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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
White House Warfare Against Press; Facebook's Daily "Newspaper"; Roger Ailes Rips "Lazy" Obama
Aired March 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's not just Bob Woodward. Now, other journalists are saying that this White House plays rough. That top officials can be abusive in pushing back against stories they don't like.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CARL CAMERON, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Plenty of reporters covering Mr. Obama have received angry calls and e-mails from his staff and, frankly, it began long before he was elected and it really never stopped.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Is this part of the normal sparring between the president's people and the press?
We'll ask two journalists who have clashed with the White House.
Roger Ailes calls President Obama lazy and Vice President Biden dumb. Is that any way for the chairman of a news network to behave?
"The Washington Post" abolishes the job of ombudsman after three decades. Is that a huge mistake? We'll ask three top editors who once had that job.
Plus, this bombshell.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHEN COLBERT, COMEDIAN: Our other breaking story tonight: Jon Stewart has announced he'll be taking the summer off from "The Daily Show". We wish him all the best in his new project, ruling the country of Venezuela.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Jon Stewart taking three months off? What will this mean for the future of fake news?
I'm Howard Kurtz and this is RELIABLE SOURCES.
(MUSIC) KURTZ: Every administration gets into its share of spats with the press and sometimes there are bruised feelings. That's par for the course in Washington.
But now, some journalists are crying foul.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID BRODY, CHRISTIAN BROADCASTING NETWORK: I just wanted a simple response of what was going on. And in essence what started as just some verbal frustration by the White House that I would even want a response about this story, turned into a full-fledged shouting match on the phone with some choice words, shall we say, and it escalated from there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Even liberal MSNBC commentator Jonathan Alter in this radio interview talked about the consequences of displeasing the White House.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
JONATHAN ALTER, MSNBC COMMENTATOR: They didn't like something that I had reported and I was disinvited to a dinner that night that reporters were having with the candidate. I was told, don't come. You know, in a fairly abusive e-mail.
STEVE MALZBERG, RADIO HOST: Who told you that? Who sent you the e-mail?
ALTER: That one was Gibbs.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
KURTZ: So, is this plain old, old-fashioned hardball or something more serious?
Joining us now: Dana Milbank, columnist for "The Washington Post".
And Ryan Lizza, Washington correspondent for "The New Yorker" and CNN contributor.
Ryan Lizza, how aggressive has the White House been toward people like you?
RYAN LIZZA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Look, when they make their case very forcefully, right? When you're reporting a piece and when you're granted a certain level of access, I think sometimes, they think that because of that, they should have more say over what goes into that piece.
So, you know, my spats usually come at the end of reporting and writing a piece, when I'm going over and fact-checking. And there's this, you know, week-long process at "The New Yorker" of going over everything in the piece. And when they see something they don't like, they push back very aggressively. But --
KURTZ: Let me just turn to Dana because he used the word "access".
Is there an expectation in this Democratic White House that if you are granted access, they expect you to kind of play ball?
DANA MILBANK, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, that part of it is true in any White House. There's always this sort of implied quid pro quo that you trade access for good coverage. Doesn't always work out that way, but that's what -- that's what they try to do.
I don't think the idea of them getting in the faces is particularly new or unusual.
KURTZ: Even if it's your face.
MILBANK: I actually had to once clean Ari Fleischer's spittle from my face.
MILBANK: This was the Bush White House press secretary.
MILBANK: I haven't had to do that here.
I think that is different, it seemed that -- it's more course, more vulgar. Maybe this is how everybody is these days. But the number of F-bombs being dropped by this White House, scholars are going to look in the National Archives and they're going to be shocked by the language that was coming out.
KURTZ: I'm shocked that such words would be used in the discourse.
LIZZA: But I'll second the bipartisanship on this and we'll talk about the specifics in the second. But, you know, I just wrote a piece about Eric Cantor. At the end of that piece, you know, there was someone in an offhanded way said, oh, well, you know, this is the way -- they didn't like some of the coverage --
KURTZ: Somebody who works for the House majority leader?
LIZZA: Yes. You know, if this is the way -- you know, they wanted something changed. They said it was too late to change. They said, well, next time you want to cover someone in the Republican conference, that's going to be our response.
So, you know, you get this all the time, you pissed us off, we're not going to give you access. So, I will say it's a bipartisan phenomenon. It's not unique to this White House. But that doesn't mean this White House isn't very aggressive.
KURTZ: I want to get to the specific in just a moment -- but is this different from other administrations? You mentioned clashing with Ari Fleischer when he worked for George W. Bush.
Is there some difference in the degree and not just in the coarseness of the language?
