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Guilty Verdict in Steubenville Rape Trial; Matt Lauer Faults NBC; Iraq War Anniversary

Aired March 17, 2013 - 11:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Candy Crowley in Washington. RELIABLE SOURCES is just ahead.

But, first, a breaking story we're following.

Two star football players in Steubenville, Ohio, have been found guilty of raping a West Virginia teenager. The story has attracted national attention. The judge just ruled a few minutes ago. Listen in.


JUDGE THOMAS LIPPS, HAMILTON COUNTY FAMILY COURT: In this case, you know, regarding the charges of rape, both defendants Ma'lik Richmond and Trent Mays are committed to the Department of Youth Services for a minimum of one year and a maximum period until you're 21.


CROWLEY: Again, this case was played out in juvenile court, that is why there was a judge, no jury. He decided on the verdict, as well as, you heard there, talking about the sentence.

We want to go now to CNN's Poppy Harlow. She is in Steubenville, and has been covering this trial.

I cannot imagine having just watched this on the feed coming in. How emotional that must have been sitting in the courtroom.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I've never experienced anything like it, Candy. It was incredibly emotional -- incredibly difficult even for an outsider like me to watch what happened as these two young men that had such promising futures, star football players, very good students, literally watched as they believe their life fell apart.

One of -- one of the young men, Ma'lik Richmond, when that sentence came down, he collapsed. He collapsed in the arms of his attorney, Walter Madison. He said to me, "My life is over. No one is going to want me now."

Very serious crime here. Both found guilty of raping this 16- year-old girl at a series of parties back in August, alcohol-fueled parties. Alcohol is a huge part in this.

But Trent Mays was also found guilty on a second count and that is of felony illegal use of a minor in nudity-oriented material because he took a photograph of the victim laying naked on the floor that night. Trent Mays will serve two years in a juvenile detention facility. Ma'lik Richmond will serve one year on that one count that he was found guilty for.

I want to let our viewers listen because for the first time in this entire trial we have now heard from the two young men. Trent Mays stood up, apologizing to the victim's family in court. After him, Ma'lik Richmond.



TRENT MAYS, FOUND GUILTY OF RAPINGIN JUVENILE COURT: I would really like to apologize to (INAUDIBLE), her family, my family and community. No pictures should have been sent out or should be taken. That's all. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anything you'd like to say, Ma'lik?

MA'LIK RICHMOND, FOUND GUILTY OF RAPE IN JUVENILE COURT: I would like to apologize. I had no intention to do anything like that and I'm sorry to put you guys through this. (INAUDIBLE) I'm sorry.


HARLOW: I was sitting about three feet from Ma'lik when he gave that statement. It was very difficult to watch.

You know, something that came up throughout this sentencing. Ma'lik's father had gotten up and spoke. Ma'lik has been living with guardians. His father, a former alcoholic, gotten to a lot of trouble with the law, been in prison before.

And his father stood up and he told the court, "I feel responsible for this. I feel like I wasn't there for my son." And before that, he came over to the bench where his son was sitting. He approached him, he hugged him and whispered in his ear.

And Ma'lik's attorney said to us in a courtroom, I have never heard Ma'lik's father before say, I love you. He's never told his son that. But he just did today.

This was an incredibly emotional day. These two juveniles being carried out and they will be committed today, Candy.

CROWLEY: Poppy Harlow in Steubenville, Ohio, for us.

I want to bring in Paul Callan, our CNN legal contributor.

You know, Paul, a 16-year-old now just sobbing in court, regardless of what big football players they are, still sound like 16 year olds. The other one, 17. A 16-year-old victim.

The thing is, when you listen to it and you realize that they could stay until they're 21, they are going to get credit for time served. What's the lasting effect, though, on two young men being found guilty in juvenile court of rape, essentially?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you know, Candy, we've seen here a courtroom drenched in tears and tragedy and, you know, Poppy's description, I think, you know, sums it all up. But across America scenes like this happen all the time.

I know as a prosecutor and defense attorney, when that verdict is handed down, usually it's just the family and families of the defendants and the victims, there's always that moment of just lives are destroyed. And lives have already been destroyed by the crime. And we got a chance to see that.

But in terms of what happens now, yes, the most severe thing with these young men is being labeled as registered sex offenders. That label is now placed on them by Ohio law and, by the way, the laws in most other states now require such a designation in the face of such a serious crime.

That will haunt them for the rest of their lives. Employers, when looking up their background, will see they're registered sex offender. When they move into a new neighborhood and somebody goes on the Internet where these things are posted. Neighbors will know they're a registered sex offender.

It's really something that will have a lasting impact. Much more of a lasting impact than going to a juvenile facility for one or two years.

CROWLEY: Paul, thanks. I want to bring Poppy back in -- because, Poppy, there's -- you know, the 16-year-old victim, her life, never the same, again. And I understand you have been talking to some of the families involved.

