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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Media Gear Up for Gun Fight; Lance Armstrong Plays Oprah Card
Aired January 13, 2013 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: There were plenty of predictions after the tragedy of Newtown that the media would lose interest, that the subject of guns would quickly fade.
That hasn't happened. When Joe Biden weighing in this week and some television commentators pushing the issue, such as when CNN's Piers Morgan invited a conservative talk show host who wants him deported for his views on gun control.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALEX JONES, RADIO HOST: And I'm here to tell you -- 1776 will commence, again, if you try to take our firearms!
JONES: Down the street here in New York.
PIERS MORGAN, CNN: Alex, Alex, I get accused when I get you guys on, of talking over you and trying to be rude. I'm trying to be civil, all right?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Are the media conducting a serious debate or an incendiary one?
Lance Armstrong, after a decade of denial, is heading to Oprah's couch to confess to doping. But does she still have the cultural clout to save him?
In other sports news, ESPN's Brent Musburger spending too much time admiring a college quarterback's girlfriend. Did the network really need to apologize?
Plus, Jimmy Kimmel plunging into the late night wars against Leno and Letterman.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIMMY KIMMEL, TV HOST: It used to be on at midnight and now we're on at 11:35. And I'm now 25 minutes closer to my life-long dream of co-hosting "The View." (END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: But has he also damaged the show he just replaced, "Nightline"?
I'm Howard Kurtz and this is RELIABLE SOURCES.
KURTZ: The television cameras were invited to the old executive office building this week as Vice President Biden held his first meetings on the gun issue.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Every once in a while, there's something that awakens the conscience of the country and that tragic event did in a way like nothing I've seen in my career.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: But a few words uttered by the V.P. that the president might consider changing some policies by executive order sparked an explosion in the conservative media.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: What you're experiencing here is an out- of-control, an arrogant, an unconstitutional executive power grab.
BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: The left in America has embarked on a ferocious anti-gun campaign, basically telling every Democrat, hey, you better support gun control or else.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC: The NRA has created this mystique about themselves. They expect us to be enthralled by that mystique. The Beltway press is enthralled by that mystique.
ED SCHULTZ, MSNBC: The NRA is committed to injecting poison into the conversation as I see it on gun reform.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
KURTZ: Joining us now to examine the media's coverage of this volatile issue. Here in Washington, Paul Farhi, media reporter for "The Washington Post". Robert Costa, Washington editor at "National Review." And in New York, Keli Goff, political correspondent for theroot.com.
Robert Costa, is the coverage of this issue, Joe Biden's meetings this week, is it fair or a bias towards some government action?
ROBERT COSTA, NATIONAL REVIEW: There's probably not enough coverage of the Biden working group. And what's happening on Capitol Hill, the conversation seems to be dominated by the talking heads on the cable news networks about what their antics are in that nightly program. And I think there needs to be more coverage about the actual political process. There's not enough of that.
KURTZ: You believe the substance is being overshadowed by the political shouting, so to speak?
COSTA: Oh, very much so. The public expects real objectivity. The public expects reporting and what they're getting is a spectacle on television that's called dialogue.
KURTZ: Keli Goff, what do you think about that?
KELI GOFF, THEROOT.COM: I think that's somewhat true, but that's not particularly surprising. I'll give you an example. When I write articles about the details of the fiscal cliff debate, right, and the ins and outs, and what's actually being cut, and what's going on with the budget, those don't get as many clicks, right, as articles about who is being mean to the president or who the president is being tough talking to, right?
So, a lot of Americans follow media coverage about the shenanigans, the inner workings, the personalities, and don't want to really hear the nitty-gritty about the details. Does it mean we don't have a responsibility to discuss those details? Absolutely we do.
But I'm just being forthright about, you know, what goes on in terms of coverage of issues like that. I just don't think it's surprising that people are following the fight more than the actual substantive details of what could happen with the legislation.
KURTZ: And that is the core issue, Paul Farhi. What our responsibility is to not only cover this issue, but maybe push it, because after every other mass shooting -- we lived through a lot of them of them in the past couple of decades -- the gun issue flares up and then it fades in the press.
This time seems to be very different. Why?
PAUL FARHI, WASHINGTON POST: Well, you had a very emotional climate right now. You had 20 school children, if that doesn't get anybody's attention, then nothing will. But we're not pushing an agenda, we're covering the news.
Vice President Biden, the president, have raised this issue with -- I should say with a lot of support from the public and we are simply going with the newsmakers have led us.
KURTZ: But what about the notion that we are not doing enough on the substance of the debate and what the Biden group is pursuing. Of course, we don't know what the administration proposed, but we should find out within days.
Do you think there is a deficit of coverage there?
FARHI: No, I think there is a surfeit of coverage. There is, it has been on the front page every single day that this working group has been around. It's on television all the time. There's no bigger issue in America right now.
COSTA: I disagree respectfully because when you look at what's getting attention. It's David Gregory bringing an empty clip on "Meet the Press." It's Piers Morgan bringing a conspiracy theorist Alex Jones on to CNN. It's newspapers publishing the addresses of gun owners in the front page.
So, that's what's getting attention. Not the serious coverage. Look, I read "The Post", everyday. I see those stories. They're all around in the press, but they're not getting attention because it's the circus on the television that really is --
FARHI: But those stories are part of the larger story.
COSTA: True. And they should be the larger story perhaps.
GOFF: Well --
FARHI: It raises the attention of the larger issue, as well.
