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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Media Ablaze Over Gun Fight; Interview with Congressman Steve Cohen of Tennessee
Aired April 14, 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: Three months after the Newtown tragedy dominated the news, the story slipping on to the back-burner until Barack Obama and Joe Biden made impassioned pleas for action on gun control, along with some commentators.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PIERS MORGAN, CNN: Crazy, I think, the Americans who kill themselves every year or suit others with guns is out of control. Call me crazy.
JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC: You look at these images and you look at the fact that 92 percent of Americans believe that criminals should have background checks before they're able to buy guns. You look at the president talking there and it's -- it's really hard to figure what the political calculation is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: But with the Senate breaking a Republican filibuster this week, is the press rooting for the White House to win on this emotional issue?
Congressman Steve Cohen tells me he's not embarrassed by declaring on Twitter that Cyndi Lauper was hot. He says he was "scamming the media."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. STEVE COHEN (D), TENNESSEE: I knew that by putting something out as a tweet (ph) that I deleted, that the press would see it. And if they could read something into what was an innocent tweet about how hot Cyndi Lauper was as a performer, that it would get the press' attention and it did, in a monster way.
(OEND VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Does the congressman, after sparking another furor by tweeting to a long lost daughter have a point? He'll be here.
And speaking of Twitter, Anthony Weiner confronted his sex scandal by granting an anguish, rambling, excruciatingly candid series of interviews to "The New York Times" magazine. We'll look at how the paper handled his attempted political comeback. Plus, is there a war on government whistleblowers?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I ultimately chose, a made a decision to go to the press. So I shared what was unclassified anonymously about the government's warrantless wiretapping.
MICHAEL ISIKOFF: The Obama administration has been extremely aggressive in trying to root out whistleblowers within the government.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: We'll talk to a filmmaker who says the Obama administration is having a chilling effect on the press.
I'm Howard Kurtz and this is THE RELIABLE SOURCES.
KURTZ: The coverage of gun control was starting to fade a bit as the pundits concluded that a GOP filibuster would block any kind of vote in the Senate. But the story burst back into the headlines with an emotional speech by President Obama after he met with some of the Newtown families.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Connecticut, this is not about me. This is not about politics. This is about doing the right thing for all the families who are here that have been torn apart by gun violence.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Vice President Biden kept the issue in the news with an appearance on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The one thing the NRA has done so well lately is the disinformation. We used the word registration. There is no registration in America.
SCARBOROUGH: They, obviously, haven't done that good of a job at it because only 7 percent of Americans oppose universal background checks.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: But some conservative commentators have a very different view.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GREG GUTFELD, FOX NEWS: This is the problem with the gun control discussion. If you disagree with a liberal on gun control, they say you want more dead kids.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: When two senators reached a bipartisan compromise on stricter background checks for gun purchases and the GOP filibuster failed, the stories were generally positive. So, are the media taking sides here?
Joining us now: Nia-Malika Henderson, national political reporter with "The Washington Post": Amy Holmes, the anchor of "Real News" on The Blaze; and Ana Marie Cox, political columnist for "The Guardian."
Ana Marie, are the media and their enthusiasm overstating the degree of progress that has been so far on this meddlesome (ph) gun issue?
ANA MARIE COX, THE GUARDIAN: I'm not sure we're ever seeing a degree of progress because so little progress has actually been made. I mean, let's think about this. A vote to filibuster was overcome. The fact that counts as a success is a pretty sad commentary on how little progress has been made on any kind of gun control or gun legislation at all.
I mean, the NRA has had an effective lock on Congress. They threatened to grade senators on their vote for the filibuster. They're still threatening to grade senators on any vote going forward on amendments.
And senators and congressmen run scared from the NRA. I mean, that's the problem with this debate. Not so much that, you know, individuals in the media are misinformed about guns, although some people are, or congressmen want a registration, although some I guess might. It's the way we debate this has been hijacked by this powerful group that actually doesn't represent that many Americans.
KURTZ: But with the focus on the filibusters, I think there is this kind of feeling in the press that let's at least have a vote, that filibusters are bad because they're blocking action. Is that fair, or is that unfair?
AMY HOLMES, THE BLAZE: I think there's a feeling in the press.
So, Gallup just came out with a survey on Friday and found that only 4 percent of Americans rate gun control as their top issue right alongside of North Korea. What I think is fascinating about this debate is how much is being driven by the White House and that the media is taking their cues from the White House that this is the issue to be focusing on.
KURTZ: Hold on. Isn't a lot of it -- isn't a lot of it being driven by the emotional aftershocks of what happened in that school in Connecticut? HOLMES: Certainly, Howie. Absolutely, those families are enormously sympathetic, but there's also a family member in the Newtown victims, his name is Mark Mattioli, who was not invited on "60 Minutes" last weekend for the very emotional plea because he opposes gun control measures or further gun control measures.