HARLOW: Her life never the same again. Absolutely, Candy. The last thing she wanted to do was sit on that stand and testify. She didn't want to bring these charges. She said it was up to her parents.

But I want to tell our viewers about a statement that her mother just made, just made in the court after the sentencing. Her mother just said that she has pity on the two young boys that did this. She said human compassion is not taught by teachers or coaches. It's a God-given gift, saying that you displayed a lack of compassion, a lack of moral code, saying that you were your own accuser throughout this for posting about this all over social media. And she said she takes pity on them.

As far as her daughter, she said she will persevere, she will get through this. But the words of an angry mother who now has a sentence, that I believe she would consider or a verdict, just -- Candy. CROWLEY: CNN's Poppy Harlow, thank you. Also to our legal contributor Paul Callan.

Of course, we will be following this story throughout the day.

Now to Howard Kurtz and RELIABLE SOURCES.

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: Thanks very much, Candy.

Let me first introduce Fred Francis, former NBC senior correspondent and founder of and Lauren Ashburn, editor in chief of, where I'm also a contributor.

And, Lauren, we just saw the Steubenville verdict. It was social media that boosted this, the national attention. Trent Mays is one of the kids who was just convicted in this case, tweeted pictures from that night when all of these guys surrounded and we've all seen that photo. We can put it up on the screen of the woman looking drunk and unconscious being carried off. He actually tweeted this himself.

What has been the reaction on social media to the climax to this case with the two convictions this morning?

LAUREN ASHBURN, DAILY-DOWNLOAD.COM: It's been pretty harsh towards these two boys. Listen to this one, "Enjoy jail, you blank. See you in the joint. Can't wait it meet you, I mean, beat you."

Now, others were a little bit higher brow, saying that this is a victory for the college life movement, which is basically saying that, you know, they don't want drunken parties like this and girls to be taken advantage of. And that this speaks volumes for potential victims.

KURTZ: And, you know, some of those pictures might not have been carried by the traditional media. That's why social media is such an important pipeline here. Thanks for that.

Let me turn now to the world of television news and talk about "Today" show. When I sat down with Matt Lauer in New York last week for an interview for "The Daily Beast," he spoke out about the first time about NBC's decision to abruptly oust Ann Curry from "Today" show, a move for which many people have blamed Lauer.

Here's what he told me, "I don't think the show and the network handled the transition well. You don't have to be Einstein to know that. It clearly did not help us. We were seen as a family and we didn't handle a family matter well."

Part of the problem as NBC pushed Curry from the co-host seat last summer, after just one year, was the way she bid farewell to the audience.


ANN CURRY, FORMER "TODAY" CO-HOST: This is not how I ever expected to ever leave this couch after 15 years, but I am so grateful, especially to all of you who watch, because Matt and I and everyone who sit on this couch, we often call ourselves a family, but you are the real "Today" show family. And for all of you who saw me as a groundbreaker, I'm sorry I couldn't carry the ball over the finish line, but, man, I did try.


KURTZ: That was an emotional moment.

Fred Francis, you have been friend with Matt Lauer for a while. Are you surprised that he criticized his network in an interview with me? And doesn't he bear some responsibility for the fact that the partnership with Ann Curry simply did not work?

FRED FRANCIS, 15MINUTES.COM: First, I was not surprised. He'd been wanting to do this for a long time. I think he's been held back by the leadership of Comcast NBC.

KURTZ: Did not want him to speak out?

FRANCIS: Did not want him to speak out.


FRANCIS: You know, it's remarkable to the sophisticated company like Comcast NBC would let this drip, drip, drip, drip into literally a tsunami of bad ink and it still continues. They finally let him speak out.

You asked if he bear some of the responsibility -- I say, no. It was not Matt Lauer's fault that Ann Curry couldn't do an interview well. It was not Matt Lauer's fault that Ann Curry, when her banter on the set would sound wooden. In fact, Matt Lauer helped her. Matt Lauer went overboard trying to make it seem like that they were a family. It didn't work.

KURTZ: Let me get to --

ASHBURN: That's certainly what the story says, right? That's certainly what the story says.

But, Howie, some people are saying that you gave softball questions and really allowed Matt to just tell his side of the story. I'm turning the tables here.

KURTZ: Well, here's why I'm not worried about that. People want to criticize the piece, bring it on. I ask all the tough questions. I asked Matt Lauer, I got him to say on the record that NBC, I think he included himself in this, had not handled it well.

I talked to Steve Capus, the former NBC News president, who said that Matt Lauer had repeatedly in private meetings asked Comcast and NBC executives to go slow, to not be seen as pushing Ann Curry out the door too soon.

I talked to Steve Burke, the chief executive of NBC, I asked him the hard questions. He told me, on the record, again, that when all this blew up and Matt was getting all this bad press, and Lauer went to his office on the 51st floor and offered to step aside, offered to leave "Today" show if it would help and he said he would not hear of that. He thinks Lauer does a great job.

