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Tornadoes Rip Across Midwest; Media Debate Trayvon Charges; FOX Mole Speaks Out; Interview with Steve Kroft, Bob Simon of "60 Minutes"

Aired April 15, 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: I'm Howard Kurtz.

Ahead: we'll have an exclusive interview with the so-called FOX News mole. We'll talk to Steve Kroft and Bob Simon of "60 Minutes" and examine the coverage of the Trayvon Martin case and the presidential campaign.

But, first, to breaking news: those tornadoes sweeping across four Midwestern states, 120 reports so far.

Let's put up some footage of Cherokee, Oklahoma, where you can see the twister racing across the landscape there, pretty devastating footage. Five people are dead from injuries related to a suspected tornado in Woodward, Oklahoma. And the Kansas governor has declared a state of emergency.

Let's go now to Susan Candiotti, who is in Wichita.

And, Susan, I'm wondering whether the early warnings in the region that you are in right now might have helped the situation.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I can't imagine that they didn't, Howie. They had to have played a huge role in that. After all, this is the first time I think since 2006 that they were able to give people who live in this region at least two days warning to be prepared for the storm.

Now, certainly it may have helped in many instances, but tornadoes, you know, can hit at random. But you can't help but think that it did help some people to be better prepared for the storm.

KURTZ: Weather system -- the weather forecasters doing their job. And this is not over.

And so, at this point, what's our information on where the greatest threats may lie in terms of other communities that might be struck by these twisters?

CANDIOTTI: Well, I think that meteorologists have said that the most severe risk, the highest risk, was what we just experienced. Now, on Sunday, they're talking about a more moderate risk, but the most dangerous conditions are predicted to be in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa. So, we'll be keeping an eye on that as the day goes on. KURTZ: All right. Susan Candiotti, trying to take in the damage across the region there -- thanks very much for joining us.

CNN will have continuing coverage of the developments on this extreme weather story.

Turning now to the Trayvon Martin case. Now that George Zimmerman is facing second degree murder charges, liberal and conservative commentators yet again choosing sides.

Take FOX's Sean Hannity who seemed to pick apart the criminal case.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: Your eyewitness was adamant in saying that he saw Trayvon Martin on top of George Zimmerman beating Mr. Zimmerman. It seems like there might be some over charging here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: As for MSNBC's Al Sharpton -- well, he outdid himself shortly after prosecutor Angela Corey made the announcement of the second degree murder charges. Reverend Al held a news conference with Trayvon's parents.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL SHAPRTON, MSNBC: Let me say, 45 days ago, Trayvon Martin was murdered. No arrest was made.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: An hour later, Sharpton put his media hat back on. Interviewing the parents for MSNBC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHARPTON: I am sitting here at the Washington Convention Center with the parents of Trayvon Martin. And we just finished the press conference with attorney Ben Crump after they spoke with the special prosecutor.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Joining us now in New York, Lola Ogunnaike, cultural commentator and former "New York Times" reporter; and here in Washington, Jane Hall, associate professor of journalism in American University and a former FOX News commentator.

Jane Hall, we finally have criminal charges in this case after six weeks of media finger-pointing, speculation. Actual evidence from law enforcement.

Yet, it seems to me the commentators have just gone back to their same old arguments. JANE HALL, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: I think the commentators have. And, you know, Sean Hannity has replayed many times this New Black Panther video of a hate group that put a bounty out on the head for George Zimmerman, and it effectively conflates the peaceful protest the parents call for a lack of violence.

You know, FOX was late on this story and now, they're trying to talk about a rush to judgment. You know, Reverend Al, you can talk about the ethics of that, but to my mind endlessly replay this question is to question the hall press on this case.

KURTZ: Because the New Black Panther Party is a relatively minor fringe group?

HALL: They're a minor fringe group. What they did was despicable. But the way it's being replayed on FOX is to conflate peaceful protest and people who were calling for an arrest and a trial in this case.

KURTZ: Lola Ogunnaike, do you see the media here playing an inflammatory role as this has become kind of an obsession after the media, of course, spent the first two weeks being totally out to lunch on the importance of this fatal shooting of an unarmed teenager?

LOLA OGUNNAIKE, CULTURAL COMMENTATOR: I don't think they're playing an inflammatory role. In fact, I think they've been responsible for the most part. What you are seeing is that the viewers want more and more news about this very subject, and we are in the position right now in the news where it's about law of supply and demand, and the viewers are demanding more and more coverage.

If we look at how the network, MSNBC has had 49 percent of their coverage dedicated to this, CNN has had about 40 percent of their coverage dedicated to this Trayvon Martin story, and FOX has only had about 15 percent of their coverage dedicated to this story.

So, if anything, what you are seeing is maybe FOX needs to play a little catch-up because viewers are not turned off by this story at all. In fact, what you are seeing is that they want more.