KURTZ: Nia-Malika Henderson, those who want Congress to act, they had been on the Hill. One mother gave the president's radio address yesterday, and that has given the press, it seems to me, a fresh story line to focus, and a very emotional one, as well.
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, THE WASHINGTON POST: That's right. A very compelling one. They were in "People" magazine. They're on "60 Minutes." These are amazing and remarkable stories and they're always so moving.
And so, I think the press has a switch into focus on it because there was a story line, right, that everything had flagged, right? That maybe Obama had waited too late, he wasn't able to ride that emotional rollercoaster and things that stalled on Capitol Hill. I think one of the tricky things about covering this is we don't really know what's happening behind closed doors between Reid and all of those other senators.
So, I think what we had over these last couple of weeks was this band of Republicans five, six, seven and ended up being 12 saying they would filibuster, but, guess what? That's not enough to filibuster. So, this idea all of a sudden, they're going to block it.
HOLMES: We do know the president's own gun control agenda had been whittled down and whittled down to now we're only speaking about background checks --
KURTZ: That is true.
HOLMES: -- and yet the press is championing this as a big gun control victory.
COX: I think that's a great point. This is something, what are we willing to call a victory? Again, there has been so little that has changed. I don't want to say progress, that is a weighted term. But there's been so little that changed in gun control or gun regulation that, again, just defeating this filibuster counted as a victory.
HOLMES: But is there too much covering of President Obama?
HOLMES: Instead of saying, here are the things you're not getting, you're not getting assault weapons ban, you're not getting magazines --
KURTZ: Yes, but I've read every article.
COX: Look at the families of the victims and say, like, you lost. I mean, I think actually that's the thing. It's like it's actually really hard to say this was a loss and to look at those families coming out of Congress.
HENDERSON: And I think that you can say it's a victory. It's been 20 years since any gun control measures have been debated on on the Hill in the history of the last 100 years. There's only been eight, you know, gun control measures at the federal level. So, I think, you know --
KURTZ: At the same time, it's possible that nothing will happen at the end and no one will call out a victory. What's interesting is that you have these two senators, Democrat Joe Manchin and Republican Pat Toomey. In fact, they were on "STATE OF THE UNION" earlier this morning, who came together for this compromise on background checks to imply to gun shows and online sales and they've been getting very favorable press.
Now, you could say, well, it's bipartisan. The press loves bipartisanship, right?
HOLMES: They do. What I have found fascinating, in all of this, is that the press has created the sort of the heroes and the villains. The heroes are the gun control advocates. The villain is the NRA.
But also in the category or should be placed in the category are those Senate Democrats that have been opposing stricter gun control measures. The Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, he said assault weapons ban was going no where. He has been delaying debate on this.
KURTZ: Right. So, you're saying that Senate Democrats are getting a pass in the press?
HOLMES: I believe they are.
COX: I think they are, too.
HENDERSON: I mean, I think everyone has talked about the Senate Democrats who were running for office in these red states and how they might be holding this up, too.
COX: It sure got lost in the debate of the filibuster that already some of the Senate Democrats and all those Senate Democrats that have A-plus ratings from the NRA, in the matter of fact.
KURTZ: Well --
HENDERSON: Look at every segment I have, you know, participated in or have heard about, you know, on TV, everyone talks about the Senate Democrats and how they're as big -- (CROSSTALK)
HOLMES: Max Baucus got a tough --
KURTZ: All right. I don't want to get too deep into the weeds here. It's interesting is the collision of such an emotional issue and at the same time the way that Capitol Hill works can be so incremental and so much like watching molasses pour.
Let me turn to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell who's -- a strategy session in his campaign office in Louisville was secretly taped. It was leaked to "Mother Jones", David Corn, who famously got the Mitt Romney 47 percent video during the campaign. And in that strategy session, McConnell and his aides talked about Ashley Judd, the actress who was going to challenge him in next year's Senate race, talking about her autobiography and how he's admitted to having mental health problems, suicidal tendencies and mental breakdown.
A reporter asked the senator about this at a news conference.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Is it fair game for you to question someone's mental health or their religious sensibilities in a strategy session like that?
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), KENTUCKY: Yes. As I indicated, last month they were attacking my wife's ethnicity. And then, apparently, also unbeknownst to us at the time, they were bugging our headquarters, quite a Nixonian move.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So McConnell sort of ducked the question of whether it is appropriate to be talking about it. But it seems to me, the initial press coverage was the outrage for these strategists to be sort of talking about negative information on Ashley Judd and kind of glossing over the fact initially that this meeting was surreptitiously taped.
