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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES

Media, Race, and Polarization; Olbermann Ousted, Again

Aired April 1, 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: We saw the first glimmers as the Trayvon Martin story exploded in the national media. But now, the racial polarization is just blinding. Liberal journalists defending the slain teenager no matter what. Conservative journalists are going all out to defend the shooter, George Zimmerman.

MSNBC on Trayvon's side. FOX News on Zimmerman's side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL SHARPTON, MSNBC: I have seen this played over and over again. Trying to smear Trayvon is one of the old tricks, and we won't let them get away with it.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: We didn't know in the beginning that there were witnesses from the first night that said that Trayvon was witnessed on top of George Zimmerman punching him and beating his head into the cement.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

KURTZ: Are the media inflaming the situation?

And a "Miami Herald" reporter on the pressures of covering the story.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRANCES ROBLES, REPORTER, MIAMI HERALD: All at once, I started getting emails from all these people telling me that I was a racist, that I was a sociopath, that I should kill myself.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Deja vu -- Current TV fires Keith Olbermann for missing work, and he suggests owner Al Gore is unethical. Oh, Olbermann's replacement? Eliot Spitzer.

Plus --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What speech did you listen to?

REPORTER: Just right here.

SANTORUM: Stop lying. Would you guys quit distorting what I'm saying?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Rick Santorum curses out a "New York Times" reporter. What did Jeff Zeleny do to deserve this?

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

(MUSIC)

KURTZ: Reporters dug up new information this week in the killing of Trayvon Martin. Rene Stutzman of the "Orlando Sentinel" obtained the confidential account of what George Zimmerman told police in Florida that he had been accosted by the teenager.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RENE STUTZMAN, REPORTER, ORLANDO SENTINEL: The two exchanged words that Trayvon struck a blow, punched George Zimmerman in the nose, and that floored Mr. Zimmerman.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: But that account and one of the "Miami Herald," we'll talk to that reporter ahead, seen only to harden the ideological divide in the coverage.

When you turn on MSNBC, it's like watching the prosecution against Zimmerman, that any guest sympathetic to the neighborhood watch captain being grilled and even badgered.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

SHARPTON: He was walking with Skittles and an iced tea when he was shot dead. But now we're seeing new pictures of Trayvon and they're trying to portrait him as a thug.

ED SCHULTZ, MSNBC: And there seems to be a right wing media campaign to defend George Zimmerman.

LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC: How are you paying your expenses if you're not working? Is someone paying you to do this for George?

JOE OLIVER, FRIEND OF GEORGE ZIMMERMAN: No. No one is paying me to do this for George.

CHARLES BLOW, NEW YORK TIMES: Have you ever heard George Zimmerman scream?

OLIVER: You know what? What is the point of you asking me questions if you're not giving me an opportunity to answer? OK?

BLOW: Answer the question. OLIVER: And as far as George raising his voice, yes, I have heard him raise his voice before.

BLOW: Scream.

OLIVER: Not in anger. Not in anger.

BLOW: Scream?

OLIVER: Would you -- you know what, this -- why are we having this discussion if you're not listening? If you're not listening to my answers?

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

KURTZ: And when you turn to FOX News is not like watching the Zimmerman defense, with considerable skepticism towards Trayvon Martin's side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

HANNITY: This was described in the beginning as being shot in cold blood.

DAVID WEBB, SIRIUS XM PATRIOT HOST: This was never portrayed in the media as being a fight. This was portrayed as a cold-blooded murder.

HANNITY: Zimmerman's side is saying that George Zimmerman told his father that, in fact, he was walking back to the car and it was Trayvon who confronted him and threatened him and broke his nose and put these lacerations in the back of the head. Are you denying that that is a possibility?

DARYL PARKS, MARTIN FAMILY ATTORNEY: Let me take you back. OK? Do you know --

HANNITY: No, no, you can take me back, but is that a possibility that Trayvon broke his nose and pounded his head into the cement? Is that possible?

PARKS: Well, it's quite possible because he was the one that instigated the incident when he got out of the vehicle, out of the advice and became a vigilante. He started the fight with Trayvon.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

KURTZ: So, is the media coverage starting to deepen the polarization surrounding this tragedy?

Joining us now in Boston, Callie Crossley, host on of "The Callie Crossley Show" on WGBH Radio; and here in Washington, Frank Sesno, director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at the George Washington University, and the creator and host of "Planet Ford."

Frank Sesno, what do you make of the way you saw those clips, many at MSNBC and FOX News have blatantly chosen sides in this case?

FRANK SESNO, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Welcome to the sausage factory. Now, we've taken the deep dive and the deep end of all the problems and issues in history we've got with race in this country, and people are choosing sides. The perfect storm is that the media have chosen sides with FOX on one side, of virtually all issues, and MS on the other. And they've just got to stake out their claims and their territory.

