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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Interview With Bob Woodward; Dobbs Accused of Employing Illegals; Sanchez Apologizes for Comments
Aired October 10, 2010 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: The president's national security adviser quit on Friday, and White House aides say it's because of this book. Bob Woodward casts a new light not just on James Jones, but the whole Afghan war debate. But are his unnamed sources pushing their own agendas?
And why is Woodward promoting that Hillary for VP rumor? We'll ask him.
A couple of ex-anchors in the news. Lou Dobbs accused of employing illegal immigrants and Rick Sanchez finally apologizing for the words that got him fired. We'll take a look.
Should a Nevada reporter have published a secretly recorded tape of Senate candidate Sharron Angle? Jon Ralston will be here.
Tired of hearing about the Salahis? I sure am. But author Diane Dimond has a point worth listening to. She says the media got much of the story wrong about the White House Party crashers.
I'm Howard Kurtz and this is RELIABLE SOURCES.
The debate over Afghanistan has been pretty well covered by the media, at least when it hasn't been crowded out by attack ads, witchcraft, and quarterbacks behaving badly. President Obama's handling of the nine-year-old conflict and his decision to dispatch more troops has been making headlines again thanks to one behind-the- scenes account.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DIANE SAWYER, ABC NEWS: A new book causing a stir today, "Obama's Wars," by Bob Woodward, who spent almost two years talking to more than 100 people behind closed doors.
CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS: Now, the White House is already reacting to the book this morning. A senior administration official putting out a fairly lengthy memo about the book.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Woodward spent a year and a half researching the way the White House, the Pentagon and the military have struggled to shape the strategy in Afghanistan, and as usual, none of his sources are named, except for the president of the United States. The book is called "Obama's Wars," and I spoke to him earlier here in the studio.
KURTZ: Bob Woodward, welcome.
BOB WOODWARD, AUTHOR, "OBAMA'S WARS": Thank you.
KURTZ: "Given the diversity of sources and the stakes involved," you write at the beginning of this book, "there was no way I could write a sterilized or laundered version of this story."
You seem to be preempting possible criticism. Nobody had said that.
WOODWARD: Somebody read that and they said it's a note to sources to say, look, there's no immunity here where people say things off the record, as you well know. That means you can't use it, but if you get it someplace else, you can. And in this kind of hothouse environment of the White House and the national security team, everyone knows everyone else's business and attitudes, and I tried to reflect that.
KURTZ: No immunity in the sense that you're not more generous to somebody who gave you more inside stuff?
WOODWARD: I try not to be. I try to, you know, tell the story, as what Carl Bernstein and I, 40 years ago, used to call the best obtainable version of the truth.
KURTZ: On Friday, as you know, James Jones resigned as White House national security adviser. And here's "The New York Times" reporting that White House staff members who have been critical of General Jones -- and you get into this in the book -- said that this was related to statements he apparently made to Bob Woodward for "Obama's Wars."
Do you think this book was a factor in the general's demise?
WOODWARD: I have no idea. I haven't heard that.
KURTZ: But here is a book in which you say that Jones, who was kind of an uneasy (ph) fit at the White House, had said of Rahm Emanuel, David Axelrod, top aides there, called them waterbugs, likened them to the Politburo, to the Mafia.
This must have ticked some people off when this was published.
WOODWARD: It's quite possible. I mean, there are a lot of things in there.
This is, as we say, close to the bone. This is a total universe portrait. In the nature of the relationships and the attitudes, Jones was, you know, somebody who wasn't part of the campaign team, a very senior general. And, you know, he didn't fit. I think everyone has noted that, as he resigned. KURTZ: There are people also in Washington who believe that something where it's attributed to Robert Gates, the defense secretary, talking about the guy who has now been named to be the national security adviser, Tom Donilon, Gates is quoted here as having told General Jones that Donilon didn't understand the military and that his appointment would be a disaster.
The suggestion here is that Jones told you this as well.