MILBANK: No. I don't think the threats are any worse than before, or the implied loss of access, you know, or being shut out if you don't do things -- that I've seen all throughout. I really do think it's just in the tone of the language. I think people writing from the executive office of the president or from the House majority leader, I've received those too, tend to be using language you would more expect to be used on --
KURTZ: Some people out there are saying right now, Ryan, you know, these people are whining. This is part of the game. If you want to play ball at this level, you're going to have to expect some brush back pitches.
LIZZA: I agree with them. There's no -- there's nothing that says that the people we cover have to be nice to us. The First Amendment does not say anything about the people in power, you know, giving you access or being polite.
But I do agree with Dana. There was -- especially in the first term, there was a sort of machismo attitude by the White House, that sort of led by Rahm Emanuel, the chief of staff, that trickled to some of the communications people.
KURTZ: And, of course, I would be stunned if Rahm Emanuel ever used any F-bombs.
Let's go to some of these emails because you gave us a couple that we have made graphics from. Back in 2008 in New York, during the campaign "The New Yorker" ran the famous terrorist fist jab cover showing Barack and Michelle Obama there. It was a parody.
You got an email from Obama campaign official. "The most amazingly offensive thing I have ever seen. I'm sure it was an attempt at parody but everyone here is in a fair amount of shock about it and we are not sensitive about things like this at all. I suspect you guys will get the blank kicked out of you over it."
And in 2011, Ryan Lizza got -- wrote a piece about foreign policy and used the phrase anonymously quoted the president was leading from behind.
Senior White House official writes to you, "As annoying as an e- mail like this, it's not as nearly annoying as having a furious boss who doesn't know why a piece in 'The New Yorker' bears no resemblance to him or having to spend the coming weeks and months battling an elite/right-wing narrative that isn't true."
LIZZA: Yes. You know, when I went back and look at these emails, my memory of them was actually a lot worse that it was. When I looked at the text, that's not that bad, right? I mean, they're just saying, we hate this cover, you're going to get the you-know-what kicked out of you. The second one was you have cost us a huge political problem by quoting a meeting from --
KURTZ: Also phone calls, belittling you, disparaging your manhood.
LIZZA: There's always a little of that. But, you know, there was also the last one you read was a long e-mail going point by point through the piece describing what they thought was not correct.
KURTZ: OK. And you're entitled to that.
LIZZA: I thought it was substantive. I thought it was interesting saying the boss is really unhappy. And I think a lot of this is we worked for people -- not we, Dan and I, but the press secretary to the White House, a lot of this is shown to their superiors, don't worry, I went and I kicked that guy in the shins.
KURTZ: I took care of him.
KURTZ: There's a paper trail (ph) of you -- before we leave you and go to Dana, there was one last one that I found amusing from last year.
Subject line: "Bleeding from behind," a reference to your phrase.
Message, "So here's where I pathetically ask you about attending 'The New Yorker' party. Is it not earned after a year of being screwed, a lot worse than that, by you good people?"
You want to party with David and you (INAUDIBLE) gave to him, right?
LIZZA: Absolutely. After an e-mail like that, I thought it was hilarious. They deserved it.
KURTZ: Dana Milbank, the current White House press secretary, Jay Carney, when he worked for Vice President Biden, he didn't like a piece you wrote about Joe Biden, sent you an e-mail with a subject like if we can put that up, "You are a hack."
If you would read that key phrase there?
MILBANK: Oh, it closed with "Fabrication is a legitimate tool for fiction. You should try it; it suits you."
KURTZ: So, he called you a writer of fiction and essentially making stuff up.
MILBANK: Yes. So I think I'm going to give that a try. It would be easier than reporting things out.
KURTZ: Were you offended? Were you outraged?
MILBANK: No. I was kind of amused. I stored it away for a while until he became the press secretary when I could use it again. I don't -- I think it's wrong to say -- I don't either Ryan or I is complaining about this sort of thing. This is what you expect to do. You know, there's a question of -- is this an effective way to deal with reporters that are just riled them up?
I think a lot of reporters worry about access and the threat of being shut off. And as somebody who's been basically shut out by two different White Houses from different parties, it's no big deal.
LIZZA: And the larger point is, look, almost everyone who has sent me an e-mail saying, "We're not going to cooperate with you again," eventually cooperates. The reason is, they cooperate with journalists when it's in their interest.
LIZZ: It's not about being friends with anyone. It's not about being polite. If they think it makes sense for them to have a piece in "The Washington Post" or "The New Yorker", they will cooperate.
KURTZ: Otherwise --
LIZZA: It's strictly business.
KURTZ: -- you get nothing.
President Obama at the Gridiron Dinner last night told a joke about somebody saying, "I'm ignoring the Washington press corps. We're too controlling. You're right. I was wrong. I want to apologize," says the president.
In a video, you can watch it exclusively on WhiteHouse.com showing how the control of information.