I want to ask you -- is Lauer unfairly -- do you find what Lauer and NBC executives now saying credible as far as saying it was not Matt Lauer's fault that Ann Curry experiment didn't work?

ASHBURN: They're saying what they want everyone to hear. You're saying that you accurately reported it. So, yes, I believe it.

But the question I have is, why now? As Fred said, it bled ink, blood, for a year and a half. Why did Matt when to you now?

KURTZ: Well, I mean, I'm glad you asked that. Let me clear that up and I'll come to you for your take, Fred.

Matt Lauer didn't come to me. Nobody handed me the story. I had been trying to get this interview with Matt Lauer for four months.

Now, did he and perhaps the brass at NBC make the calculation that this was a good time to try to stop the bleeding and help repair the image, talk about the future of "Today" show -- I'm sure that's true.

Let's talk about something else, immediate reaction here. Bunch of stories after my piece said it's all Lauer's fault. This is just P.R. on the part of NBC.

"New York Times", in a front page story, basically had a very anti-Lauer piece, his popularity was plummeting, he might not even survive.

Let's explain to viewers what's going on. "New York" magazine had done an interview with Matt Lauer, "New York Times" trying to beat that. Brian Stelter, the author of "The New York Times" piece, has a book coming out next month, on the morning on the show.

So, everybody has their own agenda trying to uphold their part of it. What I did was actually talked to people, did reporting and reported the facts.

FRANCIS: But this wasn't the arrogance of Matt Lauer. What we're seeing here, why this was delayed so long, literally the arrogance at the top of Comcast NBC to think they could ride this out, to try to -- to let the blame fall on Matt Lauer. They fired Jim Bell --

KURTZ: Well, he was moved to be in charge of Olympic coverage.

FRANCIS: They dumped Jim Bell.

KURTZ: He was the executive producer of "Today" show, for those who don't know Bell.


They dumped Steve Capus, the president. Not just --

KURTZ: He had been there a long time.

Don't make allegations you can't back up because people leave jobs. They weren't necessarily fired.

FRANCIS: They clashed over this issue and many other issues. But this is one of the issues that they clashed over. They didn't want -- the guys at the top wanted her out quickly. Matt Lauer and Steve Capus and several others wanted to phase out over a long period of time.

KURTZ: One other piece of this, which is, there is no dispute that Ann Curry was not Matt Lauer's first choice. I think he tried to make the best of it. Some people told me he was faking and trying to get some friendly morning banter --

FRANCIS: He was faking.

KURTZ: -- going -- OK, Fred agrees with that.

He wanted to bring back Katie Couric. Katie Couric and Matt Lauer had been talking about doing a syndicated show together, Katie obviously doing that now on her own, and they planned, which NBC conceded and which Katie Couric was open to, was that they would spend like a year and a half together on "Today" show. That would have been a bombshell.

But, again, is that a reason to say that it's Lauer's fault that there was a divorce in the "Today" show family with Ann Curry?

ASHBURN: You know, it was that woman that you often hear of called mismanagement --


ASHBURN: -- who was at the top of this. I really do believe that --

FRANCIS: Mismanagement (ph) at the top.

ASHBURN: Well, I do believe that having your star, your key marquis player from a management point of view, take the fall on something like this when your business is ratings and is dependent on how well that star does was a huge mistake.

KURTZ: All right. I got to get a break here. We're running a little late because of the breaking news. We'll talk more about the situation with "Today" show, whether it can come back against "Good Morning America" on the other side.


KURTZ: Talking about "Today" show being knocked out of first place and trying to come back. My interview with Matt Lauer.

And, Lauren Ashburn, all of these columnists and reporters now writing that Lauer has been so scarred by the Ann Curry episode that "Today" show will never come back. Can it be true he and Savannah Guthrie can't bring the program back because of this messy divorce with Ann Curry?

ASHBURN: I think it's going to be difficult. You have momentum going right now for ABC. Being number two, some people saying the show is tired, it's run its course. There is a lot of criticism out there.

And I have to say that Robin Roberts' illness has gelled the ABC family. They rallied around her and that word "family" that Matt and Katie and all of them were known for and Ann is something that "Today" show doesn't have.

Plus, they did not roll out Savannah Guthrie in a very big way.

KURTZ: No, they didn't deliberately because of the awkwardness over Ann Curry and so, Savannah Guthrie never got properly introduced to the audience.

FRANCIS: Well, I'll have to disagree with Lauren. I think it can come back. I think you're already seeing in some of the demographics they even pulled with Ann Curry.

My opposite take with the Robin Roberts ABC thing -- I think that was a momentary thing. People were watching ABC because of Roberts' illness. I'm sorry to say that.

KURTZ: But "GMA" has done a good job.

ASHBURN: Of course.

