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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
David Gregory's Explosive Move; Obama Does "Meet the Press"
Aired December 30, 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: It's extremely unlikely in my estimation that David Gregory is going to jail. But the "Meet the Press" moderator is under investigation for wielding this particular prop during an interview with the head of the NRA.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS: So, here is a magazine for ammunition that carries 30 bullets. Now, isn't it possible that if we got rid of these, if we replaced them and said, well, you can only have a magazine that carries five bullets or 10 bullets, isn't it just possible that we could reduce the carnage in a situation like Newtown?
WAYNE LAPIERRE, EXECUTIVE V.P., NRA: I don't believe that is going to make one difference.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Why are some gun owners rooting for Gregory to be locked up?
Should a New York newspaper have published a map showing the homes of gun permit owners? The media smack in the middle of an emotional debate.
Tomorrow is the last day to avoid what the press has described over and over as an almost apocalyptic outcome.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: To avoid the fiscal cliff --
ED SCHULTZ, MSNBC: If we go over the fiscal cliff --
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN: Try to avert the fiscal cliff.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: The clock ticks down to the so-called fiscal cliff.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're closer than ever going over the fiscal cliff.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The fiscal cliff negotiations are going nowhere.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
KURTZ: President Obama may not have gotten a fiscal cliff deal, but he's keeping up the media pressure this Sunday morning with an interview on "Meet the Press." We'll take a look.
And from the David Petraeus scandal to the Trayvon Martin tragedy, the examination of the media's performance in 2012. We'll have a report card.
I'm Howard Kurtz and this is RELIABLE SOURCES.
KURTZ: It was a striking moment when David Gregory brandished that high ammunition magazine last Sunday, so much so that we played it on this program. But that moment prompted the D.C. police to launch an investigation of whether he had violated the city's gun laws, one of several controversies in which media folks and news outlets now find themselves under assault on the volatile gun issue.
Joining us now and analyze all this: Lynn Sweet, Washington bureau chief for "The Chicago Sun-Times"; and Erik Wemple, who blogs about the media for "The Washington Post."
Simple question, Erik: should David Gregory be prosecuted?
ERIK WEMPLE, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, I think he should be investigated. I'll leave that up to the prosecutors. But I definitely do believe unlike Greta Van Susteren apparently, unlike you --
KURTZ: And unlike "The Wall Street Journal" editorial page.
WEMPLE: Right, right. I believe the media elites should be investigated, just like anyone else.
It turns out that the District of Columbia, the people and its lawmakers, decided that the 30 -- any magazine in excess of 10 rounds is a danger to the public.
KURTZ: You don't see this as a waste of time on the police's part, a lot of ordinary people who have magazines with no bullets in them going to jail over this?
WEMPLE: No, what I feel is this is the law, the police should look into it. Where did he get it? Where is it now? You know, if the people and the lawmakers decided this could be a threat to society, then David Gregory is just as suitable a target of investigation, as anyone else.
KURTZ: Seems to me this is more about public relations than threat to society, Lynn Sweet. NBC hasn't helped the case by talking at all about -- by refraining from commenting on, did it ask for permission and so forth.
I have gotten a lot of vitriolic messages of people saying, as Erik says, journalists aren't above the law, you're protecting the media elite.
What's your take?
LYNN SWEET, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: My take is that a journalist should follow the law. And when it comes to knowing what you can brandish on air or not dealing with guns, especially when you have a show with an enormous staff to help you out, you should know what the law is.
Now, having said that, prosecutors have a lot of prosecutorial discretion.
KURTZ: Prosecutorial discretion.
SWEET: You know where I was going on this, Howie.
So, I say, having known this, is this something that's really worth their time and effort? That is, also, as fair a question as it is, should a journalist who is doing gun stories be aware of the laws and you go and get guns?
KURTZ: Like journalists who smuggle a gun through airport security to make a point.
WEMPLE: They were aware of the gun laws, though. That's the point. They asked the MPD, the District of Columbia's Metropolitan Police Department and asked, is this OK? They apparently got no answer, yet they went ahead anyway and did it.
So, once you ask and you go and do, you're always going to be investigated, right?
KURTZ: Some conflicting reports on that, but you're right --
WEMPLE: ATF angle on that.
KURTZ: And NBC has since --
SWEET: And it also goes -- it also goes to the point, TV is a visual median. Now, obviously, if this was a print story, I wouldn't have to hold up a gun to write about it. But that's some of the pressure.
KURTZ: Can we -- can we agree on one thing? Was this a stunt?
SWEET: There is no need. It did not advance the story to hold this up. I don't hold up a pen when I write about what I'm doing.
KURTZ: On the other hand, David Gregory and "Meet the Press" have gotten more publicity out of this moment than anything he's done since he took over the host chair.
WEMPLE: It's been a wonderful -- it's been a bonanza for them. That's for sure.
I don't think it's good press, though. I don't think it's good press. I think that, you know, all publicity is good. I think this would have to be an exception.
KURTZ: All right. You know who else has gotten a lot of press, somebody who has been an outspoken advocate for gun control, not a neutral journalist, and that's CNN anchor Piers Morgan.
Let's look at an interview he did a while back with gun rights advocate Larry Pratt.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PIERS MORGAN, CNN HOST: Mr. Pratt, you have enormous problems in this country. You have over 300 million guns.