Before we let you go, all of that coverage of the automatic budget cuts, the sequester, "the sky is falling," "everything is going to go to hell in a hand basket," parroting the administration line, that hasn't quite happened. And yet now, the press seems to have pivoted to what's called the Obama charm offensive.
What about these budget cuts and even the some would say the technique of closing down the White House tours to anger a lot of tourists?
MILBANK: I love how easily the press corps is manipulated. So, the president takes a few senators out to dinner at the Jefferson Hotel and has lunch with Paul Ryan, and suddenly, he's reaching out and there's all of these efforts to have kumbaya. He's had two meals.
LIZZA: He's had two meals.
It's true. You can change -- because the narrative moves so fast, the White House is (INAUDIBLE) to change it overnight by having a couple of meals.
I think on the budget cuts, the jury is not in yet, right? It's only been, where are we, it's the 10th today?
But some people felt the administration went too far in protecting all of this instant doom and gloom and the press swallowed it. There was very little independent reporting, with one exception from a piece in your newspaper saying some of what they're saying is exaggerated. I don't know, this could look different in six months, I guess.
LIZZA: There's no doubt, they make decisions. Charlie Peters at "The Washington Monthly," he had some funny line about this. You know, I think he called it the fire house rule. When there's a budget cut to government, the government always says the first thing that's going to be cut is the fire house.
KURTZ: The Washington Monument strategy. Close down monument. At this case, they've done the White House tour.
So, is the press so easily manipulated, to use Dana Milbank's elegant word, that the president who has been criticized even by his own party for not schmoozing or socializing with members of Congress, and kind of referring to just hang out with his family, can have a couple of meals with the GOP and suddenly he's reaching out, he's got a new strategy?
LIZZA: I think there's a lot of that. I think a lot of it just to change the press narrative. There's probably some benefit for him actually -- you know, actually going out to dinner with the senators.
KURTZ: Yes, there is.
LIZZA: That whole line, you know, I've been writing about this recently -- I think it's all overrated. Politicians are successful when they have large majorities in Congress and usually schmoozing doesn't overcome that, even LBJ was not as great as we remember. He was great when he had big numbers in Congress and he was a bum when he didn't.
KURTZ: All right. I'll be sending you both angry e-mails at the end of this show.
Dana Milbank, Ryan Lizza --
LIZZA: Send you party invitations.
KURTZ: Yes, thanks.
When we come back, Facebook unveils a major change deciding to put the social networking site in competition with newspapers, maybe even television. We'll take a look.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KURTZ: Facebook was originally launched as a way to share things, family photos, status updates with your friends. When Mark Zuckerberg announced this week that he was revamping Facebook's news feed, the first thing you see on the screen, it is clear he has much grander ambitions.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARK ZUCKERBERG, FOUNDER & CEO, FACEBOOK: What we're trying to do is give everyone in the world the best personalized newspaper we can. It should have a high quality public content from world renowned sources and it should also have socially and locally relevant updates from family, friends, the people around you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So is Facebook now kind of a news organization?
Joining us from a sunny spot at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas, Kara Swisher, editor of "All Things Digital."
And, Kara, will people, in fact, some of them start using Facebook as a version of their daily paper?
KARA SWISHER, ALL THINGS DIGITAL: No, I don't -- it's an unusual word he picked. But they're not going to be doing any original content. They're just like Google and the "Huffington Post", they're going to aggregate it for you. They're going to use a social graph to do so, leaving your friends signals, signals you go to. Your photos, things like that.
They're he just prettifying the news feed pretty much. The news feed has already been doing this and they're just making it prettier, with a lot of pictures and video.
KURTZ: But if there's greater use of photos and video and if it's prettified, to use your words, the key advantage, it seems to me, that Facebook may have is that people trust or perhaps more interested in the news from their friends than from journalists they don't know.
SWISHER: Well, no, I don't think it's news. I don't think your friends are going to start being, you know, Howie Kurtz, or anything like that. I think it's links.
Their appeal to newspaper, newspapers or CNN or anything else is that people will share sources from, you know, whatever, world class news organizations and they'll aggregate it there on Facebook.
And so it's going to be more like a news reader than anything else. And so, they're not getting -- I know journalists all go, you know, crazy thinking Facebook's going to take over their business, but it's more they want to suck in all the information that journalists write and make more money from it than news organizations.
But -- so they will aggregate it and shoot it all over the place all over the site depending on your social graph. KURTZ: I actually have a different complaint. I've seen this echoed by other journalists and columnists, which is Facebook kind of tinkered with the secret sauce algorithm. And I found I was getting less reaction to stories and videos that I was putting up online and not as many people were getting them. And at the same time, you know, I think Twitter became the place where you really went to, to find out, to get the links on what was happening.
So, is Facebook trying to compete more with Twitter in this regard?
