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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Media Clashing with Mitt; Exposing a Journalistic Liar; Interview with Bill Keller
Aired August 5, 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: When an aide to Mitt Romney tells reporters to kiss his backside, you know there are serious strains between the candidates and the press. When FOX's Greta Van Susteren says Romney's press corps is being treated like a petting zoo, you know there's a dysfunctional relationship.
Now, Romney and his allies are suggesting that the media ruined his international trip with an obsessive focus on gaffes.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: But now the reporters are harassing Romney. They are trying to create gaffes.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
KURTZ: Can that be true, or are conservatives just blaming the messenger?
NBC gets trashed for its coverage of the Olympics, especially after complaints to Twitter led to retaliation against the British newspaper critic. What were these companies thinking?
A freelance reporter exposes "New Yorker" writer Jonah Lehrer as a serial fabricator who made up quotes from Bob Dylan. And Lehrer stonewalled him the whole time.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL MOYNIHAN, TABLET MAGAZINE: He lied to me in that conversation, actually. He lied to me in his confession.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: We'll talk to Michael Moynihan about how he feels about costing Lehrer his job.
Plus, talk about lying -- the former editor of "The New York Times" is the victim of a hoax perpetrated by WikiLeaks. Bill Keller on that bizarre episode, media bias, and his feelings about FOX News.
I'm Howard Kurtz, and this is RELIABLE SOURCES.
(MUSIC) KURTZ: Now, if you had to pick a moment, a snapshot, a glimpse of the tensions between Romney and the press corps, it would have to be this. At the tail end of a foreign trip consumed by negative headlines, the Republican candidate was walking toward his car after a wreath-laying ceremony within earshot of reporters.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Governor Romney --
REPORTER: Governor Romney, are you concerned about the mishaps of your trip?
REPORTER: Governor Romney, do you have a statement for the Palestinians?
REPORTER: What about your gaffe?
REPORTER: Governor Romney, do you feel that your gaffes have overshadowed your foreign trip?
RICK GORKA, ROMNEY CAMPAIGN: This is a holy site for the Polish people. Show some respect.
REPORTER: Governor Romney, just a question --
GORKA: Show some respect, Jim.
REPORTER: We haven't had another chance to ask him questions.
GORKA: Kiss my (EXPLETIVE DELETED). This is a holy site for the Polish people. Show some respect.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: All right. So, the press doesn't look so great there in Poland, but the reporters were a model of decorum compared to Rick Gorka, the Romney spokesman, who later apologized for the kiss crack. But who's to blame for this deteriorating relationship with the media?
Joining us now in San Francisco, Debra Saunders, columnist for "The San Francisco Chronicle."
And here in Washington, Michael Shear, political reporter for "The New York Times." And Bill Press, host of Current TV's "Full Court Press."
Michael Shear, that was the last stop of the trip and reporters weren't going to have another crack at Romney. They were about 20 yards away, so they had to shout. But was that seen as a symptom of a deteriorating relationship?
MICHAEL SHEAR, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, I think it was definitely a symptom of a problem on the trip in which the campaign had made the conscious choice to put Romney in interviews with television anchors, but to keep him away from the reporters that were traveling with him. And what they I think discovered by the end was that, had they taken just a few minutes with some of those reporters, maybe done a little press avail, 15 minutes every single day, they probably would have avoided that scene.
KURTZ: On Friday, perhaps responding to this criticism, Romney did hold a press availability in Las Vegas.
Debra Saunders, when he goes to three different countries and news organizations are spending all this money to send reporters on the trip, and they get a grand total of three questions, does that in your view effect the tone of the coverage?
DEBRA SAUNDERS, THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE: Yes, it does. In fact, Governor Romney was in California recently. He went to Solyndra. I was on the press bus. They had this order that we couldn't tweet before we got to Solyndra.
I mean, it's just sort of silly stuff that they do. People pay a lot of money to follow these things, to be on the road with him. And they get angry. It's not a smart way to deal with the press.
Having said that, I think we in the media look ridiculous the way we're covering this race. We're doing so many gaffes. We ought to be talking about the real reason why we're doing it.
We're understaffed, and we're overworked. If we can get him to do something we call a gaffe, we can just write a really quick, easy story. It doesn't require a lot of research. It's like a rewrite job.
There's a big demand, our editors are asking for more and more stuff from us. So, they want what we call content. It isn't really. So, we keep looking for these gaffes. And the Romney campaign knows it.
And so you've got this level of distrust on both sides -- journalists who feel that they're being overhandled. And the Romney people feel they can't get a fair break from the pack.
KURTZ: Now, the Romney campaign, Bill Press, says that he took 150 questions from television reporters on that trip. In fact, Gloria Borger of CNN just interviewed him yesterday. But the print reporters can barely get a break here.