KURTZ: But that would suggest that just because viewers want more of a particular story that it's fine for cable news network to air as much as half -- devote as much as half of its news time to one story about one tragedy in Florida?

OGUNNAIKE: Well, we can't go into what's right and wrong about these things, Howie. Ultimately, this is a business. It's a capitalist institution, and it's about the law of supply and demand.

If your viewers are saying that they want more Trayvon Martin or they want more about Michael Jackson, then you got to be mindful of that. That's just the reality of the news world that we live in today.

KURTZ: Well -- OGUNNAIKE: And to pretend to ignore that -- to pretend to ignore that is not being realistic, actually. They're in the business of making money.

HALL: I don't actually agree with that. I think that the coverage will die down. I think that the figures -- I believe the figures Lola is talking about were for that last week in March.

I mean, there was a national outrage over the six weeks that passed between the time that this happened and questions and this -- Zimmerman not being arrested and there not being a trial.

I think it will die down. I don't mean any disrespect about that. But to my mind, this is different from giving people Michael Jackson coverage, which I think got pretty darn excessive.

KURTZ: After he died indeed.

OGUNNAIKE: I'm not equating the two at all. Just saying that right now what we're seeing is that the viewer is more in control of what they want to see on television in a way that they weren't before. The viewer has a lot more power in determining what they want to see on television than they did before. That's all I was arguing.

KURTZ: In this past week, there was this bizarre spectacle of the two former attorneys for George Zimmerman announcing at a news conference that they were leaving the case -- that their client wouldn't talk to them, but that he would talk to one person they found out about, a FOX News talk show host. Let's roll the tape of Sean Hannity.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HANNITY: For few weeks, we have been pursuing an interview with Mr. Zimmerman to give his chance to tell his side of the story. Now, yesterday, I was contacted by an individual that we, in fact, belief was George Zimmerman. He reached out to me. We spoke on the phone about his case. And I agreed not to report on the contents of that conversation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Do you have any problem with Sean Hannity having an off the record conversation with George Zimmerman, a potential criminal defendant in the case?

HALL: Well, you know, I think everybody in the world was trying to get George Zimmerman. So, as a journalist, taking that call -- I mean, and the booking -- as Lola was saying. I mean, everybody would be after that story.

Again, I separate that from the fact that I think FOX was slow to cover this story and now they're very concerned about Mr. Zimmerman's rights.

KURTZ: Well, I don't have any problem at all with what Sean Hannity did. It's not uncommon for hosts to talk to guests. In fact, in this very story, I talked to a reporter off the record trying to persuade her to come on this program. She was reluctant to step into the crossfire and decided not to.

But let me turn to the MSNBC side because I do, as I flip back and forth between the channels, get the impression that some on FOX are acting as Zimmerman's defense lawyer, Lola, and many on MSNBC taking Trayvon's Martin side and the side of his family.

What do you think about Al Sharpton moving back and forth? He's at a news conference with the parents. He interviews the parents. He's addressing a rally. He's doing his show from Sanford, Florida.

OGUNNAIKE: The journalistic in me I have to say has a bit of a problem with that because that's just not how I was raised as a journalist. There was this understanding that there had to be pure objectivity. You were not the story. You reported on the story.

But I understand -- in the time, in the short time that I have been in the business and well over the decade, it's changed completely. And so, the businesswoman in me looks as it and says, well, it's a win-win. Al Sharpton is not only part of the story, he's helping to create the story, and then he gets to report on the story.

If these are the new rules of journalism, then I dare any other journalist out there to say to themselves, wow, if I had this opportunity to not only create the story but report on the story and essentially generate ratings too for myself, I'm not sure they would walk away from that and say, I wouldn't do that.

KURTZ: But, Jane Hall, I mean, Al Sharpton is entitled to do whatever he wants, but NBC, and everyone up to NBC News president Steve Capus has defended this, it's essentially allowing him to cover himself, to be a participant, an active participant, an out front participant in this same story that he is covering night after night for that channel.

HALL: Well, I agree. You know, I agree with Lola. The lines have moved. The separation between church and state has changed.

KURTZ: Are there any lines at all anymore?

HALL: Well, you know, I don't know.

OGUNNAIKE: There are not. There are not any lines.

HALL: I think it's changed.

OGUNNAIKE: There are no lines.

(CROSSTALK)

HALL: There are no lines.

OGUNNAIKE: What's tough is for NBC News to now cover this story when they already had the controversy over having to apologize for the inadvertent, apparently edit out of the story. They got Al Sharpton.

I think -- I think cable news is pretty bifurcated with the exception of CNN. I mean, it's pretty much, you know -- you are looking for a different point of view on the two sides.

KURTZ: Let me roll some tape --

OGUNNAIKE: Jane, that's the perfect word, point of view. POV is what rules on cable television right now. The stronger the POV -- the more close to the story you are in terms of POV, the better it serves you. Whether you are team Zimmerman or team Trayvon Martin, POV reigns.

