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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES

'News of the World' Scandal; Casey Anthony Acquitted

Aired July 10, 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: No matter how bad the scandal got at "News of the World," no matter how much evidence mounted of a corrupt culture at the London tabloid, the one thing I never expected is that Rupert Murdoch would shut it down. But today is the last day for the newspaper, as a phone-hacking investigates reveals that "News of the World" targeted ordinary people, including victims of crime and terror.

How deep is it the damage for the Murdoch empire and for journalism?

Casey Anthony's lawyer complains about media assassination after his client is acquitted of murdering her daughter. Did the legal loudmouths go too far in this case? And should television news be ashamed for turning this tragedy into a soap opera?

Plus, as the White House ramps up negotiations to avoid plunging the government into default, this question: Is the press guilty of portraying both Democrats and Republicans as equally to blame when that may not be the case?

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

That phone-hacking scandal at "News of the World" had been spinning out of control for months, but this week the British press made some truly stunning disclosures about the Rupert Murdoch paper that went well beyond some rogue journalists tapping into the voicemail of a few celebrities. "News of the World" accessed the cell phone of a 13-year-old who went missing and later turned up dead. And the tabloid even hacked the phones of families of the victims of the London terror bombings.

Swelling outrage across Britain prompted Murdoch to take a drastic step that left "News of the World" and the media world just gobsmacked.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JON SNOW, CHANNEL 4 NEWS: Good evening.

Not only did they hack into the phone of the missing teenager before her body was found, but they interfered with her messages, raising hopes she might still be alive.

ANDY DAVIES, CHANNEL 4 NEWS: If these allegations are proven -- and it is, frankly, a staggering -- another staggering development in this whole phone-hacking scandal --

JEREMY THOMPSON, SKY NEWS: The "News of the World" is to be no more after this Sunday. The final edition will be out this Sunday because of all the problems that have beset it since the phone-hacking scandal.

SOPHIE RAWORTH, BBC NEWS: An extraordinary moment in British journalism. The "News of the World" is to close, victim of its own phone-hacking scandal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: The 168-year-old newspaper which specialized in scandal has now fallen victim to scandal.

Joining us now to talk about what happened at "News of the World" and Murdoch's decision to shutter it, in London, Emily Bell, director of Columbia Journalism's School Tow Center for Digital Media, and a former editor at "The Guardian." Here at Washington, Toby Harnden, the U.S. editor of the British paper "The Daily Telegraph." And Matt Frei of BBC World News America, soon to join Britain's Channel 4.

Emily Bell, you're there, you're breathing the air. How angry are people at these latest disclosures about "News of the World" and the phone hacking? And is some of that anger directed at Rupert Murdoch?

EMILY BELL, DIRECTOR, COLUMBIA JOURNALISM SCHOOL'S TOW CENTER FOR DIGITAL MEDIA: Well, I think it's been an extraordinary six days here, because it really has -- this story has almost swiveled on a dime. "The Guardian" has been bringing forth disclosure after disclosure around this story, but largely it was about celebrity phones being hacked and people who are in the public eye.

The real tipping point was when it came out earlier in the week that Milly Dowler's phone had been hacked and messages had been erased. And at that point --

KURTZ: She's the murdered teenager, as I mentioned at the top. Yes.

BELL: That's right. And at that point, the temperature change in terms of the public discourse around it, in terms of the political interests and really willingness to speak out on it, suddenly went from a group of MPs and journalists, a very small group that had been willing to really push this story into the mainstream press. And really, Howard, at the moment there is no other story here. It has run and run and run.

KURTZ: There is no other story.

Matt Frei, tabloids do a lot of crazy things in London. Was "News of the World" really that far out of the mainstream?

MATT FREI, BBC NEWS WORLD AMERICA: Well, I think in terms of what the proven evidence have found, what this inquiry is about, yes, it was. I mean, the phone hacking into celebrities, into members of the royal family, into the bereaved people who were killed in the 7/7 bombings, soldiers who were killed in Iraq, that is definitely out there. It is something that is very, very unusual and has really upset the British public, as we've heard.

But this is a general problem about the culture of tabloid journalism in Britain which has been addressed by people like David Cameron himself. He said we have to look at the way that tabloids basically garner their news.

KURTZ: We will come to that.

FREI: Well, exactly. But I think what's going on is a really interesting story. And it's not just about the "News of the World" and about the succession of the Murdoch empire, which is almost a sort of corporate Shakespearian drama. It is also about really a battle between two bruised institutions, the institution of newspaper journalism and the institution of parliament, which of course has been deeply bruised by your paper, by "The Daily Telegraph," in recent years because of the extensive (ph) scandal. And you really see the parliamentarians kind of fighting back almost like a sort of Arab Spring within the House of Commons, if you like.

KURTZ: Let me bring in Toby Harnden.

Murdoch's decision to close the paper, is it damage control? Is it because he's worried about the government rejecting his $12 billion bid to buy British Sky Broadcasting?

TOBY HARNDEN, "THE DAILY TELEGRAPH": I certainly think that's a huge part of it. I mean it looks like it will move to seven-day operation. At some point in the future, "The Sun," the sister tabloid, will print on a second day. And "The New York Times" has come up with evidence that this has been many, many months in the making.