So, it's one upsmanship with the outrage now. The problem is that the real journalism of this story is getting short tripped. The real journalism of this story is what happened. That's not what they're -- what those conversations are engaging in. What happened?

KURTZ: And even when the journalists attempt to provide information, Callie Crossley, for example, ABC obtaining the police video of George Zimmerman after he was arrested and people who don't -- who think he is the assailant here say, look, no wounds. He's not bleeding. Other people have a different interpretation.

It seems like the reporting on both sides by the columnists, by the commentators, that the new information just gives them more to argue about.

CALLIE CROSSLEY, WGBH RADIO: And there will be more now because the "Orlando Sentinel" has just engaged two voice experts to look at the -- to listen to the 911 tapes and both of them came back and said that the voices on the tape crying for help could not be Zimmerman. So, that will just ad fuel to the fire.

I couldn't agree more with Frank Sesno, and I think what's happening here is there's a great amount of identification. Some people are really identifying with George Zimmerman. Now, this is a guy just trying to protect his neighborhood. And many, many other people having had the experience of racial profiling are saying a 17- year-old unarmed kid outweighed by this guy, what else could it be?

So, you're correct that the journalism is getting lost, and part of it because what's happening is we're ending up with drip drab reporting. Here's a drip. Here's a drab. And it's nothing comes together in any one report so that you have a sense of -- well, there's this and also this.

KURTZ: Right.

CROSSLEY: And that is a problem. Part of that is because there's no official investigation, I have to say, in which maybe there would be a way for reporters to attack this in a more holistic way.

SESNO: I think that's a problem, is that reporters are playing the investigators here, in some ways.

CROSSLEY: That's right.

SESNO: But because they're doing that, it comes out in dribs and drabs. We don't know what we don't know. We don't know what investigators may have.

KURTZ: There's so much we don't know.

SESNO: So much.

KURTZ: But are the commentators who have chosen sides, Frank, are they, as Bill O'Reilly among others say, are they inflaming potential violence particularly if Zimmerman ends up not being charged?

SESNO: Potentially. Yes, I think they are.

I think that for a media commentator to in one moment participate in a rally and go on the air the next moment and then, you know, feed all that back, it provides a sort of echo chamber, and it's way beyond the pale of what news organizations and media companies would have allowed.

KURTZ: Well, since you brought that up, that, of course, is Al Sharpton of MSNBC.

SESNO: Yes.

KURTZ: And he was back in Florida again yesterday, leading a rally, asking for George Zimmerman to be arrested, talking about the possibility of civil disobedience while continuing to do his MSNBC show. I was critical of this on the air last week and Phil Griffin, the president of MSNBC, has since defended Sharpton's dual role, what I would describe as a dual role. Telling the "A.P.," "We didn't hire Al to be a neutered kind of news presenter. That's not what we do."

Well, no one is saying that Sharpton should be neutral. But, you know, if he is going to lead a crusade against Zimmerman, how can he continue to be a host of a cable show on the same issue at the same time?

SESNO: Because he can. And he is, because the rules have changed. Go ahead. Yes.

KURTZ: All right, Callie.

CROSSLEY: And I would add, Howie, that this is highly charged. Phil Griffin's response to you was that, well, we knew what he was and we all do to some degree. But this is so highly charged I really think that he should do the work that he does with the National Action Network and step aside during this -- during this time because it can't be anything but polarizing with his role on the television show as well. It just can't be anything else.

SESNO: All right. I mean, there are times when people recuse themselves for one reason or another, and this would be a good one, it would seem to me.

KURTZ: Yes. Or do the show and don't go and address the rallies, because, you know, he is appearing with the parents. He accompanied Trayvon's parents in the Justice Department and he has them on the show, because he was very negative towards Zimmerman.

SESNO: Something else happens, if I may. The deeper he gets in with the family and the others, the more invested he gets in this, and the emotion of justifiable, understandable emotion of the family. The more that projects on the television program, that becomes a very concerning kind of thing.

KURTZ: Callie, you made a point just a moment ago about the way in which some people might identify with Trayvon Martin, others might identify with George Zimmerman. Let me put up on the screen a poll by the Pew Research Center this past week. The percentage of people following this story of all the stories in the news, for whites, 20 percent, for blacks, 52 percent.

And I'm wondering what you make of that. And also, what strikes you about the difference in which the way in which black journalists and white journalists talk or write about this case.

CROSSLEY: Well, the difference is that this is very personal to a lot of folks who have written about it. They have experienced a racial profiling that didn't, you know, wonderfully lead to some tragic outcome as had happen with or may have happened with Trayvon Martin. But they've been in the scenario, and so they can speak about it from having had at least three-quarters of the experience, and that makes it really personal.

And the other part of this is that, know, black folks often say is there justice in a blind justice situation? Can we really get justice in the situation? And so they're looking very closely to see that in a case that is as highly charged as it is, with race as the bigger context of this, because, you know, no matter what anybody says, he looks suspicious because he is a black kid. And now, what does that mean in the larger context? That's what black folks are looking at quite closely.