BILL PRESS, CURRENT TV: Well, first of all, this is nothing new. I mean, this -- hostile -- you, Howie, have written about a hostile relationship between Mitt Romney and the press corps way back in the primary days. And even for --
KURTZ: But it seems to be getting worse.
PRESS: I think it is getting worse. But I'm saying this is not the first time, right? It's a continuing problem with access to reporters. Guys that I know, friends of mine who were on the trip, they didn't go on this trip to write a negative story about Romney. They went to write the news. And some -- my advice to the Romney campaign, if you don't want negative press, stop saying dumb things.
But I want to pick up on what Debra said, as well. I think -- I agree her. And I agree with you, Debra. And with -- but I would add something else. I think there's a laziness on the part of the press corps, particularly some of us in cable television that it's easier to talk about gaffes than to talk about serious policy stuff.
And so, somebody said something maybe unintended that out of context could be taken a wrong way, and then the media do nothing but report and talk about that for two days. You know what? It's easy to do.
KURTZ: Michael Shear?
SHEAR: I mean, I think that's a -- a good indictment of the current situation with the press. I think that's true. You know, I -- I do think, however, that, you know, this is a symbiotic relationship in the campaigns. Both the Obama campaign and Romney campaign, they understand this situation. And so you know, there's not a lot of policy coming out from there either, because they don't want us to spend the time to investigate.
KURTZ: I want to circle back there, but first want to ask something specific. I spoke with Stuart Stevens, who was Romney's top strategist. He called "The Associated Press" extremely irresponsible in the handling of the Palestinian flap, you recall that Mitt Romney while in Israel at a Jerusalem fundraiser, talked about how the Palestinians' culture was hurting its economy. The Romney camp's complaint is that no effort to get comment after that. That the quote was partial because he mentioned other countries besides Israel and the Palestinian territories, and then took the quote to a Palestinian official who said it was racist.
Legitimate complaint about how that was handled?
SHEAR: Look, I read the piece. And I -- you know, I mean, I think, their main complaint and their main, you know, where they really get indignant is the sense that what they say the A.P. did was to present a kind of paraphrase and not the actual transcript to the Palestinian official who then reacted in a really -- using the word racist.
You know, I don't know. I wasn't there. I didn't see what happened.
I think as you pointed in your piece, "The A.P." defended itself, right?
KURTZ: In fact, "The A.P." said that it was proud of reporter Casey Hunt for seeing news in the Palestinian comments where other reporters in the room didn't and hadn't reported it initially.
PRESS: Well, look, Howie, the Romney campaign said if only she had waited three or four hours until they got the poll in, they could have clarified this remark for her. I'm sorry, in today's news cycle, you don't wait three -- nobody is going to wait three or four hours to get a story out there.
So these guys have to get realistic and they have to provide more access. And they've got to be more on the job.
KURTZ: Well, I want to get Debra in on this, but let me first play for you something that Mitt Romney said earlier this week to a FOX News correspondent that I think suggests that he believes and certainly I know the people around him believe that he is simply not getting a fair shake from the media. Let's play that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, FROM FOX NEWS/"THE FOX REPORT")
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I realized that there will be some in the Fourth Estate or whichever estate who are far more interested in finding something to write about that is unrelated to the economy, to geopolitics, to the threat of war, to the reality of conflict in Afghanistan today, to a nuclearization of Iran.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Debra, does Romney have a point? But you have to lay that against the point that was made earlier at this table which is how much of substance or specificity or new proposals has he had to say on any of this that would provide news for the people covering it?
SAUNDERS: Well, the Romney people put out a 59-point plan a while ago on what he wanted to do for the economy. That didn't get a lot of coverage.
You know what I'd like to see the Romney people do -- and I don't want to sound like I'm defending them. I don't have good access with that campaign. I've never had a sit down with Mitt Romney.
I'm not -- I'm real unhappy about it. But --
KURTZ: You don't live in a swing state.
SAUNDERS: Yes. But they ought to put out a 59 gaffes and see how many stories that gets.
This week, Mitt Romney put out a five-point -- I guess 59 points are too many, right? So, they come out with their five-point plan. And there have been stories about it.
But let's face it, everybody wants to talk about the gaffe. They don't want to talk about his policy suggestions.
He's had some good interviews. The Gloria Borger interview -- that was a good interview for him. I think that they've decided that that's their strategy. They'll give interviews, they'll say things.
But we're just going to cover what -- the gaffe. They think that's what TV's going to do, and that's what print people will do.
PRESS: Howie, the last time I was on, I checked the transcript. We were talking about Gingrich. I said then, I'll say it again -- politicians have to stop whining about the media, just do their job and put the facts out there. It works with the base.
You know, everybody wants to hate the media. But that's not a substitute for substance.