KURTZ: You're saying he may be closing the paper in part for business and finance reasons.

HARNDEN: Absolutely.

(CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: But clearly, this is a public relations debacle.

HARNDEN: Yes. I mean, nobody called for the "News of the World" shut down, which is one of the curious things. I mean, a very, very strong opinion in Britain is that this was to protect Rebekah Wade, his chief executive and a former editor at the "News of the World" who was the editor when Milly Dowler's phone was hacked.

KURTZ: She was the editor when a lot of this phone hacking was going on, and she is now the chief executive of the British division of News Corp.

Let me put this conversation on pause for a moment. We're going to come back to it.

We're going to go now for a bit of breaking news involving the 135th and final space shuttle mission. John Zarrella is standing by in Cape Canaveral to talk to us about a docking maneuver which is under way at this very moment.

John, tell us about the -- tell us about what's happening up there in the sky.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Howard, what we have right now is history about to be made. Less than six feet separates the International Space Station from the space shuttle Atlantis.

This will be the final time that a space shuttle will ever dock with the International Space Station. They're less than five feet away from that maneuver right now. You can see in the live picture from NASA television that you have a camera inside the docking ring on board the space shuttle Atlantis, and looking at the docking ring on board the space station.

You can see just here how much closer they have gotten. They are within just feet of each other now.

The space shuttle rendezvoused within the last couple of hours with the International Space Station. The two vehicles, flying within tandem, passing over New Zealand now. And again, very, very close now to -- there we go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Capture confirmed at 10:07 a.m. Central Time.

ZARRELLA: Docking is confirmed. Capture confirmed, 10:07 a.m. Central Time.

KURTZ: All right.

ZARRELLA: You heard from Rob Navias there, the voice of Mission Control.

KURTZ: So the docking has now taken place. Remarkable. Remarkable that we can look at --

ZARRELLA: Yes, remarkable, Howard.

KURTZ: We've seen this so many time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The arrival of Atlantis.

ZARRELLA: And the next big event, Howard, will be at about 1:00 this afternoon. They're going to do some leak checks -- leak-check the vehicles, make sure there's no problem with the docking ring, and that there are no leaks, and then the hatch will be opened about --

KURTZ: Right.

ZARRELLA: There you go.

KURTZ: John Zarrella, thanks so much for that report. Great to be able to watch it. It's almost become routine.

We'll actually have more on the space shuttle ahead in this program.

Let me resume our conversation, go back to London and Emily Bell.

Murdoch, again, closing the "News of the World." Yes, we can come up with business reasons why he's done it, but in some way, didn't this newspaper -- hadn't it, particularly in the last week, become a toxic symbol of corrupt journalism? And do you think that factored into the Murdoch decision?

BELL: I think that I've covered the Murdoch operations for a long time, and I've rarely seen them make a decision on anything other than the cold, hard numbers. But I think here, the public sentiment and the exodus of advertisers and potentially readers, I think, meant that when they did the kind of mental calculation, this enormous kind of gesture, I have no doubt that at the base of it there was a business decision here.

It had to become a difficult symbol. It had also been for a long time kind of a cheeky sort of reporting, kind of slightly sleazy details of people's personalized-type newspaper. Everybody in Britain grew up with it. It's kind of like a cultural metaphor, if you like, for a certain type of very kind of intrusive journalism. But it has also done some good investigative work in the past, employed a lot of journalists who were not corrupt.

There's a great sort of feeling of anger and a certain -- a feeling of regret as well that it ended this way.

KURTZ: Two hundred and eighty people losing their jobs -- most of them, at least -- and most of them didn't have anything to do with the scandal.

FREI: Exactly. And picking up on what Emily said there, I think the crucial thing that's happened this week is that, for the first time in the paper's century-and-a-half history, it has overstepped the line where it's taken on not just the celebrities or members of the royal family or politicians who are sort of considered to be fair game, even if there was a sharp intake of breath about the methods in which these stories were uncovered, but for the first time, it's taken on institutions that represent the readers themselves. You know, when you start talking about relatives of the 7/7 victims, when you start hacking the phones of relatives people who were killed in Iraq or Afghanistan, then you are messing with your very constituency, with the blue collar workers, mainly, who are your core readership.

HARNDEN: I think it's very, very important to also remember how much this is about politics. This is about the influence of News International on successive British governments. I mean, David Cameron's spin doctor up until January was Andy Coulson, who was the "News of the World" editor after Rebekah Brooks.

KURTZ: And he, of course, if I can just jump in for people who don't know all the names, he had been -- he had been the editor of the "News of the World." He became the communications director for the prime minister.

He was arrested on Friday, if we can show a brief picture of that. And that's a political problem for Cameron.

I want to come back to Cameron, but before we go to break, I want to ask you this question: Where was the public outrage last year, as opposed to the public titillation, when the "News of the World" reporter, the guy known as the "Fake Sheik," posed as a Middle Eastern (INAUDIBLE) and got Sarah Ferguson on tape talking about how she was going to sell access to her ex-husband, Prince Andrew? Nobody seemed to care about the tactics then.