WOODWARD: No. I mean, look, it's carefully --
KURTZ: You're not saying that?
WOODWARD: No. It's carefully reported. I'm certainly not saying, and remember, this is a portrait of the Obama national security team over 18 months. And attitudes that might have existed last March may not exist now, or they actually may be worse.
KURTZ: You had had a one-hour interview with President Obama for this book. It sounded to me more perfunctory than revealing.
WOODWARD: No. In fact, it was actually quite revealing, because he validated a lot of the book.
He said, "I'm not going to" --
KURTZ: Get into some of the specifics.
WOODWARD: -- gives specific quotes and say that's the exact quote, but then when I would give him quotes, he would say, "Well that may not be exact, but that's my attitude." And throughout the book, he did not dispute anything.
But what's important in that interview is we talked about the nature of war, and it comes through loud and clear. He does not like war, and he quoted some cliches about war being hell, about the dogs of war, when they're unleashed, you really don't have control, and how he tries to impose clarity.
KURTZ: And on that point, Bob, you're sometimes accused in the past of just sort of vacuuming up facts and not offering a lot of analysis. But you have said in interviews about this book that Obama is psychologically out of Afghanistan.
Is that an assumption on your part?
WOODWARD: No. It's obvious from what he's quoted saying. He said, "I want an exit plan. I want this plan to be so we can hand it off to the Afghans and get the United States out of Afghanistan." There can be no wiggle room.
KURTZ: And in pursuit of that withdrawal strategy, you quote the president as saying privately to his aides, "I can't lose the whole Democratic Party." Now, some people have jumped on that to say, well, he's playing politics with the war.
Is that your interpretation?
WOODWARD: What happened in that quote, it's to Lindsey Graham, a well-known Republican. And Graham is saying, "Well, what is this date about beginning withdrawal really mean?" And the president said, "Look, I can't lose the whole Democratic Party," because in the party, there is a lot of sentiment against the war or against a full escalation of the war. And as you know, the president, instead of giving the military 40,000, gave them 30,000.
KURTZ: But in your interpretation, based on your reporting, is this any leader has to bring a significant chunk of the country along with him in order to maintain a war effort, or is this a more crass evaluation of his political prospects when he tells that to Lindsey Graham?
WOODWARD: Well, you know, it is what it is. And I don't step aside and make any comment on it. I think it speaks for itself
You know, in some of your "Bush at War" books, it seemed to me you were moving a little bit more toward transparency. You talked about interviewing Don Rumsfeld on the record, as well as President Bush.
Here, except for Obama, is not one on-the-record source. Why not?
WOODWARD: But there are all kinds of on-the-record sources, because I have or have seen the documents that I quote from at length. And nothing is better than a document, particularly one that is produced at a specific time.
But in this case I'd love to do all the interviews on the record. And as you know, you want to get the truth, and you want to find out what really goes on. And if you go in and put a tape recorder down and said, "OK, this is on the record," you're going to get a lot of untruth.
KURTZ: But --
WOODWARD: It's just, you know, I learned that the first day I was a reporter, when somebody on the City Council in Rockville, Maryland, said something in public, and then I talked to him afterwards off the record, and he said the opposite.
KURTZ: From the City Council to the White House.
But, for example, sometimes people can say some things on the record, but not more sensitive things. You've known David Petraeus for a long time. It's impossible for me to believe you did not talk to Petraeus for this book, but you can't say that.
WOODWARD: That's correct. And I'm -- you know, people -- because there is so much cross-sourcing here, somebody says I think this happened at this meeting. KURTZ: And you take it to the other person.
WOODWARD: And then I take it to somebody else, and then I get notes. And then I finally get the memo, or get the official notes of some of these meetings. And you get a kind of clarity.
And then to come back to people and say, "These six quotes I'd like to put on the record" is kind of a bait and switch. And I think the terms of the transaction are, "I want you to really tell me what went on, and I'm not going to come back and kind of beg for on-the- record quotes."
