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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES

Lara Logan Assaulted in Egypt; Media Chides Obama for Not Cutting Spending; Onion News Network

Aired February 20, 2011 - 11:00   ET

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


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: With the constant churn of criticism directed at journalists, it's also easy to forget how some of them go to dangerous places and risk their lives. The latest reminder, an unspeakable assault against Lara Logan by a Cairo mob that left the CBS correspondent hospitalized. Is this kind of reporting simply more dangerous for female correspondents? Is it getting too much attention? And why on earth are some loudmouths mocking her? Conservative commentator take on likes of Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh for saying President Obama doesn't like America or is trying to weaken America. We'll ask Michael Medved how that's playing on the right.

Plus, most of the media chides Obama for not cutting enough government spending. That's a sea change. And by the way, should the taxpayers still be coughing up cash for public broadcasting?

I'm Howard Kurtz and this is RELIABLE SOURCES.

Lara Logan was supposed to be a guest on this program last week. She was going to come here to the studio and talk about how she had been arrested and handcuffed and blindfolded and detained by the Egyptian army while reporting on the protests that rocked the country.

But then she told us she was going back to Cairo just days after the detention that made her violently ill, and she would join us by satellite on Sunday morning. But on Saturday, her producer sent word that Logan couldn't make it, that she was heading back to the United States.

Earlier this week we found out the sickening news of what actually had happened.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KATIE COURIC, CBS ANCHOR: Lara was covering the celebrations in Cairo last Friday when she was surrounded by a mob, sexually assaulted, and beaten. She was rescued by a group of women and Egyptian soldiers. Lara is back in the States now and we're pleased to report she's recovering well in the hospital.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: She is now home with her family in Washington. Now, if you're not familiar with the South African native's career, she has put herself in danger time and again in war zones around the world. Here she is last fall, telling me about being embedded with a U.S. military unit in Afghanistan that came under fire from Taliban forces.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LARA LOGAN, CBS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: They opened up with about 15 heavy machine guns, armor-piercing RPG rounds and rocket- propelled grenades, mortars and rocket fire.

KURTZ: And what was going through your mind while this was happening?

LOGAN: You know, I really thought-- I mean, always there's a moment where you think, oh my God, you know, I just don't want to die. I couldn't believe how long it was, just going on and on and on, and the intensity of fire power.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Knowing full well that the "60 Minutes" correspondent is now a mother, I asked the obvious question.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: I have to ask you, why do you subject yourself to these risks? You now have two little children at home.

LOGAN: I know. It's the worst question anyone can ask you is if you're a war junky. Do you do this for the adrenaline? Because anyone who has had babies, any mother knows how hard it is to leave your children.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Joining us now in New York, Judith Matloff, long-time foreign correspondent for Reuters and the Christian Science Monitor, who now teaches at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

Mary Elizabeth Williams, author and salon.com writer and a cultural critic for Public Radio International. And in Nairobi, Kenya, Donatella Lorch, who spent more than three decades -- excuse me, two decades -- covering hot spots around the world for "The New York Times," NBC News and "Newsweek."

Donatella Lorch, there seems to be a code of silence on this subject that is starting to break for the first time. When you have been a foreign correspondent, especially in difficult places, have you felt more vulnerable as a woman?

DONATELLA LORCH, FORMER CORRESPONDENT FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES, NBC NEWS, AND NEWSWEEK: I don't think that being a woman really crossed my mind as much as am I going to be shot at, am I going to get blown up by a mine. Am I going to be beaten up.

If you stop and think, you cannot keep fear at a high level on a constant basis. It's just not possible. You're there to do a job, you get caught up in the job and you just do your job. I think that being raped was not really high up on my concern list. Much more was being blocked, beaten, imprisoned, harassed.

And over all, going into a crowd like Lara did, crowds are incredibly dangerous and incredibly unpredictable. I remember in Somalia when I was there in Mogadishu in the '90s, women pulled knives out at me, they had hand grenades in crowds. They turned on four of my male colleagues, not women, male colleagues, and they shot and stoned them to death in a crowd in Mogadishu.

KURTZ: Obviously, the dangers transcend gender, but Judith Matloff, you talked about a dozen women journalists for Columbia Journalism Review who had been raped or sexually assaulted. Why didn't they go public?

JUDITH MATLOFF, WORKED AS A FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT FOR 20 YEARS: I think like in the rest of the population, a sexual assault is a very, very intimate attack. It is something that can carry a great stigma for people in many, many societies. It's not something that most people who survive it want to share with the public. I think that's one.

I think two, it's -- there still is a -- it's still difficult for women, although we have risen to the top of the profession to -- I think it's incumbent on women to prove they are as tough as if not tougher than men.

So a female correspondent is oftentimes unwilling to make clear to the world that she has a particular vulnerability that men don't.

KURTZ: Right.

MATLOFF: Because there is that fear that you might be pulled off the job.

