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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES

Pressing the Mormon Question; Obama's Rosy "View"; Media Friends Facebook

Aired May 20, 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: The media have Mitt on the offensive these days.

First, they trump a web ad which has barely appeared on television, slamming Romney's record at Bain Capital.

Next, "The New York Times" got ahold of an outside proposal to mount a $10 million campaign trying to resurrect Jeremiah Wright as an issue, prompting a repudiation from Romney and this all purpose comment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not familiar precisely with what exactly what I said, but I stand by what I said, whatever it was.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: And this morning, "The Times" is out with a very lengthy examination of Romney's Mormonism.

President Obama, meanwhile, has been getting a very different reception.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Which one of us here at "The View" was on "Dancing with the Stars"?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That would be Sherri.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Are the media giving Romney far more scrutiny in this campaign?

Facebook goes public with a bang.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tonight, the Facebook frenzy. DIANE SAWYER, ABC NEWS: Tonight on "World News," Facebook fever. One of the biggest stock sales ever creating a thousand new millionaires.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: How did Mark Zuckerberg do it? We'll ask a journalist who's been interviewing since he was little more than a tongue-tied teenager.

"USA Today" hires an online pioneer to kick-start the paper into the digital future. A conversation with Larry Kramer.

Plus --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ED HELMS, FORMER CORRESPONDENT, THE DAILY NEWS: Is there anything more terrifying than a room full of people without guns?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I guess what would be more terrifying would be a room full of people not allowed to have guns.

HELMS: I just got chills.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: A former "Daily Show" producer admits he felt guilty making fun of people he thought he couldn't stand.

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

(MUSIC)

KURTZ: The leak of a plan that was being weighed by a conservative super PAC to launch an advertising blitz built around Jeremiah Wright drew plenty of media condemnation. Tinged with suggestions of racism for invoking President Obama's former pastor. But a very different approach in a lengthy "New York Times" piece today about the role of Mormonism in Romney's life. Author Jodi Kantor writing, "Mr. Romney's penchant for rules mirrors that of his church, where he once ex-communicated adulterers and sometimes discouraged mothers from working outside the home."

Are there different standards for covering these two presidential candidates?

Joining us now in New York, John Avlon, a CNN contributor and columnist for "Newsweek" and "The Daily Beast." And here in Washington, Erin McPike, national political reporter for "Real Clear Politics". And Ramesh Ponnuru, senior editor at "National Review".

John Avlon, this "New York Times" piece, which fills a whole inside page here, if I can hold it up, it's mostly positive, it's pretty respectful, but I wonder whether it's the latest indication of which some might call a media obsession with Romney's religion. JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I'm not sure it is. I think actually one of the interesting questions confronting the media and journalists right now is how we talk about Mormonism in the context of this presidential campaign. What's the right way to be respectful and decent, but also honest in terms of the impact this homegrown American faith has on this Republican nominee.

It's a delicate subject because traditionally whatever faith has entered conversations in politics, it's been at the hands of bigots who want to tear people down.

So, it's a delicate subject, but it's an important subject. And the key is to make sure we're talking about it in a way that is thoroughly fair and not sliding into the hands of folks who demagogue it or try to use it to divide people.

KURTZ: Ramesh Ponnuru, the subtext of this long detailed piece, thousands of words, is, you know, the Church of Latter Day Saints, very essential to Romney's life. He doesn't particularly want to talk about it. The church does some strange things and was not sympathetic to working women.

And I just wonder whether opponents might seize on this and say, well, Romney is just different. In other words, it seems positive, but maybe -- it's just such a heavy focus on the guy who would, of course, be America's first Mormon president.

RAMESH PONNURU, NATIONAL REVIEW: Well, we've already seen some of Governor Romney's opponents like the governor of Montana, Brian Schweitzer, on the Mormon issue to attack Romney. So, there will be that here and there.

KURTZ: Do you have any problem with this article?

PONNURU: I think this article was -- I think this article was actually respectful, thorough, thoughtful. I thought it was a pretty impressive piece of work. I do think it's important to be even- handed. "The New York Times" has said, Bill Keller has said "The Times" was late to the Jeremiah Wright story in 2008, and I'm not sure we're going to see the same degree of candor and surging commentary.

KURTZ: I can't think of any other candidate who has gotten this kind of media examination of his religion. Some candidates like talking about their religion, and some candidates are reticent about it. But in this case, the media seemed to have unilaterally decided that Mormonism is going to be a front-burner question for journalists to explore.

ERIN MCPIKE, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: It is a defining part of Mitt Romney's life and how he governs himself. The article talks about how he's optimistic and how he is a hard worker and abides by rules.

And so, in a sense that Romney's Mormonism has shaped who he is, it's important. It talks about his character.

Now, that story also doesn't go into great depth about the sense of entitlement and secrecy that it also brings up. That's also why journalists want to explore it. Romney has been so secretive about it in the past, and we feel we need to get to the bottom of it.