SWISHER: Well, yes. I think they're all competing. So is Google. Google is trying to do this, too. It's trying to bring you relevant news. So is the "Huffington Post," so that you read it there and you can sell advertising against it.
You know, the Facebook algorithm is a little bit over blown. They move this around all the time just to make the speed, not spamming essentially. And so, things change all the time. Google does it all the time and all the others. And so -- and Twitter does it on occasion.
Twitter is more of a time line kind of situation. But eventually, Twitter is also going to be sort of aggregating in a more sensible way.
And so, you know, I don't know -- I mean, where are you getting your traffic now? You've got to get your traffic from somewhere. Unfortunately, journalist are at the mercy of the Twitters, the Facebooks, Googles of the world.
KURTZ: Well, you say mercy. It can be a great help in broadcasting your words or images to a large audience.
I noticed that Facebook now has a deal where if you pay the company a little money, it will make sure that you get better distribution and your likes and people who like what you do, they tell their friends goes way up. So, is this also about generating revenue for Zuckerberg?
SWISHER: Well, of course it is. Of course it's generating revenue for Facebook, but that's not entirely true.
What you're talking about is if you buy an ad and you have a -- you buy an ad anywhere. If you touted your show on any Web site, on Yahoo or anything else, you'll get placement. And I don't think it's better placement.
They're trying -- it's not a pay for placing here, but if you buy an ad, you certainly can do better in any medium. If you bought an ad in "The Washington Post", you'd be more noticed than you would if you didn't.
SWISHER: So, I think it's a little different than that. And journalists like to whine about this kind of stuff but, you know, you want to be on these sites because you want to reach as many readers as possible in all different kinds of devices and all kinds of different ways. I think the issue is why didn't news organizations think of this first? It's why "The Huffington Post" exists.
KURTZ: That's the question I've asked myself many times.
SWISHER: You know, I mean, it's too bad.
KURTZ: Facebook has got 1 billion users. You got to pay attention.
Kara Swisher, thanks very much for stopping by from Austin.
SWISHER: No problem.
KURTZ: And up next, ABC News and "The Washington Post" challenged that disputed "Daily Caller' story about Senator Bob Menendez and prostitutes. My two cents in a moment.
KURTZ: That sensational story about Senator Robert Menendez supposedly patronizing prostitutes in the Dominican Republic seemed to unravel this week. It was days before Menendez was up for reelection when the conservative Web site "The Daily Caller" said that two women would not provide their names alleged they had had sex with the New Jersey senator.
Most news organizations shied away from the unsubstantiated allegations which Menendez vehemently denied. "The Washington Post" this week reported on affidavits in which one prostitute said she was paid to lie about Menendez.
Here's "Post" reporter Carol Leonnig.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CAROL LEONNIG, THE WASHINGTON POST: What we now know is one woman who was an escort in the Dominican Republic and one man, a lawyer in the Dominican Republican, have gone to Dominican authorities, sought immunity from prosecution for any involvement in a smear or slander campaign, and have sworn in affidavits that they were hoodwinked into making a tape of some sort where they recited a script about having sex for money with Senator Menendez and also a wealthy donor friend of his.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: "The Daily Caller" is standing by its story says the paper has the wrong prostitute, which if true, would be quite a coincidence. Here's "The Daily Caller's" founder and editor, Tucker Carlson, with a somewhat skeptical Bill O'Reilly.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TUCKER CARLSON, DAILY CALLER EDITOR-IN-CHIEF: I'd say "The Washington Post" story is ludicrous. "The Washington Post" story was an attempt to take down our story. But if you read it carefully -- and trust me, we did -- it doesn't achieve that. They hold up an affidavit in their piece as evidence that the woman we interviewed was lying.
We're not mentioning the affidavit. It has nothing to do with the story we did. And, in fact, it's not at all clear that the woman they're talking about is the same woman we interviewed.
BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: That person is pretty much protected, they're anonymous. I don't know. It makes me a little queasy, Tucker.
CARLSON: I get it. This is one of the basic conundrums of journalism. It's something we deal with every day.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: It turns out that ABC News had interviewed the Dominican prostitute and did one of the hardest things in journalism -- refused to carry a juicy story because it was too flimsy.
Chief investigative reporter Brian Ross recounts what happened.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIAN ROSS, ABC NEWS CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER (voice-over): As Menendez campaigned for re-election last year, Republican operatives secretly went into overdrive to implicate him in a sex scandal.
(on camera): Is that the same person you had sex with?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Si.
ROSS: They all provided the same story almost word for word, as if they had been coached.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Now I can't prove that "The Daily Caller" is wrong in that its reporter spoke to different prostitutes, but the FBI has found no evidence in this case and "The Caller" hasn't proven their case. Based on these latest reports, it's clear that someone was out to smear Menendez and to use the media in doing so.