LARRY PRATT, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, GUN OWNERS OF AMERICA: I honestly don't understand why you would rather have people be victims of a crime than be able to defend themselves. It's incomprehensible.
MORGAN: You're an unbelievably stupid man, aren't you?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: More than 90,000 people have signed a petition to deport Piers Morgan, of course, a British journalist, because they don't like his views.
I would sign a petition saying stop the ad hominem attacks, which I think have degraded his show. In fact, in another segment that just got some rotation recently, he was talking about the importance of civil discourse and how once you get into ad hominem attacks, it brings the level of discussion way down.
SWEET: Also, it's his show. If you think -- I mean, calling and inviting somebody as your guest on your show only to call them stupid doesn't become anyone I think in an interview show.
KURTZ: I didn't think that was his finest hour. But, if people want to say they don't like him, they find him rude -- all fair game when you sit out in front of a television screen.
But to go from that to saying, let's kick this guy out of the country, you don't have a legal technicality or a fig leaf. What does that say that so many people are willing to, I would say, defend the Second Amendment by trashing the First? SWEET: Well, actually, part of this because there is this very neat feature that the whitehouse.gov site has that now on petitions --
SWEET: -- that makes it easy for people to self-organize, to have a petition on any topic and to use the whitehouse.gov site as it. So, that's in the sense why a lot of this petition is happening.
I think, yes, it's a way to vent against Morgan because if he had been an American host saying the same thing, people would just find another angle to get at him.
KURTZ: All right. Piers Morgan wrote a long piece for Britain's "Daily Mail." I'll read a little part of it. We put up on the screen.
"Deport me?" He says, "I will not stop. In my own efforts to keep the gun control debate firmly in people's minds, however much abuse I'm subjected to. And let me say that for every American who attacked me on Twitter, Facebook and FOX News this past week, I've had many more thank me and encourage me to continue speaking out."
WEMPLE: Right. That's fine. I think that it's clear that Morgan had been an advocate for gun control going back to Aurora and before.
The question is, though, can he get a little more on the facts? Because whenever he does these ad hominem attacks on his guests, it's usually in place of him pairing back with some facts or some argumentation. Instead, he just, oh, it's nonsense, and then keeps going on. And he doesn't, he doesn't really, really throw contrary facts into the mix.
KURTZ: All right. But he does bring passion on this issue, in fact, he writes in this piece about having to live through a mass murder in Britain and brought tears to his eyes. And, of course, this is all in the wake of the Newtown school tragedy that is setting the backdrop here.
But you would agree that he gets to stay in America?
WEMPLE: I love watching his show.
WEMPLE: Especially on guns (ph).
KURTZ: Now, one other flap here involved "The Journal News" newspaper, which published, as I mentioned at the top, a map, an interactive map of all the people in New York's Westchester and Rockland Counties who legally own gun permits and this caused an uproar. People saying that this was a terrible abuse.
We should also mention that the reporter who wrote the story has a gun permit. Did the paper go too far?
SWEET: I think you have to -- yes, if you have a database that singles out individuals, you can't leave common sense at the door that you're talking about a weapon in someone's home that could or should have been a way of using the database and publicly available information. So, when you go get a gun permit, you should know people can find that out about you. But --
KURTZ: It's publicly available information, but to do it in that forum and sort of announce to the world and to the burden who has the guns and doesn't has guns, and you talked to somebody who lives in that area.
WEMPLE: Yes, I did. She claimed that she was brought down to the level of a sex offender, like, you know?
KURTZ: A woman who legally owns a gun.
WEMPLE: Right. She legally owns a gun. She was -- she didn't want too many facts about her situation to be printed by me, but she felt she was really trashed by this thing.
I think the database is fine. I think publishing is fine and I think the story that accompanied it was a piece of garbage.
And, so, they were unable to take any good lessons for the public out of the gun database. All they did was say, hey, here's these gun owners.
You know, how about -- are there any criminals in there? You know, is there a bigger angle in here?
They just said, here, have a look. I think that's really lame.
KURTZ: And blogger Christopher Fountain retaliated by reporting the home addresses of the paper's employees. A little bit of turnabout there.
Let me get to break. When we come back, President Obama gives his first Sunday morning interview show in three years. First interview on a Sunday show, I should say. We'll look how David Gregory and "Meet the Press" handled that big opportunity.
KURTZ: There's been a lot of talk and very little action from reporters covering a fiscal cliff showdown here in Washington. As the rhetorical war has shifted from the White House to media battlefield, President Obama took the rare step of granting an interview to "Meet the Press", which aired this morning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GREGORY: When you talk about a dysfunction in Washington, you signed this legislation setting up the fiscal cliff 17 months ago. How accountable are you for the fact that Washington can't get anything done and we're at this deadline, again?
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I have to tell you, David. If you look at my track record over the last two years, I cut spending by over $1 trillion in 2011.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Joining us now to examine the David Gregory interview and the coverage of this fiscal cliff showdown -- Bob Cusack, managing editor of the Capitol Hill newspaper, "The Hill."
What does it say about the state of the budgetary wars that President Obama chose to go on a Sunday talk show?