KURTZ: But, John Avlon, just -- if you look at the other "Times" story also on the front page a couple of days ago, about this veteran Republican strategist who brought the PAC finance or potentially financed by Joe Ricketts, he's a conservative billionaire and owner of the Chicago Cubs to make a Jeremiah Wright front and center advertising blitz and al of that -- the media reaction to that, particularly the online reaction, was such that the whole thing got blown out of the water within hours.

So I see quite a contrast between that and the Mormonism one.

AVLON: Well, I'm not sure. There is a contrast, but I'm not sure they're parallel.

Look, the "New York Times" story about the Fred Davis pitch to Joe Ricketts -- and it's important to indicate that when this became public, the Ricketts super PAC immediately denounced and said it wasn't under serious consideration.

But to see a Republican strategist Fred Davis put on paper that kind of an ugly, thorough attack, the kind of stuff that normally you would say would only be pushed by people on the real fringes of the Republican Party, conspiracy theorists trying to divide using race, to see this put forward in a detailed pitch, a detailed plan at the highest levels to the tune of asking $10 million to put that message out, that's fascinating. That's news. It really does speak to the sleazy side of the super PAC economy that we're going to be seeing throughout this cycle and obviously revealing.

KURTZ: I just want to clarify that "The Times" reporters went to the spokesman for Joe Ricketts, and the spokesman said, yes, we haven't made a final decision. This is under consideration. Then the next day when it blew up, he said, of course, we never even considered. It was a terrible idea.

And, of course, it had phrases like metrosexual black Abe Lincoln, referring to the president.

But, you know, why Jeremiah Wright in my view, a close friend of Obama's for 20 years as pastor, his inspiration at certain things. Why should it be considered so out of bounds?

It was a legitimate issue in 2008, but what about bringing it back now? The media reaction was -- John even said it, was borderline racist.

MCPIKE: There's a big difference, if I can just jump in on Jeremiah Wright versus Mormonism. This particular story today in the "New York Times" about Mitt Romney's religion explains how it impacted him. A lot of the focus on Jeremiah Wright has been about Jeremiah Wright and not necessarily the impact on Barack Obama's life, and therein lies the difference. PONNURU: I think it's completely legitimate to suggest that President Obama's voluntarily association, deep association with Wright four years does not speak well of him. I don't think this was a particularly smart campaign tactic. I don't think that Americans are really going to vote for president in 2012 based on things that happened before Obama's presidency, but I think it's totally legitimate.

KURTZ: Let me jump in and say that while many in the media were condemning and holding their nose about this proposal, one commentator was not, Sean Hannity on FOX News. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: Governor Romney, I have to respectfully disagree with you. I believe that the president's relationship with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, a man that influenced him for over 20 years, inspired him, is a very important campaign issue. After all, it is a matter of character.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: So in a way even though not a dime will be spent on this aborted advertising plan, it has injected Jeremiah Wright into the media dialogue here.

PONNURU: Yes. A little bit. You know, there are -- there's a faction of conservatives that think that if McCain had made more of an issue of this in 2008, he could have won the election, which I think is a fantasy. And even if it were true, it doesn't mean that you can, therefore, raise it in 2012 and it's going to change the outcome of the election this time.

AVLON: The fact that John McCain was an honorable man who refused to go there because he understood the demons of divisiveness in racism that it could play into speaks well of McCain. And this pitch explicitly said we're going to go where McCain wouldn't let us go and pump up the ideas of black liberation theology that percolate on the real fringes, and the fact that Sean Hannity was mouthing the pitch the name they were going to put their Web site, which character matters, speaks to the persistence of these talking points, a sign that should be discredited because it was so ugly and exposed to the world.

KURTZ: I want to move on to Obama web ad this week which completely dominated several days of the campaign because it was about a subject certainly not a new subject, Mitt Romney's tenure at Bain Capital. Let's play a little bit of the videotape.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JACK COBB, STEELWORKER: They came in and sucked the life out of us.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was like watching an old friend bleed to death. ROMNEY: As I look around at the millions of Americans without work, it breaks my heart.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Now, just for those who haven't been following it, this particular ad is about a Kansas City steel plant, the Bain had taken over and later went bankrupt. A lot people lost their jobs, lost their health care, or pension plan, and we saw a couple of former workers there.

But my question, Ramesh, is there was a brief airing of this in five states. Basically, it was something on the web. It either got millions of dollars in free publicity because people on television replayed it over and over again.

Why did the press latch on to it like this?

PONNURU: Well, I think that shows it was a smart investment by the Obama campaign. I think, you know, this is another storyline that we saw appear during the primaries when Newt Gingrich, in particular, was attacking Romney's record at Bain and people have been waiting for this to become a big story and as soon as this happened, I think the reporters pounced.