KURTZ: We're going to come back to some of those very incidents that you mentioned, Robert. Let me come back to Keli on this question.
Sean Hannity, as we saw briefly at the top, and others on the right, went basically haywire over Vice President Biden saying the possibility of executive orders. As if this meant that the government would send out agents to start confiscating guns.
GOFF: Right. Well, to be clear, I think we all know that Sean Hannity goes crazy when there's something mentioned in terms of executive orders.
KURTZ: He wasn't the only one. Every conservative Web site raised the specter of averting the Constitution, when in reality if you look at it, there's relatively little this president or any president can do by executive order. The big ticket items -- closing loopholes at gun shows, background checks, assault weapons -- reinstating assault weapon ban. Those all required congressional approval, and yet this executive order thing just kind of exploded.
GOFF: But you're right. But I would say that's also is specific to this president, because not only very little he can do in terms of executive order, there's actually very little he's done at all on gun control, right, Howie?
So, what's fascinating is, of course, the moment he got elected, gun sales went through the roof. Gun sales have increasingly gone through the roof whenever there has been a shooting, and the words gun control are particularly being mentioned.
I'm just making the point that there is something specific to this president that we discussed on your show that's just not specific to this issue, but a larger story here in terms of the phobia they have about him because in terms of gun control and his record hasn't done enough that would warrant some of this, sort of, out-of-the-box fear that's over the top.
KURTZ: Barack Obama did virtually nothing about gun control in his first term. To be fair, neither did the press.
Now, I want to come back to because it has gotten so much attention when Piers Morgan had on his CNN program Alex Jones, who is a conservative talk show host and a gun rights activist and a rather high decibeled advocate for his position.
Let's take a look at how that went down.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JONES: Hitler took the guns, Stalin took the guns, Mao took the guns, Fidel Castro took the guns, Hugo Chavez took the guns. And I'm here to tell you, 1776 will commence, again, if you try to take our firearms? Why don't you come to America, I'll take you out shooting. You can become an American, and you can join the republic!
MORGAN: Are you finished?
JONES: Yes, I am finished. You will not take my right.
MORGAN: How many gun murders were there in Britain?
JONES: How many great white sharks kill people every year but they're scared to swim.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: I guess he wasn't finished.
Paul Farhi, how did Piers Morgan handle Alex Jones?
FARHI: Badly. The question really is, did anyone at CNN or on Piers Morgan show ever see or hear Alex Jones before they booked him on that show?
KURTZ: Why did you say badly? You let him have his say and Alex Jones -- his views were on display.
FARHI: He got steamrolled.
Piers Morgan thought he was going to have an Oxford debating style debate about gun control.
KURTZ: You really think so?
FARHI: But he kept saying it on the air, as a matter of fact. And Alex Jones doesn't play by those rules and they should have known that going into it. Alex Jones is a monologist. He will go on and on and on.
KURTZ: Right. But what Piers Morgan said in his interview on CBS is that by letting -- he says that you expose the ridiculousness -- in his view, he's an advocate on this issue of gun control -- ridiculousness of people like Alex Jones by putting them on the air, letting them rant and rave. He said, you know, this has been viewed 5 million times on YouTube. It's certainly gotten a lot of attention.
FARHI: That's right. It's great for Alex Jones. I'm sure that his ratings on his radio show will go up tremendously because of it.
KURTZ: Go ahead, Keli. Go ahead, Keli.
GOFF: Can I disagree a little bit? I actually would say that if you're examining this as a contest between who got to say more words, then, yes, Al Jones won. If you examine this as who came across looking more sane? Then Piers Morgan won.
And I have to say, I've heard from a lot of people who are not Piers Morgan fans who never thought he was sane before, who say begrudgingly like "I'm mad at Alex Jones because he made me defend and have to like and cheer for Piers Morgan for once."
And even Piers Morgan ended up calling out Alex Jones one of the best poster children for gun control after this display. And I can think of gun owners who are not proud this is the voice representing them.
So, on that regard, I actually think it was effective because a lot of sane people who say the gun control can go too far. They hear someone like this talking about 1776 rebellion, and they think, you know what? That's not what I want to be associated with.
KURTZ: Let me get Robert in, Keli.
GOFF: They shape policy.
COSTA: I think the entire decision from the editorial perspective to bring Alex Jones a known 9/11 conspiracy theorist who thinks the government is actively working against people, to put him on primetime and portray him as a conservative perspective on gun issues is irresponsible. I think Alex Jones ranting and raving, that's entertainment.
If the press really wants to be complimented for serious journalism, they don't -- they shouldn't bring some like Alex Jones. That's like Edward R. Murrow bringing on the John Birch Society in the 1950s and '60s and expect to be called a series --
KURTZ: I don't think it's fair to say that CNN presented Alex Jones as the face --
COSTA: Why give him the air time?
KURTZ: The guy has the following, right?
COSTA: Sure. But he's a conspiracy theorist --
KURTZ: You're saying he shouldn't be allowed on the air. COSTA: If you're really trying to have an Oxford style debate --
KURTZ: Oxford style debate, it's television.
FARHI: Except that Alex Jones was representing the NRA's position except just a greater volume.
COSTA: I think NRA will argue that Alex Jones does not represent their position.
FARHI: Actually, listen to his rhetoric. It's very much the NRA's.
KURTZ: Just briefly, Keli.
GOFF: But this is the Rush Limbaugh debate, right? When someone has 2 million listeners, you can't dismiss him, right, and his influence in terms of the public policy conversation. And conservatives can't have it both ways.
