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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Herman Cain Bombshell; Brian Williams Launches News Magazine; Kim Kardashian's Quickie Marriage
Aired November 6, 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: Are the standards of campaign exclusives, the "Politico" story on Herman Cain exploded like a bombshell and largely hit its targets? But what about the reliance on unnamed sources and the utter lack of detail about this decade-old sexual harassment allegations?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HERMAN CAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We made a conscious decision not to go chasing two anonymous sources.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Are the media now going totally overboard? What exactly is Cain supposed to have done?
And what about the loaded charge by some conservative pundits that the press is deliberately targeting an African-American?
"Politico's" Jonathan Martin, who broke the story, joins our discussion.
Brian Williams takes the primetime plunge with a new magazine show.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: As we begin a new broadcast in this studio that has already housed a hot of television history over the years. And tonight, we hoped to add another chapter.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Can "Rock Center" build a brand to rival "60 Minutes"?
Plus, Kim Kardashian's lightning round marriage. Why won't the media just admit they were had?
I'm Howard Kurtz, and this is RELIABLE SOURCES.
KURTZ: For the reporters at "Politico," last Sunday morning was a chance to ask Herman Cain about allegations unearthed by the Web site that two women had accused him of sexual harassment back when he ran the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s.
And after the presidential candidate emerged from an appearance on "Face the Nation," that's what Jonathan Martin did.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JONATHAN MARTIN, POLITICO: Have you ever been accused of sexual harassment? Have you? Have you, sir?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That was the last question. Thanks. Thanks.
MARTIN: Yes or no?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Last question.
CAIN: Have you ever been accused of sexual harassment?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: The story was published hours later, and you've got to say this for Cain, he didn't go into hiding. He did one interview and appearance after another. But the story got increasingly murky as "Politico," "The New York Times" and others dug up new details and the candidate's denials began to shift.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
CAIN: As far as a settlement, I am unaware of any sort of settlement. I hope it wasn't for much because I didn't do anything.
The word "settlement" versus the word "agreement," you know -- I'm not sure what they called it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Was there any behavior on your part that you think might have been inappropriate?
CAIN: In my opinion, no. But as you would imagine, it's in the eye of the person who thinks that maybe I crossed the line.
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS: You didn't say like, whoa, what did she say I did?
CAIN: No, I didn't, I said, what do you mean sexual harassment?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you make a distinction between settlement and agreement, it sounds Clintonian.
CAIN: It wasn't meant to sound Clintonian.
BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: You weren't prepared to this. You were blindsided by this.
CAIN: Not totally blindsided, Bill. My campaign was made aware that this story might break 10 days ago. But we made a conscious decision not to go chasing two anonymous sources.
So don't even bother asking me all of these other questions that you all are curious about, OK? Don't even bother.
REPORTER: But are you concerned to the fact that these women
CAIN: What did I say?
REPORTER: Are you concerned about --
CAIN: Excuse me. Excuse me!
There are too many people in the media that are downright dishonest, not all, but too many of them do a disservice to the American people.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
KURTZ: That was Herman Cain last night at a debate with Newt Gingrich.
Joining us now to examine the media's conduct on this controversial and polarizing story, here in Washington, Jonathan Martin, senior political reporter for "Politico" and the lead reporter on the Cain story. Kathleen Parker, the nationally syndicated columnist with "The Washington Post." And in New York, Keli Goff, contributing editor for Loop21.com.
Jonathan Martin, let's talk about the story last Sunday, you and three colleagues report good this, and what it didn't contain in details.
Here's the language of the story. "Sexually suggestive behavior that made the women angry and uncomfortable, descriptions of physical gestures, not always overtly sexual, innuendo, and in one case an unwanted sexual advance in a hotel."
Why publish the story then when you couldn't answer the central question, what precisely is Herman Cain alleged to have done with these women?
MARTIN: Howie, I think any journalist would find the -- a report of two women who got a five-figure -- each -- cash payout after alleging sexual harassment against the CEO of a trade group now a major contend for president newsworthy. That's the story we had, and that's what we published.
Now, as my editor, John Harris, just said, of course, we want more detail and to do more reporting. That's what happened this week. And, obviously, we printed what we could print last Sunday.
And of course we had multiple sources on this -- a half a dozen actually, as we mentioned in the piece.
Now, as for the detail of it, we were dealing with sensitive, you know, sources, sensitive information here. And so obviously we -- we tread delicately when it came to that. As you noted, though, in the build-up to the segment, during the course this week, "Politico," my colleagues, "The New York Times" and others, have gotten closer to this in terms of the detail of what happened.
KURTZ: Right. But you had to make -- let me interrupt. You had to make a go or no-go decision. I think in a lot of news organizations, an editor would have said, you have done some terrific reporting, you have great leads here, but you don't have it.
You can't have a quote of what he said to any of these women. You're obviously not able to name the women. You don't have the details of the sexually suggestive behavior that made him angry and a couple -- go back and get more.