HARNDEN: No. I think as Matt said, the tipping point was when it was about a murder victim, relatives of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. I mean, Mazher Mahmood, the "Fake Sheik," 250 convictions, he's got a story today about a Bulgarian and sex slaves in Britain, very legitimate stories. But yes, it was sort of a media class, an elite class, "The Guardian" newspaper, that were very -- campaigning and doing some amazing work on this.

KURTZ: Just briefly.

HARNDEN: But there's a tipping point on Monday.

FREI: The other really interesting thing, Howard, is that the Murdoch empire, the Murdoch culture of journalism, is very closely tied up with the way that modern Britain reinvented itself under Margaret Thatcher. While she was taking on the coal mining unions, he was taking on the print unions. Murdoch was there at the birth of modern Britain. To extricate him surgically or not is not going to be that easy, and David Cameron admitted as much the other day.

KURTZ: We're going to talk more about the very close, some would say too cozy, relationship between British journalists, these tabloids, and British politicians on the other side of the break.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: British Prime Minister David Cameron attempting to distance himself on the "News of the World" scandal, as we mentioned before the break. And he spoke about this on Friday, after the arrest of his former communications chief, the former editor at the "News of the World," Andy Coulson.

Here's the prime minister.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID CAMERON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: The truth is, to coin a phrase, we have all been in this together -- the press, the politicians, and leaders of all parties -- yes, including me -- because party leaders were so keen to win the support of newspapers, we turned a blind eye to the need to sort this issue, to get on top of the bad practices, to change the way our newspapers are regulated. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Emily Bell, Rupert Murdoch's son endorsed David Cameron for prime minister. When he says we've all been in this together, he's not kidding, is he?

BELL: Well, no, but as somebody said, some of us are more in it together than others. And it's undoubtedly the case that David Cameron lives very close to Rebekah Brooks in a part of the Oxfordshire countryside known as Chipping Norton. And it's a bit like -- there's a Chipping Norton set a bit like a Poughkeepsie set, maybe, in the states.

It's not very glamorous, but it's the nexus of power at the heart of News International and at the heart of the current administration, which is the conservative administration. But previously there was a very close relationship as well between Brooks and the Murdochs and Blair and some of his ministers, too.

So the working of that soft power network, where you have the politicians, you have the media owners, and you have the regulators all in London -- it's not really like the states. There's a much closer nexus there already. And the Murdochs have been absolutely superb at courting and capturing the political classes, and making sure that they bend to their will. And the political class --

(CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: Let me jump in for a second. Let me bring in Toby Harnden.

As Cameron essentially admitted, politicians looked the other way because they wanted editorial support from the Murdoch empire. And the police allegedly were paid off, which is why the investigations were so shoddy.

HARNDEN: Yes, absolutely. Yes, the police were taking payments.

I mean, "The Sun" famously said in 1992, "It was The Sun what won it." The conservatives. And there's been this sort of received wisdom amongst politicians that you needed the endorsement of "The Sun" to get into power and you needed the News International papers in general to get your messages across when you were in power.

Now, that dam seems to have burst, but David Cameron, his background is a PR guy. He gave a great PR performance there. It suited him absolutely, to say we're all in it together.

KURTZ: All right. I've got about half a minute to break here.

You worry that this could lead to tighter regulation of the press in Britain, the fallout from this scandal?

FREI: Absolutely, yes. And maybe that's a good thing on one level, it could be a bad thing on another. But I think to get back to what Cameron said -- and this is the crucial political question -- he will have to put his own commitment to the test, whether his government ends up approving the deal that Rupert Murdoch is really interested in.

(CROSSTALK)

FREI: That's about 12 billion pounds. The "News of the World" only had a (INAUDIBLE) of one billion pounds. That is the big elephant in the room here. If Cameron says yes to that deal, if his government says yes to that deal at the end of this summer, then the opposition has a very clear narrative in the next election to say Rupert Murdoch and David Cameron are in bed together. That's the parallel there.

KURTZ: All right.

"The Telegraph" had the best headline of this whole thing when it said, "Goodbye Cruel World."

We're going to say goodbye to this topic.

Emily Bell in London, Matt Frei, Toby Harnden, thanks very much.

When we come back -- we just saw the dramatic docking of the space station with the shuttle, and this, of course, the final liftoff. We'll be back with this question: Did the media's boredom with these launches as they've become more routine help kill the program?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: There was a time when I was growing up when the space program was one of the most exciting adventures in the world, culminating in the landing on the moon. The last 30 years, NASA has sent so many space shuttles into orbit, that the launches themselves have become rather routine, except, of course, for the heartbreaking disasters of the Challenger and the Columbia.

On Friday, the last shuttle lifted off from Cape Canaveral.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two, one, zero, and liftoff. The final liftoff of Atlantis on the shoulders of the space shuttle. America will continue the dream.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: It is time to see what is in effect the end of the U.S. manned space program as we've come to know it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHEPARD SMITH, FOX NEWS: And an absolutely perfect launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN: For 30 years now, history concluding, really, today with this launch, and then, of course, the return days from now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Joining us now to talk about the shuttle's final mission PBS science correspondent Miles O'Brien.