KURTZ: But no less than conservative columnist David Brooks of "The New York Times" who, by the way, said this is the most boring campaign ever because it's so much focus on gaffes and polls and tactics and attack ads -- says that neither candidate, Barack Obama or Mitt Romney, is putting on a lot of substance or having a specific proposal in the area of economy, education, you name it -- 59-point plans notwithstanding.
And that I think maybe helps highlight the gaffes. They're news, at least in the narrow way that we in the press define it.
SHEAR: I think, look, when we -- when everybody looks back on this as we inevitably do at the end of these campaigns, they're going to find fault with both sides. The dumbing down of the both the way we cover it and the dumbing down of the way these candidates are presenting -- are holding back information and not engaging in the kinds of debates because they don't want -- they don't want to engage in the debates. They want the debates to sort of fade to the background. And they can just send out press releases.
KURTZ: Then I would argue it is our job to push some of these issues to the forefront and not just be on a perpetual gaffe control.
PRESS: Can I just say -- when I think about Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain, the one word I would not put on this campaign is dull. Certainly not in the primary. And the other thing --
KURTZ: You're living in the past. I've got to go break.
PRESS: All right.
KURTZ: When we come back, how should journalist treat an unsubstantiated charge by a top senator? A look at the media and Harry Reid.
KURTZ: A question for journalist: what do you do when the senate majority leader makes an explosive charge and has got nothing to back it up?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: The word's out that he hasn't paid any taxes for 10 years. Let him prove that he has paid taxes because he hasn't. MIKE EMANUEL, FOX NEWS: Majority Leader Harry Reid reiterated an unsubstantiated charge he's made in recent days.
LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC: We're talking about Mitt Romney's secret tax returns. And Harry Reid is now the one that has to put up or shut up, when Mitt Romney could shut up Harry Reid.
ROMNEY: Harry Reid has to put up or shut up, all right? So, Harry, who are your sources?
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
KURTZ: The last comment at Romney's press conference in Vegas on Friday.
Michael Shear, you're co-author of a piece in which you said it was hardly out of character for the cantankerous Harry Reid to hurl a taunting, unsubstantiated accusation at Romney. Well, it took several days, but you made Reid the issue.
SHEAR: Well, and I think -- I think when people make unsubstantiated charges with absolutely no proof behind them, you know, one option is to ignore them and -- for the media. That's not possible.
KURTZ: That's not really an option here.
SHEAR: That's not really an option here. He goes to the Senate floor, as you saw.
So, I think the best we can do is to: (a), demand that he give us the proof. And if he doesn't, clearly say as we did in the piece in the first sentence, it's unsubstantiated.
KURTZ: Now, Harry Reid said that he had gotten this from some unnamed person, used to work at Bain. He won't reveal it. He thinks it's true. He told us -- he did this original interview with the "Huffington Post" which reported it straight except for saying it's impossible to verify because they won't give us the source.
Is that the correct way to handle it? Who should be the issue here?
PRESS: There's only one guy who can here this up. It's not Harry Reid. I'm sorry, it's Mitt Romney.
KURTZ: Wait, wait, wait.
PRESS: No, no, I think reporters --
KURTZ: That's a Democratic talking point. That's a Democratic talking point. What I'm asking is how journalists should handle an unsubstantiated charge.
PRESS: I'm going to tell you. I'm going to tell you. Journalists should handle it by going to Mitt Romney and say why only two years, why not 23 years? Why -- you gave 23 years of it to McCain --
KURTZ: So, it's perfectly OK, it's perfectly OK in your view for Harry Reid to throw this out, unnamed source, nothing to back it up, and you just think that's fodder for journalist to attack Reid?
PRESS: I just want to point out, Harry Reid is not a journalist. Harry Reid is a Democratic politician who doesn't want Mitt Romney to get elected. What he is doing may be diabolical, but it's brilliant, because what's Mitt Romney been talking about for the last two days, he's been talking about his freaking tax returns. So Harry Reid is playing hardball.
KURTZ: Maybe diabolical, but --
SAUNDERS: We should not be helping him here. I think --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely.
SAUNDERS: This reminds me when Michele Bachmann said that she met a mother who said her daughter got the HPV vaccine and got mentally retarded afterward. And the media jumped on her rightly and said, show us this woman. We're not even sure that this person exists.
You know, Candy Crowley's a great journalist. But she earlier said that Harry Reid wouldn't reveal his sources. How do we know he has any sources?
The accuser, the burden of proof is on the accuser. And Harry Reid has absolutely not met that burden in any way. I thought Frank Rooney's piece in "the New York Times" today was on the money.
KURTZ: Debra, when you say that we --
KURTZ: -- meaning the media, shouldn't be helping Harry Reid with this unsubstantiated charge, you're not suggesting that we don't report it at all. You're suggesting that we challenge him, be critical of him, be skeptical of him?