You could have waited. There was nothing forcing you to publish last Sunday.
MARTIN: Well, we had the fact that -- one of these women was brought upon by Cain in a hotel room, and was made to feel very uncomfortable. We reported later in the week more about what happened with that episode, Howie. She was so upset about that, that hours later, she confronted a member of the board to complain about Cain's treatment of her, an explicit sexual overture in that hotel room.
So, again --
KURTZ: But you can't tell me what the overture is.
MARTIN: With these kinds of stories, absolutely, at first, you may not have all the information that you want. But subsequently reporting by my news organization and many others has corroborated the basic fact of the story. That's not in question at all.
You know, Mr. Cain has offered, you know, various responses to the story. But nobody has challenged -- and in fact, the facts have been corroborated. Two women --
KURTZ: The fact that these two women that you -- they were not willing to let their names be used. I assume you or your colleagues talk good it off the record. I don't know that. You can't say.
Didn't that cause you hesitation that you couldn't identify the women?
MARTIN: Howie, we had total confidence in this story. And after five days of reporting by other news outlets, you can see why, because the story was bulletproof, 100 percent on the facts. Two women got five-figure payouts after accusing Mr. Cain of sexual harassment in the late '90s. Those facts have been corroborated entirely.
So, I don't understand now what the issue is, frankly.
KURTZ: When you -- when you saw the tape earlier -- went up to Cain outside the CBS bureau last Sunday morning, and he would not give you a direct answer -- yes or no, you asked him, yes or no, did you take that in effect confirmation, no hard denial that that helped make the decision publish?
MARTIN: In context. We had tried for ten days to get an answer from that campaign --
KURTZ: Not at all? No response?
MARTIN: No, actually, one of the first response was their spokesman was, Mr. Cain vaguely recalls what happened and told his campaign staff talk to the in-house counsel at the organization who took care of the matter and who -- to share with them what happened. So that wasn't really a denial either.
But it wasn't enough for us. We wanted to ask the candidate directly about the accusations. So, that's what I did. I asked him four times that question. He didn't give me a straight answer.
So that's the response we had, combined with his spokesman's response, it was far from a denial. And we found out why during the course this week because this actually did happen obviously.
KURTZ: All right. Let me bring in Kathleen Parker. You also interviewed Herman Cain this week after the story broke, about the allegations. What did you make of his answers to you?
KATHLEEN PARKER, WASHINGTON POST: Well, I interviewed him right after he gave the talk to the National Press Club on Monday. So, that was one day after it was first reported that this thing had happened. I interviewed him previously so he felt comfortable with me, I know that.
And so, I said, look, you have to -- you have to shoot straight, lay it on the table, do the best you can to recall what happened because they're not going to stop. They meaning people like Jonathan, are going to keep digging and digging and digging. And eventually somebody who knows something is going to speak. So, go ahead and dig deep in your memory bank and try to tell me what you recall might have been construed as sexual harassment.
And I think he really -- you know, my first impression was Herman Cain is a little bit clueless in the -- in a male way, OK? I know I'm going to get myself in big trouble saying that. But in a sense he said, look, this is a complaint against me --
KURTZ: I hope he didn't say, "Look, sweetheart."
PARKER: No, he didn't, but I wouldn't have been upset if he had, OK. At my age, I'd say, "thank you, darling." But he said -- I think what happened at the time was he knew that there was this complaint against him. He delegated it to the proper authorities. They their investigation, resolved it.
We talk about five figures like this is some enormous amount of money. I'm not defending Cain here, I don't know what happened.
KURTZ: But you described his answer to you as weak.
PARKER: I am getting back to that. I promise.
PARKER: He said, OK, let me think. OK, there was this one time where I spoke it her, and I commented -- he called this other staff woman up to demonstrate the difference in their heights. And his wife is apparently a very petite lady. So he said, you're the same height as my wife. And he was standing close to her. That was his explanation of what might have been construed as sexual or not appropriate.
And then I said, well, that's pretty good. And he even was able to give details. Like the door was open to his office. His secretary was right outside the door.
KURTZ: Get you the bottom line --
PARKER: Your memory's getting good here. Let's keep going. Then he said there was this other time --arm what it was. It was not significant.
KURTZ: So, your bottom line, as you wrote, was that it was not a terribly impressive set of denials?
PARKER: No, it wasn't. And it kept getting more expansive and more detailed. And I just thought, you know -- go ahead, Jonathan Martin and "Politico" gave you 10 days to sort of figure out what your story is. At least go ahead and figure that much out.
KURTZ: OK. Let me turn to Keli Goff.
PARKER: I do have a lot more to say. I have to get another chance to talk.
KURTZ: Given that Herman Cain is not alleged to have had sex with any of these women or have touched anyone as far as we know, unlike, say, Bill Clinton -- does the past seven days amount to media overkill?