KURTZ: But my question, Erin McPike, is that Romney makes -- Obama makes a web ad, and because it's on Bain, which is kind of a hot button subject as it goes to the heart of Romney's appeal as a businessman, it immediately gets just embraced by the media as a legitimate storyline, but when Romney makes a web ad about the 23 million people who are out of work, looking for work, stop looking for work, it's a blip, and it just seemed like there was a certain imbalance there.

What is it about Bain?

MCPIKE: We are talking about the unemployment rate every single day. It's a key issue in this campaign. So Romney talking about it and producing web ads about it doesn't do much to change the dialogue.

But Mitt Romney, who is running on his record as a businessman, as you said, is not talking about how Bain Capital truly guided his views on the economy, even though he says it did. So, the Obama campaign is filling the void and producing these web ads and so we latch on to them because Romney won't talk about it himself.

So, the Obama campaign is defining Bain for Mitt Romney before he can do it himself. It's a tactical thing that he is winning on.

KURTZ: Just briefly, John, detractors would say the media are helping Obama define Mitt Romney about his tenure at Bain. Of course, the ad didn't mention, for example, that Romney already left Bain Capital by the time this particular plan went bankrupt in 2001. Go ahead.

AVLON: Right. And that particular point shows the importance of fact checking this stuff. But to your first point, the media does have a sense to try to pick up on things that playoff of preexisting narratives, and all of a sudden, you got a lot of earned media, free media, in effect, off a relatively small ad buy.

It becomes a problem, we're obsessed with process stories and things that dovetails off existing narratives rather than the kind of fact-checking and trying to pierce the veil of these campaign strategies that we really probably should be doing. Rather, we just cover the ad wars.

KURTZ: All right. Let me go to break in here.

When we come back, Barack Obama stops by "The View". What a love fest.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: President Obama stopped by "The View" this week and while there was some serious discussion about his position on sex marriage, for example, there was also this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOY BEHAR, CO-HOST, THE VIEW: Let's see what you've been reading. Number one, which Kardashian was married for only 72 days?

OBAMA: That would be Kim.

BEHAR: Very good. OK.

OBAMA: Because it was a ballplayer.

BEHAR: That's right.

OBAMA: That's how I know from watching basketball.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: So, Erin, does hanging out with the ladies, smart campaign strategy perhaps -- but does it feel at all like pandering?

MCPIKE: It certainly -- there's a little bit of pandering to it, sure, but it makes them more relatable to women across America whose votes he needs to win in large numbers if he is to be re-elected. So, yes, it helps, and it's a thing that Mitt Romney can't do as well. He cannot speak to women as well, and the Obama campaign knows it, so they continue to put him in these situations, like putting him on the Jimmy Fallon show so that he can connect with young Americans as well.

KURTZ: And is that, John Avlon, just one of the advantages of being president, particularly if you are a president who is comfortable joking around with Fallon and hanging out with Barbara, Whoopi and the gang?

AVLON: Well, I mean, it's not just the bully pulpit here. I mean, there is an odd tradition here, whether it's Nixon on "Laugh In" in the 1960s, Bill Clinton on Arsenio Hall, even George W. Bush on Oprah. Going on talk shows is unfortunately, sort of the political equivalent of Willy Sutton robbing banks. You know, he said that's where the money is.

Well, this is where the viewers are. And if women in particular are going to be such an important swing this election, it makes sense. Does it necessarily dignify the office? No, not particularly.

PONNURU: I may be one of the few Americans who would rather have a president who didn't know anything about the Kardashians, but I guess I've just not a representative median voter here.

KURTZ: So you think the idea of a president -- this is also true when he goes on ESPN, and he talks about the NCAA brackets that the president being plugged into pop culture is a way of relating to voters. It's not -- I mean, it's not something that is a plus in your view and you think these shows shouldn't have the president on?

PONNURU: I would like to think that voters are going to decide these things based on more serious considerations than whether he reads "People Magazine" quite as assiduously as the rest of us do.

KURTZ: All right. A lot of pundits -- don't leave us "Us Weekly" and TMZ and all the others. A lot of pundits were hoping that this group Americans Elect were going to mount a serious third party candidate for president and I want to play a piece of tape for John Avlon.

John, this is you on CNN back in December.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AVLON: This is going to happen. This is going to be a major player in the 2012 election. You know, you're going to have a centrist, bipartisan ticket, it will be centrist, on the ballot in all 50 states.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: So, that didn't happen. Americans Elect, raised $35 million, no major candidate, wanted to do it. Were you a little overly optimistic, shall we say?

AVLON: Well, certainly. I mean, this effort did fail. But they succeeded on getting on the ballot in 26 states. Getting over 2 million people to sign up and I do think there remains a desire. I mean, you've got a record number of Americans, 40 percent, self- identifying as independent, 48 percent say they want a third party ticket, the fact that they couldn't recruit a credible candidate obviously hurt their effort, in part because Romney and Obama represent, I think, the center right and center left respectively of their parties.

KURTZ: All right.

AVLON: The other factor that was significant, technologically, they were so focused on ballot security that it was enormously difficult for people functionally to support a candidate. But this is a real disappointment and a real failure on their part.