If they want to reach an audience, they're not ashamed to have Alex Jones have a link or link out to their site. They then can't turn around and say, he's a total nut job and doesn't represent us --
COSTA: The conservatives think Alex Jones is out there, and a network to fluff up Alex Jones, just gives Alex Jones unnecessary credibility, and he does not represent the mainstream conservative perspective on the gun debate.
FARHI: I think he represents the NRA's perspective on the debate and, in fact, there are many gun advocates who would say right on to him.
COSTA: I think a lot of the gun advocates don't have the hysteria that Alex Jones has about the government attacking the American people or subverting --
FARHI: You're talking about style, you're not talking about substance here.
COSTA: Alex Jones's message has a lot of questionable aspects to it and just does not represent the conservative way of thought.
KURTZ: Let me move on by saying other voices in the media speaking out for sane debate about what to do about guns. Jon Stewart, for example, did something that was not necessarily funny but was from the heart. MSNBC's Joe Scarborough talks about this issue a lot.
And David Gregory, you mentioned earlier, actually led the program a couple weeks ago when he -- I'm sure we have a picture of it to show you, when he was interviewing the CEO of the National Life Association, Wayne LaPierre, waved that high-capacity magazine clip, which technically, it is a violation of the District of Columbia to possess that, even though it was empty. D.C. authorities saying now he will not be prosecuted because prosecution would not promote public safety in the District of Columbia. NBC saying this was done solely for journalistic purposes.
Well, that whole thing was a sideshow, wasn't it?
COSTA: It was a prop. You know, it was a prop that became the story, something that shouldn't be the story. The media wants to cover this debate, yet always seem to become the story, especially when they're covering these heated issues.
FARHI: Right. And that gave the pro-gun crowd an opportunity to beat up on the media, which is also part of the strategy of the NRA to demonize the media. This was a perfect opportunity for them.
KURTZ: Do you see -- go ahead, briefly, Keli.
GOFF: Well, this reminds me what the president said in the "Meet the Press" interview, right, a week ago, that he quoted Lincoln saying, with public opinion, there is nothing you can't deal. Without it, there's very little you can get done in this town.
What this whole conversation we're having comes back is whether or not we cover these big personalities and make them too much part of the larger story. But that's how, unfortunately, we sometimes get readers and our audience to pay attention to the policy debate.
So, we have to have a balance.
KURTZ: I had an avalanche of people telling that journalists are not above the law, Gregory should be persecuted, and at the same time, even the D.C. authorities say he was exercising his First Amendment rights. It's a bit of a television stunt, but certainly not one that should result in him being behind bars.
Keli Goff, Paul Farhi, Robert Costa, thanks very much for stopping in this morning.
When we come back, Lance Armstrong ready to seek forgiveness with Oprah Winfrey. Does she still have that kind of clout?
Plus, should ESPN have apologized for Brent Musburger gushing over a college quarterback's girlfriend? Christine Brennan is here in just a moment.
KURTZ: Lance Armstrong has insisted again and again to many journalists, including me, and to the public, that he won al those cycling titles without taking performance-enhancing substances.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LANCE ARMSTRONG, CYCLIST: Listen, I have said it for seven years. I've said it for longer than seven years. I have never doped.
That's crazy. I would never do that. That's -- no, no way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: But now, those denials are coming to an end with Armstrong planning a visit to Oprah's couch. He will be interviewed on Oprah's cable show this coming week. What could that mean for his career and for hers?
Joining us now here in Christine Brennan, sports columnist for "USA Today".
CHRISTINE BRENNAN, USA TODAY: Thank you, Howie.
PINSKY: Could even an Oprah moment help revive Lance Armstrong's career?
BRENNAN: No, this is a lose/lose for Lance Armstrong. Whatever he has to say, Howie, it's way too late.
This is a man who has fought tooth and nail, more than anyone in the history of doping, sports doping, for a thing that he never -- as those clips showed, he has never done anything. Now he is going to do a 180 and admit it all.
KURTZ: Well, but the idea is that you seek forgiveness. You go to the church of Oprah and you seek absolution, and maybe you cry a little bit, and America feels sorry for you. No?
BRENNAN: Bernie Madoff, if he had shown up three months after the fact. Richard Nixon, three months after the fact. I mean, Lance Armstrong --
KURTZ: That is some company you're putting Armstrong in.
BRENNAN: He is in that league. He is in that company.
KURTZ: He is reviled, do you think?
BRENNAN: Oh, I think so.
KURTZ: The guy was a national hero, cancer survivor.
KURTZ: But let's be clear: he did this to himself.
BRENNAN: Well, exactly. This is all self-induced. And he is, I think we can safely say, the biggest fraud, the worst fraud in the history of sports.
KURTZ: All sports?
BRENNAN: Oh, I absolutely think so, and because he transcended sports. It wasn't just as an athlete. But he moved into that world of our culture with cancer.
KURTZ: Culture of celebrity, yes.
BRENNAN: Exactly. And so, I think things are different. I think the reality is the old days of crying on Oprah's couch, to your point, and coming clean -- I think, first of all, I think the American public is smarter than that.
Secondly, this notion that he is going to be able to compete, come back and compete, again. And, by the way, come back to what?
BRENNAN: I mean, he is retired from cycling. So, it's triathlons and marathons. He's obviously -- it's driving him crazy that he can't do this. He should have thought of that years ago.