COX: Perhaps. I mean, I don't -- I think this is the case of the journalist. You can have your cake and eat it, too. I mean, it's interesting to cover the strategy session. We don't get an ear in these strategy sessions very often.
If it's true that strategy sessions are always like this, I think more of them should be taped and released. But it's also true that there was some sketchy stuff going on and how it got released.
KURTZ: Well, sketchy is putting it politely.
HOLMES: It's probably illegal. If it's illegal --
KURTZ: So, McConnell was right that his enemies are out to get him. There's a liberal group called Progress Kentucky. (CROSSTALK)
HENDERSON: This is politics. So that happens, right?
HOLMES: No, it doesn't just happen that you bug your opponent's office.
KURTZ: A local Democrat says two people from Progress Kentucky, one of the people from that group has now resigned, admitted to taping this from a hallway, through an door, or a door that was partially open. So, this was a kind of a bugging operation.
HOLMES: Indeed, it was and I've read about it.
KURTZ: You think it was glossed over?
HOLMES: It totally got glossed over?
HOLMES: We're not glossing over it. This is RELIABLE SOURCES.
No, but I've read about it. And what was interesting, the gentleman who resigned from Progress Kentucky was himself a journalist. And he was fired because of his activism, you know, sort of bleeding into his journalistic work.
KURTZ: And at the same time, it seemed to me McConnell got barbecued for even talking in a private session about how he might go over Ashley Judd, who, by the way, is not running. It's not like these discussions don't go on in every campaign, should we do this, should we do that. It seems to me, unless he actually does something, is it fair game?
HENDERSON: You know, I didn't think that what we heard in those tapes was very surprising. I mean, we know what Ashley Judd's problematic history has been for running in that state.
HENDERSON: So, I don't, I don't in terms of - I mean, this is politics. It's a dirty business in some ways. McConnell was very much known for running the scorched-earth campaigns. He got $12 million to do it this go around.
In terms of the bugging, you know, I think there's going to be some questions about whether or not it's actually legal or illegal.
HOLLMES: You want to show bugging the CNN green room, that will be good --
KURTZ: Now you talk about dirty business.
All right. Let me get a break. When we come back, Marco Rubio breaks the indoor record by appearing on seven shows this Sunday morning. A look at that in just a moment. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
KURTZ: Senator Marco Rubio on CBS, ABC, NBC, CNN, FOX, Telemundo and Univision this morning talking about the immigration legislation he's involved with and this subject came up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
DAVID GREGORY, NBC: Can the nominee of the Republican Party in 2016 be a champion for an immigration reform policy that provides a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants in this country?
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN'S "STATE OF THE UNION: Do you think this would help or hurt Marco Rubio, if he perhaps ran for president in 2016?
CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: Senator, you clearly are at least considering running for president in 2016. Isn't this, whether it's the budget --
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Says who? Says who?
WALLACE: Pardon? What were you going to say, sir?
RUBIO: Says who?
WALLACE: Well --
RUBIO: I said, who says I'm considering that?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: The media practically nominating Marco Rubio for 2016 GOP primary?
HENDERSON: He's sort of nominating himself.
KURTZ: He says he hasn't even thought about it.
HENDERSON: Yes, sure. Neither is Hillary Clinton. Neither is --
HOLMES: Neither was Barack Obama, right.
HENDERSON: I mean, almost every senator, right, wakes up in the morning and looks in the mirror and he's someone who can be president and that's just the reality. He's very much out there.
I think the trick for him is he's possibly running for president for four years. That's a really long time.
KURTZ: But there were a series of substantive serious questions about immigration reform and whether this can be pass and whether this will divide the Republican Party. So, in that sense, the president is doing his job. HOLMES: A really a dumb question because Republicans already nominated John McCain who favored comprehensive immigration reform. George W. Bush, I worked for Senator Frist, they were championing immigration reform. This is not news to the Republican Party.
What I thought --
KURTZ: You're saying, you're saying it is dumb for the press to suggest that the GOP is split?
HOLMES: The party already nominated in 2008 a champion of comprehensive immigration reform.
KURTZ: OK. But the party, it nominated in 2012, somebody who said immigrants should self-deport and, obviously, has some problem with the Spanish voters.
HOLMES: Because he was having a problem with the right of the party and he chose that, that policy position to try to, you know, engender goodwill with the right of the party.
What I thought was interesting is that maybe Marco Rubio is making doing a full Ginsburg reputable.
COX: It used to be you do all the Sunday shows --
COX: -- lawyer did all the Sunday shows.
KURTZ: We can't call this anymore -- we're now going to call it the full Marco.