KURTZ: I don't have any problem -- let me just jump in here, Callie. I don't have any problem with journalists using their own experience to talk about how perceptions of police and perceptions of violence. But there are some who say when black journalists do this, they are compromising their credibility because they're kind of putting a thumb --

SESNO: I don't think that's it at all. I think what's happening -- that survey was not about black journalists. That survey was about black and white Americans.

KURTZ: Right. I'm just -- I read the columns on this.

SESNO: For the African-American journalists who are covering this, as for a woman who may or may not have had an abortion covering a pro-life rally, as for a gay journalist who is covering gay rights issues, you very much bring your own experiences to that coverage. The good journalist will be able to stop at the water's edge, though, in terms of inserting those experiences into the actual coverage.

But being sensitized to how people feel, we had a huge problem here at CNN years ago because we simply didn't have diversity in the newsroom. And when there were suggestions --

KURTZ: When you were the bureau chief?

SESNO: Yes, when I was the bureau chief.

When there were suggestions of voting irregularities as you recall down in Florida because African-Americans said they were being harassed. There was some sort of dismissive -- not dismissive, but people didn't instantly get it. African-American journalists would have instantly got it --

KURTZ: Right.

SESNO: -- even if it's proven not to be true. It's this whole kind of -- this driving while black thing. A white driver doesn't experience it when you're pulled over. That's the first thing you think about is, oh, it's my race.

KURTZ: Let me just briefly mention that another point of polarization here had to do with Geraldo Rivera who seemed to suggest by wearing a hoodie -- of course, some various journalists have been wearing hoodies, commentators I should say. Trayvon Martin was asking for it.

If we can put it up on the screen.

This week, he told "Politico," "I apologize to anyone offended by what one prominent black conservative called my very practical and potentially life-saving campaign, urging black and Hispanic parents not to let their children go around hoodies."

Do you find that to be much of an apology, Callie Crossley?

CROSSLEY: I mean, no. His own son jumped on him about that. So, I mean, He said what he had to say in the moment.

I think what's important there in terms of how people took that comment, is to understand that the other reason why there are a lot of black news consumers that are following this story is that there is an understanding that in order for there to be some -- in many cases justice, it has to be a pure victim.

So, when you start putting the blame on the victim, saying if he hadn't had a hoodie on, if he hadn't had look suspicious, if he didn't have the gold teeth, if he didn't have the finger up on the Facebook, maybe he wouldn't be in a position to be deserving of what came to him in the end.

And there is no really pure victim in this. I mean, he is a kid. He probably did a lot of stuff that other kids do.

KURTZ: Right.

CROSSLEY: But take it in the context of this very highly charged situation. It becomes something else.

So for Geraldo to say that and not recognize that the reverberation he would get, I mean, it's huge.

KURTZ: All right. Thanks very much, Callie Crossley, Frank Sesno, for helping us air out these difficult issues here this morning.

When we come back, a "Miami Herald" reporter breaks news about Trayvon Martin only to be a target of vitriol. Her story in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: The Trayvon Martin narrative took a sharp turn this week as Florida newspapers began breaking stories about the case. One of the biggest and most controversial scoops was reported by Frances Robles of the "Miami Herald". I spoke to her earlier from Sanford, Florida.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: Frances Robles, welcome.

FRANCES ROBLES, MIAMI HERALD: Thanks for having me.

KURTZ: Thank you for joining us.

Now, you broke the story on Monday that Trayvon Martin had been suspended from school three times. Once for possession of marijuana, and there was another incident involving women's jewelry. Explain.

ROBLES: We've learned that he got caught marking up a wall with graffiti and that when the school resource officer went the next day to investigate, they went through his book bag to find the marker for the graffiti, and instead they found a little bit more jewelry than a high school junior should have in his bag -- wedding bands and things of that nature.

But because there was never a victim and there was no one ever saying, hey, that's my jewelry and it was stolen, there was no charges. He was never arrested. And, in fact, he was suspended for the graffiti. He was not suspended for burglary.

KURTZ: Talk a little bit about the reaction to that story. There were 5,000 comments posted online, and many of them were removed by the "Miami Herald". What happened?

ROBLES: I think that same day, you started to see a tide change, and not just because of that story. There were a few different things that happened the same time. People started discovering Trayvon's Facebook or his Twitter, his digital fingerprint that showed that some of the photos that the family had shown of him were kind of outdated.

And so, then all of a sudden, the emails that we were getting and the comments that we were getting that were overwhelmingly in support of Trayvon, they started to shift, and people started saying really negative and vile things and, frankly, most of -- I didn't see most of the comments because, as you said, they were taken down.

KURTZ: Right. Right.

But now, in fairness, in that same story, you quoted the attorney for the Martin family, Benjamin Crump, as saying that the whole business about the suspension was completely irrelevant. We think everybody is trying to demonize him.