SAUNDERS: Until there is proof, the focus is that there's no proof. The focus should be on him, not on someone else. I mean, he's the -- he's the leader of the Senate. He has an obligation to his institution to make wild, unsubstantiated claims. He brings dishonor on that whole House. Unless he can prove what he's saying --
SAUNDERS: -- then he should, then we have to focus on him.
KURTZ: What is interesting is the cold eyed assessment would say that you are right in this narrow sense -- it worked because it's all over the Sunday shows today. Still talking about Romney's tax returns based on what Reid said even though Reid has produced no evidence as you pointed out. SHEAR: That's right. It worked on Friday when he held the press conference.
KURTZ: And a reporter asked the question --
SHEAR: Of course. And he wanted -- Mr. Romney wanted to talk about the jobs numbers and attacks that he was leveling on the president. But yet, this got in the way. So, it's working. And I think Debra's right.
KURTZ: Got to go.
PRESS: Still working today.
KURTZ: You seem to be enjoying it. Bill Press, Debra Saunders, Michael Shear, thanks for joining us this morning.
Up, Jonah Lehrer was riding high at the "New Yorker" until he published a book with some suspicious quotes from Bob Dylan. The journalist who exposed his fabrications, in a moment.
KURTZ: The first sign of trouble for "New Yorker" writer Jonah Lehrer came a few weeks back when he admitted plagiarizing himself. Then his book "Imagine" and its chapter on Bob Dylan came under scrutiny by freelance journalist Michael Moynihan who writes with "Tablet Magazine".
After weeks of digging by Moynihan, Lehrer finally admitted this week that "The quotes in question either did not exist, or unintentional misquotations, or represented improper conversations of previously existing quotes. The lies are over now. I want to apologize to everyone I have let down, especially my editors and readers."
Lehrer has now resigned from "The New Yorker".
To find out how Moynihan cracked the case, I sat down with him in New York.
KURTZ: Michael Moynihan, welcome.
MICHAEL MOYNIHAN, TABLET MAGAZINE: Thanks for having me.
KURTZ: What made you decide to spend so much time looking into Jonan Lehrer and his book and these Bob Dylan quotations?
MOYNIHAN: Well, I mean, the first thing is that I am a bit of a Dylan freak myself. So when I saw --
KURTZ: Nerd, perhaps? MOYNIHAN: I am a bit of a nerd. And so, when I saw these things and -- considering the previous difficulties he had had with the plagiarism charges and a few other things that people had accused him of, you know, taking a passage from Malcolm Gladwell, and I decided to read his book. I read the first chapter and stopped at the first chapter. I still haven't gotten beyond the first chapter, incidentally.
And the first chapter was about Bob Dylan. So, a few of them smelled a bit fishy to me. The sourcing was a bit off. So I looked.
KURTZ: And when you first contacted, Lehrer he insisted the quotations were real and tried to convince you that there was nothing there?
MOYNIHAN: Well, when first contacted, he told me that he couldn't account for them because he was away from his notes.
KURTZ: But eventually?
MOYNIHAN: And eventually, he tells me that -- did concede that a few of them were Franken-quoted, hybridized, that were taken one quote here from different years, from different sources, and different subjects, put together to make one sort of "super quote." The others, there were three that couldn't be accounted for. Two or three that couldn't be accounted for.
So, that's when the sort of deception began.
KURTZ: When did you realize that this was not just the case perhaps of sloppiness or inadvertent errors, but there was actual fabrication? When did you become convinced that there was real journalistic sin here?
MOYNIHAN: Well, I mean, two things. I suspected very early. I realized about halfway through the process, and it was about a three, 3 1/2-week process when I was pointed toward sources that were very, very difficult to track down. And this is three sources that I was given. All of which are very hard to come by.
And then, you know, when you realize that, mixed with the other errors, mixed with the sort of previous problems that he's had as a journalist, you know, that's when I said, OK, something is definitely up here. And I kept pushing, and --
KURTZ: What were these conversations like? Was he combative? Was he -- were there hostile conversations?
MOYNIHAN: No, never. Never hostile.
You know, contrite on the hybrid quotes, which he admitted that he shouldn't have done and told me that these will be fixed in a paperback version, future versions of his book. But you know, it was never hostile. It was -- I mean, to convince someone of something that isn't true, it's best not to sort of punch them and -- you know, get them angry. He said, look, I understand the job that you're trying to do here. And I'm trying to help you. And here are the sources.
KURTZ: Even in the conversation that you had with him the day before you published, last Sunday night --
KURTZ: He started to confess to having done certain things wrong.
KURTZ: But did he completely come clean?
KURTZ: He continued to lie to you?