BOB CUSACK, THE HILL: Well, that he is doing this interview while Congress is trying to do it. I mean, President Obama is very critical of Congress and, yet, he's punted on this. I think this interview wasn't exactly combative. He challenged him on it.
But as far as $1 trillion in cuts --
KURTZ: Who challenged who?
CUSACK: David Gregory challenged Obama on some points, but when Obama said $1 trillion -- he's made $1 trillion cuts, well, he also vowed to cut the deficit in half in 2009. That has not happened.
KURTZ: Compared David Gregory, as we saw at the top of the show, you know, waving that magazine at Wayne LaPierre, this was an extraordinarily low-key interview.
WEMPLE: Low key and meek. Meek and weak. I didn't find David Gregory, I think he lost his punch over this short-lived vacation of his.
And so, I thought there were a number of points on which he didn't press the president hard enough.
KURTZ: And the president gave long answers and the --
WEMPLE: It was in the White House, so maybe he was cowed by the atmospherics. But there's really no excuse.
KURTZ: The pomp and the ceremony.
But, on the other hand, and you've had experience covering Barack Obama going back to Chicago, it can be hard to interrupt during an incumbent president during an interview.
SWEET: It is. And Obama had the home court advantage. David had it in that more aggressive Wayne LaPierre interview and now -- I'll say this quickly -- way back in the day when Obama United States senator, there was some press conference and I asked a question and he gave -- he was giving it a very long answer, in my view, and I cut him off and, boy, did I get thumped from him for cutting him off. I don't know --
KURTZ: He complained to you later?
SWEET: He took me to the woodshed, absolutely, for cutting him off and his view was I was trying to dictate the answer. I was just trying to have him address it. Now, would --
KURTZ: No woodshed for Gregory.
SWEET: Well, no, I'm also saying, would I absolutely have that same way of asking him if I were sitting with the question.
KURTZ: You wouldn't be cutting off the way, I'm cutting you off right now.
KURTZ: Bob, this whole, it's been like watching paint dry and tremendously important story, which the country is facing enormous economic consequences, but how do you cover a process where it's mostly private meetings and nothing seems to be happening?
CUSACK: It's very difficult because you have both sides coming out of meetings and sometimes saying different things and you have no way to independently verify it. So, it's one of the most difficult things to report until they have a deal and you can count votes for plan B. Behind closed doors, you just don't know. That's why C-Span is trying to get in the room and get these talks televised because we don't know who to believe.
KURTZ: Go ahead.
WEMPLE: Who is going to propose that all the talks should be on the record and televised.
KURTZ: Who was that?
WEMPLE: I forgot, but someone.
KURTZ: Candidate Barack Obama.
KURTZ: Let me follow up with Bob.
There have been waves in the coverage where I read reports in the papers and perhaps you heard them on television. They're getting close to a deal, the two sides are moving and I think the journalists repeatedly have been too optimistic about this, because, they're sort of a mindset, well, of course, they're going to work something out -- and yet, overestimating the ability of these two parties that are at each other's throats to work something out.
CUSACK: Yes. Well, I mean, you have to read the tea leaves. I mean, there was a point when Obama moved from $250,000 threshold on taxes to $400,000. And Boehner put tax rates.
CUSACK: So, you started to see they're moving --
KURTZ: Boehner said for the first time Republicans would be willing to support, he would be willing to support. The question is, how much his troops would be backing him raising tax rates on those over $1 million, which for given the Republican fervent opposition to any raise in tax rates, that was a significant step, but then it stopped.
CUSACK: Right, right. And during that time about a week where the White House and Speaker Boehner's office were not criticizing each other, they're just saying, lines of communication are open. So, that was a positive sign.
Since then, it's gone south.
KURTZ: Does it seem like a dull story because let's face it, it's kind of an artificial crisis created by Congress itself. They could solve this thing in 10 minutes with ample compromise on both sides. And so, I get the impression that while the country is following this news, it's not -- it's not a kind of breathless anticipation.
SWEET: The only thing that's starting to sink in with people, Howie, where I think it is getting more public attention is that people are now realizing that their paychecks really will be a lot lower very soon if nothing gets done. Therefore, I think it is very legitimate interest that finally is getting done when it's sinking in on people that they will have an immediate pocketbook impact if nothing gets done.
KURTZ: If there is a last-minute sort of minor compromise, Bob Cusack, where both sides agree to put off the majority of the tax increases or to extend the Bush tax breaks for all but the richest, but doesn't do anything about the automatic spending cuts, which is hundreds of billions of dollars -- we'll all call it a deal, but it won't really be a deal, will it?
CUSACK: No. I mean, this is just a beginning. We're going to be dealing with the debt for years and years. And, also, the other thing is this bill possibly could actually increase the deficit when you deal with it. The doc fix thing --
KURTZ: So, the reporters have to be careful about the terminology here because on New Year's Eve we may say, the two sides reached a deal, but it may be a kick the can arrangement.
CUSACK: That's right. And you could have the nation's credit rating take another hit. They could be downgraded, the nation could be downgraded again.
That's what happened -- when we had the deal in August of 2011, the Budget Control Act, and then S&P downgraded the nation. So, you could see that again.
KURTZ: Has the press been complicit in your view in hyping this as a kind of an apocalypse, when in fact, even if there is a budgetary agreement let's say in January, you know, people's taxes would have gone off for a couple of weeks, it's not like pushing the country into default, which was the prospect last year.
