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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES

FOX and GOP Forge New Image; Chris Christie Fumes Over Weighty Issue

Aired February 10, 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: It may be just a small sign of change on the right, but FOX News just dumped Dick Morris -- the political pundit who loudly predicted -- no, insisted -- that Mitt Romney was going to wallop Barack Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK MORRIS, FORMER FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: I think that I was wrong at the top of my lungs. Maybe I'm being made a poster child for that. But --

PIERS MORGAN, CNN'S "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT" HOST: Do you resent the decision?

MORRIS: Look, FOX has given me the opportunity of a lifetime, 15 years, 3,000 interviews, and at some point a great marriage has to come to an end.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Is this part of FOX News and the Republican Party softening their image? And is the press covering that fairly?

Senator Robert Menendez denounces a conservative Web site that published unsubstantiated allegations about him and underage prostitutes. Should the media touch that story without proof?

We're talking about Chris Christie' weight again. And you know who I blame? Chris Christie.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I'm basically the healthiest fat guy you've ever seen in your life.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Now, the governor is mad that others are weighing in on television.

Plus, more friends taking long vacations from America's most popular social network. Is Facebook fatigue taking a toll? And CBS cracking down on tonight's Grammys with a memo against showing too much skin. Is it time to take a stand against wardrobe malfunctions?

I'm Howard Kurtz and this is RELIABLE SOURCES.

(MUSIC)

KURTZ: All that ahead.

But, first, New England recovering this morning from that blizzard that dumped almost three feet of snow in some areas. As of this morning, more than 350,000 people remaining without power. The storm is being blamed for nine deaths in three states and Canada.

The latest on the cleanup, let's go to Boston and CNN's Indra Petersons.

I wanted to ask you what it's like standing in the show doing live shots hour after hour. And what is the region doing to get ready for tomorrow's rush hour?

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes. You know, I have to say, it's pretty unbelievable to stand on the lines of history. I mean, talk about a difference. 24 hours ago we were talking about pelting ice and snow, winds gusting 60, even 70 miles per hour. And now check this out, right?

I mean, the sun is out. It's gorgeous.

KURTZ: A lot of white stuff there.

PETERSONS: But that's only going to mean more problems. Here's the problem.

Yes, let me just take a look. We show you. We're talking about 24.9 inches of snow out here. This is what we have to deal with as we go through the next couple of days.

Here's the problem, though -- we have one day to clean this up. The reason? Tomorrow, another storm is headed our way.

First of all, remember I talked about the sun in temperatures will be above freezing today. We'll start to see some of this melt. Then, tomorrow another storm comes our way, so first we're going to start off with a wintry mix then by the afternoon, we're going to be talking about more rain.

Overnight the temperatures drop below freezing and what is that? Of course more ice on the roadway. So, a lot of problems to talk about. As far as cleanup, we have to clean up the snow but we still have 250,000 people without power today. The upside, people can already drive, yes, the emergency is still in effect so no one can park on the roadways so they can try and clear this in the short period of time they have.

KURTZ: Thanks.

PETERSONS: Obviously, no flights. They're trying to resume over 5,000 flights.

KURTZ: Thanks.

PETERSONS: Logan about 20 outbound and 10 inbound flights already today.

KUTZ: Thanks very much. Indra Petersons in Boston. Not a snowflake here in the Beltway, maybe it's all that hot air.

The political coverage this week has been all about Republicans trying to project a kinder, softer, gentler image. And network most closely associated with that conservative cause seems to be inching that way as well. FOX News is very likely to sign, I'm told, Scott Brown, former Massachusetts senator, as a commentator.

And the other day, it dumped the man who kept making predictions like this one.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MORRIS: Romney is going to win by four to eight points. He's going to get more than 300 electoral votes. And Ohio is not going to decide the election.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Dick Morris explained his stance after the election that he was being something of a GOP cheerleader.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MORRIS: I spoke about what I believed and I think that there was a period of time when the Romney campaign was falling apart, people were not optimistic. Nobody thought there was a chance of victory. And I felt it was my duty at that point to go out and say what I said.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: So are Republicans and FOX News engaged in a bit of rehab?

Joining us now: Steve Roberts, professor of media and public affairs at the George Washington University; Ryan Lizza, Washington correspondent for "The New Yorker" and a CNN contributor; and Lauren Ashburn, editor in chief of daily-download.com, where I am also a contributor.

Ryan Lizza, is FOX News, to start, they are going through a repositioning?

RYAN LIZZA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: They are. But I feel like Dick Morris is paying for the sins of an entire network. Dick Morris was not the only one at FOX News that predicted a crushing Romney victory, right? In fact, a lot of Republican pollsters predicted that -- Karl Rove, Hannity, half the named commentators on FOX said things that Dick did -- that Dick Morris --

KURTZ: So why Morris?

LIZZA: Well, he was probably the most over the top. And in the media he became -- you know, what's the word in the Internet? He became a meme, he became a thing, that Dick Morris made these ridiculous over the top predictions.