So, that brings me to the sort of central question: why was it newsworthy that he had been suspended given what happened on that tragic day?

ROBLES: I think it's just as newsworthy as all the things that we've printed about Zimmerman. I mean, no one has had an issue of digging up his domestic violence complaints of the past, with an arrest that he had, that also was dismissed. And a case that's this big, the interest is so monumental, frankly, you really want to give a full biographical portrait of who are the players that are involved here.

KURTZ: And, in fact, the day after that suspension story, you reported that Sanford police had wanted to arrest George Zimmerman, but the state's attorney refused, and I can't imagine that people who are sympathetic to the Zimmerman side.

ROBLES: I think one of the things that you are seeing in this case is that people are expecting media to have taken a side. Just like you have some cable networks that have clear -- have taken postures in this, they're expecting the local newspaper to have a posture, to have a side.

I think that that's clearly not our role. Our role is to present the information as it's brought to us.

The thing that doesn't make sense about the Sanford Police Department wanting to file charges against George Zimmerman is that it smacks -- it flies in the face of everything that the police department had said publicly. So it really is just one of those stories that makes you scratch your head.

KURTZ: So what is it like to be in the middle of this maelstrom, to be reporting on a story as inflammatory and as racially charged as this and many people in the national media, as you say, are taking sides? Does that make you extra cautious about of word that you print?

ROBLES: Yes, absolutely. It's actually -- your question is what's it like? It's horrible to be honest with you. I don't like being in the hot seat, and I think very few people do.

I found myself the other night -- well, first of all, you have editors who might try to push you. You know, they say, well, don't you have it? So and so has that story. Can't you get it? So, there's a tremendous amount of pressure.

So, then you find yourself at night writing a story wanting to make the story sound a certain way because that's the way it sounded on a TV station or that's the way it sounded somewhere elsewhere where it was juicy, and you have to ask yourself, OK, wait, what did my source tell me? What do I know?

And you have to really put an effort to block out all the noise, to block out all the things, the emails that you are getting, or the things that you heard on television and report strictly the information that your sources have given you. And as long as you do that with every single word that you write, I think that we can stay safe.

KURTZ: Understood.

Let me ask you about something, a little incident that became a big deal online a couple of weeks ago. Trayvon Martin's family came to the "Miami Herald" sat for an interview. When the newspaper posted the video, there was a seemingly question from a reporter when the family was asked -- well, what did he like to eat, and someone said chicken.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tell me about Trayvon's normal demeanor.

SYBRINA FULTON, TRAYVON MARTIN'S MOTHER: He is talking on the phone with his friends, with girls, with -- he is watching sports on TV. He is eating.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Chicken?

FULTON: He is eating everything.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: What was behind that?

ROBLES: Oh, what a nightmare. The video was posted on a couple of blogs, an urban hip-hop blog and some other woman's blog. And it was taken out of context because, frankly, the original version that we posted was out of context. So, we kind of did this to ourselves.

And what an avalanche, an avalanche of response that we got. It was a Saturday, and all of a sudden all at once I started getting emails from all these people telling me that I was a racist, that was a sociopath, that I should kill myself.

I wasn't even there, frankly. I was in Sanford, and so, it was quite a scramble on behalf of "The Miami Herald," because on something this important, you can't be the major newspaper trying to be the paper of record on this story, looking like we were so grossly insensitive to Trayvon's family. So, what "The Miami Herald" was forced to do --

KURTZ: Just to be clear, earlier in the video, when originally that was edited out, family members were making jokes about chicken, and that was the context for that question.

ROBLES: Right. Absolutely, what had inadvertently not been posted. So, they had to reedit the video and post it back online with the full context of Trayvon's mother being the one to kind of poke fun at the stereotype that he liked to eat chicken.

KURTZ: Now, I can feel the tension all the way from Florida as you have tried to report fairly on this story. When you get these emails and these comments saying you're a racist and worse, it must be kind of depressing.

ROBLES: It's really bad. I mean, every now and then, you'll get one that is uplifting. where someone will say to you, you know, that was a very objective report, thank you for being fair. But then you'll get one that says, oh, thanks for finally unraveling the truth about that no good, rotten up to no good teenager who deserved to get shot. You know? So, you know, you have to be really strong, and you have to just keep your finger really close to the delete button, Howie.

KURTZ: A very polarizing story. Frances Robles, thank you very much for joining us.

ROBLES: Thanks for having me.

KURTZ: Up next, Al Gore's Current TV fires Keith Olbermann triggering an angry war of words. And Olbermann's replacement is the man dumped by CNN, Eliot Spitzer.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Fourteen months after his acrimonious departure from MSNBC, Keith Olbermann is, again, out of a job. Current TV fired him on Friday, saying he had breached his contract by, among other things, refusing to show up for work. Network founder Al Gore and his partner Joel Hyatt saying Olbermann was not abiding by Current's values of respect, openness, and collegiality.

