -- on the theory that this would -- might eventually become public --

MULVIHILL: Yes.

KURTZ: -- you got media training --

MULVIHILL: I did.

KURTZ: -- and you write in the book --

MULVIHILL: Yes.

KURTZ: -- "I have no desire to sit across from Matt Lauer. I did not wish to be comforted by Ann Curry."

(LAUGHTER)

MULVIHILL: I hope Matt and Ann don't take that too personally but --

KURTZ: But what was your point?

MULVIHILL: At the time, I just did not want this to become a public spectacle. I didn't want to go public and be expected to cry about David on television. I really wanted to keep it private.

KURTZ: You're very private?

MULVIHILL: Yes. Exactly. Despite the fact that we've written a book, we're both very private people.

KURTZ: Now, at various times, you were able to speak on the phone. That must have been a great relief. But at the same time, how difficult was it?

ROHDE: It was very difficult, because it was all very scripted and I -- you know, the captors were like, you have to say exactly, you know, what we tell you. They had me lie and say that we were being held captive in Afghanistan. They were trying to cover up the fact that we were in this safe haven in Pakistan.

You know, so I was maybe nervous. I had to say everything I could to Kristen very briefly. But just the sound of her voice and her poise in these phone calls was amazing. MULVIHILL: And I felt that was the only thing I could do for him on the other end. I didn't know if we'd ever speak again. You know, so I wanted him to know that I was calm, that I loved him, that I could handle the situation, because I knew he was also worrying about me and our family.

KURTZ: Let's talk about these videos. The last one was called the so-called "Proof of Life" video. And that was one in which he was making appeals from the script which -- David Rohde was making appeals from the script to -- you were angry when you saw that video.

MULVIHILL: I was angry. I was angry at the Taliban. I was furious.

You know, up until then, we had received two communications before that. And he looked well in the communications, actually. And he later told me he sat out in the sun when he could so he would look healthier.

But the dynamic was very different in this particular video. The other two hostages were not with him, which was a change from the past. So I really feared they had done something to the other two.

David was making ridiculous demands in this sort of hyped-up language, which I knew was coming from elsewhere. And it just infuriated me to see him as a mouthpiece, you know, for them.

ROHDE: They had told me they were going to bring in a local person they had arrested and declared a spy and execute him in front of us in the video. So I thought it was better to say whatever they wanted me to say. And I --

KURTZ: I would think so.

ROHDE: -- did not want them to harm my two Afghan colleagues, either.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: After the break, more of our conversation as we turn to David Rohde's daring escape from captivity in Pakistan.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: More now from my conversation with David Rohde and Kristen Mulvihill about his long ordeal as a captive of the Taliban.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: You had so many false hopes. There were so many times when it looked like there might be a breakthrough and then there wasn't. They led you along, they lied to you. Then, finally, you decided to try to escape.

Why take that risk? ROHDE: In one of our last meetings with our kidnapper, he had announced to me that President Obama had gone to Saudi Arabia in the spring of 2009 to discuss my case with the king of Saudi Arabia and nothing else. This was the alternate reality and the sort of delusions they had.

And beyond that, we were moved to a house that was only three- tenths of a mile from the main -- well, the only Pakistani military base in Miranshah. That's how confident the Taliban are about not being challenged by the Pakistani military. And we used that to our advantage. We snuck out at night and were able to walk to this Pakistani base.

KURTZ: After you took a rope and made it over a wall?

ROHDE: Yes.

MULVIHILL: Yes.

KURTZ: While the guards were sleeping?

ROHDE: Yes. The guards were sleeping and, you know, it was -- finally, it was our sort of first stroke of good luck in seven months.

I found this car tow rope. It was a house that had been used by jihadi fighters, so there was clothes and tents and all kinds of equipment all over the place, and this tow rope and motor oil, and that kind of thing.

KURTZ: And Kristen, once David was initially out and made it to that Pakistani base --

MULVIHILL: Yes?

KURTZ: -- but before he was out of Pakistan, you talked to Susan Chira, who's the foreign editor of "The New York Times?"

MULVIHILL: Yes. Yes.

KURTZ: And she began pressing you about the story that the paper wanted to do.

MULVIHILL: Yes. And The Times was fantastic throughout about keeping this story quiet.

KURTZ: But you were not happy at that point.

MULVIHILL: But I was not happy at that point. I really wanted them to wait to report on it until he was out of Pakistan. In fact, until he was in Dubai. We were due to meet in Dubai. So I didn't -- I wasn't just worried something would happen to him.

KURTZ: But Bill Keller, the executive editor of the paper --

MULVIHILL: Yes. Yes.

KURTZ: -- pressed you for a quote. He said --

MULVIHILL: He did.