KURTZ: Interesting the coverage of this, some people think there's too much coverage because Lara Logan is obviously a well known television personality. But Mary Elizabeth Williams, I would like to know your thoughts on that.

But also, there's a strain in some of the coverage and you know this because you wrote about it. "L.A. Weekly" talked about Lara Logan's shockingly good looks, and you know, here's a web site, Mofopolitics, called her a ridiculously hot chick. Is there an undercurrent in that, that, well, what do you expect?

MARY ELIZABETH WILLIAMS, SERVED AS CULTURE CRITIC FOR PUBLIC RADIO INTERNATIONAL'S "THE TAKEAWAY": Absolutely. It's been, you know, one of first things that happened when this story broke. I couldn't believe it. Within hours of it, the first reporting was about was that story in "L.A. Weekly," talking about her stunning good looks and her previous sexual history and saying the Egyptian people were consummating their celebrations by having a sexual attack on a blond reporter. And of course, we know what happened with the Rosen tweets about -- KURTZ: We'll get to that in a moment.

WILLIAMS: Yes, but basically what happened is there has been a backlash because she's a woman and because she's attractive, and her attractiveness was one of the first things that came into a story that's about a violent crime.

KURTZ: Is this story getting too much attention because it's a member of the media? Mary Elizabeth? Go ahead.

WILLIAMS: You know, here's the thing that really outrages me about this is the idea that because it's getting attention, that that in any way diminishes how any of us feel or that we would not take as seriously the sexual crimes that are happening against other women in the world.

I mean, that was part of the problem with some of the reporting. Why aren't they -- reporters are saying, why aren't they writing about Egyptian women or why aren't they writing about other women who are being sexually attacked? And I think that if you can't have compassion for what happened to Lara and also not feel outrage about what's happened to other women, that the deficit of compassion and humanity is on your fault. I think there's plenty of outrage to go around.

KURTZ: All right, let me go back to Nairobi and Donatella Lorch. We talked a moment ago with the other guests about perceptions. Did you find yourself in your war correspondent days battling a perception problem that women are a little weaker, that maybe they shouldn't go to war zones? Is this something you felt you had to fight back against?

LORCH: I don't think I had to fight back against it. I think I was always aware of it. And it's also -- but it's also with your male and female colleagues. If you're not there -- if you're not at the front line, you lose your position, you lose your slot.

If Lara had said I don't want to go because it's a crowd, then someone else would have gone. There's always someone behind you who is willing to go. And you know, to add to what Judith was saying, is that she wasn't raped, she wasn't sexually abused because she was blond. That had nothing to do with her being sexually abused. Look around the world. Women are sexually abused regardless of their race, the color of their hair, their good looks or their age. In wars around the world, 80-year-old women get sexually abused. It has nothing to do with she's blond and she's pretty, and she's, you know, she's a celebrity.

KURTZ: But, of course, the celebrity aspect was what put this on the front page of the "New York Post," which ran a one-word screaming headline "animals" with a picture of Lara.

Judith Matloff, coming back to this question about keeping quiet. In your case, when you were a foreign correspondent, you were in Angola about 15 years ago, an incident occurred that you didn't mention to your editors. Tell us what happened. MATLOFF: Well, I was at an airport in Angola, very rural airport in the diamond smuggling area, with a Brazilian female colleague. There were a bunch of drank soldiers, and they wanted to march us into a shack and quote, "have fun," unquote.

And fortunately, by the grace of God, suddenly appeared out of nowhere a priest who had some authority and respect in the community, and he was able to talk these thugs down and get us into his car, and we were able to get away.

KURTZ: And then you did not tell your editor?

MATLOFF: I didn't tell my editor. I was just afraid-- first of all, nothing happened, so I thought OK, fine, I got off on that one. The second thing, I just thought if I tell my editor, maybe he's going to think, well, we can't send women on these jobs, and therefore next time we'll send a guy. I stayed quiet about it.

KURTZ: I think you've summed it up right there. I just want to get a question into Mary Elizabeth before we go to break. Bunny Fuller's web site, Hollywood Life had this headline, "Lara Logan has two small children at home. Is she brave or irresponsible for putting herself in that kind of danger?" Which made me think, OK, aren't there some male correspondents who also have small children at home?

What did you make of that?

WILLIAMS: I think if you want to talk about irresponsible journalism, that's that question. That's what's irresponsible. The fact that when women are sexually abused or attacked, the question that arises is, what should women do differently? Is absolutely outrageous. And the fact that, as you said, this is not a question that's being asked of our male counterparts. That's just absurd.

Women are there to do the job. And the solution to this violence against women is not to tell women to stay home with their kids. It's to keep speaking up about these things and to keep working.