But this notion he is going to be able to compete, even if he gives up all the goods, gives up all the doctors, new information, names, everything he can possibly think of, Howie, it would only reduce his lifetime ban, potentially reduce it to eight years which would take him almost to his 50th birthday.
KURTZ: Let's talk about Oprah Winfrey, because we all remember the 25 years when she was a superstar, the queen of talk, big network, syndicated show, millions of viewers. Now, she's got a struggling cable channel, the Oprah Winfrey Network, which gets, you know, fewer than 350,000 viewers on average.
So, even if this visit in television terms would be a big success, not that many people are going to see it.
BRENNAN: I have no idea what channel the Oprah Winfrey Network is.
KURTZ: And neither do I. I had to look it up.
BRENNAN: Yes. And I'm going to have to look it up Thursday night to make sure I watch it.
I think that's part of the problem. I understand why she wants it.
KURTZ: Why does she want it?
BRENNAN: Well, because it's great publicity. What have we done in the last three or four days, talk about Oprah.
KURTZ: So it puts her back in the limelight.
BRENNAN: Absolutely. This is supposed to happen in Lance's home in Austin, Texas.
So, she's had a week, or we'll have a week of really good publicity for her. You know, this notion that she's taking questions, asking people what they would ask Lance, not that it matters because I can't imagine she's going to come clean and say what he has to say. It would require a mini-series not 90 minutes on Oprah.
KURTZ: Right. But this is a media strategy. His career is in ruins. His charity is hurting, Livestrong.
And so, first, it was a leak to "The New York Times" saying he is considering doing something like this. And we heard he's going on Oprah. And then your newspaper, "USA Today", reported that he is going in fact to confess to some degree.
KURTZ: I guess people in his camp or Armstrong himself who, by the way, was absolutely vociferous with me when he -- denied in 1990, he attacked the people -- the U.S. Anti-Doping investigators who were investigating him, saying that they were conducting a personal vendetta.
I mean, he is a pretty good liar.
KURTZ: But you're completely ruling out the notion, legalities aside, that he could get a second chance in the court of public opinion by doing the Oprah thing.
BRENNAN: Well, maybe he could. Although there are those people -- I hear from them a lot who say he never failed a drug test. That will take care of them. He will lose that last group of people who say, well, he never failed a drug test. Well, that would take care of them. So, he will lose that last group who've been saying, oh, but he's still -- so, you know, he never failed the drug test. So, he would then admit.
I think there are some people, you know, dab their eyes and, oh, Lance, we understand, everyone was cheating in the sport.
But it opens the legal mine fields for there is already three lawsuits out there and I can't imagine Friday morning, everybody is going to be calling their lawyers saying if he's admitted I'm now going after him. And then, as I said, no matter what he says, and I think this has been missing in the news, we've done it with "USA Today" constantly. But even if he comes completely clean, not an Oprah-like thing, but all the documents, Howie --
BRENNAN: -- all the layers and layers and hours and hours of giving up the goods, he still would only have the potential to lower that ban to eight years.
KURTZ: And you reported in your newspaper that he had met early on with the head of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to try to see whether or not he could make some kind of comeback and perhaps he can make a contribution and that sort of thing. So, these are kind of acts of desperation.
KURTZ: And to drive home the point about how cheating and the use of banned substances or taking illegal drugs can taint athletes, you look at what happened this week, "New York Times" had a blank page who had been admitted to the baseball Hall of Fame, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, who else didn't get in, Barry Bonds, of course.
BRENNAN: Barry Bonds, all big three.
KURTZ: All of whose careers have been tainted by drugs. So, it's very hard to come back from this, even if Oprah wraps her arms around you, right?
BRENNAN: Oh, exactly. And again, this is a guy who is more adamant than anyone else that he didn't cheat. And he had this opportunity in June. The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency said, come clean and you can be part of the solution and maybe then they would have decreased the lifetime ban. You know, but he refused to do that.
So, he had that opportunity in June.
KURTZ: So, too late now --
BRENNAN: So why he's doing it in January, I think, as I said earlier, the American public is smarter than this. This is so transparent.
This guy is not sorry that he doped. He is sorry that he got caught.
KURTZ: OK. Let me turn to one other little controversy in the world of sports and that was during the college football championship game. Veteran broadcaster Brent Musburger of ESPN, was we're going to play it for you right now.
Perhaps you've seen this online was going on and on about the girlfriend of the quarterback A.J. O'Conner (ph) who happened to be in the stands. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRENT MUSBURGER, ESPN: You see that lovely lady there, she does go to Auburn. But she also is Miss Alabama and that's A.J. McCarron's girlfriend, OK?
You quarterbacks, you get all the good-looking. What a beautiful woman. Wow!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: I meant to say A.J. McCarron.
Katherine Webb is her name. And you heard Musburger going on and on and on -- little carried away? BRENNAN: Yes, a little carried away. He did apologized and became a huge deal for several days. I'm not sure --
KURTZ: Why it was such a huge deal?
BRENNAN: Partially -- mostly because the game was so lousy. I mean, that game was a blowout by that time.
KURTZ: Alabama is winning by 80 touchdowns. Nothing else to talk about.
BRENNAN: Right. It's late in the second quarter. So, yes, I wish we would focus more on women who are participating on the field of play than women on the sidelines. But maybe coming back and talking to you in 30 years on that subject.
KURTZ: She is, what, former Miss Alabama? He didn't exactly insult her.
BRENNAN: Here's what I think -- no, no, Brent's a friend and I really respect Brent. He has been great. I mean, he has an amazing career.