KURTZ: But in looking at those teams, one team -- Trayvon Martin's parents, have been on a lot of television shows. They've been on all the major morning shows. Now, they can do whatever they want. Everybody in the world, including me, has great sympathy for them.

But since Zimmerman chose not to speak out and, of course, his lawyers I'm sure didn't want him to, does that give their side an advantage because, you know, you've got these grieving parents working the circuit?

HALL: Well, you know, it's so hard not to be cynical about people, but everything that I have read and a reporter that I saw -- that I saw interviewed on "The Daily Beast" from "Newsweek," said his mother is as she comes across -- trying to hold it together. They went public with this to try to get a trial and an arrest. So, it's hard to argue with that.

KURTZ: And they have every right to do that.

Lola, brief comment from you.

OGUNNAIKE: They did everything that a parent would do. If they felt like they weren't getting justice, it's by any means necessary. If you have to go to the media and appear on the media every day to insure that there's justice being sought for your child, I think any grieving mother, any grieving father, any responsible parent, would do that. I don't fault them. In fact, I think they've handled themselves with the utmost dignity and grace.

KURTZ: Right. I wasn't faulting them. I was just saying that perhaps it gave their side an advantage. We will follow this story as it heads to trial and more with cameras in the courtroom, that could be quite a spectacle.

Lola Ogunnaike, Jane Hall, thanks for joining us.

When we come back, Joe Muto, better known as the FOX News mole, speaks to us exclusively about why he became a leaker and blew up his career.

And later, Steve Kroft and Bob Simon of "60 Minutes."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: He was known as the FOX mole, but his secret identity didn't last long.

Joe Muto, associate producer for Bill O'Reilly making $60,000 a year, taunted his employer with a series of postings on the gossip site Gawker. But FOX tracked him down and fired him in just a couple of days.

I spoke to him earlier from New York.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: Joe Muto, welcome.

JOE MUTO, FORMER FOX EMPLOYEE: Thanks for having me, Howard.

KURTZ: After you were caught, you wrote the following, "I am a weasel, a traitor, a sell-out and every bad word you can throw at me." So you admit to betraying the news organization that was paying you?

MUTO: I -- I believe everyone is aware of that at this point, Howard. That's -- yes, that's true. I broke the code. I broke the code of Omerta, that was within FOX News. And I went public. I didn't expect --

KURTZ: You also -- you also, by the way, accepted $5,000 from Gawker to serve as the FOX mole. Does that make you look like more of a weasel?

MUTO: I'm not going to comment on any financial arrangements that I may or may not have had with Gawker. But what this was, Howard -- this was a primal scream from a long-time FOX employee who just couldn't take it anymore and could not take it one more day in that place.

KURTZ: When FOX first confronted you on suspicion that some of these videos had been access from your computer, you denied it?

MUTO: That's correct.

KURTZ: So, did you think that you would get away with this, or were you half expecting to be fired?

MUTO: I knew after a point that they had me. After certain points, just the evidence was there. They nailed me, you know? I'm not a very good mole. I'm not good at espionage stuff.

KURTZ: All right. We won't sign you up for the CIA, but FOX says it's considering legal action against you, and that a crime was committed. Do you feel that you broke any law?

MUTO: I think their legal accusations are completely baseless, and they're trying to intimidate me into silence because I'm revealing unflattering information about the inner workings of the company. KURTZ: So let's talk about what you have revealed. Among other things, you wrote that the newsroom is kind of a dreary place. You leaked a video where Sean Hannity was having some friendly banter with Mitt Romney before an interview.

You say that FOX Nation, which is basically an opinion site, runs conservative stories and headlines and has some racist comments in it. Doesn't seem to amount to all that much.

MUTO: Look, well, originally I could not reveal that much stuff. When I was still anonymous, you know, if I revealed everything I knew, it would have gotten me right away. Now, as it turns out, the digital trail was such that they nailed me anyway.

But the original plan was to sort of leak it out in driblets and maybe eventually I would -- some of the more interesting stuff I know would come out later. So --

KURTZ: So, what have you not revealed that you would like to reveal now?

MUTO: That's going to have to come at a later time.

KURTZ: Is that because you're saving it for a book deal or something like that?

MUTO: I don't -- I don't know what I'm going to do next, Howard. I'm still weighing a lot of options. You know -- that's -- I have seen it speculated in the press that that's what I was doing from the beginning. That's -- that was not the plan from the beginning.

KURTZ: So, Joe, if you felt so uncomfortable with your situation at FOX News, why stay there and draw a paycheck for eight years?

MUTO: No, I tried to leave many, many times. I sent out dozens and dozens of resumes. I think CNN must have gotten 20 resumes from me.

