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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES

'This American Life's' Blunder; 2012's Perpetual Punditry; Fox Shilling for Romney?

Aired March 18, 2012 - 11:00   ET

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


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: In the annals of major journalistic blunders, this one may be unique. A radio program "This American Life" investigated alleged abuses at the Chinese factory making iPhones and iPads. And on Friday, host Ira Glass delivered this stunning retraction.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

IRA GLASS, "THE AMERICAN LIFE": I'm coming to you today to say something that I've never had to say on our program. The most powerful and memorable moments in the story all seem to be fabricated.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

KURTZ: The public radio show relied on an account by performance artist Mike Daisey, who invented many of the details and now says, well, his work was theatrical and shouldn't have been used as journalism. How on earth could this have happened?

Deja vu on the presidential campaign trail with the pundits again denigrating Mitt Romney after a pair of victories by Rick Santorum, and many prodding Newt Gingrich, again, to quit the race.

And what about Santorum's charge that FOX News is shilling for Romney?

Plus, comedian Ali Wentworth on her new online show, her marriage to George Stephanopoulos, and how the president reacted when he heard she would be entertaining at the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALI WENTWORTH, COMEDIENNE: Obama said, Ali Wentworth, I mean, she's funny. But isn't she inappropriate? Which in my world is a huge compliment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Huge.

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

(MUSIC) KURTZ: It was the most popular episode in the history of "This American Life," the public radio program reported on alleged labor abuses at a Chinese factory that builds Apple's iPhones, and iPads. And the story relied heavily on author and one-man performance artist Mike Daisey.

Here's how host Ira Glass put it.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

GLASS: When I saw Mike Daisey perform this story on stage, when I left the theater, I had a lot of the questions. I mean, he's not a reporter, and I wondered, did he get it right? And so, we've actually spent a few weeks checking everything that he says in his show.

MIKE DAISEY: Then the workers start coming in. They come in in twos and threes and fours. There's a group that's talking about hexane. N-hexane is an iPhone screen cleaner. The problem is that n- hexane is a potent neurotoxin, and all these people have been exposed. Their hands shake uncontrollably.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

KURTZ: That never happened at all. He never met those people.

Daisey defended himself in a statement saying, "I stand by my work. What I do is not journalism." Right. "I regret that I allowed 'This American Life' to air an excerpt from my monologue, but this is my only regret." Hardly the only regret for the program that was left to explain this fiasco.

Joining us now from New York, Arik Hesseldahl, senior editor at AllThingsD.com; and here in Washington, Erik Wemple, media blogger for "The Washington Post".

Arik Hesseldahl, was it a fatally flawed approach for a news program to tackle such a serious subject with a guy who is a performance artist and does monologues for a living?

ARIK HESSELDAHL, ALLTHINGSD.COM: It was, Howie. And basically the reason is that we accept an ad mixture of fact and fiction in our entertainment products.

And while Mike Daisey's monologue is definitely an entertainment product, and a thought-provoking one, about the discussion we need to have, the fact of the matter is that when the fact-checker for "This American Life" contacted Daisey, Daisey created a story where the translator, the key character here is this woman named Cathy, who served as translator, fixer, all purpose helper in China. None of the three key anecdotes that appeared in the radio piece could be corroborated, and he lied about it.

KURTZ: We'll get further into that in a second, Erik Wemple. But given the fabrications here, one lie piled on another, and you have written about this. Where does this fit in the pantheon of media mistakes? ERIK WEMPLE, WASHINGTON POST: It's pretty prominent. I think it's somewhere up there. It's definitely top five, top 10, I would say.

But I think it's also top five, top maybe two or three in terms of how they handle it. They came out straight. They did a huge, you know, 58 minutes on my podcast. In addition to an entire edition of "This American Life" to correct the record, and it was incredibly compelling piece of journalism that correction of the record.

So, I think that if it was an egregious mistake, it was a glorious, glorious correction.

KURTZ: One that they would like to have avoided. But yes, I agree with you. It's a first class retraction. We invited Ira Glass to appear on this program this morning. He was not able to do that, and Mike Daisey did not respond to our e-mail inquiries.

Let me go back to New York.

Just let's tease this out a little bit, but it's not just that Mike Daisey who does -- who mixes up facts and fiction -- facts and fiction for a living, just told a couple little white lies here. He claimed to have visited places he didn't visit. He claimed to have seen things he didn't see.

And you mention this business about the Chinese translator. He tried to prevent "This American Life" from reaching this translator by changing her names so nobody could find her. That's pretty premeditated stuff, is it not?

HESSELDAHL: Yes. My hat is off to Rob Schmitz of "Marketplace" who brought the stories to "This American Life" for the retraction episode. He put Cathy, Shenzhen translator into Google, and she was the first hit. He found and he just on a lark he called her and he found here. And it turned out her name was not Anna, as Mike Daisey had told "This American Life" fact checker.

The point in the piece that I wrote for "All Things D" this morning, the firs question is: who would think to lie to Ira Glass? And on top of that, who would think to lie to Ira Glass's fact checker?

But on top of that, I mean, what we finally have is a bunch of anecdotes, like the n-hexane segment that you mentioned earlier, that was in a different city, 900 miles away, and Mike Daisey claims to have met these people, which is highly, highly unlikely, and Cathy says it never happened.

WEMPLE: Right. And I think another important thing here is that one of the -- the biggest thing that got trashed in this whole thing was the theater. You know, in other words, arts and entertainment -- you know, there's this notion somehow that theater is for liars now because somehow it's OK if Mike Daisey lies in front of a crowd.