WEMPLE: I think in your intro tease, I think the degree to which the media swallowed the fiscal cliff is extreme and the voices like Paul Krugman and others who said, you know, this cliff isn't much more than a little ramp, those voices have been buried behind the simplicity of a fiscal cliff. The press loves a deadline, even though they often miss them as well.
KURTZ: The press loves a deadline. The press loves colorful language like fiscal cliff.
Lynn Sweet, Erik Wemple, Bob Cusack -- thanks for joining us.
At the top of the hour, "STATE OF THE UNION" will have Republican reaction to the president's interview on "Meet the Press".
When we come back, with the media's obsession this past year, did we really need to go haywire over David Petraeus?
KURTZ: We are continuing to look at the media's performance -- the good, the bad and the ugly -- in 2012.
Just when the seemingly endless presidential campaign finally ended, the director of the CIA resigned and journalists began to wallow in a strange sex scandal involving David Petraeus, his biographer Paula Broadwell and a cast of supporting characters.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: One official describes some of the e- mails as sexually explicit and the equivalent of phone sex over e- mail.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Apparently, 20,000 to 30,000 pages of e-mails with Jill Kelley, who set the FBI on Paula Broadwell.
LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC: The Petraeus affair.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Biographer and mistress Paula Broadwell.
MORGAN: Sexual shenanigans.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Florida socialite Jill Kelley.
UNIDENTFIIED FEMALE: Some very explicit emails.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Friendly, perhaps flirtatious.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
KURTZ: Did we all get a bit carried away?
I'll put that question and others about the year's top stories to our panel of media critics: Fred Francis, former NBC senior correspondent and founder of 15seconds.com. Laura Ashburn, editor-in- chief of daily-download.com, where I am also a contributor, and Steve Roberts, professor of media and public affairs at the George Washington University, who spent a couple decades at "The New York Times."
David Petraeus, Paul Broadwell -- since nothing else came out, looking back at that steamy (ph) era in our national history and, in fact, the Department of Justice just said it's not prosecuting Paula Broadwell for cyber stalking or anything else. Wasn't this a chance for the media to just dive into a scandalous swamp?
LAUREN ASHBURN, DAILY-DOWNLOAD.COM: Yes, we were right after the presidential election. Everybody was bored. Had this happened during Newtown or during the presidential campaign, it would not have been as big a deal. This was -- this was a timing issue.
KURTZ: Nothing else going on, remember how, you know, the stakeouts in front of Jill Kelley's house.
ASHBURN: Thirty to forty thousand emails. How do they send 30,000 to 40,000 e-mails? Yes, it was just this nonstop, salacious story.
FRED FRANCIS, 15MINUTES.COM: Yes, but it was great television. This was sex and the CIA, espionage and spies, you know? I mean, this was the Kardashianization of national security.
STEVE ROBERTS, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: That's not a good thing, pal. I mean, the fact is -- the fact is --
FRANCIS: -- ratings on this network and all the others.
ROBERTS: Well, wrong metric. That was the Kardashianization in the worst way. It was to try to get eyeballs and sensationalize the story and good TV and good entertainment is not the same as good information. This was not a high-point political coverage.
FRANCIS: You're talking as if this wasn't an important story. This was the head of the CIA, and the fallout, the next man who was going to be supreme allied commander of NATO in Europe, who got thrown under the bus by Panetta. This is a big story.
KURTZ: Let's have a little perspective on here. Nobody is saying that because David Petraeus had to resign as head of the CIA, because General John Allen was dragged into it and it was an interesting story on every human level. Nobody is saying it wasn't an important story, and that it shouldn't be covered. What I'm saying is, what was it about two weeks, when everybody -- we dressed it -- we did, we dressed it up, oh, this is about national security, no, no, this is about privacy and technology.
ASHBURN: What everybody really cared was the fact that the head of the CIA couldn't figure out how to send e-mails to his mistress and had to do it on a Gmail account. I mean ,come on!
ROBERTS: Besides that, look, every Web site you go to, even the most serious Web sites will have that column on the right, right, with who is, you know, Jennifer Aniston's wedding plans and Kim Kardashian --
KURTZ: You're obsessed with Kardashian.
ASHBURN: Oh, it's him.
ROBERTS: Jill Kelley even looked like Kim Kardashian. I mean, there was this -- people are under enormous financial pressure, I understand that, to attract eyeballs but there is a tremendous risk of trivialization.
KURTZ: You don't think this was a good example.
FRANCIS: No, I don't think it was overdone.
And it was such a serious side to it, as well. As far as -- if you want to be in perspective about the media, the fact is that David Petraeus did not get treated as badly as he could have if he had not been David Petraeus, and had not been feeding --
KURTZ: That is true.
FRANCIS: -- feeding reporters for so many years.
ASHBURN: OK. Let's just watch -- let's just watch how this plays out, shall we?
David Petraeus, I'm sure there's going to be this big comeback. We won't remember this, and what about Paula Broadwell? What's going to happen to Paula?
KURTZ: Isn't that always the way?
ASHBURN: It is always the way.