And the truth of the matter is I was black balled within the industry that people hiring managers see FOX News on your resume, and they say this guy is conservative, this guy is a nut. He's -- we don't want him in our organization. I was -- I was completely blackballed within the cable news industry after working at FOX News.

KURTZ: You say you don't want to reveal anything more now, because I want to get a sense, because, you know, you acknowledge being a traitor and weasel. So, obviously, you felt it was justified because you felt you had information to reveal. But it sounds like you were just uncomfortable with what you see as FOX News' conservative leanings.

MUTO: That's correct. I think there is a lot of -- as has obviously been stated repeatedly in the media, there's a lot of right wing bias at FOX, and the way they're slanting the news, I just couldn't take one more election cycle where they're on complete attack mode against the Democratic candidate. KURTZ: Were you conflicted at all in deciding to act like what you describe as a weasel and a traitor -- did any part of you say, you know what, I should just judge quit and I shouldn't do this and I shouldn't be a mole?

MUTO: I have a lot of co-workers still at FOX who I'm sure are reeling from this. I don't -- I'm not a sociopath, Howard. I don't want to make it sound like I worked there for eight years with a chip on my shoulder, and I hated everyone. There's a lot of, you know, really nice, you know, people who I really like and respect. So, those people, if I hurt any of them, I apologize to them.

But I felt the need to speak out because my story -- my story had to be told. I couldn't -- I couldn't be in that building one day longer without, you know, exploding.

KURTZ: Joe, now that you have done this and acted as a mole against FOX News, do you expect to get another job in cable news?

MUTO: Well, I have been passing my resume out around here. No takers yet.

I think it's pretty safe to say my career in cable news is over. I don't -- I don't foresee anyone outside of current TV hiring me, but I'm looking into new opportunities. I -- that's -- I don't know what the future holds, but I'm looking forward to some new opportunities.

KURTZ: All right. Joe Muto, thanks very much.

MUTO: Thank you, Howard.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: You can watch the entire interview with Joe Muto on our Web site, CNN.com/reliable sources.

Now, I obtained a letter from a lawyer at FOX telling Muto to preserve any documents he took from the network and saying, "Be advised that your admissions are admissions of likely criminal and civil wrongdoing on both your and Gawker's part, which will be subject of further extensive investigation. FOX News will pursue its rights and remedies in appropriate legal forums."

Up next, Steve Kroft and Bob Simon of "60 Minutes" on the legacy of their late colleague, Mike Wallace.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: When we learned half an hour before air time last Sunday morning that Mike Wallace had died, I was fluttered with memories of this irrepressible newsman. As "60 Minutes" prepares to air a special tribute to him tonight, here are glimpses of Wallace in action.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

MIKE WALLACE, JOURNALIST: How many blacks are there on your top campaign staff, Governor?

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I couldn't honestly answer you.

WALLACE: And he called you, Imam -- forgive me, his words, not mine -- a lunatic.

Now, if selling phony university degrees was a hazardous occupation, hanging one on your office wall when "60 Minutes" walked in could be downright embarrassing.

You're not a medical doctor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I'm not.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

KURTZ: Mike Wallace appeared on this program five years ago and talked about one of his signature techniques -- the hidden camera investigation -- had become so widespread.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: I have no doubt that what we started is -- has become a plague because it's too much. Self-conscious, confrontational ambushing and news as you know has turned into that kind of thing. There's a lot of infotainment in it, and there's a lot of tabloid in it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: I asked Wallace, he was 88 at the time, why hadn't retired 10 years earlier.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: I wouldn't have known what else to do, Howard. Truly. This wasn't work, this was a joy that come to this office every day and see people buzzing up and down the halls and doing stories, and reading a Kurtz column and saying, he is full of --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Ouch.

What do we learn from Wallace's seven-decade career? I spoke earlier with two veteran "60 Minutes" correspondents from New York.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: Steve Kroft, Bob Simon, welcome.

STEVE KROFT, CORRESPONDENT, CBS NEWS "60 MINUTES": Thanks, Howie.

KURTZ: Steve, looking back on Mike Wallace's career, you ask questions for a living. You know that it's an art in front of a camera. How did he over so many years manage to whittle information out of people?

KROFT: I think he had very -- he had tremendous powers of concentration, and I think that he from the moment he sat down, he always was very well-prepared, always had read the research, and had a good sense of what he wanted to get out of the interview, which was mainly getting under their skin.

BOB SIMON, CORRESPONDENT, CBS NEWS "60 MINUTES": I think he was very intuitive. I think before he sat down with somebody, he somehow knew where their Achilles heel was and he went for it immediately. One thing he did differently from most others is that I think usually in an interview, which you know is going to be a tough interview, you build up to it. You start soft and then get hard later on.

But Mike's first question was always designed to throw the person off balance, and it worked.