COX: Doing all the Sunday shows, in the age of satellite television, is like baseball statistics in the age of steroids, right? I mean, like he made it all via satellite. Ginsburg actually went to every single studio. So --
HENDERSON: Sat for two hours in a studio --
KURTZ: I was watching and he would have a drink of water, famously, and he would banter and he would do another interview. And, you're right, he didn't any weight doing this.
HENDERSON: Yes. I mean, the quotes are nearly identical from --
COX: Also, I got to say, I hope that Amy is right, this is over. This issue is over in the Republican Party, like it's no longer controversial.
KURTZ: Well, we will get to that next week.
HOLMES: When you get to do all the Sunday shows for a good reason and not a sorted one. KURTZ: Well, at least it was a substantive one. There is no scandal.
All right. There is a promo that has been running on MSNBC, but seen far more often on FOX News because people on FOX have been attacking MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Parris for saying the following.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: We haven't had a collective notion that these are our children. So, part of it is we have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents or kids belong to their families and recognize that kids belong to whole communities.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: She says she doesn't know what the fuss is about. She says challenging the notion that kids belong to their parents. That's kind of inflammatory language, isn't it?
COX: It's inflammatory on FOX. That's for sure. You know, I hate to use the faculty lounge rhetoric, but she is a professor. So maybe this is not as controversial when she's talking about it. It certainly isn't controversial for her. It won't be controversial for the people who tune into her show because they agree with her.
KURTZ: Well, I know what she meant. Let's invest in public education.
KURTZ: Let's all take care of our children.
But when you use a phrase, do kids belong to their families?
COX: Collective. I mean, the fact that she went full like --
HENDERSON: Real buzzword in conservative circles.
I know what she means. It takes a village. When I first heard, you know, that's probably not the exact language you want to use.
HOLMES: I'm curious to know, the editors, the producers, did their alarm bells go off, or did they just think, with that beautiful green lawn behind her, who could disagree.
COX: I applaud MSNBC for hiring people who aren't media-trained. I mean, surreal, you know --
HENDERSON: Very much doubled down on it. She's written to respond and expand on it.
(CROSSTALK) COX: Everyone knows who she is now. I mean, I give more power to her. I hope this is something that she discusses on her show.
KURTZ: She has. She did yesterday.
COX: Continues to discuss. I mean --
HOLMES: It's sort of interesting, she's backpedaled. So, there's basically less than meets the eye.
HENDERSON: Well, there is this tactic I think where you sort of use inflammatory language to get your point into the conversation.
KURTZ: The purpose of the promo is to attract attention. Melissa Harris-Perry succeeded on that score. Nia-Malika Henderson, Ana Marie Cox and Amy Holmes, thanks very much for coming by this morning.
Up next, Congressman Steve Cohen deletes a seemingly embarrassing tweet that Cyndi Lauper is hot and insists he was just scamming the presses. This isn't his first tangle with Twitter and the media. He'll be here in just a moment.
KURTZ: The tangled Twitter tale involving Tennessee Congressman Steve Cohen began around Valentine's Day when he sent a tweet which he later deleted to a 23-year-old student who works as a bikini model.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN: The Twitterverse was buzzing during the State of the Union speech this week. But one tweet, in particular, drew quite a lot of attention. It was from Congressman Steve Cohen reading, "Nice to know you were watching the State of the Union. Happy Valentine's Day. Happy Valentine's, beautiful girl. I love you."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: But as Cohen told CNN's Kate Bolduan in that interview, this was not some scandalous flirtation. The woman in question was an out of wedlock daughter Cohen said he discovered only three years ago.
This week, the congressman sent and deleted another tweet before seeing a musical performance that White House.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TAMRON HALL, MSNBC: He's back in the news for a tweet that he sent to singer Cyndi Lauper. Here's the tweet, it said, "Great night. Couldn't believe how hot you were. See you again next Tuesday. Try a little tenderness."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: I spoke to the congressman about this on Friday and he called a news conference to explain the tantalizing tweet, and Congressman Steve Cohen joins me now from Memphis.
COHEN: Thank you, Howard.
KURTZ: So the reason you tweeted to the world that Cyndi Lauper is hot and then took that tweet down is what?
COHEN: Well, after the February incident, I knew that a deleted tweet could get notoriety or publicity, and I felt like that my daughter and myself were somewhat victims in the way of absence of malice. That unknowingly the press put us in a situation where we couldn't respond in a certain way.
I thought about that movie, which I've seen, of course, it's an older movie, but a great movie. And so I tweeted and deleted so that the tweet would get noticed. There were terms that, obviously, were pertinent to the musical performance that could be seen if one wanted to in another light, and I wanted to give attention to the Memphis music show that's going to be on PBS --
KURTZ: OK, I know you said you wanted to give attention to Memphis music, which is big in your district. But it seems like it mostly drawn attention to Congressman Steve Cohen. A lot of people are viewing this as something of a stunt.