KURTZ: Thank you, John.

Very briefly, the incident this week with Romney and the rope line were reportedly shooed away, at one point by a Secret Service, the campaign apologized. That just a blip, or is that underscore difficulties between Romney and the press?

MCPIKE: Difficulties. There's been little access to Mitt Romney this campaign, which is very different from how he was the last campaign. It's clear they don't want to take questions on things like Bain and his record.

KURTZ: To be continued. Erin McPike, Ramesh Ponnuru and John Avlon, thanks for joining us.

Coming up in the second part of RELIABLE SOURCES, we'll go behind the hyperbole of Facebook's IPO with Sarah Lacy, who's had colorful interviews with Mark Zuckerberg.

A former "Daily Show" producer comes clean on how he tried to embarrass some of guests.

And the new publisher of "USA Today" on pushing the paper into the digital future.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: The company began and grew into a global behemoth, one that Wall Street was extremely eager to bring to the market.

On Friday, Facebook went public.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

STUART VARNEY, FOX BUSINESS: Mark Zuckerberg, he is wearing a hoodie. He is about to ring the opening bell for the NASDAQ by remote.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Here we go, Facebook opening for trade.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Forty-two.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Forty-three.

SAWYER: And we begin with Facebook and this history-making day. As expected, the buying and selling of Facebook stock today was feverish.

LESTER HOLD, NBC NEWS: Despite soaring expectations and some early likes among eager investors, Facebook shares this afternoon closed barely above their opening price. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: But for all the fawning coverage, is Facebook really worth $100 billion?

Joining us now from Las Vegas is Sarah Lacy, founder and editor in chief of the tech site, Pando Daily. She and her team had just published an e-book buy called, "Buy This Book Before You Buy Facebook".

And, Sarah, the stock didn't pop on the first day. So what?

My question is, isn't Facebook kind of a risky investment because the content of the site is provided by users who might one day move to an even cooler site?

SARAH LACY, PANDODAILY.COM: Yes, look, it's always a risk. I mean, I think most people in the valley feel like Facebook has one social. Now, the issue is what does social do? It kind of tickle this is part of your brain, it gives you validation, it connects you with people.

So, someone else may come along who does that thing better, but I don't think anyone is going to replicate the social graph. I think the fear with Facebook is can it keep growing? I mean, it already -- it's running out of people. You know, there's a billion people on the site.

And, you know, this is what Mark has done, which is really risky. You know when Google went public, search was still growing very rapidly. There was still a lot of headway. The bulk of the money was made after the IPO.

Facebook pushed the IPO out so much so that you can argue and I would argue the bulk of the money has already been made. It doesn't mean it won't grow at all, but this isn't the next Google or the next Netscape.

KURTZ: Well, let me turn it to a media question, which is by and large, with some exceptions, why does Facebook get such hugely favorable subject?

LACY: Well, you know, I doubt Mark Zuckerberg would say that. This is a company that has been beset with scandals around privacy, and Mark himself has had -- has been very scrutinized, and, you know, some of the early TV interviews that he did where he looked like a robot or automaton, he didn't get a ton of great press.

I think the thing that Facebook did is they, again, put off going public so long they got all the skeletons out of the closet, al of the lawsuits done. They scrubbed the business model.

They've changed Mark's image. They've media-trained Mark. They let Mark grow up in the public eye.

This is the opposite of what Groupon did. I mean, Groupon rushed out to an IPO, and there were all these skeletons yet to come outs.

KURTZ: I want to get to your encounters with Zuckerberg. But, first, let me play -- you mentioned his early interviews. Back in 2004 he appeared on CNBC.

Here's a brief clip of that encounter.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK ZUCKERBERG, CHAIRMAN AND CEO, FACEBOOK: When we first launched, we were hoping for, you know, maybe 400, 500 people. Harvard didn't have a Facebook, so that's the gap that we were trying to fill, and now we're at 100,000 people. So who knows where we're going next?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Who knows where we're going next? Now, in this book, you tell the story of --

LACY: Mark is being modest. He knew exactly where the company was going next. He used to have handwritten journals of different features he wanted to roll out.

I mean, the amazing thing about Facebook is actually how much it has played out to the vision he had in the early days of the company.

KURTZ: Tell me about the first time you sat down with him face- to-face as a reporter. You found him, let's say, a bit challenging to interview. Can you explain that?

LACY: Probably one of the hardest interviews I have ever done, and I have spent 10 years in Silicon Valley. So I have interviewed my fair share of awkward -- you know, socially awkward people.

You know, I sat down with him. It was in the company's second headquarters, I think, when they were all on one floor. Very -- looked like a dorm room. I mean, there were sacks of laundry. The kids would just go all night, throw their laundry down in the middle of the room and get to coding.

And Mark, you know, he sweat through his t-shirt in the interview. He just would -- he would -- he looks at everything because he is a programmer as efficiency. I mean, you see how the site is organized. It's all around efficiency.