KURTZ: Forgive me, are you a lunatic? And he was above all master showman. I mean, people often talked about Mike's questions as well as the answer of whoever happened to be sitting in the hot seat.

KROFT: I think he was definitely a showman. I think that's one of the things that Don Hewitt and Mike Wallace had in common. And I think, you know, Mike started out as a trooper. He was a radio announcer, a TV quiz show person, and had done all of these things in the early days of television before there really was television news.

KURTZ: Right.

KROFT: And when you had essentially John Cameron Swayze and a bunch of people ripping and reading, that was pretty much it. I think by the time he got into news in the early '60s, I think it was still a pretty stodgy business, and he was -- sort of didn't have the barriers that a lot of other people felt. He wasn't afraid to break plains and break windows and break glasses. But he did.

KURTZ: Nobody ever called Mike Wallace stodgy.

Bob Simon, you tell the story of what happened when Mike Wallace came to Bosnia in 1993 where you were reporting. That was an interesting experience for you, was it not?

SIMON: It was, yes. I mean, people make a lot of fuss about correspondents who are dodging bullets and risking their lives. Well, frankly, Mike impressed me more than that. He came to -- I was in Sarajevo, and he came to Bosnia to do a story on Karadzic, the war criminal, mass murderer.

And we went to Karadzic's office, and there were about 10 of his thugs standing around with automatic weapons. And Karadzic he was a psychiatrist, an accredited psychiatrist. And Mike sat down and said, what's it like being a psychiatrist and a mass murderer?

And I -- I was frightened. I was shaking, but Mike wasn't. For Mike, it was the way he does interviews.

KURTZ: And he was, Steve Kroft, a pit bull in the office as well. That's what Morley Safer said on CBS the other day. There was a couple of years where they didn't talk to each other because of an internal battle.

So, how competitive was Mike Wallace with his colleagues?

KROFT: Incredibly competitive. It was -- there were always a lot of turf wars, and I heard mike talk about this just the other day in an interview that we had done back in 2006. And he talked about the turf wars and how he just felt that he was going to get the story. He wanted to get the story, and Morley, I think, for a long period of time when it was just the two of them on the show or when Dan Rather first came in, I think that Morley was one that had to fight the most fights. But he had no compunction about stealing the story from you.

Morley would leave the office on one day thinking he had a story and then come back and find that Mike was already out shooting it.

(CROSSTALK)

BOB SIMON, CBS NEWS: When I was in Israel, I was based in Israel, Mike called me and said that Hezbollah had invited him to come to Beirut to shoot a "60 Minutes" story, and Mike called me to ask my advice. And I said, Mike, Beirut is pretty hairy these days, particularly with Hezbollah running around loose. It's pretty dangerous.

And Mike said I'm not asking if it's dangerous or not. I want to know if it's a good story. I said, well, yes, it's a good story, and he went.

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: And he went.

But, you know, as he did this more and more, he was tremendously successful. He was globally famous.

What drove him to not just come to work at a relatively advanced age, but actually stealing -- to use your verb, Steve Kroft -- stories from colleagues? What animated him to do that?

KROFT: I think Mike always wanted to be the best, and I think he was a little bit insecure given his early career and I think he was always out to prove things, and he used to tell -- I heard his producers talking. This is five or six years ago when he was in his mid-80s talking about how Mike felt that he still hadn't done his great story and that he hadn't -- he was leaving no -- nothing of importance behind.

That was part of it, and I think that also, this was really the only thing that Mike had in his life. He didn't really have any hobbies.

KURTZ: He didn't play golf?

KROFT: He didn't play golf. He played tennis. He would go off to the vineyard for, you know, six weeks in the summertime.

But that was really the only time that he relaxed. He was always working. Always.

KURTZ: He loved to work. But, you know, I don't want to canonize him here. I mean, he, in the earlier years of "60 Minutes", pioneered the ambush interview and the hidden camera investigation -- along with others. And later, he backed away from some of that, feeling that perhaps some of those techniques were not the best.

SIMON: He remained the -- frankly, the best interviewer there ever was. And people who have tried to imitate him have all fallen on their face, because Mike never screamed. He never shouted. When you turn on television these days, you hear an awful lot of guys being aggressive and screaming.

Mike never had to do that. He never raised his voice. He raised his eyebrow, and that was a pretty -- could be pretty devastating.

And he also did something that very few people have picked up, which is not complicated. When somebody stopped talking, Mike would be silent. He wouldn't come in right away with another question, and very -- people don't like silence. And very often, when a guy Mike was trying to break down was confronted with a silence, he started saying something he really shouldn't have said.

KURTZ: Well, I'm going to fill the silence here by asking Steve, but when Wallace with a camera crew in tow would accost some alleged miscreant on the street, I mean, hat was stagey. The kind of thing we probably would look at more skeptically today.