COHEN: Well, it was a ruse, I admit that. To take a rip-off of Cyndi Lauper, congressmen just want to have fun sometimes, too. But it was kind of fun.
KURTZ: OK. It was kind of fun, but you seem to want to have it both ways. On the one hand you called her hot, knowing full well this would be like catnip to the media. And then when asked about it, you said, well, I was really saying that her performance was hot.
But you knew how it would be read, right?
COHEN: Well, no, not really. I mean, I kind of had read either way and kind of the ideal was for people to read it and think about how it was because how I will see her on Tuesday and I don't know Cyndi Lauper and her performance was hot, the whole show was hot and describe a musical performance. Jay Leno brought it up to her and read the tweet and Cyndi just said, oh, it's rock 'n' roll and it's hot and that was hot and it's hot show and rock 'n' roll is hot.
And it was hot. It was hot. And that's the expression you use for a musical performance.
KURTZ: All right. Let's go back to what happened in February with that Valentine tweet, I love you, to this woman Victoria Brinks that is a daughter you did not know you had. She is 24 years old.
Now, you, I think it's fair to say, still pretty upset maybe even angry with the way the press handled that. But how are journalists supposed to know that this was your daughter?
COHEN: Well, I guess they weren't, but the fact was, even if she wasn't and she was some social friend of mine, which is what they thought, I'm single. And it shouldn't make any difference.
Because I'm a congressman and I am, you know, I guess chronologically challenged and phallically challenged, it wouldn't necessarily mean that I couldn't have a younger girlfriend. Although at this point in my life, 47 is younger, 55 is younger.
KURTZ: OK, 63-year-old congressman, 24-year-old girlfriend -- I mean, you know, look, there's a history here with members of Congress not always conducting themselves in the most noble way, shall we say.
But here's the thing, you contributed to the problems with that story because you didn't, your office didn't explain for almost a full day that you were, in fact, related to this woman and your spokesman gave out false information initially telling the press that this woman was the daughter of a friend. You take some responsibility for the way this was misreported?
COHEN: Well, I can understand it. She is the daughter of a friend. Her mother is my friend and that didn't exclude me.
And the fact is --
KURTZ: Oh, come on, isn't that a little misleading, Congressman?
COHEN: I don't think it's misleading. It's just half of the story.
But, nevertheless, I think that we told some of the reporters, in particular, our hometown reporter, hey, there's nothing here at all and we told people, there is nothing here to report on. This is nothing. And people wouldn't believe us.
And the same thing -- they just wouldn't believe it. And sometimes, they should take the word of the individual who's the subject of the story when they say or their chief of staff or their press person, hey, there's nothing here. Believe me. There's nothing here.
KURTZ: OK, so your beef with the press and the reason you were so upset about that incident a couple of months ago to pull the Cyndi Lauper stunt is that you feel that journalists jump to conclusions, see the worst in any possible set of circumstances and don't take the word of politicians when they say there is nothing to see here, just move along?
COHEN: Well, some journalists and sometimes and I understand politicians would say that Anthony Weiner certainly lied when he got his situation. So, I mean, there's a bad track record. I can't say that I'm without some fault and the press didn't have some basis to have some interest, but Anthony Weiner went way beyond anything I ever thought about, and I'm single. So there are certain differences.
And there's personal life and if I was going out with somebody younger and I generally -- that does not really, I don't want to get into my personal life.
KURTZ: All right, well, we have less a minute so let me ask you, having done this and got a lot of attention for the Cyndi Lauper tweet and holding the press conference to say, I was just trying to pull a fast one on the members of the media, what do you feel like you accomplished?
COHEN: Well, I think a lot of people know that the PBS show on 7:00 Central standard, "Memphis Soul" is going to be out there. That's one thing. The second thing is that people will not look at politicians' deleted tweets with necessarily such a jaundiced eye, and, thirdly, I guess, I learned something and that is when you take a position against the media, which I did -- I should have said some press and not the press, because it's certainly just some of the press, and I should have known they would come back as the "Washington Post" did, and attack me personally and really not understand the issue. And they really reacted in a very personal, full-court press attack. I also brought up absence of malice and I think everybody should watch it, it's a great movie. I love Paul Newman.
KURTZ: You are giving it two plugs. I would say the "Washington Post" poked fun at you rather than attack you, but that's a matter of opinion. I bet you got a few more Twitter followers because of this. Congressman Steve Cohen, thanks for sitting down with us from Memphis.
COHEN: Thank you, Howard.