KURTZ: All right. Let me get a break here and when we come back, Lara Logan becomes the target of mockery in some quarters. This is pretty ugly stuff. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: After CBS's Lara Logan was beaten and sexually assaulted in Cairo, a journalist named Nir Rosen, who's written for "The New Yorker" and "The Nation" among others, lost his job at NYU Fellow for tweeting the following, Lara Logan had to outdo Anderson, meaning Anderson Cooper who was roughed up in Cairo. It would have been funny if it happened to Anderson too. Nir Rosen went on Cooper's 360 and here's what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST "ANDERSON COOPER 360": Nir, how do you explain your tweets? NIR ROSEN, FREELANCE JOURNALIST: I don't have an explanation. I was a jerk. It was 2:00 in the morning and I was being thoughtless, forgetting that I wasn't just talking to a couple of people, that I was talking, in theory, to hundreds of thousands of people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Mary Elizabeth Williams, what he wrote was appalling, but he apologized profusely. Was this an overreaction for him to lose his job?

WILLIAMS: And he also -- he apologized. He expanded upon that in salon.com this week, where he said, again, that he apologized, but then he also backhandedly started talking about how he was so outraged that this attention only comes when, as he put it, the pretty blond lady has something happen to her.

So is the outrage justified? It depends on who you're talking to. I know he's received threats. I think people have harassed him. That's never excusable. That's never the right reaction. Should he have lost his job. Yes, I think he should have because I think what he said was despicable.

KURTZ: All right. Tweeting at 2:00 in the morning in dangerous.

Donatella Lorch, a conservative blogger named Debbie Schlussel wrote the following, so sad, too bad, Lara. No one told her to go there. She knew the risks. And then this. How fitting that Lara Logan was "liberated" by Muslims in Liberation Square while she was gushing over the other part of the liberation. Hope you're enjoying the revolution, Lara. What are we to make of that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's just absolutely --

LORCH: I find those lines revolting. It was beyond sickening. First of all, it shows how ignorant she is about anything that's going on in Egypt or anywhere else.

It shows that she's a racist. It shows that she's out there just to say cruel things, just to get a reaction from people. And you know, I think that the difference between Nir Rosen and he said and what she has said is that she was out really to hurt. I mean, that was her aim. You know, the Liberation Square, she was liberated by those animals. You know, how dare she talk to another human being like that?

KURTZ: And you know, Lara Logan didn't have much time to do any alleged gushing over the revolution because on her first trip she was arrested and on her second trip, well, we know what happened. That's why she couldn't appear on this program last Sunday.

Judith Matloff, you know, sum it all up here. How does Lara Logan, who was attacked while trying to do her job, become the target for some of this sort of abuse?

MATLOFF: Well, unfortunately, I think it shows our society needs to evolve a bit. I also think, you know, looking back on her career, she is a stunningly beautiful woman and it's something that people focus on often times rather than the fact that she is also a stunningly brilliant professional. And, unfortunately, it says something about our society that a woman can be very, very smart, but what people focus on instead is her looks.

KURTZ: She has risked her life, more than most journalists, regardless of looks. And I appreciate you making that point.

Judith Matloff. Mary Elizabeth Williams and Donatella Lorch in Kenya, thanks very much for joining us.

Coming up in the second part of RELIABLE SOURCES, journalists make it clear they don't think Barack Obama's budget goes far enough. Are they tilting the coverage?

Plus, Michael Medved takes on the likes of Rush Limbaugh for saying the president wants to damage America.

And later, the Onion News Network has a grand time making fun of people like us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: There are times when it doesn't take a doctorate in media studies to figure out how an issue is being framed.

President Obama unveiled his budget this week. I know, budgetary stories are less than gripping, but there happens to be an important debate unfolding in this country about how much the government can spend and should spend. As the tide of red ink keeps rising, usually much of the coverage is along the lines of, "Oh, my God, he wants to cut this or that worthy program."

But this time, most journalists have adopted the critique that Obama didn't cut enough, except for some who're saying he's cutting too much from social programs. Look at some of the questions when the president met the press.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The plan does not address the long-term crushing cost of social security, Medicare and Medicaid. The real drivers of long-term debt. How can you say that we're living within our means?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everything you've talked about -- tax reform, the entitlement reform, two parties coming together -- just happened in December. In your fiscal commission, you had a majority consensus to do all of this. It's now been shelved.

OBAMA: Part of the challenge here is that -- this town, let's face it, you guys are pretty impatient. If something doesn't happen today, then the assumption is it's just not going to happen. Right?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You started your career of service as a community organizer and now we are hearing from people like organizations like the CBC saying, rebuilding our economy on the backs of the most vulnerable Americans is something that is simply not acceptable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Joining us now to talk about the coverage of the budget battle and presidential politics as well, in Seattle, Michael Medved, whose radio program appears on the Salem Radio Network.

Here in Washington, Christina Bellantoni, associate politics editor of CQ Roll Call.

And John Aravosis, founder of Americablog.com.

Christina Bellantoni, hasn't the press sent a pretty strong signal here that it disapproves of this budget?