KURTZ: I'm not sure I fully agree with that, but I understand your point.
With Petraeus and other sources you sometimes have direct quotes. And you say, "He said later." And as a reader, I'm thinking, said to who? To you?
WOODWARD: Well, my reporting establishes that it definitely was said to others. And you know, I -- the book came out, has been out for I guess a couple of weeks. I've heard some grumbling, but nobody saying oh, that was wrong, or this couldn't have happened.
KURTZ: That's right, and it's remarkable. I don't think there's been a single factual statement that has been challenged. But I'm arguing --
WOODWARD: In the White House, officially, Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, said everyone should read it.
KURTZ: How would you assess the degree of cooperation you got from the Obama administration compared to, say, the last administration?
WOODWARD: But, you know, it's not as if the administration is a monolith. You get individuals, you get the president to sit for one interview. You get some people who will give you documents, some people who will -- I mean, it's not -- everyone is operating at a different level, and I think that's fine. I think that's the way the First Amendment works best.
KURTZ: Here's a really interesting point. You obtained the somewhat downbeat assessment, classified assessment by General McChrystal when he was running the Afghan War. And you reported this in "The Washington Post."
In the book, you describe it and you say, "There's a popular impression that insiders with political motivation simply hand over sensitive documents to journalists" and that "Those journalists will then use it as tools as someone else's agenda."
Well, I wouldn't say tools, but don't the people -- didn't the person or persons who gave you the McChrystal report have some kind of motivation, wanting it out for some reason?
WOODWARD: Ah, but this is what's interesting about the 66-page McChrystal report. It was given to me in the course of reporting this book.
I read it and realized it was news now. This was a year ago.
KURTZ: You went back and said I want to publish this now.
WOODWARD: Exactly. And so -- and the source said fine, the editor of The Post, Marcus Brauchli, read it and said we have to get this in the paper. And we were able to do it in a very significant way.
It informed the debate, but that person was not giving it to me for publication right then. When I read it and realized, I went back and said, "Hey, this belongs in the public record now." And the source was public-spirited enough to say, "Yes, I agree."
KURTZ: When we come back, Bob Woodward ignites a frenzy of media speculation about running for veep in 2012. Can he back that up?
KURTZ: When Bob Woodward speaks, people listen, especially if he's throwing red meat to the pundits such as saying that President Obama might dump Vice President Biden in favor of the secretary of state.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WOODWARD: It's on the table, and some of Hillary Clinton's advisers see it as a real possibility in 2012. President Obama needs some of the women, Latinos, retirees that she did so well with during the 2008 primaries, and so they switch jobs, and not out of the question.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: And with that bit of speculation, the media were off and running.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Bob Woodward reporting last night that President Obama may shake things up as he heads for election in 2012, ask Hillary Clinton to be his running mate.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In 2013, will we be hearing the phrases "Vice President Clinton" and Secretary of State Biden"?
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And could Hillary Clinton be part of a so-called dream team after all?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It would be crazy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: -- President Obama dumping Joe Biden for Hillary Clinton as VP is on the table. And as you know, cable news went haywire over this.
Didn't you word it too strongly?
WOODWARD: What does on the table mean?
KURTZ: To me, it means actively discussed. Are you saying it's been actively discussed?
WOODWARD: No, no. On the table, that book is on the table, right? That doesn't mean you're going to read it this week. You know, maybe you're going to read it sometime, maybe on your summer vacation.
The point was -- and the book deals with this at some length -- one of Hillary Clinton's strategists, Mark Penn, when she talked to him about becoming secretary of state --
KURTZ: Right. He saw the potential benefit of 2012, ,and maybe she could move up.
WOODWARD: Maybe she would be needed and take Biden's place.
KURTZ: So as you know, Hillary Clinton responded to this. Let's play that for the viewers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We have a great relationship, and I have absolutely no interest and no reason for doing anything other than just dismissing these stories and moving on.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Do you believe her? Your former partner, Carl Bernstein, says this a classic example of manufactured controversy. Did you manufacture it, Woodward?