KURTZ: OK. So, I want to look at another lowlight, I would say, perhaps the lowest of the year, in terms of people remembering it. That is what happened on the much awaited day when the Supreme Court issued its ruling on President Obama's health care plan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
BILL HEMMER, FOX NEWS CHANNEL: We have breaking news here on the FOX News Channel. The individual mandate has been ruled unconstitutional. KATE BOLDUAN, CNN: So, what appears as if the Supreme Court justices have struck down the individual mandate, the centerpiece of the health care legislation.
TERRY MORAN, NBC NEWS: George, we just got the opinion. I'm taking a quick look at it. It's very long and a very brief look at it.
JAN CRAWFORD, CBS NEWS: It appears the decision has been affirmed in part and reversed in part.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
KURTZ: Organized chaos. Obviously, the high court upheld Obamacare. Was that, were those moments damaging to the profession or is it in a momentary blip?
ASHBURN: Of course, they were damaging. I was there and I thought upheld, not upheld, upheld. And it just went through the crowd and through the journalists.
But here's the problem -- this is status quo now, right? Look at Newtown. There are a lot of mistakes made at the beginning of Newtown. We didn't -- we -- journalists committed the cardinal sin of journalism by naming the wrong suspect.
And, so, this is now what people have come to expect.
ROBERTS: This was worse. The Supreme Court was worse because there was no benefit in being first.
There was, I teach ethics at George Washington. We used this case as a case study and one of the things -- the adage, I try to tell my kids, is everybody remembers who got it wrong, not who got it first.
FRANCIS: This is not -- in the scheme of things compared to Newtown, I think this was not very much. This was a two to three- minute mistake by a few people.
Had you ever seen a Supreme Court decision and try to read it quickly?
KURTZ: This is precisely why you wait two to three minutes and not in the new normal --
FRANCIS: Not in the new normal of the media environment where the staff of reporters has been cut in half, the workload has been doubled, and everybody is rushing to be first. OK? These mistakes are going to happen. This mistake on Obamacare was not a serious mistake.
ROBERTS: But it's emblematic of a much deeper problem.
KURTZ: That I agree.
ROBERTS: Look, there's no benefit in standing there and saying, well, it's a wrong opinion and I'm going to be 15 seconds ahead. Take the time, get it right.
ASHBURN: You know, I also think when you're in this situation, you get it wrong. And then, you're in the situation again in Newtown and you get it wrong.
People aren't going to believe you any more. We're lower than lawyers in terms of respectability.
KURTZ: If it's the new normal, as Fred says, it's kind of sad.
ASHBURN: It is pathetic. I mean, you teach, you teach how to be excellent professional journalists.
ROBERTS: It's not the new normal in my classroom, I'll tell you that.
FRANCIS: No. Well, I -- you know, we teach our clients in 15seconds.com that the first news is almost always wrong in a breaking story. Think about it, in a breaking story, the first reports are almost always wrong.
KURTZ: Let me turn to another episode that just dominated the media coverage, but not in the first couple weeks, where the murder of a Florida teenager was not covered at all by the national press and barely by the local press. And then we had this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REV. AL SHARPTON, MSNBC HOST: I've seen this playbook over and over again. The plan to smear Trayvon is one of the old tricks and we won't let them get away with it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We didn't know in the beginning that there were witnesses from the first night that said that Trayvon was witnessed on top of George Zimmerman punching him and beating his head into the cement.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Lauren Ashburn, did the media inflame the Trayvon Martin killing into this racially charged spectacle?
ASHBURN: Of course, they did. Al Sharpton came out as you saw and then went down, led a rally and covered himself.
KURTZ: And also represented the parents of Trayvon and then did his MSNBC show.
ASHBURN: And that's where the line is just wavering and has to be drawn or figured out between being a commentator, not a journalist, but a commentator, an opinion person and an activist.
We were having this conversation before. You can't be both.
FRANCIS: This was not, this was not the media's most shining moment and it certainly wasn't NBC's biggest moment. I mean, they, the Al Sharpton thing -- set that aside for a second, the fact that NBC actually manipulated a quote put on the air that Trayvon --
KURTZ: Just to remind people, NBC who -- which has been sued by George Zimmerman, the -- obviously the suspect in the case, for selectively editing his 9-1-1 call to place to make it look like he was bringing up Trayvon's race when in fact the dispatcher had asked him about the race of the kid.
FRANCIS: I think this entire story has been very politicized right down to the prosecutor who filed the charges on April 11th and then filed to run for re-election on April 30th.
KURTZ: And when you watch MSNBC and FOX in particular -- and these are not the only ones -- it just seemed like that many of the people in the media were just choosing up sides, either they were pro Trayvon or pro George Zimmerman. And that's -- and it became --
FRANCIS: I want to hear -- I want to hear them -- I want to hear them when Zimmerman is acquitted because this is the weakest case.
KURTZ: When Zimmerman is acquitted. You just took sides.
FRANCIS: I'm telling you, this is the weakest case I've ever seen get this kind of national publicity.
ROBERTS: On the other hand, I don't think Al Sharpton did a good thing because he tried to be both, an activist and a commentator, but I do think it is useful to have voices like Sharpton who speak for people who don't have a voice.
And young black men in this country often do not have a voice in a situation like this.
ASHBURN: You know, one other --
ROBERTS: And it was useful to have Al Sharpton speak for him.