CHRISTINA BELLANTONI, CQ ROLL CALL ASSOCIATE POLITICS EDITOR: Yes. And the funny thing about that -- you know how presidential budgets have ever passed Congress? Zero. Because the president proposes a budget, and Congress takes care of it themselves.

I mean, they write the budget. I think there is, if anything, an over focus on what Barack Obama has proposed, because this is sort of a blueprint. He's suggesting where he wants things to go.

KURTZ: It's an opening bid.

BELLANTONI: It's an opening bid, but you've got this divided government right now, particularly between the House and Senate. That's the bigger story, and that's where the focus should be. People should be paying much more attention to that.

KURTZ: But it's important in terms of public perception -- the way the press frames the president's initial bid in the budgetary war. So, John Aravosis, does the prevailing story line -- this is a timid budget with very modest cuts -- does that kind of lean to the right?

JOHN ARAVOSIS, FOUNDER OF AMERICABLOG.COM: I think it does in a number of ways. First of all, A, it's critical of the president, period. So, per se, that's a little bit right, one would argue. B, it suggests that cutting the budget is the most important thing in the world, and left-wing economists -- but I would say middle of the road economists as well -- think that, no, what's most important is spending ourselves out of this recession.

You know, we're out of the recession, but we're not out. Everybody knows unemployment is not going down for five years. To fix that problem, first, then worry about the deficit. This presumed that that wasn't even a discussion. No, the only issue on board right now is how do we cut the deficit? And that's not the only issue.

KURTZ: And on that point, Michael Medved, the House, early morning yesterday, passing a current year budget with $60 billion of additional reductions. But it seems to me the media paying less attention to the Republicans, not so much on spending cuts, but also punting on entitlements. Everyone knows the big issues are Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security -- and both parties, at the moment, aren't tackling those.

MICHAEL MEDVED, HOST OF THE MICHAEL MEDVED SHOW: No, I think you're entirely right. And that's the one area where I'm going to uncharacteristically applaud some of the coverage here.

Because the mainstream media really have put the focus back on the idea that all of these fights -- and they're the fights on which both sides are obsessed -- those fights have to do with a total of 12 percent of our national budget. But the big four -- the defense spending and the Social Security and the Medicare and the Medicaid -- that those represent the great bulk of what we're spending and what needs to be brought under control.

It also seems to me that the question that you played about the deficit commission is an entirely fair question. I mean, the deficit commission had a great deal of attention to it. This was supposed to show us the way forward, and it has been shelved and basically put away by both sides. It needs to come forward with some of those recommendations.

KURTZ: Christina Bellantoni, deficits have been mushrooming for 10, 20 years. Basically, I don't think the press has really cared since Ross Perot made an issue in the 1992 campaign. It's too abstract. But, is that now changing?

BELLANTONI: Well, when you have the prospect of government shutdown, basically, that's when it changes. When you have these very dramatic end points or things that can go wrong, that's when you get the focus on it. People aren't really paying attention.

KURTZ: Just for people who haven't been paying attention, there is talk now that when the debt ceiling needs to be renewed, the government might shutdown if the two sides can't agree. I don't really think that's going to happen, but the press is having a good time with it.

BELLANTONI: That's definitely debatable. It could also happen, you know, when you talk about continuing the spending for the government. Because they are not going to pass a budget. They are going to have to pass this continuing resolution and do this stopgap measure. But the press never pays attention to the numbers, in part, because that's not the strength. The strength is in the fight, right? So the press likes to cover all of the tension between the disparate groups here. It's really all -- it's just --

KURTZ: Including the tension within the Republican Party right now.

BELLANTONI: Exactly. It's just cacophony. Instead of focusing on actually how do you address this major problem in America.

KURTZ: John Aravosis, we heard the president at that press conference asking for patience and saying that, you know, it takes time to deal with the other party on big items like Medicare or Social Security. Does he have a point? That the press sort of wants this resolved in a week?

ARAVOSIS: He does have a point. I would differ with him on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" -- I was heavily involved in that debate and I don't think -- it's not a good comparison. But getting back to the issue at hand, the president's problem, traditionally, has been showing his hand up front. It's making a grandiose offer on something without any counter-offer from the, you know, the enemy, from the other side.

And we all kind of wrack our brains, going, "Oh, my God, he just gave in with nothing in return." It's negotiating with himself. This time, he basically said I'm not going to negotiate with myself. Even Paul Ryan, the Republican Budget chair, hasn't signed off on the Social Security commission recommendations. Therefore, he wasn't going to make a grand offer on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid without negotiating first.

KURTZ: And you think the coverage just kind of missed that?

ARAVOSIS: I think the coverage has to some degree, yes. Because what --it's fair for the journalists to say, "Well, wait, isn't your budget missing this?" But then they have to say, "Well, actually, the Republicans haven't offered that either." You know, Mr. President, haven't you kind of been a little too forthright in the past?