But this was something that was, you know, across the network at FOX.

KURTZ: But, Lawrence Ashburn, did FOX drop Dick Morris basically just for making a wrong prediction about the election?

LAUREN ASHBURN, DAILY-DOWNLOAD.COM: No, they dropped him because it's been 15 years of Dick Morris. I mean, I think that you get to a point where you need to hit the reset and refresh button. You want fresh voices. You want fresh faces, and there's nothing wrong with that.

There's no saying he's -- you know, Ailes isn't saying, Roger Ailes, president of FOX News, is not saying he's not going to come back. He's just saying, we're going to take a break.

It's Dick Morris who's saying --

KURTZ: If your contract is not renewed, it's more than taking a break.

(LAUGHTER)

ASHBURN: No, listen to me. He says that he's on the record as saying that he is going -- it's just not quite a divorce. We're going to take a break.

I mean, you know what? People come back all the time. We thought Dick Morris was dead when he had a political scandal, right? And look at him. He's been on FOX for 15 years.

KURTZ: OK. But Sarah Palin also out. Scott Brown, the moderate, looks like he's in. FOX has a pretty big megaphone when it comes to the right.

STEVE ROBERTS, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: That's true. Look, there is a larger problem with FOX. Their audiences are down. Truth in labeling, they're still bigger than any other cable, but they are down.

KURTZ: Huge.

ROBERTS: Their trust level is down. The latest surveys about who the public trust, FOX has taken a significant dip.

Look, Dick Morris is a buffoon. But Roger Ailes is not. And Roger Ailes is a very, very smart man who created FOX as an alternative to many mainstream media.

But Roger Ailes wants to be taken seriously as a credible person. Dick Morris is not a credible person. Sarah Palin is not a credible person. And I think he got rid of them in part because he wants FOX to be taken seriously, and those people diminish their credibility.

ASHBURN: I guess he's not coming to dinner at your house.

ROBERTS: Who?

ASHBURN: Dick Morris.

ROBERTS: No. I guess he is a buffoon, but as I say Roger Ailes is a very, very smart man and he knows he has to be more credible.

KURTZ: Let's broaden this out. And, by the way, you talked about credibility. A new survey showing that 40 percent of those questioned don't trust FOX News, but 41 percent do trust FOX News, people who you love it or hate it, depending on your political predilection.

So, now, we see Eric Cantor going out, making speeches about the problems of working families, talking about working moms. It does seem like there's an effort to -- by the GOP to soften the tone on issues like guns and immigration.

Is that real? How should the press cover that? Is it real or is it just atmospherics?

LIZZA: It's real. I mean, the Republicans lost the election and in their election results were some signs that the party's in real trouble and unless they reach out to constituencies they haven't been doing well with. We know the demographics -- Asian-Americans, Hispanics, women. They're getting killed among these demographics.

And there's a debate within the Republican Party over whether it's just messaging and pr and marketing and if they didn't communicate properly in the 2012 election. Others folks are saying no, at the core, the policy agenda needs to shift to attract voters they're losing.

I think that's a big question about what Eric Cantor is doing with some of their Republican leaders. Is it just a marketing offensive or a change in the actual agenda?

LAUREN: So you're answering our question. A credible journalist Ryan Lizza, with "The New Yorker", finds this interesting. Why wouldn't we cover it, Howie? I don't understand the question.

KURTZ: Well, first of all, let's look at the cover of the new "TIME" magazine, you have Marco Rubio. Headline, "The Republican Savior." The more we focus on voices like Rubio's -- young, next- generation Republican -- and the less we talk about John Boehner and the endless budget fights with President Obama, we are helping to shift the tone as well.

Maybe journalists want the GOP to moderate a bit and be more of a mainstream party.

ASHBURN: Well, of course they do. I mean, then -- you know, that's what makes things interesting. You have Karl Rove coming out with a new super PAC that is going to be funding people who are more moderate.

And then you have -- you know, other people in the Tea Party, et cetera, who are still trying to shift things as far right as possible and stand up for their morals and principles.

ROBERTS: We have to do both. Look, I do think we have to take seriously this attempt by Republicans to rebrand themselves.

KURTZ: But if there's no change in vote? If there's no change in policy, then are we to some degree --

ROBERTS: That's true.

KURTZ: -- perhaps being taken in by the packaging?

ROBERTS: Fair point. But let's see what happens on immigration, for instance. Are there going to be Republican votes that back up the four senators -- to take one example -- four Republican senators led by John McCain, who said let me give you some straight talk, we are losing the kinds of people Ryan was talking about? That translates into real votes and policy, it's serious. It's beyond packaging.

But at the same time, there's a whole group of people who don't go along. We've got to cover the Tea Party dead-enders as well as the McCain reformers.

KURTZ: You call them dead-enders. They would say they're fighting for the principles they believe in.