KURTZ: Well, he was so efficient --

LACY: Making people like more -- that's how he approaches everything.

KURTZ: He was so efficient that he gave you one word answers, which doesn't exactly make for scintillating copy. So, what did you do?

LACY: And the thing is, he thought -- he thought he was doing it well. He thought that's what I wanted was efficient one-word answers. So I asked him broader and broader questions, and he finally just kind of broke down and was, like, I don't know what you want me to do. I was, like, I want you to say something that's more than one word, and he was, like, oh.

And then he started doing that. And every time I talked to him since, he got better and better, and, you know, that's one of the reasons I had great access to Mark in the early days because he is someone that tries to learn from everyone around him at what he is bad at, and as I was trying to learn if him about the company, he was trying to learn from me of how to be a good interviewer and how to work the press and how to be more social.

KURTZ: He was studying.

LACY: It was a very sort of parasitic relationship.

KURTZ: Even earlier, you had a phone interview with him. And this is very early on in the Facebook's history where Zuckerberg told you he thought he could make this into a $1 billion company. You were, to say the least, rather skeptical.

LACY: I was. You know, this is in an era where we had seen Friendster was the next big dotcom, it was the first time people wanted to believe in the Internet again. And Kleiner Perkins, a big venture capital firm, gave it a huge valuation, and it utterly crashed and burned. And everyone in the valley thought Facebook was the next Friendster, and there was no way social networking was a business.

And, yes, I was definitely one of those people. I talked to this 19-year-old kid, called -- cold called the office. Someone kind of handed the phone to him. And, you know, he went on to brag to me about the valuation they had gotten and how he had structured this deal so he could never lose control.

And I came away stunned at, you know, first of all, sort of the naivete of this 19-year-old kid and the fact that he was telling this reporter all of this information. But at the same time, this sophistication at how he structured this deal so that he would retain control of this company forever, which is just what he's done. I've never seen anything like it in Silicon Valley.

KURTZ: You also told him that he probably wouldn't last as the -- as chief executive because the investors would insist on grown-up managers. I guess he managed to outlast that prediction as well.

And so finally...

LACY: Well, that was -- that went to the sophistication of the deal.

KURTZ: OK. So as Zuckerberg pulls mother surprise, IPO on Friday, gets married on Saturday to his long-time girlfriend Priscilla Chang, and you wrote about the rules that she had in her relationship when she was dating him. Just tell us briefly some of that. LACY: Well, this is an early days of Facebook when Mark was working all of the time, and so they had to negotiate, you know, how much of the time, you know, she would get of his. They couldn't talk about the company. I don't really remember how many hours per week, but it was a strict negotiation.

But, you know, one thing a lot of people don't know is "the poke," Facebook's first feature, came because when he was coding the site, Priscilla used to come up and poke him on the shoulder, and so that was sort of a sweet nod to her.

KURTZ: That is a fascinating footnote to this history. Sarah Lacy, thanks very much for joining us.

LACY: Thank you.

KURTZ: And up next, it must be fun making fun of guests at "The Daily Show," but one producer started feeling pretty guilty. He will make a full confession in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: It was a behind-the-scenes player at "The Daily Show," a producer who set up interviews for the correspondents on Jon Stewarts's program, and Mike Rubens freely admits he enjoyed the mockery of conservative guests, but Rubens acknowledged in a piece for Salon that he began to have second thoughts about his hit job role.

I sat down with him earlier in New York.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: Mike Rubens, welcome.

MIKE RUBENS, AUTHOR, "THE SHERIFF OF YRNAMEER": Thank you, sir.

KURTZ: You make a stunning admission in this Salon piece. You say, "I like to loathe people," and the people that you loathe are right-wingers, Rush Limbaugh fans, tea party supporters. They offend you.

RUBENS: Yes, it's true. Well, their views offend me, and then I later found out that maybe that the people behind these views are not always so bad, which was, you know, sort of shocking and disappointing.

KURTZ: But before we get to that, you are basically running a scam for "The Daily Show." Your mission was to make fun of these people, get them to say dumb things on camera or at least make them look silly. Why would some of them say yes?

RUBENS: That always fascinated me. Honestly I don't know.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE DAILY SHOW")

ED HELMS, COMEDIAN: It's fascinating to me that you're a lawyer and a Christian. Most lawyers that I know are...

(whispers): ... Jewish.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: They wanted to be on television and they like Jon Stewart.

RUBENS: And they want to be on TV, they like Jon Stewart, or they didn't know what the show was. And I was always very honest. I always said, we're a news and entertainment program, you should check it out. This is what it's going to be. Never lied about what we were going to do.

So I was always surprise when people would say yes. But people would do it, less and less, I think, as the longer I was there as the show got more popular and better known, people were not so receptive to it.

KURTZ: They were on to you.

RUBENS: Yes.