Well, Ira Glass in that episode said, you know, if I were in theater and you said you talked to somebody but you didn't, that's still a lie.

KURTZ: I want to pick occupy that, but as you were mentioned, for people who are not familiar with this actor, let's play a little bit of Mike Daisey's one-man show which is called "The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs".

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAISEY: Steve Jobs has always been the enemy of nostalgia. He's always understood that the future requires sacrifice. Steve Jobs is never afraid to knife the baby.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: He is a very entertaining fellow, but if you have a serious radio show, you are going to peg your credibility on a guy -- on this guy who entertains people for a living, who says he met with workers who were poisoned by this cleaner, their hands were shaking. He never met with any of them.

WEMPLE: Yes, it's almost an impossible retrofit there. I mean -- and that's what he figured out is that this guy had been in theater after theater telling these tall tales, and so he faced sort of a quandary. He said that he was trapped.

In other words, oh, if I tell these guys, hmm, that's not true, that means I've been lying to all these people, you know, for months and months, and if I don't -- if I don't tell them, then this thing won't run. So, he felt very trapped, and it was really -- that's what made the correction, the retraction so compelling.

KURTZ: Let me pick up with more of what Mike Daisey had to say. He says that -- you know, he's actually proud of his work because it sparked some growing scrutiny of Apple. The combination of fact, memoir, and dramatic license to tell its story, and I believe it does so with integrity.

Now, Arik Hesseldahl, what he calls dramatic license, I would call lying through your teeth. He doesn't seem to be owning up to the magnitude of the fabrications that he perpetrated here.

HESSELDAHL: The only possible motivation I can come up Mike Daisey had for doing what he did with "This American Life" was to raise his own profile and to become a media darling, leading a discussion about worker rights in China, worker rights in the electronics industry, worker rights generally. And what he has ultimately done has damaged that discussion because now, we have to start all over. We have to completely recalibrate what is true and separate it from what is not.

He has done more damage to a legitimate, important economic and policy discussion that we absolutely have to have. And the only reason that I can come up with is that he wanted to sell more tickets to his show and raise his media profile, and it's unfortunate.

KURTZ: All right. Let me go now to Los Angeles, where we're going to talk to Kai Ryssdal, who is from the program "Marketplace."

Good morning, sir. We had trouble getting your shot up at the top.

Can you take a moment, kind, to explain how your reporter for "Marketplace," Rob Schmitz, was able to blow the whistle on this scam by Mike Daisey?

KAI RYSSDAL, MARKETPLACE: Sure. It's a pretty basic story. I mean, Rob has been in and out of China reporting there and working there for 15 years. He knows the place.

He heard the Mike Daisey piece back in January when it aired, and as many other reporters did, he thought things didn't sound right. You know, the idea of Fox Conn guards having guns at the gates. I mean, that just doesn't happen. You're not allowed to have a gun in China.

KURTZ: Fox Conn is the supplier for Apple that makes iPhones -

(CROSSTALK)

RYSSDAL: They're the ones -- right. They're the ones that make the cases.

Anyway, so Rob actually did a very basic bit of reporting, and he says it in the "This American Life" show that airs this weekend. He Googled Cathy translator Shenzhen, called her up and got -- and went to the factory with her and started talking to her. I mean, it was just basic, basic shoe leather reporting. It was great.

KURTZ: But then he goes to "This American Life," another public radio show, and reports that he and Ira Glass went to talk to Mike Daisey.

So, my question to you, was he investigating the journalism of "This American life" or was he working with "This American Life" to expose what turned out to be a fabrication?

RYSSDAL: That's actually a two-part question, right?

So, what happened was Rob got ahold of our executive producer Debra Clark, and he said, "Listen, I've got this story. Let's talk about how to handle it."

We thought about it for a couple of days. And Debra said, listen, let's do this. This is Ira's story. What we want to do is get the truth out about this however the best way to do that is.

She got together with Ira. They had a couple of conversations. They decided what they were going to do was a two-track thing. Rob would do advertise hen story for us for "Marketplace," which aired on Friday afternoon, and then Rob in a separate editorial chain would do the deconstruction of the thing with Ira and Mike Daisey in a joint interview in the studio. And if you heard "This American Life" broadcast this weekend, first 20 minutes is Rob saying how he got to the truth of this, and then the last part is Ira talking to Mike Daisey about it.

KURTZ: Exceptionally good reporting, I've got to get a break. Let's continue this conversation in a moment on the other side.

RYSSDAL: You bet.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Back talking about the stunning retraction by the public radio program, "This American Life," story about Apple.

And Arik Hesseldahl in New York. This guy, the performance artist Mike Daisey, you know, we're all kind of now beating up on "This American Life." But you're in a piece for "All Things D" this morning that you are equally outrageous is the national media's willingness to gives Daisey a platform radio to repeat the same lies and fabrications without making the slightest efforts to vet them.

Explain.

HESSELDAHL: Right. So, Mike Daisey, because of the prominence brought onto him by both the stage and to "This American Life" appearance, he appeared on CBS News Sunday morning and a piece that I think is probably definitely going to have to be walked back if not retracted entirely. He repeated at least one of the three now tainted allegations.

There were appearances on HBO with Bill Maher. There were appearances on "NewsHour" with PBS, there was an op-ed in "The New York Times," there was an op-ed in "The New York Daily News."

KURTZ: He was on CNN International as well. Go ahead.