What he should have said and I think he would agree is say there is A.J. McCarron's mother, there's his girlfriend, Katherine Webb, Miss Alabama. And leave it at that. Look his whole family is there. Just do --
PINSKY: Leave it at that. He was excited.
All right. So, Katherine Webb --
BRENNAN: I think that was the problem.
KURTZ: Katherine Webb, in my view, bails out Musburger, because she goes on "Today" show and she's asked, what was your reaction to all this? Let's take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KATHERINE WEBB, MISS ALABAMA 2012: I think the media has been really unfair to him. I think that if he would have said something along the line of -- that we were hot or sexy or made any derogatory statements like that, I think that would have been a little bit different.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So, with Katherine Webb saying that, does ESPN really need to apologize?
BRENNAN: No. I don't think so. I think it was much to do about nothing. Brent Musburger made a mistake.
Worth an apology? I don't think so. Again, if the game had been good, if it had been close, no one would have paid attention to this. As I said, you know, if you're an announcer, focus on the facts and go back to the game and that's what Brent Musburger should have done.
KURTZ: So I shouldn't say, Christine Brennan, you're looking fine this morning.
BRENNAN: Well, I'd take the compliment. And you as well.
KURTZ: Thanks a lot for coming by.
BRENNAN: Thank you.
KURTZ: Coming up: Jimmy Kimmel goes head-to-head with Letterman and Leno. How is he doing? And has sent "Nightline" into oblivion?
KURTZ: It's not very common for a network to oust a program that is winning its time slot but ABC did just that this week to "Nightline", pushing it back one hour to 12:35 in the morning in favor of Jimmy Kimmel.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CYNTHIA MCFADDEN, ABC NEWS: Starting tomorrow evening, "Nightline" is moving to 12:35 Eastern. But don't you worry, al the great stories you've enjoyed and we've loved bringing to you over the past 33 years will be just one hour later.
KURTZ: For the first time, there's a three-way comedy faceoff at 11:30 with Kimmel taking on Letterman and Leno.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KIMMEL: For those of you who tune in expecting to see "Nightline" right now, this is not it. "Nightline" is on after us now and I hope you stay out to watch because it's a great show.
But just because this isn't "Nightline", that doesn't mean we're going to talk about important subjects.
For instance, did you know Honey Boo Boo's mother is afraid of mayonnaise?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So what does this mean for late night and for "Nightline"? Joining me now in Philadelphia, Gail Shister, columnist for TVNewser and a senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania. And in New York, Adam Buckman, media reporter for TVhowl and the Xfinity TV blog.
Welcome to you, Adam Buckman. Does America really need another comedian at 11:30? ADAM BUCKMAN, TV COLUMNIST, XFINITY: Well, that remains to be seen. I mean, Jimmy Kimmel got millions of viewers, even beat David Letterman his first night out on Tuesday. So when you say "need," it's really do they want or are they interested in watching a third late-night show at 11:35, a comedy late night show. And it turns out that they are interested in having a third choice with Jimmy Kimmel.
KURTZ: Right. Obviously, you get more attention when you make your debut, Gale Shister. But given that Leno and Letterman are both -- have well-established franchises, how does Kimmel distinguish himself?
GAIL SHISTER, COLUMNIST, TVNEWSER.COM: I think he distinguishes himself by lowering the median age of viewers at 11:35 PM right away. I think he attracts a much younger audience, and I think...
KURTZ: Lowering it from, say, 85 to something more reasonable?
SHISTER: From 85 to at least 83.
SHISTER: But also, if anything happens, I think he may hasten the retirement of Letterman. I think that what may happen is, if Letterman continues to get beaten by Kimmel and there's more erosion in his audience, it may end up pushing him off the air.
KURTZ: It's an interesting publicity build-up here. First, let me play Jay Leno taking -- having a little bit of fun with the situation on the "Tonight."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAY LENO, HOST, "TONIGHT" SHOW: Well, here, maybe it's me. Take a look. Here's a report.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The late night comedy talk show wars are suddenly becoming a crowded timeslot.
LENO: All right, hold it right there.
LENO: Now, wait a minute. I have been here 20 years! Is that the best picture they have of me?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: But what really struck me was the way in which Jimmy Kimmel -- you know, doing interviews in places like "Rolling Stone" -- went out of his way to trash Jay Leno. I'm fumbling with my papers here, and I found the quote. He says -- Kimmel says, "You can't be a comedian and not have disdain for Leno. He was a master chef who opened a Burger King." So Adam Buckman, is Jimmy just trying to get a little attention for himself for his big network debut?
BUCKMAN: Yes, he is, and I think he's really wrong. I think there's probably plenty of comedians who would give their right arm, if not both arms, to be in Jay Leno's position, pulling down the incredible money that he makes and the fame and recognition that he has because after all, that's why most of them got into the business, to be Jay Leno or to aspire to be a person in his position.
KURTZ: It seemed to me, Gail, that what Kimmel was trying to do was create a little bit of the magic -- remember how captivated we all are, the Conan O'Brien versus Leno versus Letterman wars, which got everybody talking about late night. And that could only help him as the new guy -- not the new guy on the block. Obviously, he's had a network for some years, but moving up to that prime 11:35 slot.
SHISTER: It makes -- if I'm a PR person, it makes perfect sense because he's creating buzz by going after the king. I mean, Leno is the king of late night. Plus, it's well known that Kimmel absolutely idolizes Letterman. He's not going to go after Letterman, so if you're going to shoot for somebody, why not go after the number one funny guy in late night?