KROFT: I think -- yes. But I think at the time it wasn't. At the time, he was the first person that had ever done it. And as Mike said, look, we don't have subpoena power. We wanted to try to get answers from somebody, and the only way we could do it was to chase them down.

I think in the end what -- and actually Mike said this in the interview that he did, that everybody started copying it, including Geraldo Rivera, which Mike had actually a great amount of respect for. But he thought that it had just become cliche and that it was bringing out more heat than light.

But he still did it. He did it fairly recently. Certainly the ambush interview he did with the pedophile priest or bishop or something, monsignor, I don't know, high ranking person out in Arizona, that wasn't that long ago. He would still do it, and we would still do it in rare occasions.

But I think that at the time that he started it, it wasn't cliche. People loved it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: After the break, this question: can younger TV correspondents live up to the Wallace standard? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: More now of my conversation about Mike Wallace with "60 Minutes" correspondents Bob Simon and Steve Kroft.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: I was thinking the other day that Mike Wallace has now left us, and Don Hewitt, the great executive producer of "60 Minutes," Peter Jennings, Daniel Schorr, I mean, many members of that generation leaving the scene.

I don't want to say it was some golden age, but do you feel it's something that is lost when people who were the sort of giant figures are leaving us?

SIMON: I don't think there are any giants to replace them yet. I'm an opera buff and I just -- I'm waiting for a tenor to replace Pavarotti and Domingo. One will come along, but I don't think we've seen them yet. Again, nobody has been able to interview like Wallace and he was just -- I think the expertise was breaking down people's facades.

And he asked all his producers, who have a lot of different things to say about him, they give him a list of questions. Producers always give us lists of questions. Mike would be off on his own within 30 seconds.

And if you remember when you saw Mike doing an interview, he was never looking down at a piece of paper. He didn't need a piece of paper. He needed eye contact. He knew when he was making somebody really uncomfortable.

KURTZ: But maybe, Steve, the big giants --

(CROSSTALK)

KROFT: It's not --

KURTZ: That's exactly what I was going to get to.

KROFT: It is the business. You had -- you had the explosion of cable news for one thing, and you have a lot more emphasis right now that's placed on live and panel discussions and people standing in front of buildings doing live shots around the world. As opposed to when it was just the evening newscast where you had people that would go out and gather and film and come back and put packages together.

There's not that much of that anymore, and it's very hard to find people who have been brought up that way, and quite frankly, have the experience of some of the -- of some of the great people where they worked overseas and where they worked in Washington, where they have a whole breadth of experience.

So it's a little bit harder to grow the field has expanded so much. That's one of the reasons why you feel like, you know, there are none of these people that are really standing out.

KURTZ: So, do you believe, Steve, that in this multi-media age where a lot of shows revolve around the host's personality and opinions, that a lot of people coming up in TV business just are not got getting the grounding, doing the basic city hall level reporting, or foreign reporting to -- in a way that was done in the past?

KROFT: Yes. I think that's a real problem.

SIMON: You got to remember, though, when we started in the business, just about everyone came from newspapers, or wires or print. There were writers. They were investigative reporters. Nobody had started in television because there wasn't any television.

It's only, well, I guess in the last couple of decades that people go straight from college or university or whatever, into television, which means that they're not coming in with the -- either the instinct or the writing or the nose for news that everyone had to have back then and which they had all because they had been reporters long before they stood in front of a camera.

KURTZ: An excellent point that's often lost in the glare of the television lights.

And, Mike Wallace, boy, what a remarkable career over seven decades. Thank you for helping us to remember him.

Bob Simon, Steve Kroft, thanks for joining us.

KROFT: Thanks, Howie.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: The "60 Minutes" tribute to Mike Wallace airs tonight.

Next up: we'll tackle campaign coverage. Rick Santorum dropping out, and CNN's Hilary Rosen feels the backlash for slamming Ann Romney.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: It began with a cable segment, exploded on Twitter, and within hours was a raging political brush fire.

CNN contributor Hilary Rosen, a well-connected Democratic operative, was talking on Anderson Cooper's show about Mitt Romney being out of touch when she said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

HILARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: His wife has actually never worked a day in her life. She's never really dealt with the kinds of economic issues that a majority of the women in this country are facing.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN: This is a woman who suffered breast cancer and has M.S. She raised five boys. That's hard work.

ANN ROMNEY, WIFE OF MITT ROMNEY: My career choice was to be a mother, and I think all of us need to know that we need to respect choices that women make. Other women make other choices to have a career and raise families.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

KURTZ: Joining us now to talk about this round of media warfare: here in Washington, Julie Mason, the host of the "Press Pool on Sirius XM satellite radio. And Jonathan Martin, senior political reporter for "Politico."

Let me throw up a tweet, Jonathan Martin, that Hilary Rosen sent out after she had said that on CNN. She tells Ann Romney, "I'm raising children too. But most young American women have to both earn a living and raise children. You know that, don't you?"