FRANCIS: No question they've done a good job, but you now see on the "Today" show as least I do as a 30-year NBCer, some chemistry between Savannah, chemistry that was missing between Ann and Matt.

KURTZ: OK, but --

ASHBURN: But the main story, thanks to Howie right now, is this bringing it back up again about how there was a rift and a break in the family.

KURTZ: Final question not having to do with chemistry or anchorage, but about substance and content.

Matt Lauer told me that he felt that "Today" show had gotten dark and depressing, with so many tabloid stories, about crime and celebrities and sensationalism. He said he fought against those stories and often lost. Now, they're doing, he says, more positive and uplifting stories. I see that.

But is that what viewers want?

ASHBURN: You know, it's so funny. Viewers always say, polls always say, I want to see good news. I really want that.

FRANCIS: Yes, but they never watch it.

ASHBURN: But then they don't watch. It's like those people who say, worldwide wrestling, nobody watches it, but it's still number one in the ratings.

KURTZ: All right. We have breaking news going back to that rape conviction trial in Steubenville, Ohio. Let's go to CNN's Poppy Harlow on the scene.

HARLOW: Hi. Well, it's been an incredibly difficult day, as you know, in the courtroom and with me now is Nathaniel Richmond, his son, Ma'lik, 16 years old, was just found guilty on the charge of rape. He has been taken into custody to serve his time.

And being in that courtroom was very difficult for me to watch -- to watch. It was very difficult for all parties involved. It was very difficult for you. When the judge handed down the sentence, you got out of the bench, you walked over to where Ma'lik was sitting with his attorney, Walter Madison, and you embraced him and you held him and you didn't let go and you talked in his ear.

And I'm wondering what you said to him and how he's doing.

NATHANIEL RICHMOND, MA'LIK RICHMOND'S FATHER: Well, I told Ma'lik to put all his trust in God. God is going see him through this. I told him that I love him, basically. And to be strong.

HARLOW: We heard Walter Madison, the attorney for your son, say that he heard you whisper I love you and he'd never -- he doesn't believe Ma'lik heard that from you before. Is that the case? Is today the first day you told him that?

RICHMOND: Basically, because I hadn't been around in Ma'lik's life like I should have been at those early years. And I want to stress that parents need to get involved more in their kids' lives.

Like someone mentioned, be a parent, and not a friend. Teach your kids what alcohol and drugs can do to destroy their lives and teach your kids how to make decisions and to combat peer pressure.

Ma'lik got caught up in what you would call a love triangle and a lot of peer pressure. I still believe that Ma'lik is innocent. There's a lot of things that went on behind closed doors that a lot of people don't know about. And then there's a political motive also involved in this.

As the evidence pointed out, there was only one of the state witnesses that placed Ma'lik committing this sexual act upon the victim, and that same state witness was also a prime suspect, Mr. Evan Westlake, who when my attorney tried to speak to him two weeks after had obtained a lawyer and made it impossible for us to talk with him and, also, like I say, was a prime suspect who was at the crime scene and his DNA was never taken.

HARLOW: That is testimony that we heard in court. Of course, he's not here to defend himself.

RICHMOND: You know --

HARLOW: And so, we don't -- we don't want to hand down any charges but I do want to focus on --

RICHMOND: He doesn't have to defend -- he doesn't have to be here to defend himself because it's all in black and white and it's public record.

HARLOW: Mr. Richmond, can we ask about your son. How is Ma'lik doing right now?

RICHMOND: My son is OK and my son is going to be OK. I believe in God, Allah, the one and only, the true God, is going to see Ma'lik through this. And thank you and you have a nice day.

HARLOW: Thank you, sir.

Obviously, incredibly difficult for Mr. Richmond. Incredibly difficult for everyone in there. I have been sitting next to him for the last four and a half days throughout this trial. It's not easy for anyone.

He said in court, "I believe that this is, in part, my fault. I take some responsibility for this" because he said he wasn't there for Ma'lik. That Ma'lik was from a broken home, a tough home, and he went on to live with guardians and to try to turn his life around, a kid who had a lot of ahead of him and we hope after he serves his time, still does.

KURTZ: CNN's Poppy Harlow for us at this trial following the verdict in Steubenville, Ohio, thanks very much, Poppy.

We will be right back.


KURTZ: The press covered the picking of a pope with the usual political chatter about the possible candidate -- speculation that, as it turned out, was almost all wrong. After the white smoke emerged, journalists scrambled to translate the announcement from Latin and then to tell us what they could about the new pope.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN: We believe that the name they said was Bergoglio, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio. He is the archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: This man with a degree in Chemistry who served as a cardinal in Buenos Aires where he lived a modest life and is known as something of a champion for the poor.

ALLEN PIZZEY, CBS NEWS: Cardinal Bergoglio was seen as the voice of conscience during Argentina's economic crisis, an advocate of the poor who is not afraid to speak out against globalization.