KURTZ: So you talk about some of the interviews and the segments that you produced, and there was one by a guy named "Rapture Man," was presaging the end of the world, or whatever it was. And you expected, you say, an angry, seething, evangelical crackpot. What did you find?

RUBENS: A really guileless, wonderful, trusting, vulnerable guy that I wanted to hug. You know, I felt -- his beliefs were genuine. This man truly believed that the rapture was coming and that it was going to cause horrible pain.

And when I met that guy, I thought, some of these people they have beliefs, I don't understand it, I don't know where they're coming from, but I saw the humanity behind them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE DAILY SHOW")

HELMS: Butcher (ph) assured me that the rapture is based on solid biblical prophecies.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And all of those prophecies to this date have been fulfilled.

HELMS: Such as?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Such as -- there's -- my mind went blank.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: When did you start to feel bad? Did you hate yourself for sandbagging these folks?

RUBENS: Did I hate myself?

KURTZ: You did. You're pausing, admit it, come on, you can tell me, forget about the cameras.

RUBENS: Once in a while, yes, I would feel bad about what we did. Some people I was like, oh, I got him, I'm so glad we got that guy because he deserved it. But, yes.

KURTZ: An Arizona state rep who was pushing legislation so people could bring guns into bars, that sounds like a prescription for a piece.

RUBENS: Yes, what could go wrong?

KURTZ: OK. And you say he had really, really awful Republican hair.

RUBENS: Terrible, terrible Republican hair.

KURTZ: And, yet, he was not the ogre you expected.

RUBENS: You know, in the end, he was sort of -- again, he was sort of a bumptious (ph) guy, I think. And he seemed harmless, and he was friendly. A lot of these people are so warm and friendly in person, and I understand that maybe they're concealing something with that, but, again, I want to hate these people. I want to just loathe them.

I want to show up and I want them to confirm the stereotype that I have got ready. And I show up, and instead they're nice. I want to hang out with you. I want to have, you know, a nice conversation with you.

KURTZ: So you were ticked off that these were not evil human beings of your fervent imagination.

RUBENS: Yes. I was disappointed in them and myself. All of us.

KURTZ: You talked to the conservative strategist Frank Luntz, who I'm sure knew what "The Daily Show" was, and you describe him as an insidious manipulator of words to help the Republican Party, and was he a terrible guy?

RUBENS: He was great fun. He knew that we were having fun with him, and he knew that this was not going to end well. I mean, of all people who know that they're not going to come off looking very good on "The Daily Show," Frank Luntz knows that.

And he was great. He was very cooperative.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE DAILY SHOW")

SAMANTHA BEE, COMEDIAN: I am going to read you some words. Help me warm these up a bit.

FRANK LUNTZ, REPUBLICAN POLLSTER: OK.

BEE: Drilling for oil.

LUNTZ: I would say responsible exploration for energy.

BEE: Logging.

LUNTZ: I would say healthy forests.

BEE: Manipulation.

LUNTZ: Explanation and education.

BEE: Orwellian.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RUBENS: I still think that what he has done is insidious and horrible, but...

KURTZ: So it's not that you have changed your political views, which sound like they are far, far left.

RUBENS: I don't even think they are.

KURTZ: You think you are right in the middle of American politics?

RUBENS: I will say this, you know, and I think that some of the reaction to the article people were -- I think that they felt that I was giving people a free pass, and I don't. I do believe that at this point in time the Republican Party has gone off its rocker. It's way out there on any number of issues.

KURTZ: So you got criticism probably from some of your liberal friends.

RUBENS: Sure. Absolutely.

KURTZ: That you were humanizing people who they see as --

RUBENS: Who should be demonized.

KURTZ: Yes, who should be demonized.

RUBENS: And -- exactly. I want to say that -- maybe I didn't see this well enough in the piece. These ideas, a lot of these ideas, I hate them, but what I found out is that there were real people behind them. And I don't want to hate people anymore, because -- and I don't want them to hate me either. Because the end result of that is divorce or worse. You know, and I think that we've probably had enough of hating.

KURTZ: I don't hate you.

RUBENS: Thank you. I appreciate it.

KURTZ: Did you ever talk to Jon Stewart about the way these segments were done and maybe a little over the top, a little unfair? Was there a debate within the offices? RUBENS: No.

KURTZ: Because you didn't dare bring it up or because you feared you would be laughed out of the corner office?

RUBENS: The other thing is -- I should also say that there's a lot of -- there were times where we could really sandbag people. You really could, and we didn't do that.

KURTZ: So you had --

RUBENS: There are limits at the Daily Show.

KURTZ: By the way, Jon, if you don't like what this guy is saying, you're welcome to come on. We would love to have you back on Reliable Sources.

And then you went and interviewed some liberal types, who you would see as being on your side, ideological compadres, and what happened in some cases?

RUBENS: In the same way that I would expect them to be sort of I'm going to like you and that I would meet these people, and I would find them to be insufferable jerks.