HESSELDAHL: Yes, exactly.

So, all of these numerous -- there was a reporter's roundtable on CNET News where he jointly appeared with Charles Duhigg of the "New York Times", and at the end of that appearance, Charles Duhigg says -- urges people to go out and see Daisey's show. So, even "The New York Times" is relatively tough and defensible reporting on this issue, is a little bit tainted here.

So, everybody who has touched Mike Daisey on this issue in the last three to four months is tainted and they need to go back and reexamine their archives and unpack it a little bit.

KURTZ: And, Kai Ryssdal, the host and senior editor of "Marketplace" -- why do you think so many over media outlets were just willing to put this guy on or give him anchor airtime to repeat these allegations without checking them, as your reporter spent a lot of time checking and was able to, you know, unravel what really was a house of cards built on a bunch of fiction? RYSSDAL: Well, I think there are two important points, Howie. First of all, is that Mike Daisey is a great, great storyteller, right? And when you have a guy who spins a web like that, and gets you involved, it's really difficult to take it apart and say, listen, let's think about this for a second and what doesn't really work here.

There's another part of this, though, that maybe you got to in the first couple of minutes before I join you, but there are parts of Mike Daisey's story that are true. It does happen that Apple has had underage workers, it does happen that people have n-hexane poisoning, and all of those things.

So, that bears reporting and it needs to be said. But the bottom line is that Mike Daisy tells a great story, and people sort of suspended their disbelief, I think. I think that's what happened.

And Rob Schmitz, our guy in Shanghai, said, wait a second. I have been here, I know this. Let me look around a little bit.

KURTZ: What is the difference, Erik, here between what Mike Daisey did and Jayson Blair?

WEMPLE: You know, Blair, I think, he -- that's a really good question. I would say that Blair --

KURTZ: He claimed to have conducted interviews for the "New York Times". He never conducted.

WEMPLE: Right. He claimed to be in places that he never was.

KURTZ: Right.

WEMPLE: And Daisey claimed to be places he never was.

KURTZ: He did go to China.

WEMPLE: He did go to China, but he never interviewed anybody who had n-hexane exposure.

KURTZ: And like Jayson Blair, he actively covered up by trying to obscure, for example, by not giving the correct name of the translator. The program that he knew he was going to report this as journalism from finding out, and so I'm having a hard time with this. Well, I'm an entertainer and it was just kind of taken out of context.

WEMPLE: That's one excuse Jayson Blair didn't have. But there does seem to be a fair amount of parallels between the two. I do think that -- and, you know, the thing about Jayson Blair thing is he's actually cribbing reports from "A.P." and from other places, so he was just trying to not be noticed. Whereas Mike Daisey was, like, look at me, look at me.

Jayson Blair just wasn't doing the work. He was trying to sort of slip under the radar. You know what I'm saying?

KURTZ: Well, unfortunately, in addition to damage to his own -- go ahead. Very briefly, go ahead. Go ahead.

RYSSDAL: Just very quickly. I mean, that's sort of what Mike Daisey did as well. You know, he said I read reports and heard these stories, and he threw them in there. That's exactly what he said he did.

KURTZ: Right. The difference, of course, being that he said I was there. I saw their handshake. I met with these workers. I was in the dormitories. He wasn't in the dormitories.

It was just the tissue of lies and "Marketplace" did a lot of pulling apart that tissue of lies.

Thanks very much, Kai Ryssdal, Arik Hesseldahl, and, Erik Wemple, here in Washington.

Coming up in the second part of RELIABLE SOURCES, the pundits are, again, denigrating Mitt Romney and calling for Newt Gingrich to quit.

Plus, a conversation with Ali Wentworth about her new book and life with ABC's George Stephanopoulos.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: You could be forgiven for thinking that the coverage of this week's presidential primaries sounded pretty much like the coverage of last week's presidential primaries. It was not a good week for Mitt Romney. He lost the two marquee contests in Alabama and Mississippi.

But it's never a good week for Mitt Romney in pundit land. Rick Santorum is always on the verge of becoming a serious threat to Romney. The next contest is always the make-or-break state and so on.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

MATT LAUER, NBC: With two third place finishes in the South is Mitt Romney's iron grip on the nomination slipping away?

SUSAN MILLIGAN, U.S. NEWS AND WORLD REPORT: Santorum really connects with people and in a way that Governor Romney doesn't seem to be able to do.

HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC: I think Santorum's biggest hope is to keep the thing as chaotic and confused as possible.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

KURTZ: Newt Gingrich, who failed to win the two Southern primaries, offered a prediction.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What will become a challenge is we'll now have three or four days of news media, and they'll all say, why doesn't Gingrich quit?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: It turns out Gingrich had a pretty good crystal ball.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN: It's time for Newt to go away, but he won't. Gingrich seems to think he is running against what he calls the elite media. That might explain why he keeps losing to the candidates.

JACK KING, CNN: It's hard to see the rationale for a Gingrich candidacy.

GREG GUTFELD, FOX NEWS: Newt is the guy at the bar who realized he's not getting the girl and doesn't want you to get the girl either.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

KURTZ: Joining us now to examine the latest twists and turns in the 2012 coverage: in New York, Catherine Crier, former anchor for CNN, ABC, and FOX News, and author of you new book "Patriot Acts." And here in Washington, Matt Lewis, senior contributor of "The Daily Caller"; and David Shuster, former MSNBC correspondent, now chief substitute anchor for "Countdown" on Current TV.