Let me shift gears here, because a fascinating story has emerged and a deadly story has emerged involving Christopher Dorner, you may know his name, he's the former L.A. police officer who was accused, a great manhunt on right now, of multiple murders and violent rampage. And a manifesto written by him rambling, 11-page rant, really, emerged in recent days.

I want to put something up on the screen, because he has a lot of opinions on people on television. Here's what Dorner wrote among other things, "Chris Matthews, Joe Scarborough, Pat Harvey, Brian Williams, Soledad O'Brien, Wolf Blitzer, Meredith Vieira, Tavis Smiley and Anderson Cooper, keep up the great work and follow Cronkite's lead."

Then he says, he gives advice, "Willie Geist, you're a talented and charismatic journalist. Stop with the talk-show shenanigans and get back to your core of reporting."

"Jeffrey Toobin and David Gergen, you are political geniuses and modern scholars. Hopefully, Toobin is nominated for the Supreme Court."

It's bizarre. How much should we care about what this guy says?

LIZZA: It's bizarre. I think, you know, first of all, that's one list as a journalist you probably don't want to be on, like you don't want to be on, like the killer's list of favorite journalists. We should care about it because he's a murder suspect and it's worth covering.

The other media story here is there's all these allegations in his manifesto against the Los Angeles Police Department. You know, a question for the media. Should they be investigating that stuff? Is he credible given the fact he's probably killed people, is he credible in the accusations he's throwing out at the LAPD?

ASHBURN: It's fascinating that all of these people that we know and see on TV are on this list. But the question really is do we want to publicize what this person is saying? He put it on Facebook. Facebook has a billion people on it. Everybody is going to read this.

So, "The New York Times" made a decision not to actually talk about this and only use quotes sparingly from him. And I happen to think that for "The New York Times" is a wise decision. You want to see it on Facebook, go look for it.

KURTZ: Let me just mention that he that Dorner also sent a package to CNN's Anderson cooper which contained a DVD having to do with his being kicked off the LAPD and also a bullet-ridden souvenir coin.

Let's take a look at Cooper's reaction.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: What I find so interesting and puzzling is that, I mean, big parts of this manifesto don't sound like they come from an insane person or someone capable of doing these killings. He seems aware of reality, the consequences of his actions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: I've been getting a lot of heat on Twitter, Steve Roberts, from conservatives who say this guy, Dorner, he loves all these liberals. He likes he also likes Chris Christie, by the way. He likes all these liberals on TV, the media is covering this up, it's somehow tying the fact of these media personalities to this murder's alleged rampage saying we blame conservatives. It would be different if he said he liked Rush Limbaugh or Sarah Palin.

I don't know what to make of that.

ROBERTS: Well, I thought the more interesting part of his manifesto was his analysis of the LAPD. There is a long history of racism there. And I agree with Anderson. There was -- there was an intelligence there at work.

Now, this man has obviously gone on a murderous rampage and not in any way excusing that. KURTZ: Allegedly.

ROBERTS: But there is a very serious and careful analysis of the endemic racism in the LAPD, a historical sensibility. That to me is worth paying attention to despite the murder --

KURTZ: The force from which it comes.

LIZZA: I think there's a kernel of truth to the criticism on twitter. Sometimes the media has a hair trigger when you find out a murder suspect has ties to say the Tea Party or some radical right group.

KURTZ: I have emphasized that.

LIZZA: And we go over it, sometimes fairly, and sometimes not so much. So, I can understand why this sensitivity on the right to this. But having said, there's nothing in his manifesto that ties him to any, you know, organized political group.

ASHBURN: He was talking about movie, talking about people he likes on TV, talking about politics. I mean, this seems like a very normal Joe.

LIZZA: Yes.

KURTZ: Got to go.

When we come back, Chris Christie downs a donut on Letterman and lashes out at a doctor for questioning his health. Are the media gorging on his weight?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Chris Christie decided to fight back this week against all the media mockery about his weight. We'll let Brian Williams set it up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie took advantage of his first-ever appearance on David Letterman last night, to hit a big issue head on and it happened right in the middle of their conversation.

(LAUGHTER)

CHRISTIE: I didn't know this was going to be this long.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

KURTZ: That, of course, triggered lots of cable segments about the governor's girth.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DR. CONNIE MARIANO, FORMER WHITE HOSUE PHYSICIAN: I worry that he may have a heart attack, he may have a stroke. I'm a physician more than I'm a Democrat or Republican, and I worry about this man dying in office.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: What was Christie's response to those comments on CNN by former White House physician Connie Mariano?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTIE: She must be a genius. She should probably be the surgeon general of the United States, I suspect, because she must be a genius. I think this is -- listen, this is just another hack who wants five minutes on TV.

If she wants to get on a plane and come to New Jersey and ask me if she wants to examine me and review my medical history, I'll have a conversation with her about that. Until that time, she should shut up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Lauren Ashburn?