KURTZ: Now, Christina talked about conflict driving, you know, a lot of media coverage. And there's been a lot of that in recent days in Wisconsin, where the new Republican governor, Scott Walker, not only trying to cut public employees' benefits, but limit their ability to do collective bargaining.

MSNBC has been all over this story, and Ed Schultz, the liberal host, has not only done his show from Madison, he seems to be functioning as a correspondent, and you would have to say kind of taking the side of the public union protesters. Let's take a brief look at Schultz.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ED SCHULTZ, HOST OF THE ED SCHULTZ SHOW: You want to turn your back on firefighters? You want to turn your back on police officers? You want to turn your back on nurses? You want to turn your back on brothers and sisters who have stood in solidarity to fight for middle class in America? Is that wrapping yourself in the flag?

CROWD: No!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Does it seem to you, Michael Medved, that MSNBC is taking one side of this debate in Wisconsin?

MEDVED: Well, there is no doubt that they are. And look, one of problems here is that this is a kind of thing that is a bipartisan challenge. Andrew Cuomo in the state of New York is actually getting serious, it would appear, about doing the same kinds of reforms of the pension problems that Scott Walker is a little bit ahead of curve on.

Look, just to disagree a little bit with John, where he says that there is no real urgency -- that President Obama is right to say you need to be more patient -- we are coming up to this debt extension vote. In other words, if we don't raise the debt ceiling, the government goes into default.

And that is very, very serious. I think that everybody can agree on that. And so, the need for some kind of plan to go forward, at least for the near-term future is immediate, it's pressing and yes, it's dramatic. And we all know that the press loves to cover dramatic things like Wisconsin and like confrontations on Capitol Hill.

ARAVOSIS: I think it's a bit of a phony analogy in the sense that I do want my government solving the problem of Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid in the next two weeks to deal with this sort of phony deadline we've been given with the budget limit. That's --

KURTZ: It's a deadline that it is extended routinely.

MEDVED: What's phony about the deadline?

ARAVOSIS: Two weeks? Michael --

MEDVED: What's phony about the deadline?

(CROSSTALK)

ARAVOSIS: Fair enough. Fair enough. But I don't think we should be solving them by putting a gun to our heads and saying, you know what, you better come up with an answer on a huge problem in two weeks or else.

BELLANTONI: They did have a year on this deficit commission. They did come out.

(CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: All right. Well, it's going -- we're not going --

ARAVOSIS: It's not resolve yet.

KURTZ: All right. It's not going to be resolved in two weeks. It's not going to be resolved here.

One more thing I want to get to and that is the media seem to have fallen in love for the moment with a budget cutting governor, Republican Chris Christie in New Jersey. Here, he came to Washington and gave a speech. And I want to play a little bit and ask you a question on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Apparently, I actually have to commit suicide to convince people I'm not running. And I'm not stupid. I see the opportunity. I see it. That's not the reason to run.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: He says he's not running for president. Why are some in the media trying to draft him? The guy has been in office a little more than a year -- an interesting guy to run to president.

BELLANTONI: People like history. They find him authentic. But it's also what you were actually hearing from voters. I've talked to a lot of different Tea Partiers across the country and Chris Christie's name is one of the first ones to come up. And that's not a -- you know, FOX News-generated caricature. This is an actual thing, people find him to be really dealing with state's problems.

KURTZ: But when he says in his speech and he said repeatedly, "Do I have to commit suicide to convince you I'm not running for president? I don't think I'm ready." And then Chris Matthews, you know, the next day or that night says, "Well, this guy be among the possible Republican nominees against the president?" Why can't the pundits take no for an answer?

BELLANTONI: It's what pundits talk about. I mean, everybody loves it.

MEDVED: Because he's such -- he's such a compelling story, too. He's the opposite of a blow dried plastic, synthetic candidate. He's somebody who even acknowledges the fact he has a few extra pounds. He is rumpled. He speaks and it --

KURTZ: All right. That's fine.

ARAVOSIS: But it sounds like Sarah Palin. She's not very intelligent. And great, let's have her be president.

(CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: All I say, I take him at his word although politicians have been known to change their minds. We are out of time.

Michael Medved, stick around. John Aravosis, Christina Bellantoni, thanks for stopping by this morning.

After the break, we'll ask Mr. Medved why he says his fellow conservatives are going too far with their anti-Obama rhetoric. Taking on Sarah Palin, that's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Rush Limbaugh, as everyone knows, is no fan of President Obama. But here's an interesting attack by El Rushbo, quote, "I think we face something we've never faced before in this country -- and that is, we're now governed by people who do not like the country."

And there's a commentator over at FOX News by the name of Sarah Palin who says Obama, quote, "is hell-bent on weakening America."

These are among the examples cited by Michael Medved in a "Wall Street Journal" column this week.

And, Michael, first of all, any backlash for taking on the likes of Rush and Sarah Palin?