Olbermann, who has been replaced by Eliot Spitzer -- more on that in a moment -- wasted little time firing back, saying Gore and Hyatt broke their promises to invest in a quality news program. Olbermann apologized for what he called his foolishness to liberal network as chief news officer.

Joining us to talk about Olbermann's ouster: in Minneapolis, Ana Marie Cox, columnist for London's "Guardian." And in Seattle, Michael Medved, host of the syndicated radio program, "The Michael Medved Show".

And, Michael, is there a presumption because Keith Olbermann left MSNBC in a bitter dispute that he is impossible to deal with and this is largely his fault?

MICHAEL MEDVED, "MICHAEL MEDVED SHOW": Well, look, I think there's a general presumption about that because, I mean, he -- for him to end up giving up a $50 million contract -- at least it's been reported -- for conservatives, this is a real joy.

And I've got to say here in the interest of full disclosure, I'm a past Keith Olbermann "worst person of the world" laureate. I mean, I've had that distinction. But you look at this the way that Henry Kissinger reportedly looked at the Iraq-Iran war. It's a pity you can't have them both lose. When you have Al Gore on one side and Keith Olbermann on the other, and they're firing intercontinental ballistic missiles at each other, this is something that is creating a great deal of glee on the right.

KURTZ: But, Ana Marie Cox, clearly, Al Gore and company wanted this to work, wanted Olbermann to be the face of this network and reached a point where, you know, they kind of had to get a divorce.

ANA MARIE COX, FOUNDING EDITOR, "WONKETTE": Indeed. And it's true that I don't think there is a phase of Keith Olbermann's development or a career where you can't say he didn't leave someplace acrimoniously. I think we should probably get a thesaurus to start using a different word. He ends his -- he goes out, you know, with a bang at the places that he's worked. I think he probably it's impossible for him to have a quiet departure from someplace. That's just not his personality.

Which sort of brings me to something that I should say is that he is good theater. He is very good at what he does. He is inherently watchable. He is inherently a good topic of conversation.

That's why I think he'll probably get another job. I mean, I think that that value is something that in this day and age, when people are really scrambling for viewership, when you have someone who's that good, it's hard to not think that you can be the one to harness that talent, that you can be the network that will finally put Keith Olbermann to good use.

KURTZ: Right. Now, I unearthed a batch of internal E-mails in this case, published these on the "Daily Beast" this morning, in which, among other things, Olbermann's manager writing to current executives, calls the network's behavior inexcusable, wholly unacceptable, a daily logistical nightmare.

He said it resembles cable access, highly unprofessional in one case. And yet David Bohrman, who used to work here at CNN and is now the president of Current, wrote back at one point that Keith had refused to show up at night before Super Tuesday, the biggest - before the biggest night of the presidential primary season.

They were unhappy about that. Olbermann's team said he was preserving his voice. So you say, Michael Medved, that it's hard to choose sides, but clearly this was - this didn't happen overnight. It looks almost from the beginning that the two sides were not getting along.

MEDVED: No, that's clearly the case. It's very, very predictable with Keith Olbermann. I mean, going back to his days on ESPN, he has had acrimonious relationships with the people with whom he has worked.

And the one thing - I agree with what Ana Marie is saying about him being very good theater. But there are people who are good theater and very dramatic, who are consummate professionals where they are easy to work with.

And let me mention in that regard, Keith Olbermann's former colleague at MSNBC, Rachel Maddow or Rush Limbaugh, on the other side, who is all kinds of good theater and sometimes very bombastic on the air.

But when you actually sit down and you work with the guy, he is decent and sane. The point is what people like to say about Keith Olbermann is, well, he is his own worst enemy. And I would just use the old quip here, "not while I'm alive."

KURTZ: Well, you know, is it at least possible, Ana, that Olbermann, you know, took all this money and went to Current TV and found it to be a pretty rinky-dinky place.

I mean, they had all kinds of problems where they couldn't keep the lights on. They were cutting away at the wrong time. But at the same time, we have to address the fact that, you know, he had a much smaller audience there than he did at MSNBC. So I wonder if his brand has been diminished here.

COX: Well, I think his brand probably has been diminished because of the things you're talking about. I do think that maybe some of the problems at Current in terms of the rinky-dinkiness(ph) could have been solved by maybe someone giving up some of their $50 million contract and putting it towards production values.

And that seems - actually, that - I'm not entirely kidding. I mean, I think that would have been a wise choice to invest in the production values to make it look good, to attract more viewership.

I mean, there's always going to be - if you're good at what you do, there's going to be money at the other end of your product. And it seems here that, really - I mean, Current does look like cable access.

I mean, I think they do some good programming, but it does not look very professional. And I do think that's a problem for them. I think that if they put -

KURTZ: And Ana -

COX: Yes?

KURTZ: To just (UNINTELLIGIBLE) remaining minute here to the new star of Current, Eliot Spitzer, who, you know, famously resigned as governor of New York after a prostitution scandal and then lost his job at CNN, lost his show at CNN last summer.