KURTZ: -- they needed to feed the beast.

MULVIHILL: Yes. And I said, "Bill, with all due respect, I think David would like the beast to lay down and die. Starve the beast. Let it die."

ROHDE: At this point, my -- our driver was still in captivity. There were three of us kidnapped; myself and the Afghan journalist escaped.

We didn't include the driver in our escape plan because he had -- and I don't blame him -- he was the first one who would have been killed by the Taliban, so he had started carrying a gun. He had told our guards when we talked to him in the past about escaping. So the driver was still in custody, and I think both of us were concerned about publicity so quickly.

KURTZ: Now, even after, though, you finally make it back to the United States, a happy reunion, this ordeal is over, you still did no interviews. You didn't even do -- you said -- at one point, you said "No comment" to "The New York Times," which had fought so hard for your release.

(LAUGHTER)

KURTZ: Why?

ROHDE: At that point, our driver was still in captivity.

MULVIHILL: Yes.

ROHDE: We sent a tribal delegation in, a newspaper --

(CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: But the stories were being written, David. So whether you offered quotes or not, it wasn't like you were keeping it out of the paper.

ROHDE: Well, I just felt a loyalty to him. I didn't want to say anything that could endanger him. You know, he was a victim, as well. And, you know, that's why I didn't want to talk at that point.

KURTZ: There are rumors, as you know, or there were at the time, that a ransom was paid, that the guards let you escape.

ROHDE: That's not true. There was a recent story in "The Nation," actually. A reporter there talked to an Afghan source that looks like he talked to my kidnapper. And what happened was there was a feud among the Taliban after we escaped.

There was no ransom paid, but the initial kidnapper and the Haqqanis blamed each other, and they assumed each one had been paid a ransom. The Haqqanis turned my guards over to Pakistani intelligence, the ISI.

KURTZ: The Haqqanis being a faction within?

ROHDE: Yes. Sorry, the Haqqani faction of the Taliban turns these two guards over. They were related to the original kidnapper. And the ISI tortured them and said to them -- specifically, it was the kidnapper's older brother -- "Did you get a ransom and basically cheat the Haqqanis out of money?"

KURTZ: I see.

ROHDE: And the guards denied it. And the Pakistani intelligence, you know, they agreed, as well, no ransom paid, no bribes paid. But what's amazing is, instead of turning the guards over to American officials, the Pakistani military simply let them go.

KURTZ: Kristen, are you going to let him be a war correspondent again?

MULVIHILL: You know, the beauty of -- well, there is no beauty in this situation. But he came to the conclusion on his own that he does not want to go back. So I support him being a journalist. I think he's done amazing work.

KURTZ: I'm glad you're back.

I'm glad for your sake he is back.

MULVIHILL: Thanks.

KURTZ: David Rohde and Kristen Mulvihill, thanks very much for joining us.

MULVIHILL: Thank you.

ROHDE: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: Up next, all the anchors are out at CBS' struggling "Early Show." We'll talk to one who's in, Erica Hill, in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HARRY SMITH, CO-HOST, "THE EARLY SHOW": A soggy Tuesday morning here in the big city.

Good morning, everybody. I'm Harry Smith.

MAGGIE RODRIGUEZ, CO-HOST, "THE EARLY SHOW": And I'm Maggie Rodriguez.

And we are feeling the excitement all the way over here, but let's take you right to London --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: It has been an also (ph) ran in the network morning rolls (ph) roughly forever. Now "The Early Show" starting from scratch yet again. CBS, this week, dumping co-hosts Maggie Rodriguez and Harry Smith.

Smith offered some reflections on CBS Radio.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

SMITH: Being on a network television show is a pretty cool job. You get to cover the news of the day, meet movie stars, and cook with great chefs. I've anchored a morning show on CBS for 17 of the last 23 years. That's a lot of 4:00 a.m. wakeup calls, and way too many cups of coffee.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

KURTZ: The new lineup, Erica Hill, formerly of CNN, and Chris Wragge. They've been hosting "The Early Show" Saturday edition on CBS.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERICA HILL, CO-HOST, "THE EARLY SHOW": We have a good crowd to warm us up here this morning.

Welcome to "The Early Show," everyone. I'm Erica Hill.

CHRIS WRAGGE, CO-HOST, "THE EARLY SHOW": And I'm Chris Wragge. It is a good crowd. They're all German though. How about that?

HILL: They brought beer, but they haven't shared it with us yet. We're going to have to have a talk with them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: They'll be joined by Jeff Glor and Marysol Castro.

So, what kind of challenge do they face with this new, revamped "Early Show?" I spoke earlier to Erica Hill from New York.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: Erica Hill, welcome back to CNN.

HILL: Thanks for having me.