And you were down there in Cape Canaveral. What went through your mind watching the final liftoff?

MILES O'BRIEN, SCIENCE CORRESPONDENT, PBS: Well, on a personal level, it's sad. I've watched 40-plus launches and covered them, and it's a part of my life, it's ingrained in my life. But the truth is all good things must come to an end.

It is time to say goodbye to the shuttle after 30 years of flying. It's a very complicated, expensive, and frankly not the safest way to get to space. And it's time for NASA to start thinking about another mission, another goal, another destination besides low earth orbit.

KURTZ: But talk about the coverage as we saw 135 of these things. It was my sense that the media's interests really plummeted. I mean, remember when Walter Cronkite would narrate the Apollo missions and landing on the moon? America stopped. Everybody watched.

And now, it becomes so routine. And I wonder if the declining public interest in the shuttle missions is related to the declining media interest.

O'BRIEN: There is a lot of that, but let's go back a little farther, if we could, a little further in time.

Really, the waning interest on the part of the American public began with the splashdown of Apollo 11 in 1969. Thing about it for a moment.

It was the perfect narrative. Let's beat the Russians to the moon in 10 years --

KURTZ: Yes, the space race. Yes.

O'BRIEN: -- honoring the wishes of a martyred president, the Cold War context. It was made for TV. You couldn't come up with a better treatment. So we did it, and Americans began tuning out almost at that moment.

Think about the shuttle. It was billed as reliable access to space, a space truck, if you will. Well, that's kind of a snoozer if you're trying to come up with a way of selling that story.

KURTZ: But talking about selling the story, Miles -- and there was a time, I think, especially in the '60s, when the media were seen as kind of cheerleaders for the space program, and Tom Wolfe wrote "The Right Stuff" and the astronauts were heroes. But how much access did you ever have to astronauts? I mean, after all, it's still a human story. I don't know the names of most of the people who flew these shuttle missions.

O'BRIEN: Well, it's a couple of things.

First of all, NASA, at the outset of the shuttle program, wanted to make it seem routine. Right? And so, to the extent that they didn't want to create another set of Mercury 7 superstars, they wanted to make them more like airline pilots. But the other factor is kind of interesting.

When you think about NASA in the 1960s, the public affairs people there had sort of a palace guard mentality -- protect the astronauts and their families from this onslaught of media attention. Well, you transition to the shuttle program, and the onslaught wasn't there, but the palace guard remained.

And so there was a sense of keeping the astronauts in a bubble. And there were many instances when I tried to get sort of personal, up-close profile-level access to astronauts when I was rebuffed. And that's a shame, because, truly, the human stories are what sell newspapers and make people watch.

KURTZ: And the one, of course, that jumped out recently was astronaut Mark Kelly because he's married to Congresswoman Gabby Giffords.

O'BRIEN: Absolutely.

KURTZ: You were let go by CNN 3 years ago. The science and space unit that you headed was largely disbanded. Was that just -- that's just one network. Was that --

O'BRIEN: No, it was completely disbanded. It really was.

KURTZ: OK. But is that just another sign that television cares less about NASA and space?

O'BRIEN: Yes. You know, let's face it, you work in a newsroom. I work in a newsroom.

I came to the newsroom as a history major. I learned science along the way. We deal with editors who are the political science, English and history majors, maybe a little bit scientific-phobic. And there is not a sense that this is necessarily important. They don't embrace these subjects very well. They're complicated and difficult to cover.

KURTZ: Or are they reflecting the judgment that, as the public has largely tuned out, it's not the hot story. Therefore, let's do some other hot stories, and this doesn't deserve front page or top-of- the-newscast coverage.

O'BRIEN: Well, you know, you could do a dive to the bottom. And you've just been talking at the top of your show of what happens when you start going after those types of stories.

KURTZ: Tabloid stories.

O'BRIEN: You think of the hot -- the tabloid stories, the hot stories.

The fact of the matter is, there is an audience out there that wants this kind of coverage. I've been doing webcasts with a little Web site, spaceflightnow.com, for the last 10 shuttle launches. And we draw in about a couple hundred thousand people in 180 countries watching us for six straight hours talking about space. Inch-wide, 500 miles deep.

So there is an audience out there. The mainstream media, for whatever reason, feels they can't gather up enough eyeballs doing it, because it's I think probably a little too expensive for them.

KURTZ: And just briefly, is NASA going to be covered at all by the mainstream media now that there's no exciting new mission. President Obama's idea of putting -- going back to the moon and not going anywhere doesn't leave much of a storyline.

O'BRIEN: Well, it's tough in the human space flight program, because we don't know precisely where NASA is headed. The types of rockets they're going to build directly kind of taking shape right now. But there's a very exciting world right now in commercial space, commercial enterprises, trying to make a buck in space.

KURTZ: That's going to be the next big story.

O'BRIEN: It is.

KURTZ: Miles O'Brien, nice to have you back on CNN.

O'BRIEN: A pleasure.

KURTZ: Thanks for stopping by.