KURTZ: Joining us now to assess the coverage of Pope Francis in Rome, Laurie Goodstein, national religion correspondent for the "New York Times," and here in Washington, Sally Quinn, the editor of the "Washington Post" on Faith Blog.

Laurie Goodstein, I saw you tweeted this morning that I was going to ask you why didn't the press know it was Bergoglio? That's not my question. My question is, how difficult was it during those long days to report on the conclave, on the proceedings when everything was shrouded in secrecy?

LAURIE GOODSTEIN, NATIONAL RELIGION CORRESPONDENT, "NEW YORK TIMES": Right. Well, it's always a guessing game and, you know, I think it had been eight years ago, we would have had those Bergoglio profiles written. This time the race was pretty wide open. I mean, there was one man to beat, and that was the archbishop of Milan, Angelo Scola, and everybody was watching him. So nobody was really very prepared for this outcome.

KURTZ: Sally Quinn, it's not like an American political campaign, where you get to vet the candidates in advance and you do the profiles. Really, nobody knew until the last day when I heard Chris Cuomo on CNN first mention the name of Jorge Bergoglio as a possible pope, and indeed he was.

SALLY QUINN, EDITOR, FAITH BLOG, "WASHINGTON POST": Well, you know, the problem with picking somebody unknown like that is that you don't know what his past is. You know, he could possibly have been involved in a scandal, too. I mean, there is no background check in this case, but it does seem it me that he's pretty clear.


KURTZ: We'll come back to that. But given that journalists are presented suddenly with a cardinal of whom many not have heard, did it seem to you -- it is a joyous moment and thousands of people in St. Peter's Square, but does it seem to you that the coverage was a little bit too rapturous?

QUINN: I did think that it was, and I think partly because I think that the church is so mired in scandal, both financial scandal and sexual scandal, that it's going to take a lot to clean up this church. And the problems they have are so deep in the curia, and here is a pope who has never been part of the curia.

So, I don't know whether it would require somebody from within, but he is a 76-year-old guy who's never been in Rome and never been part of that inner circle, and they don't want reform there.

KURTZ: Well, sometimes it takes an outsider candidate. Laurie Goodstein, the pope, Pope Francis, met with what looked to me like hundreds if not thousands of journalists yesterday and he made a little joke about, you're working hard. Is it true that as the reports suggested, that he did a pretty good job of charming the press corps?

GOODSTEIN: He did. There were about 5,000 reporters there, but they also tell reporters, bring your family, bring your friends so, it's really an opportunity for the pope to kind of win over the journalists.

John Paul II did that and Pope Benedict with probably less, you know, less impact. He kind of chided the journalists a little bit. I think Cardinal Bergoglio, Pope Francis set a different tone. He did something very interesting at the end of that audience, with the journalists, he gave them a blessing.

Now that's traditional. But he said, I'm going to give you a blessing, a silent blessing because I acknowledge that you follow your own consciences, and some of you may not be Catholics and some of you may not have any faith at all. I'm going to bless you anyway.

I think that kind of gesture, you know, is noticed. It's, you know, I took it as a sign of respect. Now, it could be interpreted other ways, as well. But there are the kinds of -- you know, he is trying to telegraph, I want a relationship with you. You know, I want to be in conversation with you, and I think, you know, I think people -- some people were won over.

KURTZ: Did some journalists, Laurie, just briefly line up to meet the pope and bow down and kiss his ring?

GOODSTEIN: Well, there were a few. There was a blind journalist who came up with his dog, he patted the dog, but you know, there are a lot of different kinds of journalists in that crowd.

There are journalists for, you know, Catholic newspapers. So, those are the folks who would come up to the front to, you know, to kiss his ring and not mainstream American reporters.

KURTZ: I bet some American politicians wouldn't mind that treatment. You referenced the child abuse scandals that have rocked the church and the Vatican in recent years. There are also questions being asked now as we turn to the more different phase in the coverage of Pope Francis of his years in Argentina. The dirty war there in the 1970s, the murder, torture, people disappeared. Did he do enough to fight against it? He said he helped hide some people from the military junta. Do you think these questions, there are enough of these questions and can we really answer these questions?

QUINN: Well, you know, I've read enough of the stories to know that there are some questions about it, but it doesn't seem that he did anything wrong. It may not be that he was as outspoken as he could have been. I think there are two things that are interesting about this pope.

First, that he's a Jesuit, and that Jesuits are much more intellectual and often much more left leaning. There were some Jesuits in Argentina who did speak out and who were punished for that, and he wasn't one of those, although he did hide some people.

The other thing is taking the name St. Francis. We know that he's anti-abortion. We know that he is anti-birth control.

KURTZ: Those are the teachings of the church.

QUINN: He is anti-homosexuality or gay marriage. But the one area that he may be good in is the area of women in the church. St. Francis had a best friend forever, BFF, who was named Clare, and she also came from a very wealthy family and gave up all of her belongings to go be with the poor. And she and Francis were best friends, and they worked together their whole lives.