Is he still controversial because of what happened as governor? Or is that now ancient history?

MEDVED: You know what the story behind the scenes on that one was. They went to Spitzer because John Edwards wasn't available.

That's - no. What's bizarre about this is Spitzer, as a politician - you can have different opinions about him. But when - I used to watch from time to time the former show on CNN.

Why he would be given another chance, high profile, as a cable commentator, it just doesn't seem to be his particular gift, so I'm surprised, actually, they gave it to him.

COX: Yes. I agree with Michael on this. I think that he is just not very good at doing cable. I think that, you know, if I were on the network on the same basis as Current, I might look at something.

I hate to do this, but "Politico" doing their experiment on live television - you know, it's kind of repeating production values, but they have such enthusiasm. They have such interesting things to say that it kind of works.

You know, they don't have any marquee names, but you can do good television and good cable access television on the cheap.

KURTZ: We'll keep an eye on the new Spitzer show and we'll see what happens with Olbermann. Next, he is going on Letterman this week, so I think this story is not going to fade.

After the break, Rick Santorum curses out a "New York Times" reporter. We'll examine who is right. And should the press stop covering Newt's incredibly shrinking campaign?

And later, why predicting what the Supreme Court will do on Obama care is risky business.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: It was a reporter's question, nothing more, nothing less. But it triggered a rather heated rant by Rick Santorum. And what were the provocative words uttered by Jeff Zeleny of the "New York Times"?

Quote, "You said Mitt Romney was the worst Republican in the country. Is that true?"

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FMR. SEN. RICK SANTORUM (R-PA), CANDIDATE FOR THE REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL NOMINATION: What speech did you listen to?

JEFF ZELENY, REPORTER, "NEW YORK TIMES": Right there. Just right here. You said he is the worst Republican -

SANTORUM: Stop lying. I said he was the worst Republican to run on the issue of Obamacare. Would you guys quit distorting what I'm saying?

ZELENY: Do you think he is the worst Republican to run -

SANTORUM: To run against Barack Obama on the issue of health care because he fashioned the blueprint. I've been saying that in every speech. Quit distorting my words. If I see it, it's (EXPLETIVE DELETED). Come on, man. What are you doing? (END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: And what does Zeleny say about the encounter?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHARLIE ROSE, HOST, "THIS MORNING": Did you lie, distort, and misrepresent Rick Santorum?

ZELENY: No. Simply asking for clarification. He said in his speech just to a roomful of supporters that he believes that Mitt Romney is the worst Republican in the country. Health care was not attached to that sentence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Ana Marie Cox is someone who used to talk dirty, when you wrote the blog, "Wonkette." Where do you stand on candidates cursing out reporters?

COX: Well, I think it's completely sort of within the bounds of what they have a right to do, obviously. And I think there's something about Rick Santorum's temperament and temper that makes this totally within keeping of his personality.

And it's also true that Rick Santorum doesn't make gaffes in the sense that Mitt Romney does where he says things that are at odds with what he said before.

What Rick Santorum did there was totally in context with everything he has ever said about the media, about himself, about his views, and probably something that his supporters found very sympathetic, or could relate to at the very least.

KURTZ: But coming back to the reporter - go ahead.

COX: Right.

KURTZ: Probably, the reporter -

COX: What's unfortunate about that is that I think - you know, Jeff Zeleny. He is a fellow Nebraskan. He is one of the most mild- mannered people out there. He is probably not the first person I would think of as cursing out, you know. And he had a perfectly legitimate question.

KURTZ: And that's the point I was going to raise, Michael Medved, which was this was not exactly a confrontational question. He was bringing up the candidate's own words.

MEDVED: And I know, exactly right. And Santorum was wrong and Zeleny was right about what Santorum had actually said just moments before.

He had not appended the - on the issue of Obama care. Look, this is - this is sad, actually. And Rick Santorum is better than this. And it's sad, because -

KURTZ: Do you think he was playing to the cameras? He didn't look that mad.

MEDVED: Oh, absolutely. He has to. I mean, come on. He is there. And what one of the things that is surprising about this is he is somebody who is very concerned about family values.

Who knows how many children there were present? Maybe some of his own seven children. And it's out of character in that sense, but it's more destructive in another sense, is that sometimes we, as conservatives, have legitimate gripes, particularly about the "New York times", but about media in general. So this is crying wolf. This destroys any credibility the next time you might have a legitimate complaint.

KURTZ: And of course, Santorum then proceeded to raise money off the incident until he got about $250,000 by sending out a letter, you know, beating up further on the "New York Times".

MEDVED: Right.

KURTZ: Now, Newt Gingrich, this past week, is curtailing his full-time campaigning. He slashed his staff, and he says he is aiming for a brokered convention in Tampa. How much attention now, Ana Marie Cox, should the media give this guy?