ASHBURN: One other thing that we're not talking about is how long it took for the story to become a story. Do you remember they don't have somebody in the bureau in that town covering the town and it took days.
KURTZ: It was seen as just another murder.
KURTZ: Until it became -- the racial aspect even though Zimmerman is Hispanic. (CROSSTALK)
FRANCIS: A similar story in Jacksonville just a few weeks ago, where a man shot (inaudible) kids, nothing.
KURTZ: All right.
Fred Francis, Steve Roberts, Lauren Ashburn, thanks for helping us take this look back at the media in 2012.
Up next, what behind the scenes stories did the press miss during the presidential campaign? Two political reporters in just a moment.
KURTZ: Presidential campaign drew saturation coverage this year but how much were journalists in the dark about what was unfolding behind the scenes? Politico has just published an ebook called "The End of the Line: Romney versus Obama -- The 34 Days that Decided the Election."
And joining us now, the authors of that book, Glenn Thrush and Jonathan Martin.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks, Howie.
KURTZ: So now that the sources are opening up to you after the election about actually transpired, does it seem to you in retrospect that the media missed some or much of what was really happening in this campaign?
JONATHAN MARTIN, AUTHOR: From our reporting, we spent about a month after the election.
KURTZ: A month?
MARTIN: Digging deep into this book.
KURTZ: Did you work about 23 hours a day?
MARTIN: We worked quite a bit.
We found some new information certainly. But, look, I mean, don't think that this campaign is similar to '08 in terms of, you know, John Edwards having a mistress, that kind of thing, where there is some huge bombshell that, you know, was not seen.
KURTZ: Sarah Palin.
MARTIN: Well, we kind (inaudible) campaign that was missed, what we found out, reinforced what we thought already, what was some interesting, fresh, new details. First of all, Mitt Romney, he always had this tension, Howie, in terms of how to talk about his personal life, how to talk about his faith.
We found out that his campaign had a Mormon documentarian follow him around in the '08 campaign, and made a documentary that they cut in 2010. The family liked it. The staff spiked it because they were concerned it was talking too much about Romney's faith. So it captured something that we knew was already there. But interesting new information.
KURTZ: Among other things, Glenn, you write that the -- that President Obama stormed out of a debate prep session before Denver, that first disastrous debate for him. He had tensions with the staff, who knew that he was not up to par and that and that Obama privately joked that Romney wasn't human enough to get elected.
Now had you reported either of those things during the campaign, they would have been bombshells.
GLENN THRUSH, AUTHOR: That is absolutely true. I like to think they're still bombshells now, Howie.
No, and one of the things that I think was interesting in covering both sides of this story is it wasn't -- it wasn't as close as we thought. The two organizations were not really comparable in terms of scale and competence. I mean, that's really what comes through. We had one that was more of a facade and the other one that was working on a deeper level than we could have imagined.
KURTZ: Well, but if anyone had reported during the campaign that the Romney campaign was not up to par in terms of competence --
THRUSH: We would have been nailed as being biased.
KURTZ: So --
THRUSH: Same way with the polling.
KURTZ: So you're now able to report something that you couldn't report -- maybe you didn't have all of the information. But, yes, you would have been nailed as being biased. That suggests that there were certain things that are just not politic to say for reporters to say in a campaign when one side is clearly much better at the game.
MARTIN: But to be fair to us, Howie, and the press, there was plenty written about the Romney polling, for example, showing a much rosier scenario than any of the public data. And look, you know, when they would say that their poll had had them up in Ohio, you know, the press, well, would say, well, look, there's a lot of public data that shows you are losing Ohio.
So look, I think there was --
KURTZ: -- a lot of Romney's inadequacies personally as a candidate.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.
MARTIN: (Inaudible) operation, you're saying.
THRUSH: And the other -- the other issue involving facade was this whole notion that the Obama campaign is a no-drama institution and that these guys get along completely well.
THRUSH: Yes. In the previous book that I did, "Obama's Last Stand," which we put out a couple of months ago, we talked about some frictions on the communication team. Those frictions stayed throughout the entire campaign and, in fact, there was an interesting tension that I report upon between the White House and Chicago.
David Plouffe, who was sort of the mastermind of '08, really started to take on a much more substantial role in running things out of Chicago after things were starting to fall apart in May.
KURTZ: Well, you set up my next question, which is why now, after the contest is over, would people on both sides tell you these things? Is there some score settling going on?
THRUSH: Well, people on the Obama side -- you know, it's really interesting. You know, obviously, this was, this election was a result of this enormous grassroots efforts. So the real heroes of this race were the Obama side of the grassroots organizers and the people who did the tech stuff.
But people want credit for this. And there's a lot of jockeying for what happens next. There's a lot of folks in Chicago who are not getting jobs in the White House because those jobs are already taken.
KURTZ: But when you -- it goes beyond credit. When you report in the book, for example, that campaign aides tried very hard to keep Valerie Jarrett, White House aide, away from President Obama, feeling that she kind of riled him up, that says to me that some source -- I'm just using this as an example -- that some source was unhappy with somebody else and is using this opportunity through you to take a shot.
MARTIN: Well, that was multiple -- let me just say right now, that was multiple, multiple sources.
KURTZ: (Inaudible) saying it's not true.