So, did she make -- take a dumb remark and make it worse by some doubling down on Twitter?

JONATHAN MARTIN, POLITICO: I think she insured that the brush fire that you referred to was going to keep blazing for a few more hours by doing that. It was not until she ultimately did, you know, apologized that it began to settle down.

I am not sure, though, that the Romney folks ultimately want to fight on this terrain, Howie. I think there was a smart comment by Rich Lowry, the conservative commentator, from "National Review," to this point, saying, you know, it's going to be difficult to battle on the gender issue when there are bigger and broader indices that you can take this president on.

I'm not sure why a Republican would want to battle against a Democrat on this sort of gender wars because that's not good terrain traditionally for a Republican. It's kind of like a Democrat putting on tax cuts, you know?

KURTZ: Let me come back to that broader point. Julie Mason, there's been a lot of chatter about, well, should the candidate's wives be fair game for pundits. I'm not saying Ann Romney can't be criticized. She's out there campaigning every day.

But Hilary Rosen wasn't criticizing anything Ann Romney said, but her decision about how to conduct her life.

JULIE MASON, SIRIUS XM RADIO: Yes. But isn't that splitting hairs? I mean, it's certainly -- Ann Romney is fair game, just like Michelle Obama is fair game. They're taking a role in our elections. They're giving policy speeches. They're out there.

KURTZ: So, why the backlash?

MASON: Well, because this is politics, and any small thing -- this is the culture of umbrage that can take something and blow it out of proportion. We saw just a barrage of emails from the Romney campaign fueling this Democrat versus Democrat --

KURTZ: But even putting aside the Romney campaign and I like this phrase you use, a culture of umbrage. It seemed to me the cable network in particular feasted on this and continue to feast on this for days. I guess we're doing it here.

Isn't there a lot of faux outrage about this on the conservative side just as there is from the liberal side when a conservative says something that's not too bright?

MARTIN: Howie, I think the touch stone of this campaign to date has been just what you said. That is faux outrage. And examples replete on both sides. When Eric Fehrnstrom, the Romney advisor, talked about the Etch-a-Sketch. You know, this latest example.

It seems like every week now, there is some episode that typically takes place on cable TV and then goes to Twitter and then comes back to cable TV, and it sort of burns really hard for 28 to 48 hours, and then we're eventually moving on to the next episode.

It's not terribly satisfying or gratifying.

KURTZ: Is it a distraction or is it -- are these kinds of symbols for important issues like women's issues, is Romney a shape- shifting conservative ala the Etch-a-Sketch analogy?

MARTIN: Well, I think that's a rationalization for covering that.

KURTZ: OK, that's the fig leaf, you're saying?

MASON: It's a trivial proxy. It's a trivial proxy for the bigger issue.

KURTZ: But another point I wanted to get to --

MARTIN: It's easier for us to cover, as you know, because you have a sound bite or you have a tweet, and you can show that on the screen over and over again. Go to a panel discussion for 10 minutes, and there you go -- boom, segment.

KURTZ: It's cotton candy.

MARTIN: Right.

KURTZ: But here's another point.

MARTIN: That's gender, by the way. Or race. You know, there you go.

KURTZ: Race, of course.

When CNN or the cable networks hire contributors who are also party activists, or former party officials, so, you know, whether it's Karl Rove at FOX, or Hilary Rosen or Carville and Begala here, or others at MSNBC, it enables the detractors when they get into verbal trouble to say -- a-ha, she, Hilary Rosen, she is speaking for Obama, the campaign is putting her up to this. That's it the price it seems to me the networks pay when they hire people who kind of have a dual role.

MASON: It's true. There's consequences and they have to start considering whether it's to damaging to the brand. You saw Glenn Beck out of FOX News and Bill O'Reilly. And I do think that that damages the FOX News brand.

KURTZ: But Beck and O'Reilly were not party activists in the way that Dick Morris or Karl Rove are.

MASON: Right, exactly. That's a really good point. And they are. I do think that that heavy reliance on these party activists does damage the news brand of cable --

MARTIN: Axelrod, David Axelrod, the Obama adviser, got to that point the other day, saying on CNN, she's your employee to CNN, not our employee --

KURTZ: Yes. She doesn't have any formal tie to the Obama campaign.

I thought she was reveling in the attention when she agreed to go on "Meet the Press" this morning, but she cancelled that appearance.

Let me turn to Rick Santorum, who, you know, of course, dropped out this week. And he talked very emotionally, I thought, about the illness, life-threatening illness of her 3-year-old daughter Bella, and she just spent the weekend in the hospital. And it seemed to me that all the journalists who talked about Santorum dropping kind of ignored that and just portrayed it purely as a matter of political calculation.

Was that fair?