Coming up, Roger Ailes under fire for comments about Barack Obama and Joe Biden. But did some criticism of the FOX News chief go little too far?
KURTZ: Roger Ailes speaks his mind. And given all that he makes for FOX News, who's going to stop him. But has Ailes now gone too far?
In a forthcoming book by Zev Chafets, excerpt in this week's "Vanity Fair", Ailes says that President Obama is lazy but the media won't report that. He says he likes Joe Biden, has a soft sport for him, but the veep is dumb as an ashtray. Just to show he's fair and balanced, he also calls Newt Gingrich a word I can't repeat on the air.
Joining us now in Philadelphia, Gail Shister, columnist for "TV Newser" and senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania. And in New York, Marisa Guthrie, who covers the media for "The Hollywood Reporter".
Gail Shister, Roger Ailes has strong political views. He shared them with me on occasion in interviews. Does he get to play by a different set of roles as the FOX News chairman?
GAIL SHISTER, TV NEWSER: Yes, it's really Roger Ailes' world and he lets us live in it. I mean, he -- time after time, he gets shot at and he keeps getting back up and he always has the last laugh.
The guy's brilliant. He's a brilliant self-promoter. He's a brilliant promoter. It's tough to nail him.
KURTZ: Marisa Guthrie, if another network news division chairman or network boss had made those kind of strong political remarks, would there be more of an uproar?
MARISA GUTHRIE, THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: Yes, there definitely would be more of an uproar. But, you know, Roger lives in this sort of bifurcated world where, you know, he's got the news portion on his network during the day, the opinion at night. He's made a lot of money and built a very successful business by allowing those people that are on in primetime to go right up to the line, and that's what he was doing here.
KURTZ: OK. Now there was some blow back against particularly the comment calling a president lazy. Here is the commentator Toure speaking on MSNBC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TOURE, MSNBC: This sort of "lazy" term we've heard flung at us as black people going back to slavery, which, of course, we know they perceive them as not wanting to work. Of course, they didn't want to work, they were slaves.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Now, the reason I thought that was a little unfair, Gail Shister, is as Ailes said in this book, he didn't come with the term "lazy." He's quoting Barack Obama talking to Barbara Walters and say he feels a certain laziness in himself, that he attributes to his laid back upbringing in Hawaii.
Now, it may have been an unfair thing to say. I think this president works very hard, doesn't take many vacations. But I didn't see it as racial. Your thoughts?
SHISTER: Oh, I don't see it as racial. Especially if you take it out of context, of course, it looks bad. But you look at everything in context. Another thing to keep in mind is that Ailes is a quote machine. You know, he's a headline writer's dream. And to say a quote, like "Joe Biden is as dumb as an ashtray," that is such a great line and I'm going to find a way to steal it. I'm saying that ahead of time. But if you look at the context, I have no problem with it at all.
KURTZ: Marisa, he kind of softened it by saying, I kind of like Joe Biden but -- and you're right. I mean, we are all talking about it. Maybe it is a smart bit of marketing.
GUTHRIE: Yes, definitely. Look, Roger knows exactly what he's doing. I think it was a calculated bit of mischief on his part. But, you know, he -- I think what the quote actually reveals more is a hostility toward government and, you know, that is a reliable Republican position.
GUTHRIE: So that's how I took it, actually.
KURTZ: Ailes did say Obama has never earned anything other than public money, that's actually not true. He's been a law professor and a community organizer. Let me get to another Fox topic, because one thing that got a lot of attention this week was Bill O'Reilly getting into a high decibel argument, shall we say, with Fox commentator and liberal Alan Colmes.
BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: Hold it. Hold it. Now I'm getting heat off of you. Give me one damn program he said he'd cut.
ALAN COLMES, FOX NEWS: He's cut entitlements --
O'REILLY: Not entitlements, one program.
COLMES: Why do you want to yell at me for?
O'REILLY: Because you're lying. You are lying.
COLMES: Don't sit there and call me a liar.
O'REILLY: No, you're lying. Here's the proof.
COLMES: You don't like the president. You don't like what he's doing, but don't sit there and call me a liar.
KURTZ: Obama -- excuse me, O'Reilly later apologized for calling Colmes a liar in that discussion of President Obama's budget plans, but that was talked about for days, particularly on Fox.
SHISTER: Well, I for one am relieved that they had a defibrillator on the set because it was -- it was getting kind of scary. And -- but, again, O'Reilly, there's a reason that O'Reilly works for Ailes and they're so good together.
They both know how to go right up to the edge and sometimes go over. I've seen knockdown drag-outs between O'Reilly and Geraldo also, the decibel level has been high. I'm glad Alan Colmes fought back, because he's generally I think way too passive and he gets bullied. So it was very entertaining TV.