KURTZ: Insufferable jerks?

RUBENS: Yes.

KURTZ: And so that must have been disappointing, because you wanted to root for them.

RUBENS: Yes. I mean, that is a disappointment as well.

KURTZ: So has this experience working for the Daily Show and meeting these people and participating in this sandbaggery -- though I'm sure again, some people were playing along -- does it cause you to rethink your basic existence?

RUBENS: Has it caused me to rethink my basic existence? I have learned to loathe myself even more than ever before.

KURTZ: Oh, that's frightening. And now you have a grown-up job as a producer for AOL, and you're not sandbagging people anymore. You have reformed.

RUBENS: I have reformed.

KURTZ: We need a happy end here.

RUBENS: A happy -- look, my experience at the Daily Show was wonderful. It's a fantastic thing. I think the Daily Show is still one of my favorite programs on TV, and I feel like I learned a lot from the Daily Show. I don't feel bad about what I did there. I'm proud of the work that I did there. And I'm proud that I got to work with what I think are the smartest people in the business. KURTZ: He still loves you, Jon. Mike Rubens, thanks very much for joining us.

RUBENS: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: After the break, Larry Kramer left the newspaper business for the online world decades ago, so why did he just take a job at USA Today? We'll ask him.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: "USA Today" was the first newspaper back in the day to combine full color with advanced graphics, but that innovative approach has faded in recent years as the Gannett Papers was hit by layoffs, furloughs and declining circulation. This week USA Today tried to take a step into the digital future by hiring Larry Kramer as its president and publisher. He is the founder of Marketwatch.com, later served as president of CBS Digital Media, and he joins me now from New York. Larry Kramer, welcome.

LARRY KRAMER, USA TODAY PRESIDENT: Thanks, Howie. How are you?

KURTZ: Good. So you left newspapers, what, 30 years ago for the online frontier. Why do you want to come back and run one?

KRAMER: Well, you know, I never left news, and this is about news. And, you know, USA Today was ahead of its time when it started. I loved it. I was a reporter at the Post with you then and covered a lot of it when it launched. So I thought they were very innovative, and I thought it was a great part of their culture, and I believe today they want to do that again. They want to be innovative, and news is changing, changing dramatically as we both know.

KURTZ: As you know, almost all newspapers are struggling. The L.A. Times just closed its Sunday magazine. There are very few of those left. The Washington Post, where we both worked, has just been through its fifth round of buyouts, and USA Today has had layoffs, as I mentioned. So how do you save the print product?

KRAMER: Well, I don't know that it's totally about saving the print product the way it is. I think we'll have a print product, and I think it's going to be for some time, and maybe forever. But it's about recasting it and the news organization into one that provides news and information to our audience over multiple platforms. Some things may be right in print. Some things we need on our phones or our tablets or on our computers, and the reputation USA Today has for gathering news and for terrific journalism stands. It's just a matter of understanding how people are changing in receiving that, and that's a moving target right now. We've got to get in front of it and hop on and give them what they want, where they want it, and however they want it.

KURTZ: Speaking of multiple platforms. You did a critique before taking this job of USA Today's iPad application, and you wrote the following, "The good and the bad news about the USA Today app is that it is a close cousin to the look of the paper, while it captures some of the design features of the paper. Some have become tired. The site loses its sense of urgency and news judgment by stacking stories with essentially the same look and feel as each other." It sounds like you have your work cut out for you.

KRAMER: Yes, but they're already working, to be fair, they're already working on revisions of that. And, you know, we have got a 30th anniversary coming up in September, and we're planning a lot of interesting new ways of getting the news out starting then. Plus, Gannett, you know, has 5,000 journalists in the U.S., in print and on television, and we intend to make much more use of them as part of the USA Today news business.

KURTZ: Right. That's quite a work force. Now, USA Today in my view does a number of things well, but it's never won a Pulitzer, and it hasn't produced many strong columnists or star writers. It seems to me almost to be shying away from flair. Is that a problem in your view?

KRAMER: Well, I think we're going to have to move toward more pronounced voices. One of the definite changes in media in the last few years -- media -- great media brands have become much more a compendium of multiple voices, not just one voice. I think both USA Today and CNN for a long time concentrated on the news being the voice. Now, I think with Twitter and with all the different ways news is disseminated, people are looking for a little bit more of an interesting take on this story.

We really can't survive if all we do is commodity journalism. We have to do things that we say things differently, we help people understand things. We -- investigative reporting is going to be a huge part of what we do on an ongoing basis, not less but more. But also explanatory journalism, the things that people need. And we have to give it to them differently than we used to. It isn't going to be just about a five-page package in the newspaper. It is going to be interactivity. It is going to be you can get into this story as deeply as you'd like.

KURTZ: And what about political coverage? These political stories in USA Today are fine but they have never seem to me to sort of drive the national debate.

KRAMER: Well, I think we are going to be very aggressive in political coverage, and I think we are going to cede the inside the Beltway to you guys, but once you get outside the Beltway, it is going to be about what America thinks and what America wants to know from its politicians.