And coming up in the second part of RELIABLE SOURCES, the Casey Anthony frenzy. Why was television so obsessed with her murder trial. And did the legal pundits engage in character assassination, as her lawyer says?

Plus, as the president and Congress struggle to avoid a government default, are journalists wrongly portraying Democrats and Republicans as equally to blame for the impasse?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: We have never had a segment on this program about the Casey Anthony case, and that's not by accident. I saw no reason to join the media frenzy after 2-year-old Caylee was killed.

But with her acquitted of murder and manslaughter this week, most television news outlets, even CNN, which had been playing down the story, went utterly bonkers. All the network newscasts label the verdict and many of the legal pundits made clear they disapproved.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

NANCY GRACE, HLN: The tot mom's jury delivers a stunning blow to justice with a not guilty on all major counts.

SUSAN FILAN, MSNBC SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I was shocked and I was stunned, and I stared at my television set in utter disbelief.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Obviously, anyone who listened to this case who heard about this mother waiting 30 days to report her daughter missing -- I mean, you couldn't help but be outraged. You couldn't help but think this is a bad person and a bad mother. But that wasn't the charge.

BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: Obviously, Casey Anthony doesn't deserve to walk free. Most Americans understand that. If you don't think she's a killer, just the fact she didn't report her 2-year-old missing for 30 days means the woman should spent a long time in prison.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

KURTZ: The verdict also prompted some impassioned words from Anthony's defense lawyer Cheney Mason.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHENEY MASON, CASEY ANTHONY ATTORNEY: Well, I hope this is a lesson to those of you who have indulged in media assassination for three years, biased and prejudice, and incompetent talking heads saying what would be and how to be. I'm disgusted by some of the lawyers that have done this, and I can tell you that my colleagues from coast to coast and border to border have condemned this whole process of lawyers getting on television and talking about cases that they don't know a damn thing about, and don't have the experience to back up their words or the law to do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: He has a point, doesn't he?

Joining us now to talk about the coverage: in New York, Diane Dimond, a syndicated columnist for Creator Syndicate and is a contributing columnist at "The Daily Beast." And here in Washington, Lauren Ashburn, founder of Ashburn Media and former managing editor of Gannet Broadcasting. Lauren Ashburn, what do you make of the sheer, deafening, overwhelming volume of Casey Anthony coverage?

LAUREN ASHBURN, ASHBURN MEDIA: Let me guess, you think it's outrageous and overkill, right? So do I.

I completely, absolutely agree with you. I think we have gone crazy.

Why this case? Why now? Why her?

I'll tell you one reason. The only reason why is ratings -- which equals advertising dollars, which equal profits for shareholders and executives.

KURTZ: Diane Dimond, this is your job, of course, to cover crime stories, and you've been on this story. But if you pull the camera back and look at the broad landscape here, how can this excess possibly be justified?

DIANE DIMOND, COVERED THE CASEY ANTHONY TRIAL: Well, because people watch it, I mean, frankly. And let's talk about the elephant in the room that you haven't mention. It's really been CNN's sister station, HLN, who has covered this from the get-go, tot mom.

You know, I think it started and the groundswell to swell, so to speak. Look, Florida has something called a Sunshine Law and they release -- everything that the police know gets released to the public. So, if the media does not cover it down there in Florida, I would tell you that I think they are remiss.

Where I think the overkill happened was on the national scene. How many young children are killed every year in this country, it's a sad fact, and we don't do nearly this kind of coverage for any of them. So, yes, it was overkill.

KURTZ: On -- let me get more in, because on that point, you've covered murders of children --

ASHBURN: Of course, by their mothers.

KURTZ: -- that don't make national news. What happened to those things?

ASHBURN: Right. I was a local reporter for five years, Harrisburg, New York, Washington. In Harrisburg, on a hot 100-degree July day, police found two children in a soiled crib with baby bottles that had roaches in them. And they were dead. Now, that woman, an African-American -- African-American, I got what we call vosot (ph) on the air, which is a little bit of video and a little bit of sound with the police talking about this outrageous case.

Now, was then that become national attention? Well, at the time, there were no cameras in the courtroom in Pennsylvania. And I'm not saying that Sunshine Laws shouldn't exist and we shouldn't have cameras, but that is one of the deciding factors on whether or not these cases come to television.

And second of all, there were no racy pictures of this woman, as there were with Casey Anthony.

And, number three, there was not a cute toddler and pictures of those children.

KURTZ: And I think you hit on something. Diane, I mean, you say we put it on TV because people to watch. I think we induce people to watch by playing it up. I want to come back to that point.

DIMOND: I wouldn't disagree.

KURTZ: But Casey Anthony is white, middle class and attractive. And you don't tend to get these media frenzies over, for example, African-American families where something like this happens.

DIMOND: Absolutely. Look, there's enough hypocrisy here to go around. Cheney Mason, he's so disingenuous when he stands up and scolds us and scolds the talking heads because he was one of the talking heads on this very case before he became engaged as one of the attorneys. I listened to a bite of him this morning online where he said, oh, well, the defense is, just, you know, they're full of beans. Oh, well, then he became one of the defense. You know --

KURTZ: Since you brought him up, while you're talking, let's put up a picture of Cheney Mason telling the media with a single gesture is what he thinks, it is middle finger.

(CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: Let me turn to Lauren because Diane brought up the question of HLN, which has carried a lot of the live testimony in this trial, Nancy Grace, of course, the big star there. When Nancy Grace and other legal pundits say this woman is guilty, guilty, guilty -- are they part of the problem? Is Cheney Mason right?

ASHBURN: Well, of course they were. But before we get to that, I just want to say, in helping you keep your job here, that I think it is amazing that CNN has this program here to attack or to analyze and talk about this case on a CNN network. I mean, I think that that is great journalism so, OK? Are you happy with that? Let me answer your question.

DIMOND: Kudos.

ASHBURN: Yes.

So, the question then becomes: is this something that we should pay attention to because the media pays attention to it? I mean, there are a lot of people here who want to make their careers. They want to become national celebrities. Don't you think that the attorneys saw an opportunity here to become a national figure?

And does that -- I want to know, does that affect the outcome of the case? Did Nancy Grace getting up there talking all the time about this tot mom, and how she's a murderer affect the outcome?

KURTZ: Well, let me throw it back, of course these people want to become famous. A lot of people who are legal analysts today, cut their teeth in the O.J. era. They've been on television so much they got their own shows.

ASHBURN: Johnnie Cochran was a household name.

KURTZ: Right. They got their own shows, Greta van Susteren went on to become a star at CNN and FOX.

Go ahead, Diane.

DIMOND: Here is my big problem: network executives, television executives in all their wisdom, have decided to give programs to -- and Nancy Grace is a friend of mine, I want to say up front. I worked with her at Court TV. I co-hosted a baby shower for her, for goodness sake.

But let's remember -- I'm a trained journalist. That's all I've ever done in my life. I am a trained journalist.

She's a lawyer. She's a former prosecutor. There are beauty queens, there are doctors, there are comedians who all have national programs on that talked about this case on television who I would submit are not trained journalists and not really qualified to talk about a case like this, and that's where it gets mixed up.

ASHBURN: I don't think she's qualified, either.

DIMOND: When all of us are the media, you know?

ASHBURN: But I don't think she's qualified either, really. I mean, I know Nancy Grace, I didn't host her baby shower. I'm sure I would like her as a person, but I think she is wrong.

DIMOND: I'm not arguing --

(CROSSTALK)

ASHBURN: What she did was actually influenced the outcome of this. In the case that I was talking about with the African-American woman, you know that was? That was a public defender and three-day trial. Do you think that jurors sitting in that jury box don't have for a month, wasn't it or three weeks, don't have some sort of relationship with the woman who's sitting in that jury? Isn't there something to the woman who's sitting there as a defendant, to Casey Anthony, isn't there something to playing this so big that there's an influence?

KURTZ: Well, here's what I see as the problem, Diane Dimond, and that is look, do I think that Casey Anthony is probably guilty? Yes, I do, like most people in America, frankly. But it's one thing for legal pundits to get up there and say she seems guilty, and look at this, and look at that, and she didn't report for 30 days -- and it's another thing for the prosecution to go into court and prove the case. And that's where I think a lot of the legal loudmouths lost sight of, is that you still have to convince a jury of 12 people beyond a reasonable doubt that you have a case and this was, of course, a circumstantial evidence case.

DIMOND: But again we label soup cans in this country, yet we don't label the people who are giving the public information. I am an objective journalist. I write a syndicated column where I take off that hat and give my opinion, but I'm a trained journalist.

And other people who have programs out there that network executives put in as the voices of authority are not the voices of authority. Many of them are biased. Many of them do taint cases. I would submit night after night for three years, that's a little bit overkill.

KURTZ: The bias in the sense that television loves to put on a defense lawyer and a prosecutor and let them go at it. But, you know, with O.J. Simpson, Lauren, you know, he was one of the world's most famous athletes, Michael Jackson. I mean, you can understand these becoming big celebrities tabloid trials. Then you have these people, missing women like Natalee Holloway.

ASHBURN: Chandra Levy.

KURTZ: Yes. Right. She worked for a congressman. But Casey Anthony -- television turns it into a soap opera so we care enough, and then you get the ratings.

ASHBURN: You know what? It also has to do a lot with timing because, you know, if there had been something big happening, if we had had another, God forbid, 9/11-type of incident, we never would have heard about Casey Anthony.

KURTZ: When there's a news vacuum.

ASHBURN: When there's a news vacuum, this stuff goes away.

However, my mother actually made a good point. She said that we always constantly need to be entertained. We are this culture -- there's a reason that the soap operas are going off the air. They're really expensive to produce. Well, it's a heck of a lot easier to throw, you know, some reporters at an event like this.

I had a Twitter conversation with Dan Abrams, who actually made the argument, who was a TV legal correspondent, who actually made the argument that we learn about the justice system through this, and I say that's bunk. The reason is I took a class from his father, Floyd Abrams. That's how I learned about the legal system.

KURTZ: This point about turning it into entertainment is actually what troubles me the most, when we take this tragedy of a child being murdered and it somehow becomes ratings. We'll have your mother on this next week to talk about that.