KURTZ: It was loud but it was good television, right?
GUTHRIE: It was great TV. I'm with Gail. I mean, I sometimes don't understand why Alan Colmes goes on that network. I mean, I guess, they're paying him. But, you know, he seems to be the liberal strawman for Bill O'Reilly to take the bat to. It's like he's a Pinata. Yeah, it's great that he's standing up for himself a little bit there.
KURTZ: Colmes has a really has a very thick skin. Before I go to break, a little bit of breaking news in the "Washington Post" this morning, this is the kids post section. There is an illustration here, if we can put it up on the screen, of spring flowers to come by Abby Kurtz, budding journalist and artist, age 8.
My family was very surprised to see that this morning. We wanted to share it with our viewers. After the break, a very real report from the world of fake news, Jon Stewart abandoning us for three months. How can that be?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCOTT PELLEY, CBS NEWS ANCHOR: Any male Catholic can be elected pope.
JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW": Any male Catholic? I already know a male Catholic who's got an inside track on infallibility. The question is, would O'Reilly accept a demotion?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: He's become so much of a part of television culture, that when someone does something dumb, whether it's a politician or pundit, you know the next step is being mocked on "The Daily Show." But now comes this shocking news.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LARA SPENCER, ABC NEWS: Jon Stewart will use his summer vacation to become a Hollywood director.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, ABC NEWS: Jon Stewart is stepping away from "The Daily Show," not forever, but four months while he goes overseas to direct a feature film.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Marisa Guthrie, how did Jon Stewart get so ingrained in the cultural landscape, that this is big news. It even makes the NBC Nightly News?
GUTHRIE: I know, exactly, and you know, what's so funny about like that -- the O'Reilly clip that you showed is, you know, people who are regular watchers of "The Daily Show" know Jon's history with Bill O'Reilly.
He's been on the show multiple times. Jon has been over to Fox News. So they have a lot of history and you know, you sort of see that underneath that commentary. You know, poor John Oliver, I mean, he's wonderful. But you can never fill those shoes, and he just doesn't have that sort of background that Jon has.
KURTZ: You're referring to the intrepid "Daily Show" correspondent John Oliver, who will be filling in during this three- month leave by Jon Stewart. Gail Shister, I have a feeling that certain things are going to happen and people who might have been mercilessly mocked are going to get a pass because Stewart is not there.
SHISTER: Well, I have three words for Jon Stewart, "All About Eve." He shouldn't turn his back too long on John Oliver. We know what happened with Steven Colbert. They both have the same first name. You have got to worry about that.
But I just want to point out that Brian Williams mentioned that Stewart was going on a hiatus on the "NBC Nightly News" because he and Jon Stewart were separated at birth and Stewart mentions him on the show every other show.
KURTZ: They do.
SHISTER: So there was a little insider trading going on there.
KURTZ: They do appear together a lot. Now Stewart, for those who have not heard this news, is going to be directing a film that he came up with, a screenplay for called "Rosewater." It's about an Iranian-American journalist who appeared on "The Daily Show" pretending to be a spy. And that was part of the reason he ended up being jailed in Tehran for four months. So this is a serious film that Jon Stewart is undertaking. I imagine all of this is good publicity for the movie, right, either one of you?
SHISTER: Go ahead.
KURTZ: It's OK. Gail.
(CROSSTALK) SHISTER: I'll be O'Reilly.
SHISTER: I said I can't lose. The more people who talk about it, the more people will watch it. Also, people are going to be intrigued by the concept of Jon Stewart doing a serious movie. They've never seen him in that realm so that could be interesting too.
KURTZ: OK. Got about half a minute, Marisa, could this hurt "The Daily Show" long term? If Jay Leno or David Letterman disappeared for three months, some people may not come back?
GUTHRIE: Well, I mean, the ratings will go down. It will be actually eight weeks because of the four -- four out of the 12 weeks is summer hiatus anyway. The ratings will go down a little bit. They go down anyway because it's summer. So I think they'll be fine.
KURTZ: Plus, we can publicize the comeback when he returns. All right, Gail Shister, Marisa Guthrie, thanks very much for joining with us on this Sunday morning.
Ahead on RELIABLE SOURCES, the "Washington Post" has abolished the job of ombudsman after more than four decades. Is the concept of an independent in-house critique now passe?
KURTZ: The "Washington Post" first ombudsman was named back in 1970 and the last one finished his term last week. The paper, in part, because of budget pressures, has abolished the job of an independent critique writing a weekly column to hold the "Post" accountable.
Joining us now are three journalists who have served in that position. Patrick Pexton whose tenure as ombudsman ended as I said just last week, Geneva Ovelholser, now professor and director of the USC School of Journalism, and Michael Getler who serves as the first ever ombudsman at PBS.