KURTZ: For those of you who don't know, USA Today is right outside the Washington Beltway.

KRAMER: I can see the Beltway from my office, yes, but it is a good question. We have great people, and you know them, who cover inside Washington. Susan Page and the bureau are fantastic, but we also need to go out, and particularly in today's day and age, when there have been so many cutbacks in journalism, we need to go out and talk to people, we need to go out and hear what they have to say.

USA Today, for all of its existence, has been a reflection of America, and what America's thinking, and it helps it think. Helps it go to the next step. So our job really is to keep a handle (ph) on the pulse of America, but also to help America understand what it's doing and why it's doing it. So, it's an interesting niche, but it's one we've had, and research says we still have. People love us and people want to hear from us all around the country.

KURTZ: We will keep a close eye on USA Today, which remains one of the few national newspapers, and we'll see how you do. Larry Kramer, thanks very much for stopping by this morning.

KRAMER: Thanks, Howie. Good to see you again.

KURTZ: Good to talk to you.

Still to come, an embarrassing retraction from National Review. Criminal charges against one of Rupert Murdoch's top lieutenants. The media go gaga over France's new first lady. And Howard Stern surprises the press as a judge.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Time now for the "Media Monitor," our weekly look at the hits and errors in the news business.

I don't expect National Review to like Elizabeth Warren. I do expect its writers to check the facts before falsely accusing the Democratic Senate candidate in Massachusetts of plagiarism. On Friday night, National Review's Katrina Trinko posted an item headlined, "Plagiarism in Elizabeth Warren's 2006 Book." Trinko said Warren's book "All You're Worth" had copied a passage from another book published in 2005. But as Salon pointed out, Warren's book was actually published first. Trinko was relying on the publication date for the paperback version. She corrected the item, and apologized. But here is my problem. Whatever happened to waiting an hour to call or email for comment? This bogus charge could be knocked down in ten seconds if National Review had bothered to check.

It was always impossible to miss Rebekah Brooks as the scandal mounted at Rupert Murdoch's British media empire. She was a top lieutenant, a former editor of News in the World, and there is that wigged out red hair. Brooks has now been charged in the case with perverting the course of justice, as the Brits put it, allegedly hiding evidence from the cops with charges also brought against her husband, Charlie.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REBEKAH BROOKS: I am baffled by the decision to charge me today. However, more importantly, I cannot express my anger enough that those closest to me have been dragged into this unfairly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Rebekah Brooks will have her day in court, but a major setback for her and for Murdoch in the court of public opinion.

France's new first lady is also a journalist, and she doesn't intend to give that up. Valerie Trierweiler is the long-time companion to newly elected Francois Hollande, and that has generated plenty of media chatter.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: Can you imagine if one of the men running for president of the United States right now was in a relationship with the woman for whom he left his long-time partner, the mother of his children, and the two of them had no plans to marry?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God, she is unmarried and going to be a part of the presidential couple, what is the world coming to, and in France?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Valerie, who once worked for the magazine "Paris Match (ph)," says she wants to continue her journalistic career. I don't really think you can be a working reporter if you are the country's first lady. Remember when Maria Shriver quit NBC after Arnold Schwarzenegger became governor of California? But then the French do things differently. Valerie began an affair with Hollande while he was with Segolene Royal, who ran for president last time -- this gets complicated -- and former President Nicolas Sarkozy dumped his first lady and later married Carla Bruni. So if none of that bothered French voters, they may be prepared to tolerate their first lady doing a little writing on the side. C'est la vie.

And the press really doesn't know what to make of Howard Stern these days. Since he went off the satellite radio, they are stuck with the outdated image of a raunchy shock jock. Well, he is still raunchy sometimes, rather than a maturing comic -- well, somewhat maturing. So when Stern was debuting this week as a judge of NBC's "America Got Talent," that became the media storyline.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your critics said, OK, this is a desperate act by NBC, it's all about ratings and it is going to end badly. Are two of the three of those things right?

HOWARD STERN: That sounds pretty accurate. What a crazy idea to put me on a family show. Somebody at NBC should be fired for that, right, don't you think? Come over here, you. Come on, baby. Look at this guy.

(CROSSTALK)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: When "America's Got Talent" hit the airwaves, the shock was that the shock jock behaved himself.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STERN: Brother, I have given up hope. I spent a lot of time watching a lot of nudniks (ph). You walked out here, you looked like a hippie. I said if this guy was my son, I'd sit him down and say, listen, you better get a real job. And then you walked over to this thing, it is totally original. This is why I'm here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Turns out Howard actually knows the difference between broadcast television and cursing his way through his Sirius XM show. Hey now. That's it for this edition of Reliable Sources. I'm Howard Kurtz. Join us again next Sunday morning, 11 a.m. Eastern, for another critical look at the media. "State of the Union" with Candy Crowley begins right now.