MOYNIHAN: He lied to me in that conversation actually. He lied to me in his confession.
KURTZ: How so?
MOYNIHAN: He discovered that I had gotten in contact with one of his fake sources. And his fake source told me that I had never talked to this guy. I had never read his book. I'm unaware of any of this stuff.
KURTZ: This was the manager of Bob Dylan?
MOYNIHAN: The manager of Bob Dylan, Jeff Rosen.
So, when I asked him I said, hey, how did you know that I had been talking to this guy? He said, well, you know, I talked to one of his assistants. And, you know, he doesn't have an assistant. Even to this point, there was lying.
And when confronted with that, once all of this came out and it was -- it was sort of pouring out of him at this point, I said, you know, you're lying about that, too. And he admitted that he was lying even at that point.
KURTZ: There were layers here. This is a tissue of lies that you to peel back one at a time?
MOYNIHAN: No, it is. I mean, you know, it is -- you know, when you pull that thread, it starts coming apart, I mean, I was sort of horrified by it. I mean, because the consequence of me reporting this, which is my job, is going to end up with him losing his job. And not even so much his job, but his livelihood. That's an uncomfortable situation to be in.
KURTZ: And in fact, the next day, you published your piece. He resigned to "The New Yorker." He apologized. He admitted he had not just lied but that he had made up quotes. I mean, this is a full -- MOYNIHAN: He apologized directly to me, which I appreciated.
KURTZ: Full-blown fabrication scandal.
KURTZ: How does the impact of your work make you feel? In other words, how do you feel about what happened to Jonah Lehrer?
MOYNIHAN: Not good. Don't feel about it at all. I mean, look, you know, it is the job that one has to do in this situation. You get all of this material and you said, this is quite a scoop, isn't it? This is a rather well-known journalist.
When you're piecing it together and you realize the sort of long- term ramifications of what this is going to -- the ramifications and the consequences this will have for Jonah Lehrer, that's hugely uncomfortable.
KURTZ: What I'm hearing is that he lied to you repeatedly.
MOYNIHAN: Yes, repeatedly.
KURTZ: And yet you kind of feel sorry for him.
MOYNIHAN: Most certainly. Yes. Yes.
KURTZ: Why? He did this to himself.
MOYNIHAN: He did this to himself. And I -- there is -- I mean, that I think is a separate issue. It's -- there is no doubt in my mind that he deserved I think a heavy amount of punishment, high degree of punishment. And there's no doubt that he brought this upon himself.
And had this been -- you know, it's the Watergate thing, and this sort of the cliche about Watergate thing. The cover-up in some ways was worse than the crime. And this is all of his own doing.
You know, that said, you would have to be -- you have to have sort of no feelings whatsoever to think that somebody who has a child and is -- has this, you know, fantastic career in journalism, 31 years old, at the end of this, you know, what does one do? I mean, there are few professions such as ours where when you make one egregious mistake, you're done forever.
MOYNIHAN: I mean, there's second chances. We don't give second chances very much in journalism.
KURTZ: I continue to be amazed why talented journalists and Jonah Lehrer is clearly one, self-destructed by lying and fabricating and plagiarizing. But thank you very much for enlightening us. Michael Moynihan, good to see you.
MOYNIHAN: Thanks for having me.
KURTZ: After the break, NBC and Twitter team up to silence a critic of the network's Olympic coverage. Why the online world is outraged next.
KURTZ: The Olympics has spawned a trending topic on Twitter, NBCfail. The network has been getting buried under critical tweets for the way it has been handling the London Games, which are aired during prime time on a tape delay basis. The critics turned on Twitter itself, when the social networking site shut down the account of Guy Adams, reporter for Britain's "Independent" who had the temerity to slam NBC's coverage.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GUY ADAMS, REPORTER: I'd like to think that Twitter can't at the behest of commercial organizations simply shut down a journalist without warning them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: But that is what happened. Twitter which has an Olympics partnership with NBC invited the network to file a complaint against Adams. Twitter has now apologized and restored his account. Straight ahead, Buzzmachine's Jeff Jarvis on the Olympics and social media.
KURTZ: Joining us now from New York to talk about why he has been slamming NBC's Olympic coverage on Twitter is Jeff Jarvis, who runs the entrepreneurial journalism program at the City University of New York and blogs at Buzzmachine.com. Jeff, how serious a blunder was it for Twitter to suspend the account of this British journalist Guy Adams, who had been critical of the Olympics coverage?
JEFF JARVIS, REPORTER: Twitter has done some amazing things where it has come to political fights. They kept Twitter up during the Arab spring. They refused to hand over accounts involving Wall Street, but when it came to the first time though, Howie, when they had a test of their commercial relationships and priorities, Twitter failed and failed badly. It sided with a commercial interest over the justice of one user, but the truth is all users.