Lauren Ashburn, Diane Dimond, thanks very much for joining us. DIMOND: My pleasure.

KURTZ: After the break, when it comes to the budget battle between Democrats and Republicans, is the press afraid to note that one side may be more responsible for taking the country to the brink of default?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: The clock is ticking as President Obama and Hill leaders meet again tonight to try to hammer out a deal to avoid a government default, even as House Speaker John Boehner warning last night that he wants a much smaller deal than the $4 trillion President Obama has been pushing. This high-stakes game of budgetary poker poses an unusual challenge for journalists.

Democrats have been saying they're negotiating in good faith by offering major spending cuts and modest tax increases, while the Republicans are holding the economy hostage by refusing to talk about raising revenue. The Republicans reject this, saying they're protecting the economy by focusing on out of control spending.

So, who's right?

Well, David Brooks, the conservative "New York Times" columnist called out the GOP this week in a way that most mainstream journalists have not. He writes, "If the Republican Party were a normal party, it would take advantage of this amazing moment. It is being offered the deal of the century: trillions of dollars in exchange for a few hundred billion dollars of revenue increases. The Republican Party may no longer be a normal party. Over the past few years, it has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative."

Joining us now to talk about the coverage of the budget showdown, in New York, Katrina Vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of "The Nation" magazine. And here in Washington, Tony Blankley, executive vice president of Edelman Public Relations and a former press secretary for Newt Gingrich.

Katrina Vanden Heuvel, here's David Brooks saying the republicans are not a normal party. Have most of the media been unwilling to point a picture and say the Republicans are largely responsible for blocking any deal here?

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL, THE NATION: Yes. So I think in the last weeks, we've seen more attention paid for the fact you no longer have a Republican Party Richard Nixon would recognize.

This is an extremist Republican Party willing to blow up the global economy by tethering draconian, cruel deficit cuts to the debt ceiling -- a debt ceiling, by the way, Republicans seven times voted for to lift under George W. Bush. But I think the largest crisis the media -- the media malpractice, Howard, is the fact that you have the idea, the concept that America is bankrupt. It is not bankrupt. What is bankrupt is the inside the Beltway consensus that the real crisis in this country is about deficits and debt. When you look at the front pages in the last days, the last few years, Howard, what is it? It is a jobs crisis.

So, when you listen to Bill Daley on "Meet the Press" this morning and he said President Obama came to Washington to do something big, what we need is coverage of what a grand bargain on jobs could be, and the consequences of what we're seeing inside the beltway for millions of Americans.

KURTZ: I would agree that 14 million unemployed often get lost in this debate.

Tony Blankley, I'm not taking sides here. The Republicans have -- they're standing on principles. But journalists could easily write that by saying we'll negotiate anything, except tax increases, which is, of course, have the debate, Republicans are blocking progress toward a deal.

TONY BLANKLEY, COLUMNIST FOR TOWNHALL.COM: Look, I'm in favor actually of objective journalism.

KURTZ: OK.

BLANKLEY: When I was Newt's press secretary, I would seek out the journalists who knew the substance and were trying as hard as they could to report objectively. There's not as many of those reporters and those news organizations around now as there used to be.

If you have the choice between a transcription service, where the media just reports what each side says, and cheerleading, which I think is sometimes we ultimately we get, I'll take transcription over cheerleading, but I prefer journalism over transcription.

Let me give you just one example, and he's a good friend of mine. Major Garrett of today's "National Journal." He's one of the best reporters, he's got a story on this budget, where he leads in the first two paragraphs characterizing Boehner's position to Watergate, because he's standing firm on no taxes.

You have to get down to the 13th paragraph of a 15-paragraph story, before he says the Democrats are just as much to blame for refusing to deal with entitlements as the Republicans are for taxes. So, is that -- Major is one of the best reporters in the business. Is that objective journalism?

KURTZ: But on that point, Katrina, Democrats have their own sacred cows. Medicare is one of them. It's a great issue for the Democratic Party. But President Obama has put nearly $500 billion in Medicare cuts on the table, saying the Republicans now should give something on revenue. But, again, I don't see the press -- I think the press is so worried about appearing to take sides that they don't want to say, well, the Democrats took another step here and the Republicans, and, look, Boehner is under a lot of pressure from his Republican Caucus, are still digging in.

VANDEN HEUVEL: But let me reframe it if I might. There's too much covering this debate in terms of political gamesmanship, brinkmanship. What we need is not the grid of negotiation but the sensible policy, context and history.

Senator Moynihan once said people have a right to their own opinions but not to their own facts.

I think we need more reporting on stories, for example, like what "The New York Times" did in March of this year showing that G.E. profited $14 billion in 2010 and paid zero -- nada -- in federal taxes. These are the stories that should provide the context for understanding that there should be no moral, political, or policy equivalents between raising taxes on the very richest in corporations and taking away lifelines for millions of Americans who have already borne the brunt of these cuts.

I come back to the fact that sourcing, Howard, sourcing journalistic issue. Where are the stories? We need more stories about the consequences of what is going on inside the beltway around this country.