MEDVED: Are you kidding? Of course. I mean, I've been called every name in the book, a RINO, or "Republican in Name Only," an Obama defender and Obama apologist and people talking about my man crush on Obama.

Look, no one is more critical, every single day for three hours a day on my radio show of President Obama than I am. But it seems to me that we make at tremendous mistake when we try to sell the public on the idiotic proposition that President Obama is deliberately trying to harm the country.

The fact of the matter is all surveys show that people in America feel much more positively about Obama's personality than they feel about his policies.

Let's show that his policies have a negative impact, but not that he has some kind of a secret plan because, first of all, how ridiculous is that? He doesn't want to weaken America. I don't think he particularly, as a top priority, wants to strengthen American. He wants to win re-election like any politician.

KURTZ: Well, you say in this piece --

(CROSSTALK)

MEDVED: And that means being as good a president as he can be.

KURTZ: You say it's imbecilic and Obama is being depicted as so consumed by hatred, that he's perfectly willing to blow himself up in order to inflict casualties on a society he loathes. I mean, this always goes to the motivation, whether we talk about the motivation of politicians.

You -- as you just said, disagree with Barack Obama on lots and lots of things, but is it fair game for people to assume, argue, assert that he is -- he is doing things intentionally to hurt the country?

MEDVED: No, it's partially because it's just a bridge too far. You will never convince a majority of Americans about that. I mean, one of things that I say to my fellow conservatives all the time is that we lose this election and we lose it big time unless we convince a certain number of people who voted for Barack Obama that they made a mistake. And you're not going to convince them by suggesting they voted for a secret Muslim or they voted for someone with an anti- American agenda.

One of questions that I ask people, is the problem with Obama, to me, is not that he's so different from all other Democrats. It's that he's so similar. He's like Jimmy Carter. He's like Lyndon Johnson. To some extent, he's like Franklin Roosevelt.

He's a big government liberal. There's nothing that Obama has done as president in either appointments or policy that Hillary Clinton wouldn't have done, that John Edwards wouldn't have done, that Joe Biden wouldn't have done. The problem is the policies, not the person.

KURTZ: Right. I'm sure people would give an argument on that.

Coming back to the reaction, one of the commenters on "The Wall Street Journal" site with your column, wrote, "Come on, Medved, are you trying to get along with the liberal media? Is that it? Are you that desperate for attention?"

MEDVED: And the answer is absolutely not. I am very desperate that we should win this next election. And again, we will not win it by making preposterous charges that can't be supported where you can't convince people.

The point is, it's enough. People are going to vote for Barack Obama or not based upon the impact of his policies. But to go to his personality, to say as Rush has said -- and I love Rush and I'm grateful to him and I admire him greatly. But it is a terrible mistake to say the air again and again that this is on purpose.

Because what happens if the economy does turn around, as we all ardently hope that it will, is that also on purpose? I mean --

KURTZ: Let me bring you back --

(CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: -- you were a guest host a number of times in the '90s on his show. So, now, you're being critically, unless on this. Has he changed or have you?

MEDVED: No, I think that -- I think that Rush has changed. And I think that a large part of the conservative movement has changed because again, the conspiratorial stuff about President Obama that he really, secretly hates America is a different tone. I mean, to say that President Obama is a self-interested politician, that he's narcissistic, that he puts his own virtues and his own future ahead of the future of the country, that's all fair game. That it seems to me is a reasonable attack on President Obama. But the point is that you don't put your own self-interest ahead of the country and then try to harm the country because it's not a strategy for re-election.

He wants to be remembered well in history, he wants to win re- election. That means he is trying, according to his own mistaken policies and values, to do the best that he knows how for the country.

KURTZ: All right, speaking of policies, we talked about the budget in the last segment, that the House passed budget which was approved yesterday, includes zero dollars for National Public Radio or Public Broadcasting, PBS. You have been a film critic over the years for NPR, for PBS. Would you continue to provide any money -- Obama's budget would give about $450 million to those organizations?

MEDVED: I worked for 12 years for PBS. I've often said my 12 years with PBS were three of the happiest weeks of my life. I admire a lot of what they do. I think it is wrong, and I said so at the time, I said so while I was working for Public Broadcasting, to receive government funding.

What most people don't realize is that the great bulk of funding for both NPR and public television comes from corporate contributions and from listeners --

(CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: Right, the government portion -- we're getting short on time here -- is only about 15 to 20 percent for each of these. Should they now just wean themselves in your view, despite the fact they gave you a paycheck?

MEDVED: Absolutely. Look, the government is broke. At a time where you really need to pare back to the essentials, it's not essential, especially with the proliferation of cable networks, it's not essential to spend taxpayer money on selecting television.

KURTZ: All the fans of "Sesame Street" will be running to you soon. Michael Medved, thanks for checking in from Seattle.

MEDVED: "Sesame Street" makes plenty of money. Thank you.