ASHBURN: Obesity is a big epidemic. Go ahead. Ask the question. Sorry.

KURTZ: The question is -- you're telling me to shut up?

ASHBURN: I'm telling you to shut up.

KURTZ: Christie goes on Letterman, eats the donut, he makes joke about his weight. Everybody says he's self-deprecating, and he's complaining that other people are talking about it?

ASHBURN: Right. A little thin-skinned, Mr. Governor. I have a hard time with him eating a donut and then lashing out at someone for actually talking about his weight.

But the larger point here, maybe he's healthy --

LIZZA: No pun intended.

AHSBURN: Oh, no pun intended. You know, maybe he's healthy as he says he is, but obesity is a big epidemic costing billions of health care dollars. And I think that just needs to be addressed.

ROBERTS: I agree with that, and I think -- you know, as one commentator said, his biggest physical problem is not his big girth, it's his thin skin. He clearly showed that he -- and if he's going to run for president he's got to get used to this, you know, a lot tougher.

KURTZ: OK, but the whole -- ASHBURN: Excuse me. Somebody accused me -- sorry. Somebody accused me of being a bully by saying that we should talk or should talk about obesity, saying that I have a prejudice against fat people, which I don't -- I've struggled with my weight. I think that the question is really, do you want to be projecting the image of an obese person?

ROBERTS: It's not just that. There's another issue. We have a right, if someone's going to be in the national spotlight, to know something about their discipline and judgment.

KURTZ: OK. That brings me to one of the questions I wanted to ask Lauren, which is the only reason we in the media are obsessing on this is, beside the fact that it's like popping marshmallow in such a fun topic, is because we think that Christie may probably run for president in 2016, which is three years from now. Meaning -- but New Jersey is very happy with him.

LIZZA: He's got a re-election in New Jersey.

KURTZ: Yes, of course.

LIZZA: Yes, his popularity is very high, looks like he'll have an easy re-election.

Two things, one, his whole media strategy this week was, all right, I'm going to come out there and I'm going to make a joke of my weight.

KURTZ: Put this behind and then --

LIZZA: What happened -- it backfired. It turns out he can't take a joke about it. He can't kid himself.

This woman made, you know, a comment that any doctor will tell you on his weight, and he comes out there, doesn't laugh about it, doesn't do any self-deprecating humor and attacks her in sort of a vicious way and that becomes the story.

KURTZ: He calls Connie Mariano, and she tells the press that he yelled at her on the phone.

LIZZA: The whole media strategy backfired, instead of joking about it --

ASHBURN: Because we're talking about him.

KURTZ: But not in a flattering way.

ROBERTS: Not in a flattering way.

KURTZ: But you're the professor here. Before I move onto another subject -- the whole convention which television puts on doctor, psychologists who then purport to analyze people, patients they have never met, is there something wrong with that? Does Christie have a half a point? ROBERTS: Half a point.

KURTZ: Yes.

ROBERTS: In that she has not looked at his medical records. Her saying she's worried about his health, he may die -- I didn't particularly like that because she hasn't looked at his records.

The point that I do think is legitimate, here's a guy who said over and over again, "I've tried to lose weight and I haven't done it." Now, does that tell us something about his discipline? Does that tell us something about his judgment?

I think the answer is yes.

KURTZ: I think somebody else says the answer is no.

ASHBURN: And we're going to start to rumble here.

ROBERTS: Well, when you look at -- it is true.

KURTZ: OK.

ROBERTS: And that to me is the more important issue.

KURTZ: I got to move on. "Washington Post" style story this week, speaking of weight, about Michelle Obama's behind. And this is all because an Alabama high school football coach was caught on tape saying the first lady has a big butt.

Isn't that a pretty flimsy rationale for publishing a whole story on the subject?

ASHBURN: Absolutely not. I don't think so at all, because I think it's an interesting sociological story. African-American women and other women have been targeted for their weight, how they look. If you're not -- if you're curvy and you're not rail thin like some models, then you are not as attractive.

Now, and the article was -- did that. It turned it into a look at the history of this. And it also showed you that the person who made these comments is dumb.

KURTZ: Wait. First of all, who cares about this guy? He's hardly a national figure.

And, secondly, I mean, in my view, the article dressed it up with a lot of sociology and history and it was still about whether Michelle Obama has a big butt.

ASHBURN: She has beautiful arms. She's a beautiful person. And the fact that --

KURTZ: She's in good shape.

ASHBURN: She's in great shape and she promote, unlike Chris Christie, physical fitness. And so, if she --

LIZZA: I'm not going to save Lauren here.

ASHBURN: If she's rail thin -- if she isn't rail thin, then, you know, who cares?

LIZZA: I'm generally in a camp of, once you become -- once you go into the public life like that, you know, they're really stretching the limits. But this story just seemed kind of dumb to me. Like Howie said, it seemed like it was dressed up with a lot of B.S., sociological stuff, when it was rally an opportunity --

ASHBURN: Because it's about a woman?