KELI GOFF, LOOP21.COM: That depends. And, you know, I'm going probably get myself in trouble for say something a little politically incorrect, might get a little hate mail. It won't be the first time so I'll say it anyway, which is a lot of this coverage and how this coverage plays out and the impact on this campaign, campaign plays out depends on one thing which we in the media don't like to acknowledge. And that is what we end up finding out about his accusers and if -- how much we find out about them.
And what I mean by that is what we don't like to acknowledge but is simply a fact is that when it comes to allegations like this, an accuser's class status, her attractiveness and, yes, at times her race end up impacting how people -- how likely people are to, A, believe such allegations, and B, how the media ends up covering stories like this.
KURTZ: And on that point, Keli, let me jump in. On Friday, as you know, Attorney Joel Bennett, said that his client -- the woman who reportedly got the $45,000 settlement from the restaurant association -- had been subjected to unwanted advances, that's the quote -- unwanted advances by Cain. But it would be extremely painful for her to go public.
CNN covered it live. Should CNN have covered it live? And is it unfair for those of us in the media to trumpet the allegations while this woman, although we're willing to send her lawyer out there, isn't willing to put her name out there and she remains anonymous?
GOFF: Well, yes -- CNN should cover it because it's -- whether we like it or not, it's a news story, right? And it's become a major news story. I guess there's debate about whether it's the chicken or the egg there.
But the fact is it's a major news story. I do go back to, unfortunately -- I wish her all the best. I wish all the accusers their best, and they want their privacy. We've got another year this presidential campaign. If he's able to hang tough and stay in this campaign, I'm afraid to break it to everyone involved, how much longer these people are going to remain anonymous.
GOFF: And the fact of the matter -- I'm sorry.
KURTZ: Let me get Kathleen back into the conversation.
PARKER: You're absolutely correct. It has become a huge news story. But it was made a huge news story by the news organizations themselves.
And the most important thing is we don't know the facts. We don't know what was said --
PARKER: I think he never expected this to come up. I don't know if he expected to be this far into the campaign at all. You know, the -- the fact is you don't -- as long as you don't know what happened, the system has already worked to the extent it was designed to work. These women filed a complaint, it was with -- internally found baseless. They resolved it with a settlement.
And, by the way, that is routine in 90 percent of the cases. You can't -- Herman Cain would have had to spend $100,000 to defend himself against charge that could have just been a matter of personal perception.
MARTIN: A couple things, Howie, you said there was no physical contact. We have reported that there was physical contact.
KURTZ: Of what kind?
MARTIN: What's that?
KURTZ: What kind -- what was the physical contact?
MARTIN: Physical contact.
KURTZ: Tell me what the physical contact was.
MARTIN: The reporting was --
KURTZ: You can't -- did he put his arm around somebody, kiss somebody --
PARKER: Did he do that?
MARTIN: Secondly, the allegations do not say it was baseless. And third of all, Mr. Cain's defense that he was only measuring his height was disputed by the attorney for that woman who spoke of multiple incidents over a series of months.
KURTZ: Why is "Politico" continuing to hold back the names as well as other organizations?
MARTIN: It was a decision by editors that for privacy reasons we were not going to report the names of women involved.
KURTZ: Even though there's now in the restaurant association, in the case of one woman we were discussing whose lawyer spoke on Friday, hasn't released her from the confidentiality agreement? She could go public.
But on the other hand, if she says to the attorney she doesn't want to be the next Anita Hill, she doesn't want a media firestorm erupting.
PARKER: These women didn't go looking for this. It's a political hit, somebody came out and said, we know about this case, let's keep it out there in the news media and let it catch fir e and see where it goes.
KURTZ: I don't understand a political hit --
PARKER: Not you. I'm not saying are you making the political hit. Somebody in the opposition camp --
KURTZ: Sources --
PARKER: Obviously, obviously.
MARTIN: Two women accused him of sexual harassment and got a combined approximate $80,000 from a trade group based upon allegations. So, I mean, three of that is very newsworthy. And I think when people in this country are looking at candidates, it's important to know who they are, and about their past, about their character.
PARKER: I agree with you. I think it was newsworthy. I think what's important and my job in this world is to put things in proper context. And so, all these other factors have to be included when you say this person was accused of sexual harassment, then you give the whole story of sexual harassment -- how it's abuse, sometimes, how serious it is, when it is serious, and what a $35,000 settlement really means.
KURTZ: Keli Goff, could it have a chilling effect on future sexual harassment complaints? This is obviously a difficult and treacherous area -- in particularly corporate America. If some media web site were to go public with the names of the women involved, who obviously do not want their names made public?
GOFF: Yes But I think -- excuse me, what has -- even more chilling effect is the fact that sort of like racism, we're getting to a point where people just don't take these allegations seriously. And that diminishes it when people really do have a tough time. I mean, a blogger for "The National Review" made a joke saying sexual harassment, is that still a real thing?
And that to me is actually more chilling than what could potentially happen if this woman goes public. But it's just like rape allegations, Howard. Again, where she comes public, we find out her identity.