Now this case itself, kvetching about the Olympics is a fairly minor thing, but Twitter is a platform, it is a platform used not only by journalists but by revolutionaries to communicate. It is important for all of us, and a platform has responsibilities. So I think Twitter has to learn, similarly from newspapers and news organizations, about the separation of church and state and have to have a discussion of principles here.
KURTZ: The executive at Twitter did apologize saying the behavior in suspending the account was not acceptable, and it undermines the trust our users have in us. NBC Sports also issued a statement of regret. I am going to put it up on the screen, "Our interest was in protecting our executive, not suspending the user from Twitter. We initially didn't understand the repercussions of our complaint, but now that we do, we have rescinded it." Now that is in reference to the fact that Guy Adams of "The London Independent" had posted the email address of an NBC executive during his carping about the Olympics.
JARVIS: Twitter's policy is you shouldn't put up personal email addresses. This was a corporate email address that had already been published on the net. Twitter also should have come to Guy Adams first and given him the chance to do something about it, instead they just took him down, and it was the commercial side that actually drew this to the attention of NBC. So there was a lot of mistakes there on Twitter's behalf.
But I think the bigger issue again is, what are the principles under which Twitter operates? When Google says don't be evil, they say that for a reason. Because we depend upon these platforms. If we do not trust these platforms, then they lose their value to us.
KURTZ: And in broader sense, because you started this crusade, if I can call it that, even before the Guy Adams incident, why did you, have you become so critical? Is it simply that you don't like NBC tape delaying these Olympic events, you want to see them when they happen?
JARVIS: In this day and age, the tape delays are just ridiculous. Now, NBC's argument of course is the economics say that they have got to put everybody into prime time, where the advertisers still buy mass audiences and where there is more money. But the truth is--
KURTZ: But let me just jump in. NBC's argument goes beyond that. Yes, it has spent more than a billion dollars to carry these London Games, so it has got to make the money back from advertisers, but it is also making available online more than five thousand hours, every minute of coverage if you want to see it and you have a cable account or satellite account, you can see it online. What is wrong with that?
JARVIS: And I give NBC credit for putting all this stuff online. The good news to NBC ought to be that people still care about an old fashioned TV channel and they actually want to be able to sit on their couch and see the important stuff as it happens. The fact that NBC did not show America Michael Phelps' final race yesterday until hours alter, and then plays this charade of, oh, guess what is going to happen -- the truth is Twitter is this gigantic spoiler network and we all know it. But even so, NBC's ratings are up. I believe that if NBC showed this stuff live and super-served its audience, there would be even more chatter about it on Twitter and more audience. But I also understand that is a gamble.
KURTZ: There have been some poor editing decisions by NBC, cutting out from the opening ceremonies, for example, the commemoration of the victims of the London Subway bombing, and then showing Missy Franklin winning her swimming race after announcing she was the gold medal winner. So that is kind of adding insult to injury in your view?
JARVIS: Yes, NBC has done that a couple of times. I think cutting out the 7/7 tribute was unconscionable. The idea that NBC said that we needed their expert commentary to understand the opening ceremonies was an insult to all of us. I think it is really simple, and I think the BBC has shown an example about how to really cover this. Now of course, the BBC is paid for by its viewers, NBC is paid for by its advertisers, and that gets back to the Twitter issue of advertiser importance here, but I think it is possible to do a really good job and be supported by advertisers and be free. I hope so at least.
KURTZ: But as you noted just a moment ago, for all the complaints online, a lot of people on Twitter like beating up on people, it becomes a trending topic, record breaking ratings for NBC with the Olympics. So they must be doing something right.
JARVIS: Yes, but I think we can't know how much bigger it would be if they did it right. The bottom line, Howie, here is, can NBC sit there and say we are serving the fans with everything they want when they want it? No, they are not. They also have to recognize that in this new world, where there is - as a friend of mine said on Twitter last night, there is only one time zone now, and the idea that you can control content and control information in the Internet age, where borders are shut down by this new technology, is living in the past. We will see what happens in four years.
KURTZ: We all live in that time zone, Jeff Jarvis, thank you very much, and it is interesting that fifteen year old Katie Ledecky who became one of the youngest gold medal winners in the Olympics, she immediately went on Twitter and said I need to get more followers. So Twitter remains pretty popular. Next on Reliable Sources, the former editor of the New York Times finds himself the target of a hoax. Bill Keller weighs in on that in a moment.
KURTZ: As the former executive editor of The New York Times, Bill Keller is hardy a stranger to controversy, as a columnist, he knows how to pick a fight. But this week Keller found himself in the strange position of being slammed for words he never wrote. To talk about that and other issues facing the media, I sat down with him earlier in New York.
Bill Keller, welcome.