LIZZA: No.

ROBERTS: There's another word we have to speak here and that's racism. And there is -- to my view, there was an undercurrent in that comment from that -- about black women and there was a racist tinge to it and I think that's what made it a bigger story.

KURTZ: Give you the last word.

ASHBURN: No, it wasn't. That's my last word. No.

LIZZA: At least you're consistent.

ASHBURN: Right.

KURTZ: Three words will do.

All right. Up next, the more serious subject, Senator Bob Menendez denounces unsubstantiated allegations involving prostitutes. Is that story now fair game for the press?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: In the month since "The Daily Caller" Web site published unsubstantiated allegations that Senator Robert Menendez had patronized underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic, the press has largely stayed away from the charges, even as newspapers unearthed under examples of questionable conduct by the New Jersey senator.

Now, despite the lack of evidence, the story has become a talking point on some FOX News programs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: There's one other point here. If, according to law, he had sex with an underage prostitute, regardless of it being legal in the Dominican Republic, he would be charged in the United States.

MO ELLEITHEE, FORMER SPOKESMAN FOR HILLARY CLINTON: You put something on the table that proves this happened, then I'm happy to have a conversation about what sort of, you know, what sort of punishment would be.

(CROSSTALK)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: CNN's Dana Bash asked Menendez about the unproven story and got a strong response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: One last question. Can you just answer the allegation that has been out there that you --

SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: The smears? The smears --

BASH: That you were with prostitutes?

MENENDEZ: -- the smears that right-wing blogs have been pushing since the election and that is totally unsubstantiated. It's amazing to me that anonymous, nameless, faceless individuals on a website can drive that type of story into the mainstream.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Steve Robert, are these unsubstantiated allegations worthy of coverage?

ROBERTS: No. I think that this is a huge problem for the mainstream media, that you get Web sites who have much lower standards of accuracy, much lower standards of verification, they put something out there, and I think there's still a responsibility on the part of serious mainstream media to resist repeating unsubstantiated rumors.

Now, at the same time, there were very serious allegations about Senator Menendez --

KURTZ: We'll get into those a minute. But let me stick with this.

ROBERTS: But on the prostitutes, I think that this is a story that was not substantiated enough to merit mainstream coverage.

ASHBURN: Let's go global and take a look at the web site we're talking about. It's "Daily Caller." It is funded by Foster Freeze. Foster Freeze is a conservative. The "Daily Caller's" agenda is conservative --

KURTZ: It's Tucker Carlson's web site.

ASHBURN: Tucker's web site is conservative bashing in many cases. This is the -- their reporters interrupted President Obama during a speech. We know where they're coming from. So the fact that they have two anonymous sources that are saying this has to be suspect. Now, if it was another legitimate news organization that didn't have this kind of bent, it would be a different story. KURTZ: What about as we just saw, when the senator himself denies it on camera to CNN, does that not open the door for other organizations to cover it?

ASHBURN: You can cover it after he says that as CNN did. It's a great question by Dana. Good for her for getting the interview, good for her for raising a prickly topic. But to go on the record talking about whether or not he had been with prostitutes before he even addresses it with two anonymous sources, isn't this program called RELIABLE SOURCES? Isn't this what journalists do is not run anonymous sources?

KURTZ: Well, because we're reliable, we asked the "Daily Caller" for a response and I -- Ryan, let me put it up on the screen. "We stand by our reporting," says the "Daily Caller. "As to the senator's claim that no one ever talked to them (the women), that's false. These women have names and faces. In an article dated November 1, 2012, the Daily Caller posted video of two women who claimed they were paid to have sex with the senator."

But they did not release their names and they obscured their faces. It is difficult and, in fact, ABC and "The New York Times" say they have investigated this and tried to corroborate and have been unable to corroborate these allegations. Therefore it is hard to confirm.

LIZZA: Yes. ABC my understanding this crew, this group this Washington --

KURTZ: Ethics.

LIZZA: There is an anonymous person who's at the center of this that leveled these accusations.

KURTZ: Who now refuses to come forward.

LIZZA: Refuses to come forward. Neither NBC nor crew could confirm the person's identity. This guy is getting smeared. I'm practically uncomfortable sitting here on TV talking about completely unsubstantiated allegations.

ASHBURN: What was if it was a Republican, not just because he's a Democrat?

ROBERTS: Look, the same thing happened to Senator Larry Craig a few years ago, unsubstantiated rumors about him being gay and some news organizations went with it --

KURTZ: Until the incident with the police in the bathroom.

ROBERTS: Then it became legitimate.

KURTZ: Let me circle back to your question having to do with whether the media going soft on the Democratic senator. "New York Times" and other organizations have reported extensively on Senator Menendez intervening for a major donor with a government contract, reimbursing the government after these stories, $58,000 for free trips taken on the donor's airplane. Not like the press collectively has given him a --

LIZZA: "The Times" called for him to give up his chairmanship. They're going after it as hard as they can, but they're not reporting allegations that come from some anonymous e-mailer.