The first question someone is going to ask is, is she attractive enough for someone to have sexually harassed, is she a gold digger?
KURTZ: I take your point. I'm not going to ask who the sources are because journalists protect their sources. But the Cain campaign, Mark Block, the chief of staff, made charges that Rick Perry's presidential campaign must be behind this. Later backed off that a little bit.
I want to play for you an exchange that happened on FOX News.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS: You're charging the Perry campaign with stirring this up.
MARK BLOCK, HERMAN CAIN CHIEF OF STAFF: Both the Rick Perry campaign and "Politico" did the wrong thing by reporting something that wasn't true from anonymous sources. Like I said, they owe Herman Cain and his family an apology.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Reporting something that wasn't true?
MARTIN: I don't understand what he's saying this. Mr. Cain himself has confirmed that he was, in fact, accused and, in fact, there were settlements.
The organization that he formerly led Friday put out a statement saying, yes, this woman did in fact accuse him. And she did in fact receive a settlement. And other news outlets have confirmed and advanced reporting.
So, I'm not sure what Mr. Block is talking about.
KURTZ: The Cain campaign suggesting it might sue "Politico." I'm going to go out in the limb here and you will never see that (INAUDIBLE) himself up to legal discovery.
Let me get a break, when we come back, the Cain controversy becomes a racially charged culture war. What about those conservative claims that the press is unfairly targeting a black candidate?
KURTZ: It took perhaps 48 hours, maybe even less, for the Herman Cain story to become racially charged. Here's some conservative commentators -- we're going to play the tape, comparing the situation of Cain to another high-profile incident that happened back in 1991.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: Clarence Thomas used the term "high-tech lynching."
ANN COULTER, AUTHOR: Yes. Is that accurate?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It absolutely is, it's coming from the same people who used to do lynching with ropes. Now they do it with a word processor.
HANNITY: You mean the Democratic Party?
RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: What's next, folks? A cartoon on MSNBC showing Herman Cain with huge lips eating a watermelon? What are they going to do next? No, certainly, I'm not kidding.
The racial stereotypes that that these people are using to go after Herman Cain, what is the one thing that it tells us? It -- well, it tells us who the real racists are.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
KURTZ: Kathleen Parker, what evidence is there that this was racially motivated?
PARKER: None that I've seen. I don't understand that charge whatsoever. And I know that Ann Coulter also said, you know, our blacks are better than theirs. I didn't realize they were ours. It seemed odd to me. These are things you can criticize Cain on and independent of this issue.
But none of it has any relationship what so ever to his race. I'm surprised that he would allow that because he's not --
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Well, he's done more than allow it, because Keli Goff in radio interview with Hannity, Cain said, they, not saying who they are, are trying to intimidate other black conservatives to not go being. Haven't we had other conservatives, most recently Anthony Weiner, to go public?
GOFF: Well, and also, Herman Cain also did say flat-out when asked, do you think races playing a part in this? And he said, yes, yes, I can't prove it, but I think yes.
I mean, I think Howard, if looked up "irony: in the dictionary, it would be a picture of people like Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, and, yes, Herman Cain, people who have accused the president and, quote, "liberals" for always playing the race card, whipping it out right about now.
Do I think race plays a part in this allegations and the coverage, hate to beat a dead horse but I think it again depends on what we find out about the accuser. Hate to break it to Mr. Cain, but if his accusers are attractive, articulate, somewhat educated, somewhat financially stable, minimal sexual baggage in their history, white ladies, I think he's got a problem on his hands.
That's not a popular thing to say, but neither is the fact that we tend to cover missing, attractive, white ladies from middle-class backgrounds who go missing more than we cover impoverished women of color who go missing. Those are the facts, as they say. I think it could play a role depending on the accusers.
KURTZ: Of course, liberal commentators have fired back at people like Rush.
I would suggest the media secretly love this. I mean, the story itself is more probably compelling to a lot of journalists than running about Mitt Romney's latest economic plan. It's now a full- blown, racially charged culture war, and that gives -- that fills a lot of airtime and columns.
MARTIN: Yes. My colleague, Ben Smith, had a very smart story on the split on the right, Howie. I think the older conservatives who were more oriented around provocation, Limbaugh, Coulter, I think focused on that angle. Someone, younger conservatives who have roots in reporting, I think tend to say let's see where the facts lead us here before we jump to too many conclusions.
I would say to all of the journalists out there watching, if you had this story, regardless of the candidate, who wouldn't write this story? And that -- the notion that it was based upon anything besides important facts that we wanted to report, I think is absurd.
PARKER: I wanted to get back to the race issue. I think one of the things that these conservative commentators are working and they've kind of skewed the message, but it is a fact that African- Americans who choose to be -- who are conservative and who choose to belong to the Republican Party rather than where the majority of African-Americans reside, are definitely -- have a greater challenge and who are -- are not embraced by their own community. And so that's -- that's harder, I think, on them. And that's probably what their point is.