Catherine Crier, what do you make of the pundits just denigrating and picking apart and criticizing and slamming Mitt Romney week after week, whether he wins or loses?

CATHERINE CRIER, AUTHOR: So what's new? Every election cycle revelation, the media is critical. Pundits pick the candidates apart, and we do our best to keep the races going, because we love the conversation. Nothing really is new.

But, frankly, in this situation the candidates -- the candidates keep offering up just extraordinary events, comments, behaviors for us to pontificate on. So, I think the responsibility is shared.

KURTZ: Well, that may be true, David Shuster. But it seems to me there is particular piling on in the case of Romney. He was never expected to do particularly well in Alabama and Mississippi. And yet again, there was another round of why can't he connect?

DAVID SHUSTER, CURRENT TV: Well, a couple of things. Look who his competition is, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. Those guys are -- I mean, they -- anybody a Jeb Bush, a Mitch Daniels would have flattened the earth on those two guys and here's Mitt Romney, he is still struggling.

And the fact of the matter is, I don't think it's the media that's saying, oh, this is a problem for Mitt Romney. The media is reflecting the public polling. It's not the other way around. The public polling has long said that there is an enthusiasm gap for Mitt Romney, and it's a greater gap that Mitt Romney has than John McCain had four years ago. KURTZ: Except, Matt Lewis, that even in the weeks when Romney wins or wins big and wins a big state like Florida, we still get this -- he can't connect. He's not over 30 percent. He is a weak frontrunner.

It almost seems like a broken record at this point.

MATT LEWIS, THE DAILY CALLER: Yes, it is. I think, that's the danger of media narratives. Once a media narrative is created that you are awkward or weird or whatever, it's very hard to break out of it. And I would say, though, Mitt Romney hasn't done a great job of changing the narrative.

So, you mentioned Florida. He did win well -- big in Florida. But in Michigan, very late into the night, very late after newspapers or newspapers that he narrowly beats --

KURTZ: So, you are agreeing with Shuster, you are accurately reflecting --

LEWIS: He also came in third place. Not second place, but third place in the South.

CRIER: Gentlemen, the fact of the matter is --

(CROSSTALK)

SHUSTER: The fact of the matter is it's been a very, very badly run campaign in the sense that for all the money that they're spending, they have a horrible relationship with the press. Mitt Romney should be talking to a guy like Matt Lewis. He was the conservative PAC blogger of the year.

Has he done a single interview with Matt Lewis or any sort of mainstream Republican journalist? No.

KURTZ: I'll tell you, he was talking to FOX News. He was on FOX News again this morning. He was on "FOX News Sunday" three weeks ago.

And, Catherine, go ahead.

CRIER: And, Howie, you know, remember, we do love to chase shiny objects. You know, the comment that Matt just made that we create a narrative and then stick with it, you have a surprise vote in one of the primaries, and the next day's headlines is the comeback kids. Boy, we have swung our attention someplace else.

So we are relatively easily manipulated into a new narrative.

KURTZ: Well, speaking of shiny objects, Catherine, what about this dog story? I brought this up on the air a couple of months ago. I said the media just love this 30-year-old story about strapping the Irish setter to the roof of the car and going on the family vacation. Why should "The Post" put it on the front page this week, Santorum brought it up, and again, if you turn on MSNBC, every five minutes, they're talking about the dog? Why is that? CRIER: Howie, you are talking to somebody with six dogs. I could have told you what they talk about, because --

KURTZ: You've got the expertise to answer the question.

CRIER: Look at the millions we spend on pet care every year. These are our families.

No, it is important. Not big-time. But it does reflect character people believe, and it's a consideration. Besides, it's a darn funny, sad, humiliating story, and we love that stuff.

KURTZ: Anybody want to offer this on the dog issue?

LEWIS: People love their dogs. I mean, I will say I think she's totally right.

KURTZ: It was 30 years ago. Get over it.

SHUSTER: I'm with you, Howard. The media should have dropped this a long time go.

KURTZ: The media, they're like a dog with a bone. Forgive.

This constant pattern by the pundits either saying that Gingrich should get out, why doesn't he get out. Now, you wrote a piece, and you think Gingrich should get out of the race.

LEWIS: Yes.

KURTZ: You are an opinion guy. You're entitled to do that.

But, why not just let the voters decide?

LEWIS: Well, look, I mean, I think that ultimately they will decide. And maybe if anybody can tell Newt Gingrich to get out, it's Shel Adelson, not Matt Lewis.

KURTZ: Matt Lewis couldn't resist.

LEWIS: I thought -- here's my take. First of all, there were other people who have been calling for him to get out, and I thought awkward times when Gingrich actually was surging. My take now is: Gingrich -- the -- he was supposed to be the candidate who dominated the Southern bloc.

We were told those were the expectations that Gingrich set up, that we're not going to do great on Super Tuesday. We're going to win Georgia, and then we go into the South.

If Gingrich can't win Alabama and Mississippi, there is no path to victory for him. He's just sort of in there I think not for the most noble motives.

KURTZ: Right. So, you decided there's no path of victory (INAUDIBLE) -- and my question, David Shuster, first of all, I thought journalists like Newt. He's colorful. He talks to us all the time, unlike certain other candidates you just mentioned.

SHUSTER: That is true.

KURTZ: Why this sort of apparent haste to boo him off the stage so we can have our two-man race?