ROBERTS: There is a huge difference. The FBI is investigating the economic -- the financial fraud issues. That is a totally legitimate thing for a news organization to say. There's an official investigation.

But you're right, "New York Times," not soft on Democrats. This is the new chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. They called for him to step aside. I applaud "The Times" for being tough on him.

ASHBURN: Until things can be resolved. You know, as the blog "Hot Air" said if you lose "The New York Times" you pretty much better hang it up if you're a Democrat.

KURTZ: You're in trouble. Lauren Ashburn, Steve Roberts, Ryan Lizza, thanks very much for stopping by this morning.

Ahead on RELIABLE SOURCES, has Facebook peaked? Lots of people taking a break from the social network.

Plus, bingeing on a miniseries, but it's not TV. Is Netflix changing the rules with its Kevin Spacey drama?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Facebook is more than a web site. For many people it's a way of life, but is the social network losing its allure? A new study by the Pew Internet Project finds that 61 percent of Facebook users have at times taken a break for several weeks or more and 20 percent of adults online say they used to be members of Facebook but no more.

So is Facebook addiction a thing of the past? Joining us now in San Francisco, Sarah Lacy, founder and editor-in-chief of the pandodaily.com and here in Washington, Mario Armstrong, digital lifestyle editor for HLN.

Sarah Lacy, if people are taking long breaks from being on Facebook, does that mean it's becoming a bit passe?

SARAH LACY, FOUNDER/EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, PANDODAILY.COM: Well, you know, I think when you get to a billion users you can't expect everyone to use the site in the same way. I mean, I think since Facebook started getting mainstream people have been saying it's getting old, it's a fad.

I remember sort of covering this story in 2007 or so. I think what gives it a little bit more legs this time is that most people are using their phones for their social habits and their social -- you know, their social time while they're standing in line or waiting in traffic. And Facebook has an absolutely horrible mobile app. I mean, that's why I haven't been to Facebook in weeks. It crashes every time I open it.

KURTZ: You haven't been to Facebook in weeks. The editor of Pando Daily has not --

LACY: I haven't.

KURTZ: You haven't updated your status. You haven't posted baby pictures or anything?

LACY: You know what, I even got some gifts over Facebook gifts for my birthday and I never claimed them. I tried to go on my phone and it broke.

KURTZ: You are out. Let me turn to Mario Armstrong, maybe some folks feel kind of overwhelmed by having to keep up with all the friends and the pictures and the updates and so they pull the plug to kind of get their balance back.

MARIO ARMSTRONG, DIGITAL LIFESTYLE EDITOR, HLN: Well, that could certainly be the case. I mean, I feel that people are looking for what's their attention attraction. It's like how much time in the day do I have, how much time can I actually allocate to things and what's most important to me to allocate that time to?

I feel sad for Sarah's friends who have allocated time to get her gifts and they're bummed she hasn't cashed in yet. But I understand people need to take a digital diet, take a break from this stuff. It can be too much.

You're finding people sitting around not having conversations, at the doctor's office, at location where is you would normally engage in other people because they're stuck to their phone and fixated on their social media.

KURTZ: You know, Sarah, that was the question about Mark Zuckerberg's company, what happens when it's no longer considered the shiny new object.

LACY: Well, I think we have to resist this faddishness in covering technology. I mean, look, Facebook, let's step back. They've done something no one has ever done in the history of the world. It has wired together a billion people who never have to lose touch with each other.

I don't buy people will start canceling their memberships to Facebook. The danger is it's becoming like Linked In where it's this AAA card in the back of your wallet where if you need to get in touch with someone you've lost touch with them, you go there and find them, but it's not this daily engagement point.

That works for Linked In because linked in has undercut the recruiting market and it's given people a big reason to make money when they go there. It's providing something very, very valuable that is a subset of -- so it can be a multibillion-dollar company without you going every day.

Facebook doesn't have that. Facebook is trying to show you ads. I think something valuable and, you know, so it's too early to say it's peaked but it needs to recognize the mobile problem and the engagement problem.

KURTZ: I spend more time on Twitter because on Facebook it's harder for me at least to get newsy developments and to get my news and to everybody's news feed because the way Facebook has changed the rules.

ARMSTRONG: Yes. I think you're on the other end of the spectrum. You're the one that's creating content. You're also delivering contents. So a lot of people are consuming it, but not necessarily creating it. So that is a bit of change. You're more likely to stay on Facebook and use it because it's value to you.

KURTZ: Yes. Journalists like to broadcast content through social networks. Let me turn now to Netflix, which has 27 million streaming subscribers, first original series called "House of Cards" with Kevin Spacey. He was asked about it on the "Today" show.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATT LAUER, NBC NEWS: It's 13 episodes at once, released on Netflix, which sounds unusual.

KEVIN SPACEY, ACTOR: Yes.