KURTZ: All right, ahead on RELIABLE SOURCES, speaking of Anthony Weiner, the former congressman decides the price of getting back into politics as a soul searching interview about the sex scandal that cost him his House seat. Paul Begala weighs on the "New York Times" magazine interview.
KURTZ: It was nearly two years ago when Anthony Weiner stepped forward to say, yes, despite his earlier denials, he had sent x-rated pictures of himself to women through such venues as Twitter.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANTHONY WEINER (D), FORMER CONGRESSMAN: I'm deeply sorry for the pain this has caused. My constituents, supporters, family and staff, several and appropriate conversations conducted over Twitter, Facebook, e-mail and occasionally over the phone with women I met online. (END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Weiner resigned his House seat and went off to repair his marriage to his wife, Huma. But in the "New York Times" magazine out today, both of them describe in painful detail, what happened, why it happened and how they have coped.
This as Weiner is eyeing a late entry into the New York mayor's race. He tells the "Times" it was brutal. It was completely out of control. There was the crime. There was the cover up. There was the harm I had done to her and no one who deserved this less than Huma. That's really the bottom line.
No one deserved to have a dope like me do that less than she did. Why did he do it? Here's Weiner again in the piece, I wasn't really thinking. What does this mean I'm doing this? Is this risky behavior? Is this smart behavior, to me, it was just another way to feed this notion that I want to be liked and admired.
So how the "Time" magazine did handle Weiner's efforts to damage control? Joining me now is CNN contributor Paul Begala long-time Democratic strategist and here's the piece out today. It has been online for a couple days. How did the "New York Times" handle this very personal and painful story?
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Remarkably and transparently. The writer, Jonathan Van Meter, you pointed this out, Howie, first, so I have to give you credit. I had never seen a piece before where the journalist himself or herself says to the subject who is weeping and pouring his heart, maybe we should stop for a while. I've never heard journalists say --
KURTZ: Getting so raw and so personal. Also the piece acknowledged. I was going to ask you, was "The New York Times" being used here. Because obviously the reason that Anthony Weiner did this and his wife do this because he wants to see if he can be viable as a New York political candidate.
BEGALA: Sure. Would CNN have turned that interview down, certainly not? Any news entity would have wanted to have that interview. So I don't fault "The Times" at all. But every interview is two sides using each other, right. The media wants the raw material for free. We don't pay for sources, right and then the politician, in this case, wants to get a message out.
KURTZ: If Anthony Weiner is willing to provide, I describe them as therapy sessions. He wants to provide excruciating detail about how he wanted to be loved and admired and should he have done it. Is there any reason not to print all of that?
BEGALA: No. No, there's not. There may be reason not to say it. I'm kind of old school. TMI, for me, too much information, but I think frankly Anthony probably has a better sense of the culture, the media culture we live in than I do. I rage against it and say we shouldn't talk so much. The truth is, everybody wants it. Even "new York Times" magazine wants to hear all that really painful personal detail.
KURTZ: Now you are not unfamiliar with the question politicians in sex scandals. You worked in the Clinton White House during the Monica Lewinsky furor during the impeachment effort. Would you ever advise Bill Clinton to do an interview like this?
BEGALA: First off, he had a country to run. That was the most important thing was to keep our eyes on the prize.
KURTZ: Yes, but he was also trying to hold on to his job so he could keep running the country and the question was, how would he put his later acknowledged mistake with Lewinsky behind him?
BEGALA: Right. Well, the way to do it we decided back then was not to focus on the mistake or the scandal and he did apologize. And he did.
KURTZ: Over a period of months, you'll recall. During which he lied to the country, as you'll recall.
BEGALA: For which he apologized in a way that no president ever since here has before. Remember Ronald Reagan lied to the country about (inaudible) and he said mistakes were made in the passive voice. Bill Clinton didn't do that. He apologized whole heartedly. But the most important thing when you're president is to be president and to run the country.
Now Anthony doesn't have a public service job now. So that was the only thing he could do was to own up to it, and look, he lied to me, he lied to a lot of people in the media and in the country, and now he has apologized for that.
KURTZ: You know the former congressman and he lied to you personally about the Twitter business?
KURTZ: Did you feel betrayed?
BEGALA: Sure. No one likes to be lied to.
KURTZ: Was this a casual conversation? Were you advising him?
BEGALA: I was not advising him. No, but I contacted him when it was going on. I have to talk about it on CNN. He said, no, it's all untrue. Same thing he said to everybody.
KURTZ: The same thing with Lance Armstrong and me. He lied to me in two interviews. Somehow more personal and more stinging when it's not just somebody on TV saying it, but here's the thing, let's say you were advising him after he came clean, which he did not initially when he did with you. Would you advise him to do a TV interview instead, 10 minutes he's off and he puts it behind him. When you do a print interview, you are giving all the power to the writer to frame it as he sees fit.