SHUSTER: I think for the same reason that people feel like Ron Paul is a distraction as well. It's inconceivable that Newt Gingrich is going to get the nomination. There's a path clearly for Mitt Romney. There's a much smaller sort of path for Rick Santorum, and I think the media -- it's easier for the media to follow a two-person race than a three or four person race.

KURTZ: But I don't see lots of pundits spending a lot of air time saying Ron Paul, he hasn't won anything. Why is he still in this thing? Nobody is bothering.

But in the case of Newt, is it -- is it simmering resentment over his attacks on the media elite?

SHUSTER: I don't know if it's so much that. I mean, Ron Paul has a huge following, and I think the media is generally afraid of them with your Twitter box filling in any time you say anything negative.

KURTZ: He has a mutiny because --

(CROSSTALK)

SHUSTER: Ron Paul is essentially irrelevant.

CRIER: No, the new conversation -- I think the reason that that is so interesting is there is a question. Is this helping Romney because it's splitting the sort of evangelical or social conservative vote? Or, in fact, is this driving a possible brokered convention?

And both of these questions I think are very interesting. We don't know the answers to them. But the brokered convention, I mean, even Michael Steele was saying on Friday, he thought that's where we're going to end up.

Newt Gingrich may have his own motives for pushing for something like that, an extraordinary moment, though, but I don't think for Gingrich -- for any of the pundits it's about him winning the nomination. But what is the back burn that may be a bit Machiavellian --

KURTZ: First of all --

(CROSS TALK)

CRIER: Going on here.

KURTZ: First of all, every journalist at this table started to salivate when you use that term, "brokered convention."

CRIER: Absolutely.

KURTZ: Everybody in the press wants one. But secondly, you know, if Newt Gingrich is not winning anything and he can't even win much outside of his home state of Georgia, why doesn't the press just ignore him or minimize him or not pay attention to him as opposed this constant psychoanalysis of why Newt refuses to get out of the race, and his ego. He must have --

CRIER: He is still collecting delegates. This does affect Romney's total and, again, could affect that brokered convention.

KURTZ: I want you to give us your analytic take on why there is this continued -- I would say obsession, among journalists with what Gingrich does or doesn't do.

CRIER: I don't know about obsession, but he makes good copy. Come on. You know, we tell a lot of narratives, including Ron Paul. No one expected him to get the nomination.

But -- and he sort of dropped off the radar the last week or so. But he makes really good copy, and we tell the stories.

KURTZ: On that point, no disagreement here at this table. Let me get a break. Up next, Fox News is accused of shilling -- yes, shilling for Mitt Romney. Is Rick Santorum right?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Fox News is accustomed to charges of bias from the so- called liberal media. But this week, the allegation came from one Rick Santorum, a former Fox News contributor, who had this to say about his former network.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

FMR. SEN. RICK SANTORUM (R-PA), CANDIDATE FOR THE REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL NOMINATION: He has all the organizational advantage. He has Fox News shilling for him every day. No offense, Brian, but I see it.

BILL O'REILLY, HOST, "THE O'REILLY FACTOR": We believe we have been fair to Rick Santorum on "The Factor." Certainly, Sean Hannity likes him. For a while, there are some folks who thought he was actually co-anchoring with Greta Van Susteren. He was on so much.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Now, Santorum was talking about Fox's coverage of Mitt Romney. And David Shuster, Fox News is in the tank for Mitt Romney? Not exactly cheerleading for the guy.

DAVID SHUSTER, CURRENT TV: No, I don't think it's deliberate, but the fact of the matter is Mitt Romney is the Republican establishment candidate. Rick Santorum is not. Fox news is the Republican establishment. But I think the other way to look at this, Howie, is it used to be that Fox News worked for the Republican Party. Now the Republican Party works for Fox News. And I think that is the better dynamic to evaluate.

KURTZ: But there is no -- you know, in a primary process, remember, two of the three candidates, Newt and Rick, were Fox News contributors. It's not as clear cut as it might be in the general election where Fox comes down.

SHUSTER: Except that Fox News is convinced that Mitt Romney has a better chance of beating Barack Obama than Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich.

And on that argument, they are correct, so they have decided, look, Mitt Romney is going to be the guy. We think he is going to be the one to make it the best competitive election. And I think, therefore, the cupboard sort of naturally becomes more pro-Mitt Romney.

(CROSS TALK)

KURTZ: Although when you say "they," Fox is a big network, Matt Lewis --

MATT LEWIS, SENIOR CONTRIBUTOR, "THE DAILY CALLER": Yes.

KURTZ: And when Santorum was pressed on this, he said he was pressed by Greta Van Susteren. He says, "Oh, Greta, you've been fair and I certainly don't mean Hannity. I meant the daytime people." What is he talking about?

LEWIS: Let me say this. There's a huge caveat to this, which is to say the toughest interviews Mitt Romney has endured have come at the hands of Bret Baier and Megyn Kelly.

So those are two huge exceptions where Fox has given Mitt Romney really tough interviews. Now, I do think that there is no conspiracy. Roger Ailes is not ordering people to take it easy on Mitt Romney.

Here's what is happening. Look at who the Santorum voters are. Look at exit polling. Santorum scores well among people who are not college educated, who make less than $100,000 a year. This is like institutional bias.

Fox folks are predisposed to favor Mitt Romney, because I think David is right. They tend to be establishment. It's not a conspiracy.

KURTZ: Fox certainly denies it. Let me turn to another issue that I've got for you, Catherine Crier, and that is the 17-minute Obama campaign ad that was produced by an Oscar-winning director, voiced by Tom Hanks.