MARTIN: I don't understand for the life of me --
KURTZ: But --
MARTIN: -- how this is about anything besides news about a candidate running for president of the United States?
KURTZ: Let me ask you -- let me ask you about -- the impact of news. Despite the seven-day media assault -- and there's no other word for it -- Herman Cain is still leading or tied in the Republican polls and "Washington Post"/ABC poll as you know the other day, found 55 percent said that the sexual harassment allegations are not a serious matter. 70 percent said it wouldn't affect their vote.
I think what we're hearing from Republicans is they don't trust the media reporting on this. They don't care.
PARKER: Gee, you think? I mean, 90 stories in five days.
KURTZ: On "Politico."
PARKER: On "Politico" alone.
KURTZ: Aren't the poll figures a rejection this journalism?
MARTIN: Well, that number includes blog posts so it's not really honest. But I think a lot of other news outlets have tried to match and advance our reporting. It's unfortunate that some folks would not do that but instead say we're doing too much reporting. I don't really get that.
Look, as for conservative distrust of the news media, that's nothing new necessarily. I think if you see the reaction of long-time political operatives to the story, I think they understand, obviously, that the facts out there are not helpful to Mr. Cain.
The fact that two women did, in fact, allege sexual harassment and got five-figure payouts from the organization, it's now not been denied by anybody. So I think that's obviously a tough --
KURTZ: Last comment from Keli Goff. Don't a lot of people see prosecutorial, inside the Beltway press corps when it comes to stories like this, particularly when the allegations are murky?
GOFF: In a word, yes. Although I read those poll numbers a little differently than you do. I do think there's distrust of the news media happening there, but his numbers are actually growing with everyone else except for women.
So, I think apart of what's going on is the culture war of there are conservatives who believe the allegations of things like sexual harassment and racism are simply bogus. And I think that that's part of what's going on in terms of his surge.
KURTZ: Got to go. Keli Goff, Kathleen Parker, Jonathan Martin -- thanks very much for coming in this morning.
Coming up in the second part of RELIABLE SOURCES, NBC launches a new primetime magazine. Can Brian Williams and company attract enough viewers for "Rock Center"?
Plus, "Newsweek" editor-turned-CNN executive Mark Whittaker on being an African-American trailblazer in the news business and the strains on his family growing up.
And later, Kim Kardashian's quickie marriage. How did we fall for that one?
KURTZ: It's been years since one of the networks launched a news magazine show. But NBC took the plunge this week with Brian Williams hosting a weekly hour called "Rock Center." Would it aspire to be a hipper "60 Minutes" and deeper "20/20" or something in between? Here's a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIAN WILLIAMS, HOST, "ROCK CENTER": And good evening, from Studio 3B in Rockefeller Center, or Rock Center for short, as we begin a new broadcast in a studio that has already housed a lot of television history over the years. And tonight, we hope to add another chapter.
RICHARD ENGEL, CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS (on camera): This is the part where we are the most exposed. It's open land all around us. We've stopped in this little ditch waiting for the sign that we can go forward.
(voice-over) A car is supposed to be waiting for us on the Syrian side.
(on camera) We are now inside Syria and just waiting by the side of the road for our contact to pick us up.
KATE SNOW, NBC CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Oh, my goodness. Look at all these babies. Yes. I don't want to say anything loud. Look at all these babies.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. She's - he's a big baby.
SNOW (on camera): They're so adorable.
(voice-over) The wealthy Chinese parents of these babies have no intention of staying in the United States. They're here just to get American citizenship for their baby.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Joining us to talk about NBC's newest journalistic endeavor, in Philadelphia, Gail, senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania and a columnist for "TV Newser." And in New York, Adam Buckman, former television columnist for the "New York Post" and now blogs at "TVHowl.com"
Gail Shister, was this "Rock Center" debut good journalism and good enough to make it in primetime?
GAIL SHISTER, COLUMNIST, "TVNEWSER.COM" AND SENIOR FELLOW, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA: Well, that's a bifurcated question. But I think it was good journalism as far as it went. The problem I had with it journalistically is that the Kate Snow piece on the babies and also Harry Smith's piece on boomtown USA in North Dakota had both been done by the "Times" among other sources a while ago.
So as far as original journalism, I was a little disappointed. Journalistically, I thought Richard Engel's piece, while daring, was about Richard Engel. And I didn't see much news value there.
I give them major credit for trying to be different, however, by having two live segments at the end with Jon Stewart. Unfortunately -
KURTZ: We'll get to that in a moment. We'll get Adam Buckman to jump in.
KURTZ: Are there any stories that really stood out? And television often does stories that have already been done by print. Anything that stood out as being just terrific journalism?
ADAM BUCKMAN, TELEVISION COLUMNIST AND WEEKEND EDITOR, "TVHOWL.COM": Well, I had not - I had not seen the stories that Gail referenced, that the show apparently repeated or followed up on.
So to me, the stories that she mentions were very interesting. I had not heard about birth tourism before. And the story about boom times in western North Dakota was very interesting to me.