Patrick Pexton, you went out with guns blazing so to speak saying this was a bad idea to abolish your job.
PATRICK PEXTON, FORMER "WASHINGTON POST" OMBUDSMAN: Yes. I think it's really a terrible idea for "The Post" because I think it dismisses readers. What we really do all day long is listen to readers and talk to readers about their complaints about "The Post." And to just suddenly say you have no more ombudsman who can make independent judgments about the news gathering and what "The Post" reports, I think is a mistake.
KURTZ: Geneva, is this about saving money in these belt- tightening times or is this in part about shielding an institution from criticism?
GENEVA OVERHOLSER, FORMER OMBUDSMAN, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, that is a really good question, Howie, and I wish we had a clearer expectation. I think one of the things that's most frustrating about this is it isn't clear exactly why they did it. We can all sympathize with financial difficulties.
KURTZ: You've been an editor.
KURTZ: It's hard to make ends meet.
KURTZ: But is this a special job actually to increase the paper's credibility because people saw that "The Post" was willing to publish weekly criticism of itself?
OVERHOLSER: Absolutely. I would say this is the most distinguished ombudsman position in the U.S. and has been for decades. I was privileged to hold it. I saw the real independence of it. When the "New York Times" decided to do the public editor position, I said you have to think about having independence and about a stronger role. Unfortunately now, "The Post" is tossing its position over and the "Times" is really showing the power of it.
KURTZ: Mike Getler, I, of course, was a media reporter at "The Post" for many years and I was never stopped from criticizing the paper. But having a reader representative who's a post employee, on the payroll, who didn't have an independent contract as all three of you did, that's not quite the same, is it?
MICHAEL GETLER, FORMER OMBUDSMAN FOR "THE WASHINGTON POST": No, it isn't. It isn't at all. I think it destroys the whole concept of being an ombudsman or as Geneva said, in the case of "The New York Times", as being an editor. It also apparently is going to be a part- time position, which is impossible. You cannot do that job part time.
KURTZ: Because of the torrent of phone calls and e-mails?
GETLER: Not only that, but it's the torrent of events. I mean, I was there for five years and I started in a deadlocked national election, historic, then came 9/11, then came Afghanistan, then came Iraq.
Those are huge, huge events. You cannot really deal with things like that, let alone newspaper problems. I mean, there have been lots of failings of newspapers, news organizations, exactly. You have to deal with that.
You must be immersed in this all the time. And to me, they've destroyed something which has served the public interest for 43 years actually.
KURTZ: Patrick, what are some of the shortcomings that you tackled that might have been swept under the rug had there been no ombudsman? PEXTON: Well, for example, I wrote about plagiarism three times, or actually I wrote about it three times, and it occurred four times in the two years I was there. And those are things that newspapers don't want to talk about, but they happen, and to have an ombudsman weigh in after the fact -- here is how it was handled. Here's how the person was disciplined.
KURTZ: And you can go and get answers or at least attempt to get answers. You're an independently guy even though you have an office there.
PEXTON: That's right.
KURTZ: That gave you a special status that I'm sure was uncomfortable for you at times.
PEXTON: It was. But, you know, some editors -- most everybody in the newsroom works very well with an ombudsman. There are some people who don't care to. They don't have to. They're not required to talk to me, but most people in the newsroom understand that this serves a purpose, and they're very cooperative.
KURTZ: Geneva, one argument cited by the new executive editor, Marty Baron, is that these days with all the bloggers, web sites, tweeters, there's so much media criticism out there, do we need to have our own in-house critic? Would you address that?
OVERHOLSER: It is a really important point, and it is true that there are far greater opportunities for the readers to contact "The Post" directly. In fact I hope that "The Post" will make a point of kind of really thoughtfully curating that conversation.
The thing that I don't think Katharine Weymouth, the publisher, or Marty Baron, the editor, or Fred Hiatt, the editorial page editor, has addressed is, it's one thing to say we'll have somebody listening to readers. It's another to have a strong, independent person making sure that they're actually heard.
I mean, when I edited a paper I thought I was listening to readers, but mostly you want to explain why you made the decisions you made because you're responsible for it. The ombudsman is there, really, to listen and try to connect readers with the people inside the paper who can make a change, make a difference. It's a very different thing than sitting there saying I'll listen to a bunch of readers.
KURTZ: And particularly when there's a big mistake, big scandal sometimes at the paper, Janet Cook, Washington Post ombudsman, famously conducted a huge investigation, wrote four full pages. I always felt that it gave added credibility to any news organization to say we were willing to answer the questions and take our lumps from this in-house critic.
On the other hand, Jack Schaefer (ph), the Reuters media columnist says there's been no great outcry about this. He sees a bigger uproar when a comic strip gets canceled. So is this more of an inside journalism controversy as opposed to will readers to be upset about this?