It's gotten all kinds of TV coverage. People were playing it. And I'm asking why. Why give free air time to something that's campaign propaganda?

CRIER: Well, for heavens sakes, how many times do candidates put out media knowing that we will carry the brunt of their costs by replaying clips if it becomes a news story? It really is a media story.

But remember, too, that I find it interesting. It makes me recall the Leslie Stahl devastating piece about Ronald Reagan many, many years ago.

And she got a call from the White House thanking her. And she thought, "Wait a minute. That was pretty hard hitting." It turned out that people didn't pay as much attention to the words as the balloons and the flags and --

KURTZ: The famous Leslie Stahl story. Yes.

CRIER: It was a famous story. And this is a beautiful piece, obviously narrated by Tom Hanks. And it will be interesting if the absorption by the public is substance. We'll debate it all day long, or if it comes across as the beautiful production piece that's been delivered.

KURTZ: All right. I've got 20 seconds. Anybody here think a 17-minute ad by Mitt Romney would get this kind of media attention?

LEWIS: The best propaganda is that which appears neutral. The reason this is so good is it doesn't look like a campaign ad. It looks like a media entertainment production. It's very well-done.

SHUSTER: And certainly, Mitt Romney has the money to put together a 17-minute ad, so we'll see.

KURTZ: We'll find out when he produces his long-time --

CRIER: It's a dog on top of the car, right?

KURTZ: Catherine Crier, David Shuster, Matt Lewis, thanks very much for joining us.

After the break, comedian and actress Ali Wentworth on her new online venture with Yahoo. Why she thinks Washington is a snooze, and what she chooses to reveal about her marriage.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Ali Wentworth is an actress and comedian who is expanding her portfolio. Maybe it's her marriage to George Stephanopoulos that's rubbing off on her, but she's now tiptoeing into talking about news on what started a daily online show for Yahoo.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALI WENTWORTH, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOT": Let me tell you a little bit about what "The Daily Shot" is. It's done right here in my New York kitchen. And "The Daily Shot" is basically for the mom who is sitting in carpool saying, "Really, there's a primary in Florida today? Really? Black balloons on the first day?"

And sometimes we get our news much closer to home. So last night Romney --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: She's also the author of a new book called "Ali in Wonderland." I spoke with her earlier here in the studio.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(on camera) Ali Wentworth, welcome.

WENTWORTH: Thank you. Great to be here.

KURTZ: Now, I think of you as somebody who is funny on TV.

WENTWORTH: Thank you.

KURTZ: Let's talk about this Yahoo show. Why do you want to put yourself out on the Internet?

WENTWORTH: Well, I am a pioneer, Howard, and I think the internet is the next phase, and the dirty little secret is I can do it from my kitchen table, and I'm a lazy girl.

So we do "The Daily Shot" from my kitchen table. And I do my own hair and makeup, which is sometimes catastrophic.

KURTZ: Don't you like to be pampered?

WENTWORTH: No, I don't.

KURTZ: You don't want four people coming obsessing over you?

WENTWORTH: No, no, no. I'm a girl, just in and out, you know. I get all kinds of comments like, "Oh, she has bags under her eyes," and, "Why didn't she brush her hair?" But --

KURTZ: It's real.

WENTWORTH: It's real. It's relatable.

KURTZ: It's Ali unfiltered.

WENTWORTH: And I love doing sort of talking about the topics that we pick and having fun with it. And you know, George always comes in while we're shooting so I can turn to him, of course, and --

KURTZ: So your husband actually has input into your Yahoo life.

WENTWORTH: I let him have a small role in my show, yes. I don't understand why he won't put me on the roundtable, but I do invite him in on my show.

KURTZ: I'm sure you have lobbied him hard. We'll come back to him later. This book that you have written --

WENTWORTH: Yes.

KURTZ: Shows that you have had a crazy life. I think to be more precise --

WENTWORTH: Crazy or fascinating?

KURTZ: Well, you say that you were -- I think this is on page two.

WENTWORTH: Yes.

KURTZ: Completely unzipped, demented, whacked. You start off with the scene where you are having a semi-breakdown because your ex- boyfriend, who was a Jewish comedy writer, who you broke up with, by the way --

WENTWORTH: Yes.

KURTZ: Just ran off with his new wife. Why do you feel comfortable sharing so much of yourself?

WENTWORTH: Well, because I think that people relate to it. I like relating. You know, I like the fact that everybody is -- I mean, have you ever had your heartbroken?

KURTZ: A couple of times.

WENTWORTH: Yes. Everybody has that story, and --

KURTZ: Just last week, in fact.

WENTWORTH: Just last week. Oh, I'm so sorry. But I like to sort of, you know, look at stories, look at my own personal life and go, "You know, this happened to me," and people relate.

And when you read a book and you kind of find -- identify with things that are going on. You know, that's how you reach the reader. So -

KURTZ: You have had, I guess it's fair to say, a roller coaster romantic life. You have another tale in this book about having been engaged to a French director.

WENTWORTH: Yes.

KURTZ: And then he came to visit your family.

WENTWORTH: Yes.

KURTZ: And then what happened? WENTWORTH: Well, then mayhem ensued. He came -- he was a very proper French director who wore lots of designer clothes and sunglasses.

And my family is very, you know -- we shower occasionally and we wear the same clothes and we're very comfortable in our own skin.

And he came in, and we were just -- my family was not having it. They were not having a snotty French director. And I think when I took him to K-Mart in the middle of rural Virginia, that pretty much -- that killed it for him.