THRUSH: No, no, on that one. And in fact, before I published that, there were several people in the administration who said, for the love of God, she's going to be around for the next four years. Please, don't report that. You're going to make our life more difficult.
But you know, I guess there -- on the Obama side there are scores to settle.
I think on the Romney side the question is about rehabilitation and what these people do next with their careers.
MARTIN: Yes, look, I think with any campaign, you've got some staff figures that are polarizing and certainly with the Obama campaign that's Valerie Jarrett.
On the Romney side, I think there was not as much drama as there is for a lot of losing campaigns, but there was some there.
And certainly Stuart Stevens, the chief strategist, had his share of internal critics. We found out how, during the course of reporting, in the book that Ed Gillespie, the former RNC chairman who had joined the Romney campaign, ultimately plotted to hedge with Stevens toward the end of the campaign. Plus they wanted to really do more on reaching out to Hispanics, reaching out to the women voters.
KURTZ: How are you able to get this now whereas you couldn't get it in the fall campaign?
MARTIN: I think operatives in both parties and politicians in both parties tend to be less comfortable talking about such issues during the campaign versus after the campaign.
THRUSH: And you also get people right in the wake of -- you know, one of the reasons I wanted -- you know, we had a choice as to whether or not to do this in January or now. And one of the reasons we wanted it do it now, was people's emotions are fresh on this. They want to talk about this stuff.
KURTZ: And on that point, we used to have to wait a year to get (inaudible) book. And now, you know, last cycle, the big book was by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, "Game Change." (Inaudible) movie they were doing another book on 2012.
Did you want to beat them to -- out of the gate?
MARTIN: Well, "Newsweek," Howie, always did their presidential book --
KURTZ: -- a week later.
MARTIN: Right. We think of this as sort of that for the digital era. It's a little bit longer but it's on your iPad, it's on your Kindle, available on amazon.com -- you can get it today. And so, we wanted folks to be able to sort of have a deep dive of what happened during the crystal moments of the campaign.
KURTZ: But not in six months when nobody cared any more.
MARTIN: A few weeks after the election.
THRUSH: We're also, you know, I'd like to flip it another way, because when we look at some of the praise that this has gotten, people talk about how quick a read it is. Look at it as an extended version of a "New Yorker" article as well. I mean, this is a longer magazine piece rather than a shorter book.
KURTZ: We're in the age of the ebook.
Glenn Thrush, Jonathan Martin --
MARTIN: Thanks, Howie.
KURTZ: -- thanks for coming by.
Coming up from Bob Woodward, SNL's Darrell Hammond. Our best interviews of 2012, right after the break.
KURTZ: We covered the media landscape in 2012 from politics to scandal, from journalistic blunders to outright fabrication. And I had the opportunity to sit down with a wide range of smart folks. We've put together some highlights from this past year.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ (voice-over): When Bob Woodward stopped by, I asked him how the news cycle had changed from Richard Nixon to Barack Obama.
BOB WOODWARD, JOURNALIST: It's accelerated. You talk to the people in the White House, as I've done extensively, and they just die because it's 24/7. Somebody is going to come out and say, you know, we're going online with the following story; what is your response?
You have five minutes. You have 10 minutes. And this can happen at 2:00 am. It can happen 8 o'clock at night. That tends to drive coverage because other people are looking for a response.
KURTZ (voice-over): With other journalists agreeing to run quotes by the Obama team in advance, I put that question to Woodward.
KURTZ: One word answer. If the White House had asked for court approval, what would you have said?
WOODWARD: I don't think they could have looked somebody like myself, who has been around for so long, looked me in the eye and asked that, and I would have said, you know, come on.
KURTZ (voice-over): Perhaps the biggest journalistic fraud of the year was Jonah Lehrer, "The New Yorker" writer who was plagiarizing himself and fabricating parts of a book. The journalist who exposed him, Michael Moynihan, described their last confrontation. KURTZ: Even in the conversation that you had with him the day before you published, last Sunday night, he started to confess to having done certain things wrong. But did he completely come clean?
MICHAEL MOYNIHAN, JOURNALIST: No.
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.
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 good 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 say, good, this is quite a scoop, isn't it? I mean 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 (voice-over): When "60 Minutes" legend Mike Wallace died, Steve Kroft and Bob Simon helped us remember him, not just as a great news man, but as an aggressive colleague.
STEVE KROFT: He had no compunction about stealing a story from you. Morley would leave the office and when -- one day, thinking he had a story, and then come back and find that Mike was already out shooting it.
BOB SIMON: People who have tried to imitate him have all fallen on their face. Because Mike never screamed, he never shouted. When you turn on television these days you hear an awful lot of guys being aggressive and screaming. Mike never had to do that, he never raised his voice. He raised his eyebrow and that was a pretty -- could be pretty devastating.
And he also did something that very few people have picked up, which is not complicated. When somebody stopped talking, Mike would be silent. He wouldn't come in right away with another question.
And very odd, people don't like silence. And very often when a guy Mike was trying to break down was confronted with a silence, he started saying something he really shouldn't have said.
KURTZ (voice-over): We had some fun with actress Ali Wentworth, star of her own Yahoo! show and someone who likes to dish on her husband, George Stephanopoulos.