LAUER: But in some ways this is the way people view these days anyway, isn't it?

SPACEY: It's part of the argument for putting it out there the way that we are, that, you know, you talk to any of your friends and what did you do over the weekend so, many times I'm hearing friends saying I stayed home and watched two seasons of "Breaking Bad."

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Sarah Lacy, is this the new consumption model, which is you get all 13 episodes if you want to watch them over weekend? You do rather than waiting for it to come on TV every single week?

LACY: I mean, in my house it's not the new consumption model. It's been the consumption model for five or six years. You look at Netflix streaming. This is why it's almost all TV that you see and not movies. That's how people have been watching this stuff. I think it's smart of Netflix to look at its own user behavior and be the one who's reacting first to this.

HURTZ: If a company like Netflix with make an original series and attract enough audience to make a profit, does that compete with the old model of mass television, got to get a mass audience to tune in at a certain time?

ARMSTRONG: Absolutely it does. I mean, this is really, really significant. Because what this will say is, look, we don't need to only create shows that are 30 minutes in length or 60 minutes in length and have them fit inside of a traditional broadcast model.

We can do shows that are 20 minutes or 90 minutes. It doesn't matter. They can be home runs or they can be a nice double. Reed Hastings put it great -- we don't have to hit it out of the park every time we do a show on Netflix. If we get a decent enough size of an audience that is enough for us to make money, not everything has to be a home run like in TV.

KURTZ: What people like is to watch when they want. Mario Armstrong, Sarah Lacy in San Francisco, thanks very much for joining us.

Coming up, CBS cracking down on revealing outfits at tonight's Grammys. Has television had enough of wardrobe malfunctions?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: It's become almost the norm now at the big awards shows or Super Bowl halftime for women to wear skimpy outfits and suffer the occasional wardrobe malfunction.

But tonight's Grammy Awards on CBS are supposed to be different now that the network has put out this memo and I quote, "Please be sure that buttocks and female breasts are adequately covered. Thong type costumes are problematic. Please avoid exposing bare fleshy under curves of the buttocks."

The memo continues in minute anatomical detail, trust me. Is this a welcome step towards decency or is the network going overboard? Joining us now in New York, Lola Ogunnaike, cultural commentator and former "New York Times" reporter and Maureen O'Connor, features editor for "New York" magazine's "The Cut."

Lola, is CBS taking a stand for decency with this very carefully worded memo?

LOLA OGUNNAIKE, FORMER REPORTER, "NEW YORK TIMES": First of all, they're using the word buttocks in 2013 so that's already a problem. Second of all, if they think that these rock stars are going to abide by this rule, they are sadly mistaken. The one way to guarantee that a rock star does exactly what you don't want them to do so tell them no, it's like waving a flag at a bull. Come on.

KURTZ: Maureen, the memo is so excruciatingly detailed about what you can and cannot show when it comes to certain areas, Lola seems to think everyone's going to ignore it. Do you think this is at least a step in the right direction for family friendly programming?

MAUREEN O'CONNOR, FEATURES EDITOR, NEW YORK MAGAZINE, "THE CUT": Well, you know, the thing is it's not even just rock stars performing. They said they didn't want the sides of anyone's breasts to show. At the Grammys, every woman is wearing her dress cut to her belly button. Unless they're going to blur every woman from her neck to sternum, they are not going to be able to actually enforce that. KURTZ: So do you think it's silly? Do you find the whole thing ludicrous?

OGUNNAIKE: It is silly. More than anything, it's problematic. We tune into the Grammys to see these people break all the sartorial rules. They're rock stars. It's sex, drug, and rock 'n' roll. It's not sex, drug, and sensible dressing. No one tunes into the Grammys to see that.

KURTZ: Go ahead, Maureen.

O'CONNOR: Sure. They're caught in this sort of catch-22 and every single major network airing the awards show. They want to invite the provocateur, which causes people to tune in. But those people will be the most difficult.

Remember in 2010 Eminem and Lil Wayne performed and it was like they bleeped out the entire performance because they were so afraid of them saying swear words on television, what's going to happen when you have these people performing.

KURTZ: We showed J-Lo twice, once was enough with that dress.

OGUNNAIKE: That dress made her career, Howie.

KURTZ: I'm going to play --

OGUNNAIKE: That's what made her a household name.

KURTZ: OK, I'm going to play the role of a prude. I like looking at women as the next red blooded guy, but when Beyonce does the half time show at the Super Bowl in that getup, a lot of kids are watching this and do we really want to expose them to this kind of wardrobe attire, in other words, not just aimed at adults? Does that trouble anybody?

OGUNNAIKE: It's not the job of the rock star to police what they're wearing. It's the job of the parent to police what their child is watching.

KURTZ: Yes, but you can't let your 10-year-old daughter or your 9-year-old son watch the Super Bowl, how sad is that because you're worried about what they might see at halftime?