KURTZ: So the romance was gone.

WENTWORTH: The romance was gone.

KURTZ: After the K-Mart thing.

WENTWORTH: Yes. I mean, it would have been killed by my family anyway, but I think K-Mart put it over the edge.

KURTZ: All right. Women out there, take note.

WENTWORTH: yes. Don't ever take him to K-Mart. But I also -- I was engaged a few times. I have a box of rings, as I say, in my book because --

KURTZ: Oh, you didn't give them back.

WENTWORTH: No, I did give them back, but then I have tokens of -- you know. Because I always felt bad, I don't know how to say no when somebody proposed in the moment.

KURTZ: So you were engaged a bunch of times, and you went through these various episodes. And then you had -- you were set up on a blind date with George Stephanopoulos.

WENTWORTH: Yes.

KURTZ: And you talked about this on the Leno show.

WENTWORTH: I did.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

I didn't play the games. I didn't play hard to get. He would say, like, "What are you doing Thursday?" And I was, like, "Nothing. Nothing tomorrow and nothing tonight. Nothing. Nothing. I'm naked. Where are you?"

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Any hesitation, shall I say, in sharing some of these more intimate details of how you fell in love with your husband? And was he --

WENTWORTH: Certainly not on my part.

KURTZ: OK. But how did George feel about it?

WENTWORTH: Well, you know, George is a very private person, so -- but this is a joyous thing, Howard -- Ali and George coming together. So, you know, I gave him obviously a rough draft of the book.

And I said, "Do you have a problem with this?" And you know, he loved it because it is a sweet story. It is our story. You know, I'm not twittering pictures of him on the toilet. I mean, you know, it's a nice thing.

KURTZ: He didn't take out a red pen and say "This is out. This is out. This is out"?

WENTWORTH: No, he didn't. He didn't, which is surprising. But I have also learned -- I mean, early on in our marriage I was blah, blah, blah about everything, and then --

KURTZ: You talked about your sex life and everything else.

WENTWORTH: Yes. And like a puppy whose face has been pushed in the soiled carpet, I finally am house broken. So you know, now I know what's OK and what's not.

And you know, to me it's such a great story, you know. The fact that we were engaged two months later, I mean, that is very rare.

KURTZ: You are easy.

WENTWORTH: Well, I like to say -- as Rush would say, I'm a bit of a slut, but, you know --

KURTZ: Is that a terrible word?

WENTWORTH: It is a terrible word, yes. It's not a word that I throw around loosely, so to speak. Yes, I don't think you should call anybody a slut.

KURTZ: Yes, I totally agree with that. But you could make fun of yourself in a way that --

WENTWORTH: Oh, yes. I will cull myself a slut until the cows come home because it's myself.

KURTZ: We're taping this, by the way. OK --

WENTWORTH: Yes, I know.

KURTZ: Now, you moved to -- so you get married. You're living here in Washington. And you write in the book, "I was not happy about relocating to a city where people bark like seals about Gallup polls."

WENTWORTH: Yes.

KURTZ: Are you suggesting that the nation's capital is perhaps a little dull?

WENTWORTH: No. Barking like seals is an enthusiastic thing. No, it's very much -- you know, I equate it to when I live in L.A. It's a one-industry town.

And if you're not in this industry, it's a bit tedious. Every once in a while, I would have liked to have a dentist come over for dinner. You know what I mean?

KURTZ: We have dentists here. We have doctors. We have sick people.

WENTWORTH: I agree, but I just didn't get to meet (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

KURTZ: You actually went to a dinner party where nobody knew that Julia Roberts had just gotten married.

WENTWORTH: Can you imagine that?

KURTZ: this is what you are subject to. And you write, "I felt like I had been punked by the universe," because this was not the life you imagined for yourself.

WENTWORTH: Well, yes. It's not the life I was living in Hollywood. So I do remember they were having a debate about, you know, financing and Iraq and all the stuff happened.

And there was a pause for one second, and I said, "Julia Roberts got married today," you know. And half the people at the table didn't know who Julia Roberts was.

But that was really my -- you know, I had just come from L.A., and this was a hot topic.

KURTZ: Culture shock. Culture shock.

WENTWORTH: Yes. Yes.

KURTZ: And now, of course, you live in New York. George Stephanopoulos, of course, the co-host of "Good Morning America," and you relocated.

Has being around him increased your interest in politics, or do you still kind of shy away from politics?

WENTWORTH: Well, I would say what's happening in our country interests me in politics. You know, he doesn't -- we don't talk a lot about politics.

That's not our pillow talk -- politics. And certainly, he's been talking about it all day. He doesn't want to talk about it with me.

We talk about, you know, all the marriage transactions like, "Did you pay the plumber?" And "Are you going to pick her up at the sleepover?" You know, that's sort of what we talk about. But -- KURTZ: You're two high-powered people in this normal marriage.

WENTWORTH: Yes. Why would he want to talk about politics?

KURTZ: You're not obsessing on the next primary?

WENTWORTH: No, but I am fun to watch a debate with, he will tell you that.

KURTZ: Because?

WENTWORTH: Because I joke around the whole time, because to me, it's --

KURTZ: Because you're trashing everybody?

WENTWORTH: Well, it's not trashing.

KURTZ: OK.

WENTWORTH: It's a bouillabaisse of comedy.

KURTZ: Speaking of politics --

WENTWORTH: Yes.

KURTZ: You emceed an event at the White House.