It's creating a little buzz. But also, I like Kimmel's act. I didn't watch him that much when he was on later. I watched him the past week...
KURTZ: Yes, sure...
SHISTER: ... and I was very impressed.
KURTZ: ... you were sleeping!
SHISTER: ... very impressed.
KURTZ: So you were very impressed, and you...
SHISTER: I'm an old person!
KURTZ: You both seem to think that he's a young, fresh face who could be seriously competitive for ABC in this timeslot. Remember, what was it, 2002, a decade ago, when ABC caused an uproar by making plans to lure David Letterman to ABC and replace and then probably abolish "Nightline" then anchored by Ted Koppel.
I didn't get the impression there was as much angst, even in the news business, about "Nightline" now being pushed back, I would say, almost to the middle of the night. Why do you think that is?
SHISTER: Well, I would say that it was a different universe back then. It was a different TV universe. It wasn't quite as technologically advanced. The universe wasn't as balkanized as it is now. And now anybody who wants to see "Nightline" and doesn't want to wait that long, to stay up that late, can watch it on their computers the next day. They can call it up whenever they want. It wasn't the same thing 10 years ago.
And so I think the -- also, there's a lot more choices. And if you don't want to watch "Nightline" and you want to watch another news show, there will be one somewhere.
SHISTER: And it's a different show, too, don't forget.
BUCKMAN: In addition -- in addition, Ted Koppel...
SHISTER: In 2002, it was Koppel.
KURTZ: Right, and...
SHISTER: You don't have the stature.
KURTZ: I have to give credit to Cynthia McFadden and Terry Moran and the whole crew for -- you know, it's tough to put on a news show at 11:35 and beat the two biggest comedians in late night. And "Nightline" was consistently able to do that. But even though it was number one, I had the impression the program didn't make itself indispensable because it became more of a variety show, where they would do both light and more serious topics.
BUCKMAN: Well, look, the problem with "Nightline"...
SHISTER: Very much so and...
BUCKMAN: And the reason ABC moved it out of the time period was that ABC is seeking some kind of parity in the timeslot from 11:35 to 12:35 with a one-hour comedy show that can draw a lot more variety of advertisers and sponsors than a news program that only lasts a half an hour. There's just so much commercial time in a 25-minute show, which is what "Nightline" had been reduced to, and there are just so many advertisers that want to be associated with a, quote, unquote, "serious" news program versus being in a comedy late night show.
BUCKMAN: And the door just flies open for sponsorships when you put a comedy show on at 11:35.
KURTZ: Right. Well, you're giving me the business explanation, but already, just in the four nights since this has happened, Gail, the audience for "Nightline" has been reduced from nearly 4 million to just under 2 million, I believe, on average. I mean, that's a big blow... SHISTER: Plus, you don't even know how many -- I'm sorry. Go ahead.
KURTZ: No, you go ahead.
SHISTER: Oh, I was just going to say, you don't know how many of those two million are awake.
KURTZ: How sentient they are. And so, you know, I understand it's a competitive world, and as Adam just said, you know, comedy rates better and advertisers maybe more want to be associated with it than a show that maybe is leading with the latest terror attack or fiscal cliff battle in Washington.
KURTZ: But still, you know, it was a 33-year-old franchise started famously as "America Held Hostage" during the Iranian hostage crisis by Koppel back in 1980. There's part of me that's sad about this, but I don't sense any great discomfort about this, at least in the press.
BUCKMAN: The television viewing public is getting plenty of news, and they don't really need "Nightline" any more at 11:35. And I don't think "Nightline's" coverage of whatever they've been covering over the last few months has been indispensable to the public's consumption of news, their understanding of big stories.
I just think that -- you know, look, television shows don't have tenure. Television is not a university. And after 33 years, maybe that's the biggest reason to move "Nightline" out of the time period and also evolve it toward this week night franchise. I mean, they are talking about doing, you know, primetime "Nightline" specials. And this is where network news divisions make their money. They package their primetime news magazines like "Primetime" "20/20" and "60 Minutes" and "Dateline."
KURTZ: All right...
BUCKMAN: And maybe "Nightline" as a brand can make money for ABC News in that way.
KURTZ: Well, I hope it survives as a brand.
Let me get a break here. Up next, Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski really go at it on "Morning Joe." How does anger play on the air?
KURTZ: Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski are good friends, as well as colleagues on MSNBC's morning show. I've seen them off camera, and there's no question about that. But on Thursday morning, during a discussion about President Obama's cabinet, whether it was becoming something of a boys' club, Mika pushed back against Joe's argument, and things heated up from there.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKA BRZEZINSKI, CO-HOST, "MORNING JOE": I am afraid to use the word because it will not be good for you, OK, because you're being chauvinistic right now, and you need to stop.
JOE SCARBOROUGH, CO-HOST, "MORNING JOE": On, am I really? Oh!
BRZEZINSKI: All right? Because I'm sorry, this is not funny.
SCARBOROUGH: No, it's not funny. You're calling the wrong guy a chauvinist. You're calling the wrong guy a chauvinist. And seriously -- hold on -- you want to call me a chauvinist...
SCARBOROUGH: ... right here.
BRZEZINSKI: Stop! Let me help you.
SCARBOROUGH: No, no, no, no, no, let me help you!
SCARBOROUGH: Do you really, knowing me and seeing me work around here for five years -- you want to call me a chauvinist on television?
BRZEZINSKI: No, I'm...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Gail Shister, was that riveting television or a little hard to watch?