WOODWARD: No. No, I did nothing except saying what was in the book, and that when we get into the political season of 2012, this is an assessment that Obama and his team are going to have to make.
KURTZ: Briefly, do you think that some cable news hosts and pundits overreacted, over-interpreted what you said?
WOODWARD: Look, you know, the news is what it is. You can't complain that they did too much or too little. They do what they do. What I do worry about is that there's a kind of trivialization, and that that issue is something that will be important perhaps if somebody decides to act on it in a year or two. But the book is about war, and the book is about truly the most serious matter confronting the president and national security.
WOODWARD: People are dealing with this in a very serious way. People are dying there.
KURTZ: It's absolutely an important matter of national and international security, and I don't want to trivialize it either.
KURTZ: But I do have a media question. "The New York Times" got an advanced copy of your book before "The Washington Post" could publish the excerpts, before your interview with Diane Sawyer aired. That was the first.
This happens to you almost every time. Is it frustrating to be scooped by another publication on your work here?
WOODWARD: It's the First Amendment. You know, we live by it.
KURTZ: It doesn't mean you have to like it.
WOODWARD: Yes. Well, I accept it. It's part of the flow of news.
I'm flattered that "The New York Times" thought it was important enough to get a copy and write a story in advance. I understand they had five people, they took and divided up the book.
KURTZ: Well, because they had to speed-read it, get it online, break the news.
WOODWARD: OK. So, you know --
KURTZ: Bob Woodward, you said on C-SPAN that you are a registered Democrat, but that you act as a political Independent.
Should you be registered with either party given what you do?
WOODWARD: Because I take my daughter in to vote, and it has instructed her in the electoral process. She decides. She's empowered to do this, and so that's the main reason.
KURTZ: But you could take her to vote as an Independent.
WOODWARD: Yes, but in the District of Columbia, as you well know -- ah. It is meaningless, ,because the Democratic Party is, if you win in the primary --
KURTZ: For mayor, you're the mayor. WOODWARD: -- that's the end. So you would disenfranchise my young 14-year-old daughter.
KURTZ: All right. Thanks for clarifying that.
It's 2010. Why aren't you on Twitter?
WOODWARD: Because I'm not sure what it is. And part of my problem with the media, which you cover so extensively, is this impatience in speed which drives everything, and sometimes the trivialization. And, you know, I do long form. On Twitter you can do 140 characters.
KURTZ: That's exactly right.
WOODWARD: I wouldn't be able to clear my throat in that.
KURTZ: All right.
Bob Woodward, thanks very much for joining us.
KURTZ: I've got to teach him more about Twitter.
Coming up in the second part of RELIABLE SOURCES, Lou Dobbs denounces a report in "Nation" magazine that he employs illegal immigrants, while Rick Sanchez offers a televised apology for the smear that got him fired by CNN.
Plus, the Las Vegas reporters who posted a secret audiotape of Senate candidate Sharron Angle. Was that fair?
And later, Bravo airs the White House party crashers episode, and Diane Dimond says the media got the Salahi story all wrong.
KURTZ: If there was one issue that Lou Dobbs crusaded on in his final years as a CNN anchor, it was illegal immigration. That's why an investigative report by "The Nation" magazine about his own employment practices created something of a storm. Dobbs has denied the gist of the account and attacked "The Nation" on ideological grounds.
Reporter Isabel Macdonald says she spoke to several undocumented workers and has the facts to back up her story.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ISABEL MACDONALD, "THE NATION": Lou made himself an emblem of this approach to immigration, and he has not actually responded to the substantive evidence I present that there were at least five undocumented workers who cared for his show jumping horses and who cared for the grounds of his estate in Florida.
LOU DOBBS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I think we need to understand what her point is, because it must be larger than what is being bandied around the mainstream media, which has leaped on this to suggest I'm some sort of hypocrite. You know, it's astounding.