KURTZ: I understand that you want to broaden the media's economic debate, but there is, of course, the August 2nd deadline, after which the United States government will be in default.

VANDEN HEUVEL: It relates to that.

KURTZ: Let me -- let me bring Tony back in, because this whole argument about tax increases is an interesting challenge for the press. Obama says close what he calls tax loopholes -- corporate jets, the oil industry, hedge fund managers, you know, great populist targets. Republicans -- and that's a modest amount of money, let's face it -- Republicans say that's a tax hike. We don't want to raise taxes.

Shouldn't journalists say most people wouldn't think of ending ethanol subsidies as a tax hike? It's the closing of a tax preference that a lot of people think can't be justified.

BLANKLEY: Well, it's not a question really of what most people think, but what an objective journalist who's informed judges to be the reality. And so, one man's tax break is another man's interest deduction, which is not a tax break but necessary to support --

KURTZ: That's a tax preference that lot of people love because they have housing (ph). But still costs the treasury money.

(CROSSTALK)

BLANKLEY: Yes. Well, the phrase "costs the treasury money" suggest it was the treasury's money in the first place.

KURTZ: Foregone. All right.

BLANKLEY: But, look, I'm in favor of the journalism reporting in detail what each party is proposing and the history of those proposals. For instance, obviously, from the Republican point of view, in 1982, I was with Reagan and the White House. We had the (INAUDIBLE) taxing deal where Reagan was promised $3 of spending cuts for $1 of tax increase.

The history was that he didn't get all of the spending cuts. He got all the taxes.

So, when you analyze what's the likelihood of proposed spending cuts coming online, I'd like to see journalism report on the history of promised spending cuts and how many of them actually came out. That would be a useful --

KURTZ: Sometimes they have. Do you think the coverage, Tony, has been fair or biased?

BLANKLEY: Oh, I think it's been in a broad zone of fairness right now, because it's largely been transcription. It's largely been they say -- the Republicans say this about themselves, the --

KURTZ: Right, which doesn't help viewers that much.

And, Katrina, I asked Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, well, what are you willing to give up since the Democrats have put an awful lot in the trillions of dollars of spending cuts on table, which they're not necessarily in favor of? And he said, well, look, we don't want to raise the debt ceiling. We're raising the debt ceiling, that's our sacrifice in exchange for spending cuts.

Do you think the press has accepted that frame of the issue?

VANDEN HEUVEL: Yes. I think, well, first of all, Howard, you know this better than I do -- there's no more one press in this country. There are two, three, four different medias.

And Eric Cantor can't. I mean, here's a guy who has said, if you don't play my game, I'm going to walk away. I mean, that is not politics. And though I think President Obama has too often led with compromise, there's no question that if you look at the compromise that the Democratic Party has made rightly or wrongly in my view over these last six months, a year, there is a sense of shared sacrifice.

I come back. I agree with Tony Blankley, by the way. Maybe our journalism can accommodate history or context, but we need to look back at the last 30 years and see how the tax burden on the very much rich is today at the lowest point in decades.

That should play a rule in the conversations, Howard, about the debt ceiling, about deficit reduction.

And, finally, the discredited supply-side economics that has infiltrated the media, call it bias or whatever, that is leading the way our coverage is framed. The idea that spending cuts lead to recovery or prosperity -- no.

KURTZ: OK. Well, there's a great debate about that.

Let me close with this, Tony Blankley. Each side has its talking points. You talk about transcription journalism. You don't seem that uncomfortable with it, but I think it's almost a surrender to just say one side says this, one side says that. Where is, you know --

BLANKLEY: I completely agree. I think there's a rich, recent political economic history to be reported on by the media and they're not doing enough of it. I agree. I wouldn't be -- as a conservative Republican, I'd be very comfortable with a deep historic analysis and reporting by journalism regarding the history of tax cuts, budgets, revenue raises, whether you raise the rates, do you increase revenue. There's a lot of good stuff there.

KURTZ: Well, we still have an opportunity with the debate just really heating up and the deadline facing us. Let the record show, I got Tony Blankley and Katrina Vanden Heuvel to agree on at least one point here this morning.

VANDEN HEUVEL: History.

KURTZ: Thanks very much for joining us.

Still to come on this program: the end of CNN's Spitzer experiment and an unusual hire at "Good Morning America."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: From the moment CNN hired Eliot Spitzer as a talk show host last year, most critics thought he had too much baggage to succeed, after resigning, of course, as New York's governor for patronizing prostitutes. And dumping Kathleen Parker as his co-host did little to improve things. This week, the network canceled the Spitzer show as part of a primetime shakeup that includes a new program for former CNBC anchor Erin Burnett.

I must say having been on the program a few times, Spitzer is one aggressive interviewer.

This might be an even stranger choice than Spitzer. "Good morning America" is tapping former kidnap victim Elizabeth Smart as a contributor. She's going to specialize in missing persons cases, but isn't ABC exploiting the tragedy that brought her a measure of fame? Judging by the media reaction to my report, Smart's hiring made a lot of people uncomfortable.

Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz. Join us again next Sunday morning, 11:00 Eastern, for another critical look at the media.

"STATE OF THE UNION" with Candy Crowley begins right now.