KURTZ: Fascinating story.

QUINN: And she, I think that Clare and this order that she started, he may be much more amenable to having women in the church.

KURTZ: All right, last question, Laurie Goodstein, I have got half a minute. The fact that the pope is from South America, the first pope from outside of Europe for hundreds and hundreds of years, from a journalistic point of view, doesn't that just make it a much better story?

GOODSTEIN: It does. I mean, four out of 10 Catholics are in Latin America. Two-thirds of Catholics now are in the global south. So, this is change. I mean, the church is shifting to the south away from Europe. And now having a pope that is a standard-bearer for those Catholics is going to make for a very good story.

KURTZ: All right, Laurie Goodstein in Rome, Sally Quinn here, thanks very much.

Up next, it is 10 years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq. We'll look back at pretty devastating media failure in just a moment.


KURTZ: It was a drum beat, a deafening drum beat in the wake of 9/11, as President Bush and Vice President Cheney and other top officials warned that Iraq had amassed a stockpile of illegal weapons and began building a case for war. And the media all too often acted as an echo chamber.


CONDOLEEZZA RICE, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud --

DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: The read we get on the people of Iraq is there's no question, but they want to get rid of Saddam Hussein and they will welcome as liberators the United States when we come to do that.

BILL PLANTE, CBS NEWS: The White House hopes to call for a vote on the deadline resolution early next week. If it passes, then by March 17th as a senior official, Saddam Hussein will finally be out of final opportunity. Even if it doesn't pass, the president has left no doubt that he's ready to go to war. SHEPARD SMITH, FOX NEWS: This is Fox News and Fox News Channel continuing coverage of the campaign, which now has begun to liberate and disarm Iraq.


KURTZ: Joining us now, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, senior correspondent and associate editor of the "Washington Post" and author of the book "Little America," which is just out in paperback, Mark Thompson who covers the national security and the military for "Time" magazine and back with us is Fred Francis, former NBC senior correspondent and the founder of

Rajiv, didn't most of the media, with the benefit of hindsight, get rolled by the Bush administration during this run-up to war?

RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT, "WASHINGTON POST": Look, there was a lot of uncritical reporting out there. I make no excuses for it. But I think it's a little too simplistic to say the press just rolled over for the Bush administration.

Take for instance the principal claim, that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and these were claims made by the senior most officials of government. They are citing intelligence reports.

Now, putting aside some of the more extreme stuff, I'm not going to apologize for some of Judy Miller's coverage in "New York Times" for instance, but when it comes to some of these claims, it's not like journalists, journalists who have good resources in the world of national security establishment, can just drive up to Langley and say to the CIA, look, let me see the source material for that.

KURTZ: You are right with this exception. I reported on this when I was at "The Washington Post." There was something like 140 front-page pieces between August of 2002 and the date of the invasion basically carrying the administration's case for war.

And on the occasions when some very good reporters wrote pieces that challenged or skeptical intelligence, those stories were buried. They were minimized. They were spiked and Bob Woodward told me himself that he felt he should have tried harder to get past the groupthink. He said it was part of the groupthink. So I agree with you. This wasn't an easy case to crack, but --

FRED FRANCIS, FORMER SENIOR CORRESPONDENT, NBC: I'll admit, I didn't do a great job. I thought I was one of the best national security correspondents in Washington, and I did not do a great job. However, this is not easy work to do. Not one intelligence agency in the world, not the CIA, but no intelligence agency, not the Mossad, not even Saddam's people knew that he didn't have the weapons of mass destruction.

MARK THOMPSON, "TIME" MAGAZINE: It's worth noting, Howie, not only did the U.S. government exaggerate his potential possession of weapons of mass destruction, but Saddam wanted everybody to believe he had weapons of mass destruction. KURTZ: To make him look stronger with his own people.

THOMPSON: Right. So it really looked a true hall of mirrors.

KURTZ: Let's recall the atmosphere, in the wake of 9/11 when some journalists were wearing flag pins on the air. Some networks banned that. There was an undercurrent that if you doubted or were too skeptical of what Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld and Rice were saying, that maybe you didn't support the troops, that you were unpatriotic.

THOMPSON: I know Fred knows this, but Cheney was defense secretary during the first Gulf War. There was a sense of trust that many of the military reporters had for him. Now, that was, that was ruined later on, but the fact of the matter was, we had the Saddam Hussein hangover from the first Gulf War.

Then we had Saddam Hussein trying to kill the elder President Bush in Kuwait, allegedly, in 1993 and then 9/11 happened. I mean, there really was a sort of snowballing kind of thing and the press to some degree was taken for a ride.

FRANCIS: I won't disagree with that, but you know, I didn't want to be with the troops. When I went to war, I snuck into Iraq so I could be with the Kurds of Kirkuk (ph) because those were the only ones that really knew that there were weapons of mass destruction.