I have never hired an illegal immigrant, nor has any company that I own. This is a hit job by "The Nation." It is a left-wing activist advocacy publication.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So how solid was the story? And what should we make of Dobbs' defense?
Joining us now to talk about that and Rick Sanchez' belated apology after losing his CNN job, in New York, Keli Goff, political analyst and contributor to TheLoop21.com; and in Seattle, radio talk show host Michael Medved.
And Michael, Lou Dobbs says -- we just heard it there -- that he didn't knowingly hire illegal immigrants, but Isabel Macdonald's reporting found that some have been working for him.
Does that make Dobbs a hypocrite?
MICHAEL MEDVED, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, the problem with Dobbs is not hypocrisy. The problem is just total disregard of the truth and the facts.
And what strikes me about this is that Lou Dobbs did not get as much criticism as he deserved when he was still on the air on CNN about constantly and repeatedly giving wrong information -- the statistics about the number of illegals who are in our prisons, the statistics about -- alleged statistics about illegals bringing various epidemics and diseases across the border. He promoted the story of the North American Union and changing our currency. All of this was wildly irresponsible.
Now, here, it appears what happened, his wording was weasel words. Yes, he may never have hired an illegal. And yes, no company that he owns may have hired an illegal. But there are companies that he employed who did hire illegals as many, many gardening companies and horse care companies apparently do. So he ought to just acknowledge that and then go on.
KURTZ: Let me jump in with Keli Goff here.
Now, Macdonald's point is that Dobbs, on CNN, once called for employers of illegal immigrants to face charges. And it's not easy to ensure that every contractor you hire is not employing people who are in the country illegally.
KELI GOFF, POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR, THELOOP21.COM: Well, look, I'm going to agree with Michael here to a degree. I mean, first of all, I give to give Lou props, because I'm sure there are plenty of crisis communications consultants out there who would have told him to issue a statement and then to basically go into hiding, right? And so he gets props for not doing that, Howard.
But on the other hand --
KURTZ: Yes. Just to jump in, he appeared repeatedly with Isabel Macdonald on his own radio show, on "Good Morning America," and as we saw, on MSNBC.
GOFF: And we all know that there are plenty of people who would not have done that. They just would have hidden and waited until the story died.
On the other hand, those of us who have appeared on Lou's programming -- and I have several times -- know that had he been sitting in the interviewing chair, right, he would not have displayed the level of patience and tolerance, or even giving a slight benefit of the doubt that Lawrence and Robin Roberts did to him.
KURTZ: Lawrence O'Donnell, not (ph) Robin Roberts.
GOFF: Right. There's no way he would have been buying what he was selling, to put it mildly. Right?
And I think that the other irony about this is actually, Lou Dobbs has done more to help "The Nation" crucify him this week than anybody else, because if he had done exactly what Michael suggested and simply said, look, there is some truth here, I'm shocked, I'm dismayed, I'm saddened, I'm disappointed, but this proves that this issue is bigger than all of us when even someone like me who's trying to dot right thing can't, instead he spent the last week trying to debate the meaning of "is," or saying, I didn't hire any illegal immigrants, but the guy I hired did. Right?
It's a little ridiculous.
MEDVED: And it seems to me that he had a perfect opportunity here. First of all, he blew two opportunities.
One, he didn't speak to Isabel Macdonald. She tried to contact him, and then later he said, well, they didn't contact me. Well, they did, and she put in the story that neither he nor his spokespeople spoke to her.
Number two, the appropriate point here, you may remember that during the campaign, Mitt Romney had the same thing. Mitt Romney never hired illegals, but a gardening company that took care of his lawn hired illegals like some gardening companies are known to do in different parts of the country.
So, what Lou should have said is, look, this shows how even someone like me, who is concerned about this issue and doesn't want to employ illegals, can't avoid it. It shows how big a problem it is, how huge a problem it is. Now let's work together and find solutions. He didn't say that. He pushed back, sort of crossing Ts and dotting I's.