GETLER: I don't think so. I don't (ph) like Jack, but I don't agree with what he said about this at all. In fact, the letters have already published in "The Post" yesterday were quite critical for --
KURTZ: Ordinary readers, yes.
GETLER: Ordinary readers and informed readers and it is absolutely essential, it seems to me, that you have an internal person with the authority, with -- must have total independence, without management, looking over your shoulder, who cannot be ignored.
They cannot be ignored by people inside the paper. Reporters and editors know there's an ombudsman there, they know he or she is able to make an independent assessment of their work.
They're more careful before they hit the send button and it's their audience they're talking to and also to follow up on a point, reporters and editors there I think they believe it's their newspaper too. It doesn't just belong to the owners.
GETLER: It's them. They don't like it to see it mess up. So they come -- you're almost like a chaplain. You get a lot of people, reporters who come to you and say did you see this, did you see that? They don't like that.
KURTZ: Is there also confession (ph)? Let's just broaden this in the minute we have left. It may be 30, 35 newspapers at the peak had an ombudsman. What about television? Why don't the networks have these in-house critics and should they?
PEXTON: I think they should have them. It would make them more credible. They would have to create some on air space for it. It's an excellent idea for the networks to have an ombudsman. It's been increasing abroad. They're decreasing in this country.
KURTZ: We obviously criticize CNN from time to time when we think it is warranted on this program, when we think it's warranted on this program, but it's not the same. Not just readers by the way, but sources, people who feel they have been wronged by the paper, by the network, they can also turn to an ombudsman.
OVERHOLSER: But also helping shape the debate about the future of journalism. Nobody knows where journalism is headed right now. We're all co-creating it with the people formerly known as the audience. Ombudsmen are important in that conversation. Margaret Sullivan at the "New York Times" is one of the interesting voices. "The Post" is reducing itself in that debate.
KURTZ: I read her religiously and we are out of time. That is one of the limitations of television. Geneva Overholser, Patrick Pexton and Mike Getler, thanks very much for coming by. Still to come, Time Warner and Time Inc, are splitting up. A Fox News commentator embroiled in a plagiarism controversy and you won't believe what bogus story a whole bunch of television shows have fallen for now. The "Media Monitor" is next.
KURTZ: Time now for the "Media Monitor," our weekly look at the hits and errors in the news business.
There is no question that Juan Williams, the Fox News commentator, published a column that was plagiarized. As "Salon" reported his piece for "The Hill" newspaper was filled with paragraphs lifted almost word for word from a report by the Center for American Progress.
Williams blames the rip-off on a young researcher who he says betrayed had him and "The Hill" has accepted his explanation. Now I'm willing to give Williams the benefit of the doubt here, but maybe he and not some kid should write the words that appear under his byline.
Time Warner, the parent company of CNN, is getting a divorce from Time Inc, which published the company's magazines. After an attempt to sell most of the magazines fell through, Time Warner says it will now create an independent company to publish such iconic titles as "People," "Sports Illustrated," "Fortune" and yes, "Time."
Chief Executive Jeff Bewkes says the spinoff will enable Time Warner to focus on its television and movie business, and boost its growth potential while Time Inc will benefit from the flexibility of being a stand alone company. What's driving this?
The print business is going through a tough time and may never fully bounce back even the popular "People" magazine saw a 12 percent decline in news stand sales in the second half of last year. Now without the revenue for such divisions such as Turner Broadcasting, Warner Brothers and HBO, the magazines will have to make it on their own.
Maybe we should just make this a weekly award. The dumbest fake story aired by shows without any checking. Last week, it was a pig rescuing a goat, a YouTube moment that turned out to be staged by Comedy Central.
This time, it was a woman claiming a $5,000 prize in exchange for allowing an online poll to determine the name of her baby. And that was like giving a child candy for dozens of programs such as the "Today" show and on CNN and in reports from the "New York Daily News" to "The Huffington Post."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERICA HILL, NBC NEWS: Naming your child is a huge responsibility. You can feel like a lot of pressure, one L.A. mom-to- be though leaving that stress to online voters.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN: This is about the single pregnant mom from Oregon, this competition with this web site, it's called belly ballot.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: It turns out the pregnant mom, Natasha Hill, was actually Natasha Lloyd, an actress who is playing along with the stunt for the web site "Belly Ballot." Now I understand these shows can't conduct a full-fledged investigation for every feature that comes along. But there's an old saying in journalism if it sounds too good to be true it probably is.
That's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz. If you missed our program, check us out on Mondays on iTunes, you can just search for RELIABLE SOURCES in the iTunes store. We are back here next Sunday morning 11:00 a.m. Eastern for another critical look at the media. "STATE OF THE UNION" with Candy Crowley begins right now.