And I thought the quality, overall, of the show was very high and drew about four million viewers. And that seems to be in line with just about every other news magazine on network television except, of course, "60 Minutes" which gets far more viewership.
KURTZ: Yes. Although that four million viewers is about half of what Brian Williams draws for the "NBC Nightly News." Gail referenced Jon Stewart. He was a guest for two segments on this debut hour. Let's take a brief look at that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JON STEWART, GUEST, "ROCK CENTER": You know what I learned tonight? You and I together, the two of us, make up half of Richard Engel.
STEWART: That guy's like a monster, he's out there -
WILLIAMS: I saw him in the green room.
STEWART: He's unbelievable.
WILLIAMS: You were getting your man crush on.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: OK, what did you make of that sometimes meandering chat which included a look at going out trick-or-treating on Halloween?
SHISTER: I thought it was painful to watch. And believe me, I am a huge fan of both men. What I think is that they were both out of their natural elements for humor. Brian Williams is clearly one of the funniest people on the planet, and that's what Stewart does for a living.
The difference is that Stewart really needs to be in control in order to be funny. He hates leaving the anchor desk of "The Daily News" because he's giving up control.
Brian Williams, on the other hand, generally, is much, much funnier when he's a guest. And the two of them together, when they're on Stewart's show, are hysterical. But they both seemed uncomfortable. The shtick seemed forced.
Stewart did two little promos within the show with Brian Williams that were embarrassing. And what also bothered me is that - is Brian just going to stick with his pals? Because Tina Fey is going to be on live tomorrow night.
And I'm wondering if, two weeks from now, if it's going to be Jimmy Kimmel and they're going do a slow jam.
KURTZ: Adam, was Brian Williams trying a bit too hard to show off his lighter side?
BUCKMAN: Well, I think - I think that was certainly the reason why he was on with Jon Stewart, because, you know, Brian Williams is this asset that NBC has. He's the anchorman who's personable.
He has a sense of humor when he's on shows other than the "NBC Nightly News," of course. And it was interesting to me that they chose to pair him with a late night host on night number one.
I thought they probably were trying to get Jimmy Fallon for the first night. But actually, Jimmy was uptown taping "The Conan O'Brien Show," which was in New York for the week.
KURTZ: He's so busy. Adam, in the remaining moments that we have, you said it's not fair to compare "Rock Center" ratings to "60 Minutes." "60 Minutes" obviously comes on Sunday nights, more of a protected time slot.
But what about journalistically? Does "Rock Center" need to break some big investigative pieces and get big exclusive bookings with newsmakers in order to make its mark?
BUCKMAN: Oh, without question. That's the whole thing to these news magazines. You have to really get in there and be in the fight for the big interviews.
I mean, just look at the contrast. The night before, "60 Minutes" had Ruth and Andrew Madoff, and then they got about 18 million viewers.
You know, when "Rock Center" gets up into that game and becomes competitive for the big interviews and the ones that get all the publicity and the coverage in the media that covers media, then it will have arrived and will be on the sort of top A-list.
KURTZ: In about half a minute, Gail Shister, it looks like Williams is looking for a little bit different tone with this program than "60 Minutes."
SHISTER: There's no question. But I think going two segments live was going overboard. And I would have been much happier with one segment. And if it had been a little more structured, I think it would have been better.
I think, following up on what Adam said about getting the big get, if they get Kim Kardashian, you know, you watch those numbers soar.
KURTZ: I'll have something to say about that later. And look, it's only been one week so let's give (UNINTELLIGIBLE) time to find its footing. Adam Buckman and Gail Shister, thanks for stopping by this morning.
Up next, CNN's Mark Whitaker on his tenure as the first black editor of "Newsweek" and the challenge of reporting on his troubled father.
KURTZ: Mark Whitaker has been something of a trailblazer. The first African-American to serve as editor of "Newsweek," Washington bureau chief at NBC, and now executive vice president and managing editor here at CNN.
But the story of how he got there and the strains of his family are as interesting as his work at these news organizations. Whitaker tells that tale in his book, "My Long Trip Home: A Family Memoir." I spoke to him earlier in New York.
(on camera) Mark Whitaker, welcome.
MARK WHITAKER, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT AND MANAGING EDITOR OF CNN WORLDWIDE: Hi. Good to see you.
KURTZ: Back when you were a young pup and just started at "Newsweek" magazine, your editor said that maybe if you worked really hard one day, you could be a senior editor at the magazine. What did you say?
WHITAKER: I said, well, half joking, what about the top editor? And this was in 1979. I was just graduating from college. I had done a couple of internships at "Newsweek." And he said to me, well, "Newsweek" isn't ready for a black editor. Maybe someday, but not now.
KURTZ: How did that make you feel?
WHITAKER: Well, I thought it was actually realistic. You know, I mean, I was full of beans a little bit. You know, I just graduated from Harvard, you know, done well in a couple of internships.