OGUNNAIKE: Well, maybe I'm a bit less prudish than you are, Howie. I didn't find her outfit to be that revealing. She was covered up and that's the way she dresses in all of her videos. If you like the "Single Ladies" video she's in a unitard and she's in a unitard at the Super Bowl. And plenty of kids watch that "Single Ladies" video.

KURTZ: Obviously CBS may be concerned about being fined by the Federal Communications Commission, CBS that carried the Super Bowl in 2004 when Janet Jackson had the famous wardrobe malfunction. We see the famous picture there, played about 100 million times. So I'm wondering whether -- this is a defensive move by CBS? O'CONNOR: You know, Justin Timberlake is performing this year at the Grammys so he will have another chance. In 2004, he actually in order to get on the Grammy stage they said he would have to apologize for what he did at the Super Bowl and he did because he was accepting an award that year.

So they have very much a sort sense that, you know, they need to have everybody acknowledge their decency standards and even if people end up misbehaving they have to repent for it afterwards or say they're going to try not to do it again.

KURTZ: Let's look at the wardrobe cultural question here, a wardrobe malfunctions in the famous cliche become the new normal and something that both the stars and the media are complicit? Almost every day on "The Huffington Post" I see a headline linking to a picture of some woman falling out of her dress or something like that. This is where the culture is now?

OGUNNAIKE: Well, it's definitely a way to draw views, web page views. If you've got a woman who's showing a little bit of a cleavage or a little bit of side breast, you can guarantee you're going to get more clicks than if a woman is sitting there in blazer and turtleneck, that's for sure.

KURTZ: I've got a half a minute, if everybody obeys and winds up wearing relatively modest clothing.

OGUNNAIKE: They better not. Boring red carpet ever if everybody obeys those rules, it will be a snooze. You don't tune in to the Grammys to go to bed.

KURTZ: So Maureen, this is not some side issue? This is the main event. If they take it away do you think the ratings will plummet?

O'CONNOR: You know, the ratings won't plummet but we know that's the talking point tomorrow morning and if anybody is going to keep on talking about what happens at the Grammys you want to see something interesting happen. It doesn't have to be naked people, but certainly that's part of the whole spectacle and the show of it.

KURTZ: Now that we've talked about it I will have to watch and have a report tomorrow morning on whether or not CBS was able to enforce these rules. Maureen O'Connor and Lola Ogunnaike, thanks very much for joining us.

After the break, NBC's big exclusive on the use of killer drones, Bill O'Reilly misses the mark on that subject and a comic strip issues kind of a serious warning. "Media Monitor" is straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Time now for the "Media Monitor," our weekly look at the hits and errors in the news business. Here's what I like, NBC's Mike Isikoff changed the terms of the national security debate to take an explosive Justice Department memo detailing the legal rationale for drone strikes against terror suspects abroad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, NBC NEWS: This memo sheds light on what is one of the most controversial and secretive policies of the Obama administration, not just its drone strike campaign, but reserving the rights to use drones against American citizens.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Isikoff pierced the veil of secrecy keeping the American people from knowing how assassinations were being carried out in their name. So everyone gave NBC credit for the exclusive. Well, Fox's Bill O'Reilly had a somewhat different view.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: Remember the outcry about waterboarding.

BOB BECKEL, CO-HOST, "THE FIVE": Sure.

O'REILLY: Everybody jumping up and down.

BECKEL: Yes.

O'REILLY: NBC News, I thought they were going to like melt down over there. Heard anything on NBC about the drones?

BECKEL: Not yet.

O'REILLY: No.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Now that's kind of curious given that it was an NBC scoop. O'Reilly obviously misspoke and I thought he would come back the next night and correct the record.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

O'REILLY: Immediately the far left machine cranked up, O'Reilly didn't say that NBC News broke the drone memo story. He's a deceiver. True. I didn't say NBC broke the memo story because we weren't talking about that, waterboarding versus drone strikes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Bill, the only reason there is a drone debate right now is because NBC News revealed that memo. Either way turns out "The New York Times" and "Washington Post" knew about the location of the drone base in Saudi Arabia, but kept that quiet until the "Times" reported it this week.

In my view, that decision can be defended on grounds of not endangering those carrying out U.S. military operations. The "Times" ombudsman this morning saying she disagrees and doesn't think the paper should have withheld that information.

Now the shrinking of the newspaper business has a lot of impact on coverage including if you think about it comic strips. No less a figure than Gary Trudeau speaking out in his Doonsberry strip this week, Zonkeresque.

What happens to comics if newspapers go away and the answer is -- to blank panels. They come back saying, stick with print, folks. This doesn't have to happen. Yet another reason to keep print alive for Zonkers sake.

Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz. If you miss a program, just go to iTunes on Monday and check out our podcast, search for RELIABLE SOURCES.

Join us again back here next Sunday morning 11 a.m. Eastern for another critical look at the media. "STATE OF THE UNION" with Candy Crowley begins right now.