BEGALA: Either way, I would say no edits, right. In other words, when you give the power of the pen to someone else, they can cut it as they see fit. I'll give you 10 minutes. If you use eight, the deal is off. Get the whole thing, but I think this so personal.
KURTZ: Almost like he felt a need to be understood. It's almost like it was a catharsis as much as a piece of journalism because obviously, he gave them many hours.
BEGALA: What it does not seem to me as a licensed spin doctor, it doesn't seem to be spent. It seems to be a guy and what really resonated with me is when he said all the lies were derivative of the fact that I was lying to Huma. I know his wife. She is a remarkable person.
I believe that. I think that once he had done this terrible thing to his wife, lying to the whole country was nothing compared to that. And, so, that's what I suspect what he says perpetuated that. That doesn't excuse it at all.
But it helps me to understand why he would go out of his way. I don't care, actually. The truth is, I do think our media is way too obsessed with sex. We had a Republican senator a few months ago arrested for drunk driving, which killed people. This is just a sex scandal with no sex.
KURTZ: You took the words out of my mouth. You're a licensed spin doctor. Paul Begala, thanks for coming by this morning.
After the break, has the Obama administration declared war on whistleblowers? The first television interview with Robert Greenwald on his new documentary.
KURTZ: There have always been tensions between whistleblowers who leaked to the press and government officials determined to protect secrets. This was a major battleground during the Bush administration and has been heating up, again, under President Obama. As the new documentary, "The War on Whistleblowers" makes clear, many journalists are concerned.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL KELLER, OP-ED COLUMNIST, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": One of the reasons that so much classified information leaks out is that there is so much classified information.
DAVID CARR, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": But a spy is not a mid-level bureaucrat who notices tens of millions of dollars going down a rat hole somewhere and after notifying his superiors and getting nowhere eventually drops a diamond and calls a newspaper. That's a whistleblower. That's not a spy.
JANE MAYER, "THE NEW YORKER": I had to fly across the country and meet people in sort of unmarked hotel rooms in order to try to get the details and it does not feel kind of like America landed the free press.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: And joining us now for his first TV interview about the film, Robert Greenwald, founder and director of Brave New Films and the producer of "War on Whistleblowers, Free Press and the National Security State."
Thanks for coming in. What you don't demonstrate in this documentary, it seems to me is that journalists are getting fewer sources, fewer stories from confidential sources as a result of what you described as a war.
ROBERT GREENWALD, FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT OF BRAVE NEW FILMS: That's absolutely correct. We weren't able to follow through on everything, but we hope by having these incredible journalists speak out and call attention to the fact that literally the espionage act is being used against whistleblowers. Calling whistleblowers spies is really, in many ways, beyond the pale of anything we've seen from any administration.
KURTZ: Now you're a liberal. There's no secret about that. You cover some things from the left wing point of view, but you are disappointed, I think, the film clearly suggested in President Obama for ramping up prosecutions in this area.
GREENWALD: President Obama is doing a terrible disservice to democracy, to free speech and to the power and importance of both whistleblowers and journalists. And as Jane Meyer and Dana Priest say and many others in the film, he has gotten too close to the CIA. The national security state, as we know, is an enormous powerful entity. The film tries to connect those dots and show this is not an action.
KURTZ: Should government be able to keep some classified secrets?
GREENWALD: Yes, that's not an argument. No sane person is going to disagree with that, but that's not what's happening here. What's happening is 1.7 billion e-mails every day are listened to by the national security state. Six whistleblowers are being charged under espionage act. People are, homes are being broken into with guns drawn by the FBI. We can't have a democracy without a strong free press.
KURTZ: James Ricin of the "New York Times?"
KURTZ: But, you know, not every whistleblower in every case has pure motives and the net effect I get from watching this film is you tend to paint them all as heroes. GREENWALD: Not every whistleblower does have pure motives, but in the national security arena, these people are really heroic. They're speaking up. They have nothing to gain and they're protecting us against fraud, abuse and, actually, with Ron's, literally our saving lives in Iraq by exposing the issue.
KURTZ: Now some of these are success stories. For example, the leak to the "New York Times" about domestic surveillance efforts during the Bush administration did shine a spotlight on that and put up debate. Vice President Cheney criticized the leak, but in other cases people have faced jail or been able to defeat prosecution as in Thomas Drake the guy who leaked classified material to the "Baltimore Sun." It is a mixed record.
GREENWALD: Well, it's a mix record depending on how you evaluate. These people, every single one of them, are paying a personal price, a deep personal prize, career, money, family, safety. And on the other hand, how are they able to impact?