SHISTER: Well, I don't know about you, but my thighs (ph) were quivering. No, I don't -- I don't think it was riveting television. This drives me crazy. Joe Scarborough talks when he inhales. I've never seen anybody this side of Chris Matthews who interrupts as much as he does. And Mika sits there, since the beginning, like a school girl and makes faces and doesn't fight back.
And when she said, I have a word for you and you're not going to like it, I thought, Oh, boy, Mika's grown a pair. She's finally going to stand up to this verbal bully and finish a complete sentence. And when she says chauvinist, you would have thought she was calling the guy a pederast, that that was the best she could come up with.
KURTZ: Well, it's a strong thing to say.
SHISTER: It's just -- the whole thing was disappointing.
KURTZ: It is called "Morning Joe," after all. He's the star of the show. And Adam, we're used to televised combat, but -- and these people work so closely together. But they both seemed really mad. They never quite lightened it up. BUCKMAN: First of all, I found it entertaining, not that I'm, you know, sadistic or wish anybody to have a poor day at the office. But you know, it made for riveting television, and as a result, we're talking about "Morning Joe" today, and we don't talk about "Morning Joe" all that often.
To me, they came across as two co-workers who work very closely with each other every day at the office, and as we do sometimes with co-workers who we like genuinely and work closely with, we sometimes have a bad day with them. And I think that's what that was like. I think it was very relatable in that way.
I think the male/female give-and-take was relatable to a lot of viewers, and that -- what I just said before about, you know, two co- workers having a bad day together, where maybe they didn't speak for the rest of the day. I think that's relatable, too, to most people.
KURTZ: Let me come back to Gail...
SHISTER: No, see, Howie, I totally -- I totally disagree. I think that she was so restrained, I wanted to jump through the screen and just choke her and say, Man up, Mika.
BUCKMAN: Well, is she supposed to jump up...
SHISTER: You know, if that's her being really, really angry...
BUCKMAN: ... and just strangle Joe? I mean, really. I mean...
SHISTER: No, she's supposed to be a little more -- she's supposed to raise the decibel level a little bit, the way he does, and show her anger, instead of discussing her anger and repressing it. I think, in some ways, it was very gender-like.
SHISTER: That's the way girls express anger.
KURTZ: Strangling, I believe, is still against the law, even on television.
KURTZ: After a break, Mika Brzezinski did come back, kind of apologized, saying she was using "chauvinist" as an adjective, she doesn't believe Joe to be a chauvinist, and they seem to have made up.
Thank you very much, Adam Buckman...
SHISTER: Oh, please!
KURTZ: ... and Gail Shister.
Up next, my two cents on the nauseating revelations about the crimes committed by one-time BBC hero Jimmy Savile.
KURTZ: The tale of the late BBC entertainer Jimmy Savile keeps gets more sickening, in part because the authorities could have stopped this vicious predator. The report by British authorities this week says Savile abused more than 200 children, some of them as young as 8. And in 23 cases, the assaults took place at BBC's Television Center, the last one during a taping a half dozen years ago when Savile was nearly 80.
Now, let's be blunt. These attacks by a man knighted by Queen Elizabeth and Pope John Paul II included rape. A "Guardian" columnist said Savile was truly an evil genius. "The Independent" calls him a monster who was hiding in plain sight.
The police and other institutions fell short, clearly, but the greatest shame belongs to the BBC, which killed an investigation after Savile died, leaving his crimes to be discovered by the rival ITV. A soul-searching moment for a country and its premier national network.
After the break, china cracks down on one courageous newspaper, and some journalists actually pushed back. A look at Beijing and censorship in just a moment.
KURTZ: It began with a Chinese newspaper called "Southern Weekend" attempting to publish a New Year's Day editorial calling for greater respect for constitutional freedoms. Government censors decimated the editorial, but then things took an unusual turn. There were street protests outside the paper, and some journalists went on strike, this in a country where the authorities can shut down not just any publication, but punish individual bloggers.
Joining us now, Rebecca MacKinnnon, a senior fellow with the New America Foundation and a former Beijing bureau chief for CNN. Thanks for coming in.
REBECCA MACKINNON, FORMER CNN BEIJING BUREAU CHIEF: Thank you.
KURTZ: So china is long accustomed to censorship. Why were there street protests after the evisceration of this editorial and journalists actually going on strike?
MACKINNON: Yes, well, actually, there have been strikes before. In 2006, there was a strike at another publication in Beijing over the firing of the editor.
KURTZ: Isn't it very risky to do that?
MACKINNON: It's risky, but usually, in the past, this was not known, thanks to censorship, beyond a very small circle of people.
What changed is social media, that the journalists that were going on strike that were angry about having been censored in this case this past week were on what -- what is called Weibo, which is a Chinese version of Twitter, with lots of followers and re sort of media celebrities. They complained about being censored on Weibo, talked about the strike in Weibo. Celebrities who follow them retweeted it, and so millions of Chinese knew about this. And that's what's different, and of course...
KURTZ: Whereas in the past, most people wouldn't known have about it.
MACKINNON: In the past, people would never have known about it. So people sympathetic came to support them from around the country.
KURTZ: Since you mentioned social media, it's fascinating to be because China, you know, has this vast propaganda apparatus, even goes after bloggers, even goes after people posting on Twitter, some of them with substantial followings, as you say, not Twitter but Weibo, the Chinese equivalent.