KURTZ: Now, it's no secret that the CBS morning shows have had a rocky history for, what, 30 years? So is this a bit of a daunting challenge for you?

HILL: You know, I look at it as a challenge, but I look at any new job as a challenge. And I know there's been a lot written about the challenges that this particular morning show has had.

I've been here for a little bit less than a year. And so what happened in the past happened in the past.

I'm really focused on the future. I know David Friedman, our executive producer, is, as well. And I'm putting everything I have into this. It's a challenge, but it's a great challenge, and it's a great opportunity.

KURTZ: Well, you've got two strong rivals there, obviously, in "Good Morning America" and "The Today Show."

How much of a transition has it been for you from when you worked at HLN, when you worked at CNN with Anderson Cooper, to co-hosting a morning show?

HILL: It's a lot of different things, although, to be honest with you, it will be the second morning show that I co-hosted, because way back in time, when I worked at TechTV, I had a morning show there called "Tech Live." And I loved it, and I knew at that point I really loved the format, because I enjoyed the mix of things.

And so it was great when I came to HLN and had a very successful show there, "Prime News With Erica Hill." And then came up to New York to be a part of Anderson's show full time, that I was able to still stay with the hard news stories, which are really what I love, but still get to have a little fun.

And, you know, I got to have fun with Anderson every night. We would do things like "The Shot," you know, where --

KURTZ: The spotlight is going to be a little harsher on you, though, now.

HILL: It's going to be -- yes, it is. It's a big change. And I'm -- I think I'm still processing it.

KURTZ: You talk about enjoying hard news. Now, it's impossible to watch any of the network morning shows and miss the fact that they do a lot of tabloid stories, a lot of crime stories, a lot of celebrity stories.

Are you comfortable with that?

HILL: It's -- you know, it comes with it. There's a mixture of things. And, in a lot of ways, I think that's the beauty of morning TV.

Like, you're always going to get, at 7:00, off the top, the heart of the show at the top is going to be hard news, it's going to be news of the day. And we're going to continue to bring you that throughout the broadcast.

But morning television, the audience, too, is not limited to just hard news. There are stories that people are talk about, and those happen to be pop culture. Sometimes they might be a little tabloidy. You know, I love a good cooking segment. I'd be lying if I didn't say that.

So I'm comfortable with the mix. In fact, I really enjoy the mix, because it keeps it interesting.

KURTZ: We're going to see how good your cooking skills are on this morning show.

HILL: Well, I won an omelet battle, I will have you know, judged by Bobby Flay on the Saturday edition of "The Early Show." So, I'm feeling fairly confident.

KURTZ: You were just keeping that in your hip pocket until I asked that question.

(LAUGHTER)

KURTZ: Boy, you scored on that one.

Now, you often have filled on "The Early Show" since you've gone to CBS. You worked with Harry Smith. Now Harry and Maggie Rodriguez have lost their jobs.

Is it a little bit of an awkward situation for you?

HILL: It is awkward. And, you know, they're people -- Harry, Maggie and Dave are people that I adore and that I respect, not just as colleagues, not just as journalists, but also as friends. You know, I'm friendly with all three of them. So it is awkward, and it's an awkward position to be in.

But if they could have done anything else to make it more comfortable, I don't know what it would be, because the three of them have been nothing but gracious and encouraging and supportive. And so I feel very lucky that they're handing the torch off in such a way and making it as easy as possible.

KURTZ: And Harry Smith, for one, is going to remain at CBS as a substitute anchor and reporter.

Now, I've noticed that when morning show hosts get these jobs, they get more and more personal with the audience and we hear more about their lives. So are we going to meet your high school teachers? And is your husband going to come on? Are you going to talk about your kids?

HILL: You know, I don't -- I mean, you know, there's always a little bit that happens that, you know, you might hear about my kids. And I adore my kids.

Do they need to be a part of every show? Absolutely not. You know, I don't think you need to know when my kids have a doctor's appointment or -- you know, there's a certain amount that obviously an audience wants to connect with you. And they do tend to want to connect a little bit more when it's a morning show, because you're there with them every single morning.

They might be in their bathrobe. They might have curlers in their hair. So you're with them at some of their most intimate moments.

So, to allow them a glimpse of your life is a nice way to bring them into the fold. But I do feel like there's a line. I don't need to share with you everything that happens in my life. And, frankly, I'd like to keep some of that private.

KURTZ: Keep some of that private, that's an interesting concept for a television personality.

HILL: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

KURTZ: But, of course, you just had your second baby back in March.

HILL: I did.

KURTZ: So how exactly are you going to balance all this and these new demands on you?

HILL: I mean, honestly, how does any working parent do it? I'm continually in awe, especially at single parents. But, you know, we do what we can.