ALI WENTWORTH, ACTRESS: You know, George is a very private person, so -- but this is a joyous thing, Howard, Ali and George coming together.
So, you know, I gave him, obviously, a rough draft of the book. And I said, do you have a problem with this? And you know, he loved it because it is a sweet story, it is our story. You know I'm not twittering (sic) pictures of him on the toilet. I mean, it's -- you know, it's a nice thing.
KURTZ: He didn't take out a red pen and say, this is out, this is out?
WENTWORTH: No, he didn't. He didn't, which was surprising. But I've also learned. I mean, early on in our marriage I was blah-blah- blah about everything. And then --
KURTZ: Yes, you talked about your sex life and everything else.
WENTWORTH: Yes. And like a puppy whose face has been pushed into the soiled carpet I finally am housebroken.
KURTZ (voice-over): Everyone remembers the "Saturday Night Live" impression of Al Gore, but Darrell Hammond told me it wasn't easy to capture the former V.P. until that debates and that challenge reminded him of a certain sportscaster.
DARRELL HAMMOND, COMEDIAN: I went to Comedy Cellar in the Village for fully a year, four or five nights a week, trying to find an angle on this Southern guy with a baritone voice, who wore the mantle of Nice Guy Works Hard, Does Well. There's nothing. I mean, when you have that -- and it's like trying to do Bob Costas. And you know, Costas once said to me, why aren't you doing me? I'm like, Bob, nice guy that works hard, does well. I don't know, there's nothing there.
KURTZ: He wanted to be done by Darrell Hammond?
HAMMOND: He came up to me at HBO. And I don't do a great Costas, I do a good Costas, but this is what he -- this is what he -- he comes up to me. This is what he said, he goes, "You've got the great Koppel, you've got the great Clinton, you've got the great Gore, but you can't do me. You tried to do me and you failed utterly."
KURTZ (voice-over): It was a sad day for me when "Newsweek" announced it was ending its print run at year's end, and not just because I've spent the last couple years there. Editor Tina Brown, my boss, called the move "inevitable".
TINA BROWN, EDITOR, "NEWSWEEK": To be honest, I mean in the last 12 months, I've had to just really adjust in myself in terms of feeling I have always been a great print junkie. You know, I'm like the ultimate magazine junkie, always have been, edited magazines all my life, read them all my life. But my own habits have changed (inaudible) dramatically. I don't actually go to newsstands anymore. You know, even on stations now and in airports, I find myself deciding that I'm going to opt for what is on my Kindle on the plane.
And I walk through those planes and I see everybody reading screens. So it's one of those things where, yes, I'm sorry because, you know, I feel a certain romance still for print and I always will. I still love books more than I love reading screens, actually, but at the same time, I know everything has changed and I also want to go where our readers are.
KURTZ (voice-over): And "Newsweek" published its last print issue this week, recalling the magazine's role in 9/11, the Monica Lewinsky scandal and other major news moments.
The scandal that utterly transfixed the media was the David Petraeus affair, which prompted him to resign as CIA director.
As a general, Petraeus was famous for courting reporters, especially in war zones, as we were reminded by Rajiv Chandrasekaran of "The Washington Post."
RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN, "THE WASHINGTON POST": That access could be intoxicating. Right? You were in that exclusive bubble. He would bring you in to meetings he would have with subordinate commanders, at times even into sessions that involved secret material that you were told you couldn't write about.
You'd get to zip around the battlefield on Blackhawk helicopters popping in to front line bases. It's a thrill of traveling with a four-star. And for the journalists who got to be in there, it was a sense that you were getting to see an aspect of our modern wars that your colleagues, your competitors weren't otherwise able to see.
It was a revealing, remarkable glimpse. And so, sure, that built friendships. And it wasn't just that. Petraeus was an assiduous e- mailer, Howie. You know, I joke there were times --
KURTZ: I guess we've learned something about that.
CHANDRASEKARAN: Well, yes. And I wasn't meaning to crack a joke here. But there were times I would joke to my wife, that Petraeus could respond to an e-mail faster than she would respond to me. If you had a question about something, certainly that would -- on a story that had something to do with him, he would get back really quickly, often times with maybe a couple paragraphs.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Which is why, in the end, Petraeus undoubtedly got gentler treatment from the press than Paula Broadwell.
Still to come, why Amazon is cracking down on some overly friendly book reviewers.
KURTZ: Finally, if you're peddling a book on Amazon, reviews by ordinary folks are really important. And now Amazon is cracking down on reviews that might be by your mom.
As "The New York Times" reports, the online bookseller has deleted thousands of such reviews, for instance, author Emmy Franco complained that reviews by her sister and best friend suddenly vanished. Now that policy sounds reasonable, but Amazon has also been cutting reviews by people who don't know the author -- a little overzealousness there.
And what about writers who send out copies of their book to their fans who then post favorable reviews? That's verboten.
At the same time, Amazon has no problem with reviews by people who haven't read the book. This is a tough line to draw, but Amazon's attempt has been remarkably squiggly so far.
That's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz. Happy New Year; and if you missed our program, go to iTunes every Monday. You can get the audio podcast or buy the video version. Just search for Reliable Sources at that iTunes store.
We're back here next Sunday morning, 11:00 am Eastern for another critical look at the media. "STATE OF THE UNION" with Candy Crowley begins right now.