But he was right at the time. And you know, eventually, I became the editor of "Newsweek," but it took 20 years.
KURTZ: And when it happened - and this was before I was associated with the magazine when it was owned by the "Washington Post" company, of course.
As you note in the book, every article, every time you were mentioned at least in the beginning, it was first African-American editor of a major news magazine. Were you proud of that, or did it also bother you on some level to be kind of pigeon-holed that way?
WHITAKER: Well - well, you know, I was - my father, actually, who's a big figure in my book, kind of warned me about that and said there's going to be a lot of attention.
I actually wasn't even that prepared for it. I had come up from "Newsweek," had a bunch of different jobs, international section, business editor, you know, covering politics and so forth. And -
KURTZ: Did the media give you a label? This is true -
WHITAKER: No, no, no. That's right, that's right. And along the way, I had actually done a lot of coverage of, you know, issues relating to race, covering South Africa and Mandela and so forth.
You know, but my view is, you know, I kind of earned the job the old-fashioned way, showing a lot of different, you know, talents for the job.
And my response when people said that is, look, I'm proud of the fact that I'm the first black editor of a national news magazine, but my goal is to be a really great editor, period.
KURTZ: Speaking of your father, when you got engaged to your wife, Alexis Gelber, who was working at "Newsweek," you were (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to your dad said to her parents -
WHITAKER: To her mother.
KURTZ: Her mother. Excuse me. Not all Jewish people would be comfortable having a black son-in-law.
KURTZ: Did you cringe?
WHITAKER: Well, you know, I didn't hear it when she said that. Later, you know, my mother-in-law told my fiancee at the time, and she told me. And it upset me.
I mean, first of all, you know, I mean, I had gotten to know my in-laws very well. I really liked them. I admired them. I had never had a problem, never sensed that that was an issue.
By the way, my mother-in-law immediately said to my father, "What do you take us for?" Kind of pushback. And my father was actually sort of impressed by that.
You know, he had grown up - even though he grew up in a segregated world, a different world than I had, he had had Jewish friends in college and even, you know, mentors, people that helped him along the way.
So I was mystified by why he would say that. But it was one of those things that made me realize that my father had a very different frame of reference than I did. And he was still sort of had a kind of racial chip on his shoulder.
KURTZ: And when you set out to do this book, much of this book centers around your relationship with your father, his divorcing your mother, his alcoholism. This isn't just you sitting at a word processor dictating your recollections. You set out to report the story.
WHITAKER: That's right. That's right. Well, you know, there are a couple of elements to the story. There's the story that people had always said could make a book which had to do with my parents being an interracial couple in the 1950s.
Secret romance - he was a student. My mother was a teacher - you know, doubly illicit. They both came from these really interesting worlds. My father, black Pittsburgh. Both of his parents were undertakers.
My mother, World War II France. She had come as a refugee. And her father who was a pastor in a little village had helped hide thousands of Jews during the war.
KURTZ: They had to hide it in a way that even Barack Obama's parents didn't. They were like -
WHITAKER: Yes. Well, they had to hide it partly because my dad was an undergraduate, my mother was a professor. So it also had that -
WHITAKER: That kind of -
KURTZ: It was illicit in more ways than one.
WHITAKER: There's an illicit element. Right.
KURTZ: But you went out and reported the story. I want get the journalistic point of this.
WHITAKER: That's right. But then, there's another part which what happened, you know, after they divorced, and you know, a lot of unhappiness on everybody's part after that.
And you know, so I had thought about writing a book, but, you know, for a variety of reasons, I was busy. I kind of wasn't sure whether I really wanted to, you know, revisit a lot of the painful parts of it.
I had never gotten around to it. My father died two days after Thanksgiving in 2008. And I think that's - you know, it will never happen. A year later, same day, in the middle of the night, I wake up and say, I want to try to write this book.
And I started to try to do it from memory, like, to do a short memoir. But I realized very quickly there were a lot of things I didn't know.
KURTZ: There were a lot of gaps.
WHITAKER: Yes, a lot of gaps. And that's when I started reporting. And you know, actually, it was the reporting of the book and finding out all these things that I didn't know, uncovering all these secrets, that actually made me totally obsessed with the project.
KURTZ: Kind of a detective story.
In a moment, more of my discussion with Mark Whitaker. How did "Newsweek" botch the Monica Lewinsky story and why aren't there more black anchors?
KURTZ: More now of my conversation with CNN executive, Mark Whitaker.
(on camera) I want to come back to your career. One of the most famous or infamous decisions you made - you were filling in as editor at the time - was in the Monica Lewinsky story. Mike Isikoff basically had the goods or at least it looked that way later. The thing I never understood about the decision to hold the story that, of course, you tried to get wind of it and the "Washington Post" broke it, is that you had confirmed that Ken Starr, independent prosecutor, was investigating this.
WHITAKER: Right. Right.
KURTZ: Why wasn't that enough to go on? Well, I'm sure you've asked yourself this a hundred times.