BILL KELLER, COLUMNIST: Thank you, nice to be here.
KURTZ: A comment went under your byline which said you were in the awkward position of having to defend Wikileaks. What happened?
KELLER: Well, actually I didn't defend Wikileaks in any online exchange with a media reporter but what happened, what you are referring to is a fake, which Wikileaks itself took credit for at the end of the day. Of course, with everybody faking things, you can't really be sure whether Wikileaks tweet claiming credit was a fake or not.
KURTZ: What was it like? Even some of your colleagues were re- tweeting or sending out this column that was by Bill Keller, what was it like to be on the receiving end of this forgery?
COWOWAY: Initially it was annoying, and then it just seemed kind of silly. I guess part of me felt it was a waste of a good Sunday afternoon because it generated so much discussion and buzz and kerfuffel. But by the end of the day, I managed to extract a couple of lessons from it. One of them was, it was fascinating to see how the social media community kind of gathers and does forensics on something. By the time I saw that fake bit, the Twitter sphere had already sort of figured out that it was a fake, and people were sending tweets back and forth saying how did they get the domain name, how did they do it. By the end of the day they had done advanced diagnostics, explained how Wikileaks was pulled off. Contacted me for reaction. Passed judgment on it. At the end of the day, people were saying, which to me is sort of the second takeaway from this, wait a second, Wikileaks is this organization which has been trying to desperately to establish some credibility as a source of information. So they're doing hoaxes? I mean, you know --
KURTZ: You were obviously targeted because although you and the "Times" worked with Wikileaks on that massive document dump, in fact, you had a contentious relationship.
KELLER: We've had a fractious relationship over a couple of issues. The two main ones being we had a -- a disagreement with Wikileaks on whether or not they should redact the names of innocent sources identified in these --
KURTZ: U.S. agents.
KELLER: Yeah. U.S. agents or ordinary Afghans, or Iraqis, or people in repressive regimes who talked to a diplomat and whose names were out. The other was, at some point Wikileaks and Julian Assange became a story. We began write being them. They didn't like much what we wrote about them.
KURTZ: I wonder if the baby-boomers like what you wrote in a recent column. And would -- you described them as a selfish and self- indulgent -- by the way, does that include us?
KELLER: Yeah, probably.
KURTZ: Then you went on to talk about the subject of entitlement programs, which obviously a lot of that money going to -- will be going to the retiring boomers. You said at least the Republicans have a plan. The Democrats generally recoil from the subject of entitlements. Why don't I see that reflected in the news coverage that you say the GOP has a plan, Obama and the Democrats don't really have a plan?
KELLER: I think you do, I mean, we've certainly -- the "Times" has written and CNN has reported on numerous occasions about the sort of politics of Social Security as the third rail. And so on. That's not particularly a new thought. But there's a limit to how many times you can write about what the democrats are not saying, you know?
KURTZ: But is it a problem in this campaign generally that with both candidates, Mitt Romney and President Obama, playing it safe, cautious, dealing with a lot of tactical moves and attacking the other guy, that substance gets removed from what we all cover and it ends up being a campaign about warfare?
KELLER: Yes, absolutely it is. I mean, my colleague on the op- ed page, David Brooks, wrote a column saying that this is the most boring campaign in history. At the same time, potentially the most important. And that --
KURTZ: And the most covered.
KELLER: And the most covered. One of the reasons is that the candidates are playing it safe. They're using attack ads. Talking about issues at the margins, talking in bumper sticker slogans. They're not really presenting detailed plans that could be picked apart and criticized by opponents. Part of our job certainly on the opinion pages and also on the front pages is to try and push the issues under the table for discussion. Maybe the debates will accomplish some of that.
KURTZ: I'd like to see the press do more of that. You have been an outspoken critic of Fox News and in a column you describe it as Rupert Murdoch's most toxic legacy. Fox, of course, would say it's providing balance to the left leaning mainstream media. Why do you feel so strongly against what Fox News does?
KELLER: I think they -- they didn't invent the idea of partisan news. I mean, there's a long history of that in our country. But they perfected, they refined it and perfected it, and brought to it a degree of cynicism. The sort of we are the fair and balanced network, when they are the opposite of the fair and balanced network. They're -- if they came out and said we're the right wing network, we're going to favor Republicans, and we're going to present talking heads who are ideologically to the right or the far right, that's fine. That's -- it's a free country. But what I object to is that they've abandoned the discipline, the journalistic discipline of trying to be fair.
KELLER: -- but pretending that they have not abandoned that.
KURTZ: Even with the reporters, even with the anchors who are not the Bill O'Reilleys and Sean Hannitys -- I am not indicting them, I am just saying they do opinion.