But how can the authorities -- I mean, how many people the government assigns to this censor everyone, every post, every text message? It seems like a daunting task.
MACKINNON: Well, that's right. And they actually can't censor everything, so they kind of do targeted censorship.
KURTZ: In order to make an example of people?
MACKINNON: ... in order to make an example of people, in order to go after particular threats that they think could result in national movements against the central government. They actually allow quite a lot of reporting and tweeting about local issues and local corruption, and so on, and that enables people to blow off steam.
KURTZ: Wait. That's OK because it fits the government's agenda and doesn't challenge the authority of the party?
MACKINNON: It does. And then the government can come in and fix the problem, it actually makes them look good.
KURTZ: Now, there was a compromise in this particular case involving "Southern Weekend," where the paper was allowed to keep publishing, but at least in the next issue, didn't address the controversy that everybody else was talking about. Was it much of a compromise?
MACKINNON: Well, it was something of a compromise. And of course, this newspaper's always been under censorship and they've always been pushing up against the controls, and I know a lot of people have been fired from the paper over the past several decades.
KURTZ: People you've met personally...
MACKINNON: People I know personally, yes. KURTZ: This is in Guangzhou?
MACKINNON: In Guangzhou, and also people who I've known more recently from when I was in Hong Kong. And -- and -- but the compromise is not about stopping censorship. It's basically about going back to a status quo that existed roughly a year ago, before the government started increasing censorship because it's always been the government gives instructions to the editor, saying, you know, You're not going to cover this, you're going to cover X in Y way, and you know, giving very detailed examples about how they have to cover things. And then if they misjudge their instructions, then they get in trouble. That was the old system.
Over the past year, the government has been interfering much more directly pre-publication, changing things. And this last example of the New Year's editorial was the last straw for a lot of journalists. And so it's really -- the negotiation is about going back to the old censorship system...
KURTZ: Which is still...
MACKINNON: ... rather than the new and extreme censorship system.
KURTZ: OK. So the -- even the old system, to the Western ears, sounds just absolutely totalitarian. And in fact, Amnesty International says China has the largest number of jailed journalists. So people who challenge this, whether they're in the business, or even if you decide to join a street protest, you do this at some risk.
MACKINNON: Yes. No, that's absolutely true. And there are journalists from this paper who have gone to jail in the past for some of the reporting they tried to do.
KURTZ: Why is the government so obsessed with keeping such a tight rein on what is published? It's not like any of these publications or even bloggers is calling for the overthrow of the state.
MACKINNON: Well, they're worried that if they give more room, that some people calling for the overthrow of the state or for a multi-party system might emerge.
KURTZ: So it's a slippery slope argument.
MACKINNON: They're worried about the slippery slope.
KURTZ: And does it seem to you, based on your experience there, Rebecca, that journalists -- that a new generation of journalists is more aggressive or more daring in terms of pushing back against this state censorship?
MACKINNON: It's a mixed bag. I mean, I think people have different views about how China should evolve or how quickly it should evolve. But the liberal journalists are really just calling, you know, as in the editorial, for an enforcement of the existing constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech. They're not calling for political change.
KURTZ: Doesn't sound that radical to me, but I guess an entrenched bureaucracy doesn't want to allow even some of these disparate voices.
Rebecca MacKinnon, thanks very much for educating us on this, on this Sunday morning.
Still to come, Greta Van Susteren does more than just cover Haiti, an ESPN pundit talks himself out of a job, and Al Roker's messy tail about a visit to the White House. The "Media Monitor" is straight ahead.
KURTZ: Time now for the "Media Monitor," our weekly look at the hits and errors in the news business.
Greta Van Susteren went back to Haiti on Friday, three years after the devastating earthquake there. The Fox News correspondent has been to Haiti so many times that a new school and orphanage has been named after her, the Greta Home and Academy, which was dedicated by the Reverend Franklin Graham.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's life-changing for these children to have the opportunity to come to a school like this, that has computers, that has just good quality teachers, and get a good education.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stand up, please. Good morning, sir.
CHILD: Good morning, sir.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Van Susteren and her husband have bought computers for each of the 80 children in the home. That's an effort that goes beyond journalism and beyond what many of us in this business do, which is cover a disaster and then move on.
The Washington Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III injured his knee again in last week's losing playoff game, sparking a huge Beltway controversy over whether the team's coach should have played him. But one pundit isn't around to talk about that. That's ESPN's Rob Parker. The sports network suspended the commentator for questioning Griffin's authenticity as an African-American, asking whether RGIII was, quote, "a brother or a cornball brother," unquote. Now ESPN has decided not to renew Parker's contract.
You may think we're going into the toilet with this item, but man, has this gotten a lot of attention. Al Roker, the NBC anchor and "Today" snow weather guy, told this story about himself and the White House.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AL ROKER, NBC NEWS: And as I'm walking to the press room -- oh, I got to, you know, pass a little gas here. So I'm walking by myself. Who's going to know? Only a little something extra came out.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You pooped in your pants.
ROKER: I pooped my pants, not horribly, but enough that I knew.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Roker is, you guessed it, pushing a new book on weight loss and described the loss of bowel control as one of the side effects of gastric bypass surgery. Even Roker says he's stunned by how much attention his little admission has gotten. And that's the inside poop.
Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz. If you miss us, go to iTunes on Monday, you can download our podcast. Search for RELIABLE SOURCES in the iTunes store.
Join us again here next weekend for CNN's special coverage of the presidential inauguration.
"STATE OF THE UNION" with Candy Crowley begins right now.