My husband and I, I think -- I don't think there's any such thing for anyone who works, no matter what your job is, as a balance. There's always going to be a day where you feel like you're not giving enough to your kids, you feel like you're not giving enough to your spouse, you feel like you're not giving enough to your job.

And all that you can do is do your very best in all of those roles. You know, we have an incredible support system with our family and our friends. And obviously we have help in our home. I mean, you know, our kids can't get themselves up by --

KURTZ: Let me just jump in here --

HILL: -- get themselves up when I'm at work.

KURTZ: -- before we have to go to break.

CBS News president Sean McManus has told me that the new team is going to feature a lot of chemistry, you and your new co-host.

Where do you get this chemistry? Is it something you can buy off the shelf?

HILL: It's not, because if you could, then -- if I could find a way to bottle it, I would.

No, you know what? Chris and I, when we met a couple of years ago, we had an instant connection. We like each other. We get along well.

You know, with Jeff and Marysol, I'm just getting to know. But we all seem to have something in common. We have a good time joking with one another.

So I think that you will see the chemistry from day one, because it's already there. And it's not something you can fake.

KURTZ: Well, if the anchors are having a good time, usually the audience can sense that.

Erica Hill, thanks very much for joining us.

HILL: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: And speaking of network shakeups, a surprise choice to succeed David Westin as president of ABC News. Ben Sherwood, a former producer for "Good Morning America," who left the network four years ago to move to L.A. and write books, got the nod on Friday. Sherwood told me he wants to increase the competitive metabolism of this place even higher and improve shows in ways that will make a difference for viewers.

Still to come on this program, the journalist who got Google to change its ways; "The Nation" magazine engages in a smear job; and which newspaper writer stars in a R-rated comic book?

The "Media Monitor" is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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.

David Segal of "The New York Times" had a remarkable piece about an online seller of eyeglasses on my home turf of Sheepshead Bay Brooklyn. This guy, Vitaly Borker, of DecorMyEyes, bullied and harassed a woman he had shortchanged with such chilling messages as, "You put your hand in fire. Now it's time to get burned."

Borker actually bragged about his techniques, saying that the more complaints he generated from frightened customers, the higher his company was listed in the Google ratings, which actually boosted his business. Well, the piece got results. Google has changed the way its ranks search results so unscrupulous merchants will find it harder to rise to the top of these lists.

Here's what I didn't like: an article in "The Nation" magazine that was little more than a smear. The headline: "The Washington Lobbyists and Koch-Funded Libertarians Behind the TSA Scandal," referring to the Koch brothers, who are big-time conservative donors. The lead was about John Tyner, that software engineers who recorded himself telling airport security guards not to touch his junk. Authors Mark Ames and Yasha Levine wrote that, "All we know about ordinary guy John Tyner is that he leans strongly libertarian and doesn't believe in voting."

The article included Tyner's denial this was all a setup, but there was this damning and anonymously-sourced sentence: "At least one local TSA administrator wondered if Tyner hadn't come to the airport prepared to create a scandal."

But here's what I liked. After days of criticism from Salon's Glenn Greenwald and others, "Nation" editor Katrina vanden Heuvel published an apology. She said the piece gave the impression that Tyner was a plant and funded by the Koch brothers and "also used innuendo to cast doubt on Tyner's motives. 'The Nation' hasn't been- and-never-will-be in the business of muffling citizen protest."

This was a shoddy piece of journalism, but an honest apology by vanden Heuvel.

And I would love it if this next item had even the slightest relationship to reality, the reality of life as a Washington journalist, a new comic book featuring the swashbuckling adventures of Maureen Dowd of "The New York Times."

Yes, I doubt that Dowd wears this kind of revealing getup, even at home, let alone packs a pistol. And get a load of this plot line about the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame. "My journalistic instincts tell me someone in the Bush administration tipped off Novak, seeking revenge against Plame's husband, Joe Wilson. If I can get someone in the administration's inner circle to go on the record for my column running in tomorrow's paper, it would topple the Bush administration. But how will I find the time?"

"My column is due at midnight tonight. I already have a dinner date with none other than George Clooney. It's our third date, and I have a feeling tonight is the night."

Totally untrue. Maureen Dowd had nothing to do with breaking the Plame story. It was just pure fiction. As for those insinuations about her love life, well, she did once date Michael Douglas, so maybe it's not that farfetched.

As an intrepid reporter myself, I asked Dowd for her reaction. "I never read anything about myself," she said. "It's debilitating, like Kryptonite."

So even this superhero has a weakness.

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

I'm Howard Kurtz.

Join us again next Sunday, 1100 a.m. Eastern, for another critical look at the media. "STATE OF THE UNION" with Candy Crowley begins right now.