Saddam had killed tens of thousands of Kurds with poison gas. But even there, Howie, the CIA guys that I worked with in the north, the special forces guys, even Jalal Talabani, the president of Iraq today, they believed he had weapons of mass destruction. So, who was I to say they weren't?

KURTZ: Since you say you snuck in -- and that leads me to the question I was going to ask in the next couple of minutes, and that is the whole embedding program created by the Pentagon. A lot of people thought this was great. Reporters get to be on the front lines, see combat, some were killed and, some were injured. On the other hand, it enabled commanders and even soldiers to -- many people thought spin the press and in some isolated cases sensor their copy.

FRANCIS: I am of that group. I didn't want to be embedded. I could have had my pick of units because I was the Pentagon correspondent for so long. I didn't want that feeling that I had to protect or not report on something, and those who were embedded did some great reporting, as it turned out. But what stories were not covered? I don't know that.

KURTZ: I want to come back to you, Rajiv, because I understand what you're saying, which is this was a very, you couldn't go to Iraq without getting killed. You couldn't go to the CIA and if you had been able to walk the halls of the CIA, most of the CIA analysts believed and whether it was cooked or exaggerated by their higher ups -- that in fact the evidence pointed to WMDs.

But then you had this extraordinary sequence of events where the "New York Times" had an editor note saying it had printed too many credulous claims about Saddam and Iraq. Then editor of the "Washington Post," Len Downie told me he had made a mistake of not putting more skeptical stories on the front page. Even the people who ran the news organizations seem to acknowledge that they had fallen short.

CHANDRASEKARAN: Indeed, and there was far more that we all could have done. You could go to Iraq. I was in Iraq for the bulk of the six months leading up to the war. What you couldn't really do is get an independent assessment of what Saddam really had.

You could accompany U.N. weapons inspectors, but it's all a dog and phony show. But Howie, it wasn't just the issue of weapons of mass destruction. It was the broader questions. What is the political transition plan?

Truth squadding the White House's claims that Iraq could pay for it, the reconstruction of its country, the questions of the long simmering tensions between the principal religious and ethnic groups in the country.

These were questions that were all easily reportable. They should have had more coverage. We didn't do enough in really aggressively looking at all of that.

KURTZ: That's a really salient point. But now on the tone, television did put some voices on the air that were either anti-war or skeptical about the claims about Saddam. But they tended to be Hollywood celebrities. I had the actress, Jeanine Garofalo, on this program in early 2003.

She said, you know, they were put on the air and then were condescended to, you don't really know anything, and that became the face of the anti-war movement. So I'm wondering whether or not we collectively journalists could have done a better of job seeking out those who were skeptical. Let me go to Mark Thompson.

THOMPSON: I mean, what's interesting, you mention the echo chamber effect here. The echo chamber effect was set by the "New York Times." The "New York Times" got a leak saying aluminum tubes are going to be used to build nuclear weapons.

And then, you know, senior members of the administration go on TV and point at that leak as if, you know, they didn't plant that leak. All the other big media tended to follow the Times, and it took Knight Ridder, my old outfit to say, wait a minute. Wait a minute. We are going to do some of this reporting that Rajiv was talking about and ask some tough questions. But they were sort of, you know, sidelined because they weren't a big outfit.

KURTZ: Half a minute. So now we deal with Iran, we deal with Libya, we deal with Syria, we deal with North Korea and have the media learned the lesson of if not the utter failure, of at least the shortcomings of Iraq ten years ago?

FRANCIS: The fact is that when President Obama asked a senior CIA official whether he was certain that Osama Bin Laden was in Abbottabad, he said, yes, I'm certain, but I was also more certain there was WMD in Iraq.

KURTZ: Who said that?

FRANCIS: A senior CIA official told Obama that. OK.


FRANCIS: We're still going to make mistakes, both the CIA and journalists.

KURTZ: All right, Fred Francis, Mark Thompson and Rajiv Chadrasekaran, thanks very much for joining us.

Up next, the White House spokesman takes a swipe out of Fox anchor and is Jeb Bush right that reporters are crack addicts, a conversation with CNN's newest anchor, Jake Tapper.


KURTZ: There is fresh evidence this week that the tense relationship between the White House and the media is not so much a war as a series of skirmishes that keep breaking out.

I spoke earlier about the press and politics with the newest CNN anchor, Jake Tapper, whose program, "The Lead" debuts on Monday.


KURTZ: Jake Tapper, welcome.

JAKE TAPPER, ANCHOR, CNN'S "THE LEAD": It's great it be here.

KURTZ: White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was on Fox News on Friday, interviewed by the anchor, Jenna Lee, who was asking about why the Easter Egg Roll was continuing, but the White House tours have been canceled.

And Carney said, well, actually, Jenna, if you did a little reporting the other day, Carney said to Mara Liasson of NPR, you're still working on a typewriter. So, is there now a relationship between White House reporters of which you were one and the press secretary?