KURTZ: Up next, cable news is the gift that keeps on giving. At least if you're in the satire business. A look at the Onion News Network in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: When it comes to cable news, there's plenty to poke fun at. But still, give me a break, do we really look like this?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm so thankful to Mr. Kelty (ph) for saving me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He made such a sacrifice, didn't he? Now obviously, a lot of people are hearing this incredible story and wondering, was it worth it?

Will Melanie now become as great a person as Sam Kelty was, or would it have been better if she had died in the fire?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People who are looking to get into journalism, I say don't even bother trying, I'll crush you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Republican leaders have already began to generate campaign materials for speculative Palin 2012 run. And just today Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky made a statement. He said, "Having Palin in office would be like a four-year long whitewater rafting trip. It might kill us, but if it doesn't, we'll end up with a lot of crazy ass photos."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: That's the handiwork of the Onion News Network, a spin- off of the satirical newspaper, which airs on the cable channel IFC. I spoke earlier to two of its masterminds from New York.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: Joining us now are Carol Kolb, head writer for the Onion News Network, and Jim Haggerty, co-host of the Onion's "Today Live." All right, Jim, I've watched your work and I've got to ask, what exactly qualifies you to be a cable news anchor?

JIM HAGGERTY, CO-HOST, "TODAY NOW!": Well, what kind of qualifications would you list? I mean, I'm involved in America. You know, I feel people's pain, and I reflect their wants and needs and desires to be entertained and distracted from their dull, meaningless, pointless lives so that they get on with their day.

KURTZ: All right, so you're just there to keep them laughing, entertain them and distract them. What can viewers get from the Onion News Network that they simply can't get from the hundreds of thousands of other news organizations?

CAROL KOLB, HEAD WRITER, ONION NEWS NETWORK: Everything we do, we have flashier graphics, our anchors are actually 20 percent louder, they scream louder than the anchors on any other networks. This is sort of like all of the other news networks on steroids, kind of, news steroids.

KURTZ: What are flasher graphics?

KOLB: Flashier.

KURTZ: A darker interpretation of that. Jim, I don't want to make this into a controversial "Nightline" kind of interview. But you seem like a bit of a lightweight. How much journalism experience do you need for your job?

HAGGERTY: Well, Howard, I was doing the evening news before I think you were still using a sippy cup at the time. But I've been there and done that. And I've gotten all kinds of commendations and medals and awards for my meritorious service as a real journalist before television and cable and the Internet kind of diluted the term down to what it is today.

But back in the day, we had real serious chops when we discovered what was important to America, and I've been there. Now the morning news thing is a little bit different, but I find myself right at home there, because it's not the kind of import of news dissemination that the evening news people have, but we have our own little reason to be there, and we fill it very nicely.

KURTZ: Carol, you say that it's 20 percent louder, for example. I guess that's a great bumper sticker, than other newscasts. That suggests to me that you already think cable news is pretty funny, pretty laughable, and you tweak it just a little bit more?

KOLB: Yes, we're probably -- it's only 20 percent louder than all the other 24 hours --

(CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: Why stop at 20 percent? Why not go for 50 percent?

KOLB: It's actually an FCC regulation. We can't actually go louder than 20 percent. But, yes, we're just a little beyond the real news.

KURTZ: Carol, you were involved with the Onion, which many people know is the satirical newspaper. Why did you turn this into a television show?

KOLB: It just sort of seemed natural. We were doing online videos for a number of years. We started those about four years ago, and then we just thought, let's broaden this out and do some television.

KURTZ: Now a lot of people, Jim Haggerty, might be under the impression that the Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have cornered the market on the kind of news that you do? Feeling their hot breaths on your neck? Jim, that was for, Jim.

HAGGERTY: Who did he mention?

KOLB: This guy named Jon Stewart, I guess.

HAGGERTY: Don't know him.

KURTZ: All right, Comedy Central Network, never surfed by that?

KOLB: We're sort of -- you talk about Wolf Blitzer and Anderson Cooper, we know these people. These are our competitors. Those are the people that we're--

(CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: Do you see your competition as a place like CNN? CNN has bureaus around the world. What does the Onion News Network have?

KOLB: The Onion News Network has 20,000 attack satellites. We have hidden cameras in 80 percent of the homes in America. We, you know -- we're really giving you guys a run for your money.

HAGGERTY: Talk about a softball question Howard. Yes, thanks.

KURTZ: Glad you guys are enjoying it. Now, your co-anchor on this morning show is Tracy Gill. I've been checking her out, and I have to ask you, you know, what does she bring to the table or is she just there to look pretty?

HAGGERTY: You know, Howard, it's so funny that you say you have been checking her out, because that's what America has been doing with Tracy for many, many years, and they're very happy at what they find there.

She is America's favorite eye candy, and there's no question about that. But she fulfills a much more important role than just being there to be admired. She, you know, provides that sexual tension that keeps me on the edge of my ability to perform.

KURTZ: And do you two script that or is it just something that comes naturally?

HAGGERTY: The sexual tension?