COX: That's a really good question. I personally find Newt Gingrich incredibly entertaining.

KURTZ: On that score.

COX: I am happy to continue paying attention to him myself. But he is, you know, not really a candidate that has any chance. He is a legitimate candidate in the sense that he does have supporters.

And he does have some ideas that probably aren't completely insane. But he is not a candidate that is going to make it to the convention in terms of delegates.

And if you are conserving scarce resources, which, let's face it, every news organization on the planet is, I would not put them towards covering Newt Gingrich.

KURTZ: Well, Gingrich was on "Face the Nation" this morning. And Michael, media attention has always been his oxygen as a candidate, has it not?

MEDVED: It has, indeed. The big question for Gingrich right now is whether he will even be able to be nominated, because under the rules of the Republican convention, you have to get at least a plurality of delegates in five different states.

And he is not there yet, and I don't really see how he gets there. So really, this is a zombie campaign. I mean, it's very much like an old zombie movie where he knows he is dead, everybody knows he is dead, but he is still capable of doing some damage.

KURTZ: I don't think he thinks he is dead. All right. Turning now to Mitt Romney - he got a lot of attention for telling what he described as a humorous anecdote which happened to be - he's saying this in Wisconsin that when his father ran an auto company in Michigan, he closed the factory and moved the jobs to Wisconsin.

And this didn't sound very humorous to me. Does the press make too much of these things when it reinforces the narrative that Romney, you know, is sort of this out-of-touch rich guy, or are these are just self-inflicted wounds?

MEDVED: It's - they're self-inflicted wounds, don't you think, Ana Marie? Really, this has been a huge narrative about Mitt. And people have been jumping on his gaffes far more readily than any of the other Republican candidates, but that's because he is the frontrunner.

COX: He is a frontrunner, and also they are self-reinforcing in a way. I think, at this point, the press doesn't need to play them up so much because they just feed into this continuing narrative.

I mean, if he did a different kind of gaffe, something more like what Rick Santorum did, I mean, that would kind of be interesting. But he just keeps doing these things that make him seem like an out- of-touch rich guy because I think he is an out-of-touch rich guy.

KURTZ: Well, you certainly settled that. We got about a minute left. And Ana Marie Cox, let me ask you. I see now more stories and newspapers in the last few days and the discussion on television about the (UNINTELLIGIBLE), who is Mitt Romney going to pick as his running mate, leaving behind the silly speculation.

That seems to me to suggest that the press has decided this is really over even though we have the Wisconsin and Maryland primaries coming up on Tuesday. Do you think the press is, in fact, saying, you know, "Let's wrap this up?"

COX: Well, I think that almost everyone that's not Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum is saying that. I mean, it's the mathematics that's really hard for anyone else besides Mitt Romney.

And I think that people will sort of have this general sense of we need to start moving to think about the general election. I think that, you know, people in the Republican Party are thinking that, too.

I do think that speculation about the vice presidential position is a little silly, so I'm not even going to do it, so don't ask.

KURTZ: It's going to go on for months. Michael, is the press being premature here in saying this is pretty much over?

MEDVED: No. It's taken the press much, much too long. I mean, basically, if you have looked at this thing for a while, since Florida, really, it's been kind of over. And I think that, really, by going to - between Gingrich and Santorum, though Ron Paul seems to have gone into a witness protection program somewhere.

But basically, it should have been over and recognized as over a long time ago.

KURTZ: All right Well, that's going to leave a lot of political reporters unemployed until August. Michael Medved, Ana Marie Cox, thanks very much for stopping by this morning.

Up next, a Supreme Court hears a historic case on Obamacare, but did the media reach a verdict before the arguments were even over?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: There were no cameras in the courtroom as the Supreme Court spent three days hearing arguments on whether to overturn President Obama's health care law. But there was no shortage of legal pundits who weren't shy about offering their opinions. One of them was CNN's Jeffrey Toobin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL CORRESPONDENT: And it sure looked like there were five votes to strike down the mandate. This was a train wreck for the Obama administration.

I think it's a possibility it might be a plane wreck as well.

The individual mandate looks doomed. And when you think about how important that is, how central that is to this whole affordable care act scheme, it's a very, very big deal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Did Toobin go too far? I spoke to him earlier from New York.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(on camera) Jeff Toobin, welcome.

TOOBIN: Hi, Howie.

KURTZ: Do you feel you went out on a limb, based on the questioning by the justices, in saying the individual mandate on the health care law looks doomed?

TOOBIN: I did. Yes.

KURTZ: We have videotape.

(CROSS TALK)

TOOBIN: No I mean, I did. I, you know, have to say it makes me a little nervous that I went out on a limb like that. But you know, I sat there, I listened, I'm familiar with how the justices argued and I just thought I was being straight with people. I thought it was doomed.

KURTZ: Now, Harry Reid, among others, criticized you by name, the Senate majority leader saying that the questions you get from the justices doesn't mean that's what's going to wind up in the opinion, and I'm sure you considered that.