TAPPER: Well, I mean, for me, at least, it hasn't started now. It had been adversarial since I started and at least for me.

KURTZ: But some people saying this White House is tougher, more aggressive against the press than some of its predecessors.

TAPPER: Well, look, in 2000, the Bush campaign was -- a senior official with the Bush campaign talked with another reporter about the possibility of throwing me off the plane.

KURTZ: What did you do? TAPPER: My questions were apparently not deferential enough, and my stories were apparently not flattering enough. So my only point is, however I have, yes, I have had unpleasant phone calls and conversations with people in the Obama administration, but I had them with the Bush administration and that's -

KURTZ: You've got the scars to show for it.

TAPPER: Well, it's part of the job.

The truth of the matter is, I never really understood the people who get a nasty phone call and then go on TV to talk about it. It's part of the job. You do a story they don't like. You're going to get yelled at and you listen to them or you yell back and then you move on.

KURTZ: This is what you signed up for. Let me ask you about journalists often accused, as you know, of being obsessed with politics, caring less about issues, substance of governing. The former Governor Jeb Bush on "Meet the Press" last week raised this point with David Gregory. Let's take a look.

DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS: Governor, before I let you go, who is the hottest Florida politician right now? Is it you or Marco Rubio? Who are we more likely to see in the White House?

JEB BUSH (R), FORMER GOVERNOR OF FLORIDA: Man, you guys are crack addicts. You really are obsessed with all this politics.

GREGORY: You know, I have been called a lot of things.

BUSH: Marco Rubio is a great guy. OK, heroin addict, is that better?

KURTZ: Crack addicts. That's a serious charge.

TAPPER: Well, I mean, look, obviously, if there's a politician versus a reporter, my first inclination is to go with the reporter. But, obviously, there's a lot of 2016 speculation --

KURTZ: And Jeb Bush went on five Sunday shows, probably not unrelated to the fact that he might possibly be considering an exploratory committee to run for president.

TAPPER: Right. Look, I agree. I mean, you know, obviously, he is considering running for president and at the same time, another Florida Republican is considering running for president.

KURTZ: Legitimate question.

TAPPER: I mean, maybe hottest wasn't the way I would have put it, but ultimately, yes. It seems rather odd to be considering a presidential run and this is not, this is not specific to Jeb Bush, but this whole kabuki that they're not considering it and we're not --

KURTZ: Haven't seen thought about it. TAPPER: We're not supposed to ask about it is silly. He is considering running for president. He hasn't made a decision. He is considering running for president. That is a reported fact that I know. I'm sure David Gregory knows. We all know. That's OK. I don't understand why -- the hahaha I think was enough.

KURTZ: Let's talk about you. You recently have joined CNN. You were a White House correspondent --

TAPPER: Rejoined CNN.

KURTZ: Rejoined CNN. In fact, I remember when you came on RELIABLE SOURCES when you were a young person.

TAPPER: This actually might have been, by the way. I'd have to go back and check.

KURTZ: I tell people it is.

TAPPER: I think this was the first TV appearance I ever did was on your show. I think that's true.

KURTZ: It has now become reality. It's a fact.

TAPPER: So thank you.

KURTZ: You're quite welcome. Was it a difficult decision to leave ABC, a bigger platform?

TAPPER: It was very difficult. Look, I had been there since 2003. So, almost a decade and, you know, I started there and Charlie and Diane were on in the morning and Peter Jennings was on in the evening and Ted Koppel was on for "Nightline" at 11:30. A place that I had so much respect for so many people who work there and still do have so much respect and affection.

KURTZ: But --

TAPPER: But ultimately I really just felt like it was time for me to anchor my own show, and I really wanted it to be a broad show about a broad number of topics and not just politics, even though that's how most people know me know me. And --

KURTZ: It will be a show, in the minute that we have left, will be able to fill that gap. But everyone at CNN and the TV community knows about it, that when there is no big breaking story, you have to provide a compelling reason to watch CNN. To watch "The Lead."

TAPPER: That's the hope, 4:00, what is on? What is Tapper covering today? What are the six most important stories in national world, money, politics, sports and pop culture? What are those six or seven most important stories today? Who is the big interview he has, who is the great roundtable he has? Let's tune in at 4:00. That's the hope. Hopefully from your lips to God's ear, it will happen.

KURTZ: We will find out. Good luck with the new show, Jake Tapper.

TAPPER: Thanks.

KURTZ: Thanks very much for joining us.


KURTZ: "THE LEAD" airs at 4:00 p.m. Eastern starting on Monday. That's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz. We're back here next Sunday morning. The rape case in Steubenville, Ohio, the verdict is coming down this morning. CNN has been covering it. We'll follow this throughout the day.

Candy Crowley is going to give us an update in just a moment. "STATE OF THE UNION" begins right now.