Are they able to make a change? What was wonderful discovery for me in doing the film is every single whistleblower ran up against a brick wall and went to the press. So in many ways it is a reminder of how important investigative press is.
KURTZ: But as you know, Robert Greenwald, there are those that say whether it is legal or not legal, when journalist accept classified information and expose what many administrations expose national secrets that they are doing a disservice to the country. That they are putting the scoop ahead of the country's interest.
GREENWALD: Well, first of all, it is not classified information.
KURTZ: Sometimes it is.
GREENWALD: Not in the movie, the Obama administration overreached in these cases --
KURTZ: So you are disputing the classification.
GREENWALDZ: And the courts have approved it was not classified information in those cases. That is an important distinction. When it comes down to it, when we have a national security state that is buildings three times bigger than the Pentagon in over 10,000 locations, I think most sane Americans, left, right or middle, would argue our freedom is more important. That freedom is being challenged by the crackdown.
KURTZ: Well, there is obviously a balance that has to be struck. I have a half minute. Are journalist who are not supposed to take a stand on the issue, but vested information to get the information the government wants out, have they been too docile about these whistleblower prosecutions?
GREENWALD: Well, I'm not going to criticize investigative journalists. What I hope the film provides a voice for them to come forward and for us to respect and say here's wonderful journalist and some great whistleblowers. They are an important combination and let's stop the Obama administration from silencing and shutting them up.
KURTZ: Well, nobody can say you don't have a strong point of view. The film reflects that. Robert Greenwald, thanks very much for talking to us about this movie.
Still to come the media's failure to cover the sickening charges against an abortion doctor. A Fox reporter is spared jail time for now.
And some of the British media celebrating Margaret Thatcher's death, the "Media Monitor" is straight ahead.
KURTZ: Time now for the "Media Monitor," our look at the hits and errors in the news business. Well, the critics are right. The horrifying crimes that a Pennsylvania abortion doctor is accused of committing haven't gotten enough national media coverage.
Kermit Gosnell is on trial for allegedly running a house of horrors storing all kinds of mutilated fetuses, some of which were brutally killed. Now some conservatives are saying these amounts to a blackout by the so-called liberal media, but it is more complicated than that.
First, the Gosnell case has drawn some coverage since the FBI first raided that clinic back in 2010 in such outlets as "Time," NPR, the AP, the "New York Times," Slate and "The Daily Beast." Now Gosnell's trial begun, CNN has done a half dozen segments including one by Jake Tapper back on March 21st and Fox News did a story that same day.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAKE TAPPER, CNN: One by one witnesses are sharing horror stories in the trial of a Philadelphia abortion provider.
BRETT BAIER, FOX NEWS: An abortion doctor in Philadelphia is accused of killing babies after birth.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: MSNBC like Fox has done a few stories. CBS and ABC carried evening news segments back in January, but there hasn't been nearly enough on the trial, almost nothing in the "Washington Post" or the "New York Times." Perhaps the mainstream press is less attuned to a story that cast a shadow on abortion, but the conservative media didn't do much either.
It is not like the staunchest pro-choice advocate would defend what he is alleged to have done. This is a gruesome case that journalists on both sides of the abortion question have told me is heard is hard to stomach. That is especially true on television. But since Fox's Kirsten Powers called out the media in a column in the "USA Today," the coverage is quickly picking up as it should.
When Margaret Thatcher died this week, I had no problem with some of the media ripping her record. She was divisive figure as British prime minister accused of penalizing the poor, battling unions and there's no need to pretend otherwise when she passed away.
What I do have a problem with is the pundits who took joy in her death. Here's one "Daily Mirror" columnist, Paul Raltledge, "There's nothing before or there's been nothing like her since thank God. Margaret Thatcher's death is mourned by half of the nation and celebrated by the other half."
Now that is just mean spirited even if a few lefties danced in the streets, Thatcher was 87 years old and had been out of office for more than two decades. Hailing her death is just sad.
A foxnews.com reporter who had been facing the possibility of going to jail has gotten a reprieve. Jana Winter broke a story in the Aurora, Colorado theatre massacre saying two law enforcement sources told her that suspect, James Holmes, had mailed his psychiatrist a notebook with violent drawings and details of a murderous plot.
A judge in Denver this week said he won't rule on whether Winter has to testify until he decides whether the notebook can be used as evidence. Winter said she can't reveal where he she got her information or no source would trust her again. She's right. She shouldn't be put in the position of facing jail for doing her job in this awful case.
Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz. If you missed our program, go to iTunes on Monday to check out our podcast, search RELIABLE SOURCES in the iTunes store. We are back 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.