TOOBIN: Absolutely. But you know, one of the things that's interesting about following the Supreme Court for a long period of time, ever since William Rehnquist was chief justice, he really sort of cut down on the social interaction among the justices and said good fences make good neighbors.

So, starting with the Rehnquist court, you saw the justices using the oral arguments to communicate with each other even more than to argue with the lawyers.

This is their only chance to sort of make their case to their colleagues. So it is not a time, in general, for devil's advocate positions. This is a time when they feel they have a captive audience and can talk to their clients.

And they put forth their points of view. Is that true 100 percent of the time? No, but based on my experience, that's how I interpreted what was going on in the Supreme Court.

KURTZ: Just about two years ago, I know you have copped to this, but you said when asked about the legal challenge to Obama care, "I don't think a constitutional challenge to this is going to go much of anywhere."

TOOBIN: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I said that. And I was skeptical at 9:30 on Monday morning that it was going to go anywhere. But I listened to the arguments and I heard what the justices said.

And I think this - you know, the world has changed. I mean, you know, I was completely wrong about how seriously the court was going to take this. But you know, facts change and the facts are what the justices said. And now, things are different.

KURTZ: When you describe the questioning and the oral arguments as a train wreck and then a plane wreck for the administration's position -

TOOBIN: Yes.

KURTZ: That became news. "Business Week" wrote a post called "The Toobin Factor." Why do you think your analysis has gotten so much attention?

TOOBIN: Well, I think it has to do, frankly, with the reach of CNN in a breaking news story. I also think it has to do with the peculiar - I mean, the absence of television. So people can't -

(CROSS TALK)

KURTZ: Right. Both of us can't see it for ourselves. TOOBIN: Right.

KURTZ: So we have to rely on you.

TOOBIN: Right. And also I think the particular stylized way that court proceedings take place in a language that's not familiar to people needs a certain amount of translation into normal English.

So you combine all those things together and the fact that, you know, I have been doing this for a long time and I'm familiar with the court.

I think that's why my - I got a lot of attention. By the way, I don't think what I said has the remotest influence on what the actual result is, but you know, it did get some attention.

KURTZ: Jeff Toobin, thanks very much for joining us.

TOOBIN: OK, Howard.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: Still to come, a Wisconsin paper finds some of its own supporting a recall of the governor. Another media embarrassment in the Trayvon Martin case. And Katie Couric's surprise return to morning TV. "The Media Monitor," straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Time now for "The Media Monitor," our weekly look at the hits and errors in the news business. Here's what I like. Kudos to "The Green Bay Press Gazette," a gazette newspaper in Wisconsin, for turning the spotlight on itself.

The paper reported that 25 gazette journalists in the state, including seven who work at the press gazette, signed petitions to recall Gov. Scott Walker. That, writes publisher Kevin Corrado, is disheartening and casts doubt on their neutrality. He says there may be disciplinary action.

I can't fathom how these journalists failed to recognize that supporting a move to kick the Republican governor out of office would be seen as blatantly political.

Back to the Trayvon Martin case. NBC "Today's" show engaged in some selective editing in playing the infamous 911 call to police from George Zimmerman as he was trailing the teenager. Here is how it sounded.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

GEORGE ZIMMERMAN, FLORIDA NEIGHBORHOOD WHO SHOT TRAYVON MARTIN: This guy looks like he is up to no good. He looks black.

911 OPERATOR: Did you see what he was wearing?

ZIMMERMAN: Yes, a dark hoodie.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

KURTZ: But NBC cut out this question from the dispatcher right in the middle.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

911 OPERATOR: This guy, is he white, black or Hispanic?

ZIMMERMAN: He looks black.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

KURTZ: So rather than volunteering Trayvon's race, which is how it sounded on the "Today" show, Zimmerman was responding to a question. That is blatantly unfair. NBC says it has launched an internal investigation into its editorial process.

Finally, she helped keep the "Today" show on top for a decade while she was there. And now, she will be competing against her old colleagues. Katie Couric will fill in for a week at "Good Morning, America" starting tomorrow, trying to help ABC snap today's 16-year record as the number one morning show.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBIN ROBERTS, CO-HOST, "GOOD MORNING AMERICA": Welcome.

KATIE COURIC, FMR. CO-HOST, "TODAY" SHOW": Hi, Robin.

ROBERTS: Great to see you.

COURIC: Nice to see you.

ROBERTS: Here are the keys to the joint.

COURIC: All right. Have a great vacation.

Hi, everyone, I'm Katie Couric and I'm thrilled to say "Good morning, America."

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, CO-HOST, "GOOD MORNING AMERICA": And we are thrilled to have you, Katie.

COURIC: Thank you, Matt. I mean, George.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: So, why is Couric doing something she never did during her years as a CBS anchor? Well, she might be trying to draw attention to ABC's fall premiere of her daytime show. Sorry, Matt.

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.