MARTIN: I think in some of the coverage, there were references to his daughter's condition. I think it was a matter of his own financial situation, which was precarious. He was -- as he said to Tony Perkins this week, going into debt. He wasn't raising any money after Wisconsin -- a combination of that, fear of losing his home state of Pennsylvania on April 24th, but I think also his daughter's condition.

I do think that was mentioned in a lot of the coverage, the fact that she was in the hospital over Easter weekend. That certainly weighed on him.

KURTZ: That wasn't the first time she had been to the hospital.

MARTIN: Right.

KURTZ: I was going to accuse the press of being cynical and kind of just ignoring the Bella situation. But a couple days later, Santorum said that he quit basically because he couldn't raise any more money after those losses to Romney. So, maybe the press had it right.

MASON: Right. And I think Santorum benefited from the press not always taken very seriously in this campaign. I think the coverage a lot more critical of him, had we known at the time for example, that he had won the Iowa caucuses.

KURTZ: Well, OK, I do have to say that for a year, the press basically largely ignored and discounted Rick Santorum and then comes along and did win Iowa, ended up winning 11 states. Even though he got very testy, curse out the "New York Times" reporter, Jeff Zeleny, at the end -- I mean, he did something in this campaign, only ended up losing, that -- where the media geniuses just underestimated him.

MARTIN: You have to give him credit. He worked his butt off for two and a half years, went to all 99 counties in Iowa and the old- fashioned way, he made a showing there and that catapulted him into contention.

KURTZ: Right.

MARTIN: He had very little money compared to Romney, a shoestring organization. He did very well for himself and I think did he pretty well in terms of the media coverage. And to his credit, actually, he said afterwards, you can't blame the media for his loss. It wasn't the media's fault that he lost Michigan, Ohio, Illinois.

KURTZ: Everybody blames us. What are you talking about?

All right. Let me get a break.

Up next, Newt Gingrich slams FOX News and FOX bites back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Newt Gingrich, who's still on the race, said this week that FOX has been for Romney all the way through and that were more likely neutral coverage out of CNN, more likely to get distortion out of FOX.

And, Julie Mason, Newt worked for FOX for years.

MASON: I think he wants a job over here now.

You know, Newt Gingrich isn't interested in fair and objective news coverage. You wouldn't know (INAUDIBLE) over the head. He is angry at FOX News because he thought they'd give him more than they did.

And from what I can tell, they did a very fair job of covering this primary.

KURTZ: Newt was on FOX a lot.

Now, a FOX spokesperson firing back.

MARTIN: Of course. KURTZ: To your point, Newt is auditioning, says FOX, for a windfall of a gig at CNN and bitter, that is FOX's word, that we terminated his contract last year when he was gearing up to run.

MARTIN: I think he is bitter more than he is losing the race for president, looking for explanations as to why he is, in fact, losing.

Howie, almost fascinating subtext of this primary has been at every point, Santorum, Gingrich and Romney, at least their supporters, thought that FOX was against them and thought that they were getting bad treatment from some either the news or the commentary side of FOX. The conversations were constant on the campaign trail the last six months. They are out to get me. You heard it from all these guys, or at least their supporters at one time or another.

KURTZ: They're used to what they perceive as more favorable treatment.

MARTIN: Because they all thought that they were going to get some kind of a good shot. And, in fact, a lot of the news coverage was tough. I think the commentary was split between the various FOX personalities.

KURTZ: Certainly, FOX had Newt Gingrich on a lot. And so, I don't buy it.

MARTIN: He's still on a lot.

KURTZ: He's still on a lot. Well, he likes to kick people. Maybe if he does come to CNN, he can team up with his close, personal friend John King.

(LAUGHTER)

KURTZ: Jonathan Martin, Julie Mason, thanks very much for joining us.

Now, before we go, I could hardly believe what Lawrence O'Donnell said. In the course of criticizing Mitt Romney's approach to religion, the MSNBC host made a crude attack on Romney's religion.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC: Mormonism was created by a guy in Upstate New York in 1830 when he got caught having sex with the maid and explained to his wife that God told him to do it. Forty-eight wives later, Joseph Smith's lifestyle was completely sanctified in the religion that he invented to go with it, which Mitt Romney says he believes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Mormons were outraged, said they had every right to be.

This week, O'Donnell apologized.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

O'DONNELL: I am truly sorry if I said something inaccurate about Joseph Smith. And I'm sorry that my word choice ripped some people's attention away from my point, that we should not tolerate religious intolerance with voting. I just wish I could take those words back.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: That was a well-delivered apology and one that Lawrence O'Donnell needed to deliver.

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

As I mentioned earlier, we aired the interview with Joe Muto, the FOX News mole. The complete interview, you can see it on our Web site and that is CNN.com/ReliableSources.

More also ahead on the tornado damage in the Midwest. CNN will keep an eye on that story.

First up, "STATE OF THE UNION" with Candy Crowley, which begins right now.