WHITAKER: Right, right, right, right. Well, a couple things - is that Mike knew a lot. It wasn't like Woodward and Bernstein writing a little piece where they only knew about Starr.
He knew a lot about it, but he had never met Lewinsky herself. All of his sources were sort of around her. So we didn't know, you know, just how credible she was.
And by the time - when Starr had her, you know, basically under protective custody to sort of, you know, question her, we couldn't get to her.
The other thing which we didn't talk about at the time but I talk about in the book is I had stepped in for Maynard Parker, who was undergoing treatment for cancer at the time.
Maynard had been aware for almost a year that Mike was working on this story, but he had never told me, and he hadn't told Rick Smith, who was the publisher. He hadn't told Don Graham. So -
KURTZ: You were parachuting into this -
WHITAKER: So we only found out about any of this two days before we had to make a decision whether to publish or not. So there was a lot of - during those two days, a lot of discussions and examination going back to the sources, trying to get extra information from them.
But frankly, we didn't feel by - from Thursday to that Saturday that we were on firm enough ground to report a story that wouldn't just be a story about Ken Starr that ultimately would be about accusing the president of having sex in the Oval Office with an intern, which was, if we had gotten that wrong could have been, you know - could have been a mortal blow to "Newsweek's" reputation.
KURTZ: The potential down side must have loomed very large. After "Newsweek," you went to NBC. And you came here to CNN.
In this cable environment, I have to ask you, why is it that after 6:00 at night, with the exception now Al Sharpton on MSNBC - and of course, he's not a journalist but an activist - are there no African-American anchors? WHITAKER: Well, I mean, it's not for lack of desire. I mean, I'm a big - one of the things I said to Jim Walton, who's, you know, the president here at CNN when he first talked to me about coming here, I said, you know, I think there are going to be tremendous benefits to the first cable network or really any cable network I think who finds, you know, a diverse anchor, black anchor or a Hispanic anchor, given the changing demographics of this country, who is really a huge success in prime time.
First of all, I think it's important that that person - I would think certainly that's going to be on CNN - be a huge success, because I think that, unfortunately - and this may not be fair - but that if, you know, that were to happen and were to turn out well, as frankly a lot of these shows don't, I think it would be - you know, it wouldn't - you know, it might sort of set back the cause. The other thing -
KURTZ: You would like to see it happen but clearly it hasn't.
WHITAKER: I would, but the other thing I think that -
KURTZ: Then you should take the job.
WHITAKER: For the moment, I'm going to stay mostly behind the camera.
KURTZ: Mark Whitaker, thanks very much.
WHITAKER: Good to see you.
KURTZ: And before we go to break, CBS announced yesterday that Andy Rooney had died a few weeks after delivering his 1,097th and final essay on "60 Minutes."
He was a classic curmudgeon with a gentle sense of humor who often poked fun at himself. I'm glad he got to hear the tributes to his long career before he passed. Andy Rooney was 92.
KURTZ: It was the highest-rated show in the history of the E! Channel. Kim Kardashian, who was famous for - well, for a sex tape, a reality show, and basically for being famous, was getting married and millions of people watched the wedding in August.
I was not among them. Now, I once briefly met Kardashian at a party and she seemed perfectly pleasant. If the media wanted to trumpet her marriage to pro-basketball player, Kris Humphries, well, I suppose it's better than wasting more time on Lindsay Lohan - oh, except that she was back in the headlines this week, too, with a 30- day jail sentence for violating probation, a term that will apparently begin after her "Playboy" photo shoot, which may, in turn, draw a bit of publicity.
But back to Kim. Or is Khloe? No. Kim - Kim Kardashian, the sister, who just got married.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERICA HILL, CO-ANCHOR, "THE EARLY SHOW": Not that long ago, more than 10 million TV viewers saw the extravagant wedding of reality show star, Kim Kardashian, to NBA player, Kris Humphries.
MATT LAUER, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries - it's over. Kim Kardashian filing for divorce after just 72 days of marriage.
A.J. HAMMER, HOST, "SHOWBIZ TONIGHT": The dramatic new video of Kim Kardashian getting the heck out of dodge. As SHOWBIZ TONIGHT dares to ask, does Kim deserve our sympathy?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: What about the journalists who fell for this reality show stunt? Do they deserve our sympathy? How about "People" magazine, which was reported to have paid $1.5 million for the wedding pictures? Or "OK" magazine which forked over $100,000 to cover the bridal shower?
No sympathy. And the rest of the media mob got busy swarming all over the collapse of this so-called marriage.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KIM KARDASHIAN, REALITY TV STAR: I think what really just I think upsets me most is that there has been from the start so many rumors of money and dollar signs, of all these things thrown up in the air.
It's kind of what you get for living your life so publicly on a reality show. I get that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: And that's what we get for playing along with these faux news stories. We were had. Kim Kardashian has a new plot for her E! reality show and the news business looks a bit more detached from reality.
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.