KELLER: There are some very good reporters on Fox News, absolutely, and I quoted them in my column from time to time, I mean, you know. I think they have good people, but they also have, if you turn on Fox and Friends, one of their morning shows, which is kind of the equivalent of the "Today" show --
KELLER: It is a daily Obama roast. And you do not get that from the morning shows on CNN or NBC or CBS or ABC.
KURTZ: In that same column, you said this about the mainstream media. We have too often been condescending to those who don't share our secular urban vantage point. We are too easily seduced by access. So it's not like you're letting the rest of the press off the hook.
KELLER: No, I think that's absolutely true. You know, I hate it when you quote my words back to me, but I happen to stand by those words.
KURTZ: You became executive editor of "The New York Times" after the Jayson Blair debacle. And one of the many things that you did was to hire the first public editor or ombudsman. At the time you said it was an experiment. Do you feel in retrospect that was something that the newspaper needed?
KELLER: At the time it was certainly something that the newspaper needed as one of a number of things that we did to try and restore the paper's credibility. I mean, we had traditionally resisted the idea of an ombudsman whereas papers like "The Washington Post" had done that for years. We resisted it because the argument was, well, you know, editors are the surrogates for the reader. We're the ones who look out for their interests. But readers don't always see it that way. And having an independent voice with license to roam in the newsroom and interview people I think was a necessary palliative at the time.
KURTZ: I agree with you on that. I have about a minute, the newspaper industry, as we know, has really been battered, layoffs, not publishing every day in certain markets. What's been the effect of all this shrinkage, this slashing in America's newsrooms?
KELLER: I think there's been a decline in the public's access to what's being done with their tax dollars, what's being done in their name. I hope that that will be repaired. I mean, there are also some start-ups online, a number of them investigative start-ups. If they can find a business model and grow, then, you know, then we'll be OK.
Where you're really feeling it already is like in state capitols, local city halls that are just not getting the intensity of coverage that they used to get. And that's a real loss.
KURTZ: And they certainly are not getting it from local television which doesn't have the setups to do this sort of thing. Bill Keller, thanks very much.
KELLER: You're welcome. It's a pleasure.
KURTZ: Still to come, a rare White House apology to a journalist, a CNN reporter gets results, and how many ways can you screw up an obituary? The Media Monitor is next.
KURTZ: Time now for The Media Monitor, our weekly look at the hits and errors in the news business.
Here is what I like, when Congress recently voted to crack down on insider trading by lawmakers by requiring greater financial disclosure of stock trading, there was a loophole for family members, one that was uncovered by CNN correspondent Dana Bash.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DANA BASH, CNN CORRSPONDENT: It specifically says that members of Congress do not have to have their spouse or their children file.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's wrong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: On Thursday, both the House and Senate voted to close that loophole by extending the law to close relatives of the members. That was a bit of sharp-eyed reporting.
To Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer it was a simple factual statement made after Mitt Romney got into that diplomatic flap in London. "Obama started his presidency by returning to the British Embassy the bust of Winston Churchill that had graced the Oval Office." White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer promptly labeled Krauthammer's column 100 percent false, insisting the White House had never returned the bust to the Brits. Krauthammer was not amused.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, COLUMIST: It's astonishing. He doubled down. All he had to say was we got it wrong the first time. He should have honorably have said, we made a mistake.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Pfeiffer eventually did just that, saying he had confused a copy of the Churchill bust with the original. He wrote, "I take your criticism seriously and you are correct that you are owed an apology. There was clearly an internal confusion about the two busts, and there was no intention to deceive. I clearly overshot the runway in my post." Overshot the runway and the airport. Krauthammer had the virtue of being right.
Finally, the death of Gore Vidal has brought a flood of commentary about the colorful life of this author, playwright and intellectual, but The New York Times botched a few key details. Get a load of this correction.
"An earlier version misstated the term Mr. Vidal called William F. Buckley, Jr. in a television appearance during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. It was crypto-Nazi, not crypto-fascist." They both sound insulting, but I am sure that is a very important distinction. Here's more. "It also described incorrectly Mr. Vidal's connection with former Vice President Al Gore. Although Mr. Vidal frequently referred jokingly to Mr. Gore as his cousin, they were not related." I thought everybody knew that.
And finally, and this is not G rated -- "and Mr. Vidal's relationship with his longtime companion Howard Austen was also described incorrectly. According to Mr. Vidal's memoir, "Palimpsest," they had sex the night they met but did not sleep together after they began living together. It was not true that they never had sex."
So they only did it, well, you get the point. New York Times certainly determined to correct the record. That's it for this edition of Reliable Sources. I'm Howard Kurtz. If you miss a program, go to ITunes every Monday, download a free audio podcast or buy the video version. We will be back here next Sunday Morning, 11:00 eastern at a critical look at the media. State of the Union with Candy Crowley begins right now.