KURTZ: Yes.

HAGGERTY: Oh, no, you can't script that, Howard, that's got to be real. That's got to be from the loins.

KURTZ: I see Carol right now having -- feeling a different kind of tension as we're talking about this.

KOLB: Oh, no, I think it's magical what happens between those two.

KURTZ: What about between you two? We're trying to get something started here.

KOLB: Oh, right here, I don't know.

HAGGERTY: Carol takes such good care of us, her and the other executives at the Onion, made even more obvious when we come on a place like this, which they don't take care of their people as well. So--

KURTZ: I think it's time for me to get out. Jim Haggerty, Carol Kolb, thanks very much for joining us from New York.

HAGGERTY: You're very welcome.

KOLB: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: A very serious segment. Still to come, the reporter who got Google to change its rankings. Bill O'Reilly versus David Gregory on the birther issue. And Whoopi Goldberg fires at the "New York Times" and misses. Media Monitor is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Time now for the Media Monitor, our weekly looks at the hits and errors in the news business. Here's what I like, ABC's Abbie Boudreau reporting on Japanese mothers taking their kids away from their dads to a faraway place where the fathers have no legal rights.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So it seems as like as if someone died, but the problem is he's not dead. He's alive somewhere in Japan and I can't see him.

ABBIE BOUDREAU, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: There are 321 American children who have been spirited off to Japan since 1994.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Heartbreaking, and the kind of digging television should do more of. I also like this David Segal piece in the "New York Times" exposing how JC Penney used unfair tricks to boost itself to the top of the Google search rankings, which can translate into big sales.

Google responded by punishing the retail giant, knocking down its ranking from number one to 68.

All right, here is the question. Should Republican leaders who have never questioned President Obama's citizenship be questioned about others who question where he was born? After Fox News aired a focus group last week with GOP poster Frank Lutz, in which some Republicans said Obama is a Muslim who wasn't born in the United States, David Gregory raised the issue on "Meet the Press" with John Boehner.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID GREGORY, MEET THE PRESS: As the Speaker of the House, as a leader, do you not think it's your responsibility to stand up to that kind of ignorance?

JOHN BOEHNER, SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: David, it's not my job to tell the American people what to think. Our job in Washington is to listen to the American people. Having said that, the state of Hawaii has said that he was born there. That's good enough for me.

GREGORY: You shouldn't stand up to misinformation and stereotypes?

BOEHNER: But -- but I've made clear what I believe the facts are.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: That line of questioning clearly annoyed Bill O'Reilly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL O'REILLY, HOST, THE O'REILLY FACTOR: Sane, clear thinking people understand the president is not a Muslim and he wasn't born in Indonesia or whatever they're putting out there. So why does Meet the Press and NBC News take up valuable air time to hammer a guy who has nothing to do with it, Boehner?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: On ABC News, George Stephanopoulos raised the same issue with Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who promptly ducked.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Can you just state very clearly that President Obama is a Christian and he is a citizen of the United States?

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: Well, that isn't for me to state, that's for the president to state. And I think that when the president makes...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you believe it?

BACHMANN: ...when the president makes his statements, I think they need to stand for their own.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Here's the point. This birther nonsense, as O'Reilly suggests, is crazy talk. Crazy talk that some folks persist in believing. It's not crazy to ask a Republican speaker if he would dismiss this kind of lunacy any more than it would be to ask a Democratic leader about nutty talk on the left.

You would think a "New York Times" article called "Hollywood's WhiteOut" would meet with Whoopi Goldberg's approval. After all, the piece made the point that few Oscar winners have been African- Americans.

But it's the article, as she pointed out in "The View," cited Denzel Washington and Halle Berry and Morgan Freeman and Jennifer Hudson, but failed to take note of Whoopi's Academy Award.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WHOOPI GOLDBERG, CO-HOST, THE VIEW: It's hard to not take it personally. It's very hard not to take it personally. So this omission, I don't know what to say about what you've done. It's just nothing I can't say except that you're sloppy in your work, and you are supposed to be better than this.

This is the "New York Times," this is not some bozo newspaper from Hoochi Koochi (ph) land.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Where is hoochi koochie land? Now I like Whoopi, and you can sympathize, but Whoopi won her Oscar for the movie "Ghost" 20 years ago. "The Times" article made no attempt to list every black winner. In fact, after mentioning the two African-American winners in 2002, it cited those who have won since then. So the paper didn't get anything wrong, as Whoopi belatedly realized when she apologized for accusing "The Times" of shoddy reporting.

Now, you have to say this for CNN. The network is open to criticism. Take radio talk show host Dana Loesch in comments dug up by the liberal group Media Matters. She referred to this network as state-run media, one that provides a platform for tinfoil hats and is populated by the biggest bunch of idiot blockheads. Loesch had just been hired as a CNN contributor. Well, in this blockhead's opinion, that should make for a fascinating exchange of views.

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.