WENTWORTH: I did.

KURTZ: With Michelle Obama.

WENTWORTH: I did.

KURTZ: And what did she tell the audience?

WENTWORTH: Well, I introduced her, and she came out and said, "I was just upstairs with the president. And the president said, 'Who did you get to emcee the event?' And I said, Ali Wentworth." And Obama said, "Ali Wentworth? I mean, she's funny, but isn't she inappropriate?" Which, in my world, is a huge compliment.

KURTZ: Your feelings weren't bruised?

WENTWORTH: Not at all. That was great. In fact, I actually saw him a while ago after that. And he put his arm around me and said, "Oh, you're a funny girl." So you know, listen --

KURTZ: Presidential seal of approval?

WENTWORTH: Exactly. I don't see Carrot Top getting that. That's all I'm saying.

KURTZ: So given that, you know, you've achieved a certain level of prominence, that you are married to a guy who is a big-time network anchor, but you clearly like to have fun. I'm just getting that here. WENTWORTH: Yes.

KURTZ: I'm a real student of character.

WENTWORTH: yes.

KURTZ: Do you feel now that you have to kind of self-edit and tone it down and not be your irrepressible self?

WENTWORTH: No, I don't feel that. I mean, I -- you know, I -- people seem to paint me more outlandish than I am. You know. I'm not Kathy Griffin. You know, I don't just go, ah! But --

KURTZ: Yes. You're not taking your clothes off in front of the camera.

WENTWORTH: No, which is for -- because I'm saving everybody else from that.

KURTZ: OK.

WENTWORTH: As I've seen myself naked. It's more about -- and this comes from a childhood growing up here. It's more about levity and laughing and -- you know, I grew up in a world where, you know, my father was at "The Washington Post." Everybody was very serious. And you know, it's -

KURTZ: Well, your mother seemed like a wild and crazy person.

WENTWORTH: Really? You're the only one that read that. But you know, and even now with what George does, I think it's also important to laugh. And I find comedy --

KURTZ: So your whole laughter, entertainment and shtick is a rebellion against your childhood?

WENTWORTH: The Nixon administration.

KURTZ: Yes. OK. If I put you on the couch, because you felt like things were very serious in your household.

WENTWORTH: Yes, which they were.

KURTZ: OK.

WENTWORTH: We were at war at Vietnam. I mean, you know, there was a lot going on. And I -- you know, as a young child, I was, you know, wanting to watch "Laugh In." You know, to me, it was like -- but there's funny things about the world, you know, let's laugh.

And you know, the greatest compliment I've gotten from this book is people who say, you know, my husband is in the hospital with cancer. And I've been reading him this book and he's been laughing. And the nurses come in, and they laugh. And I go, that's the greatest gift of all.

KURTZ: Well, thank you for cheering us up today.

WENTWORTH: Thank you for having me.

KURTZ: Ali Wentworth, thanks for stopping by.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

Still to come, the California reporter who got a late-night knock on the door from the police. "The Media Monitor" is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Time now for "The Media Monitor," our weekly look at the hits and errors in the news business. Now, this one is just jaw- dropping. It involves reporter Doug Oakley of California's bay area news group.

Apparently the Berkeley Police Department didn't like Oakley's article about a heated community meeting in which residents complained about a lack of information about a beating death that led to a murder charge.

So how did the department express its dissatisfaction? Berkeley Police chief Michael Meehan ordered the sergeant to go to Oakley's house at 12:45 a.m. and demand that the piece be changed. Can you imagine a more intimidating tactic?

Wait until you hear this spin. Meehan called the late-night visit, quote, "An overzealous attempt to make sure that accurate information is put out." Overzealous? The officer had a gun. Meehan has apologized.

This is a sad thing in which the newspaper did the right thing when one its own was involved. For nearly two decades, Bob Caldwell was editorial page editor of Portland's "Oregonian," the states largest paper.

He died of a heart attack at 63 and "The Oregonian" erroneously reported, based on information from a family friend, that he had been found in a parked car. But the paper later corrected that report.

Caldwell had said he'd been visiting a 23-year-old woman who he paid for sex by buying her books and other school items. He collapsed after they had sex and she called 911.

Caldwell's widow told the A.P. Caldwell would have understood why "The Oregonian" needed to print the story. And there's one more twist to this tragedy, the family friend who gave the paper the false story turns out to be a veteran "Oregonian" editor of the paper. She has been fired.

At the risk of being revealed for the softy I am, let me pay tribute to one of the youngest and one of the oldest practitioners of journalism.

First, here is 11-year-old Topanga Sena, a reporter for "Scholastic News" in Florida who landed an audience with the First Lady.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOPANGA SENA, KID REPORTER, "SCHOLASTIC NEWS": Who you do you respond to critics who say the government should not be telling people how to eat or stay active?

MICHELLE OBAMA, UNITED STATES FIRST LADY: You know, that's absolutely right. And Let's Move doesn't do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: I've seen grown-up reporters who ask much softer questions. And Marilyn Hagerty is a food critic for the "Grand Forks Herald" in North Dakota.

Her review of the Olive Garden went viral, to use a new-fangled term, with nearly 300,000 people reading it online within a couple of days.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARILYN HAGERTY, FOOD CRITIC, "GRAND FORKS HERALD": I just don't get it. I figure that somebody must have picked it up, maybe the Olive Garden.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Maybe people liked her unpretentious way of reviewing a chain restaurant or maybe they just like Marilyn.

That's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz. Join us 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.