KURTZ: And he most definitely did not say that.
And Keli Goff, on "Good Morning America," Dobbs did say that he was disappointed with the national media, saying, "They've gone along with this without doing any reporting." And the only organization that contacted him for a statement was CBS News. *
KURTZ: But it's hard to duplicate the reporting of Isabel McDonald. She spent a lot of time talking to these workers. Not using their names, of course, because they're in the country illegally.
GOFF: Well, look, I've been on his program before to talk about -- to sort of defend my team of new media, if you will, Howard. But this is definitely an example of a feather in the cap of old media. Right? Because this was some very well done investigative reporting.
So I'm not really sure where Lou's coming from to say that this was a hit job, this was a smear job. I mean, a reporter can have a set out agenda or intent, but if they actually do the investigative work and they get evidence, then I'm not really sure where he has a leg to stand on here.
KURTZ: Right. The fact that it's a left-wing magazine, that is true, but that doesn't mean what she reported is not true, and he kept coming back to that.
Let me turn now to Rick Sanchez, because one week after he was fired by CNN, he finally broke his silence. First he put out a tepid statement, then he talked to George Stephanopoulos on "GMA."
Let's take a listen
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICK SANCHEZ, FMR. CNN ANCHOR: It was my mistake. I screwed up. I take full responsibility. It's not CNN. It's Rick Sanchez.
Rick Sanchez screwed up. I went in there with a chip on my shoulder. I was a little bit angry. And look, I will be honest with you -- and I hope you don't mind my saying this, but I'm just going to go ahead and say it -- if you look at the landscape right now in our media in prime time, there's not a single Hispanic, there's not a single African-American.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Elizabeth Vargas.
SANCHEZ: In prime time hosting a prime time show in the United States.
SANCHEZ: It's just "20/20." I'm talking about newscasts in cable news.
SANCHEZ: That's true. That's fair. I'm referring to cable newscasts
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Now, Michael Medved, given that Sanchez had said -- he attacked Jon Stewart as a bigot, he had said that Jews basically run CNN and the other networks -- is that apology enough?
MEDVED: No, the apology is ridiculous and it digs him in deeper because what it shows is that he's trying to count people on the air not based upon their accomplishment, not based upon their competence, not based their excellence, but based upon their ethnic background. And even counting wrong.
KURTZ: But doesn't he make a legitimate point though that it is basically kind of a sea of mostly white anchors?
KURTZ: Go ahead.
MEDVED: Well, wait. The truth is, his point initially that got him in trouble wasn't about the anchors. His point was about the news executives, and he was just flat-out wrong.
And this, again, is the problem here, is that previously -- and this was something that Stephanopoulos brought up, and good for him -- he had done an interview, an exchange with Ed Koch, where he had talked about Jews dominating the Bush administration, and he had listed a bunch of people who weren't in the Bush administration.
So, this guy is obsessed with labeling people. For instance, he mentioned Bill Kristol, who has never been a part of this George Bush administration. And the idea that this is a guy who is obsessed with counting who is Jewish and who's not, who's counting who's Hispanic and who's not, who's counting -- I mean, Fareed Zakaria he doesn't talk about. There are people of color -- Christiane Amanpour, who went from CNN to ABC.
KURTZ: Let me get Keli Goff in.
GOFF: Can I can jump in here? I would say that absolutely, his apology was ridiculous. I'm so sick and tired of these, "I'm sorry your feelings got hurt" apologies, which we keep hearing over and over again when someone says something blatantly offensive or stupid.
GOFF: The unfortunate thing about this, however, is that Rick actually was making a legitimate point. I mean, because what he said was so offensive and stupid, that kind of got lost in there. But I think that George trying to point out Elizabeth Vargas occasionally appears on prime time, which is not -- I mean, about programming -- which is not considering part of the -- making her a nightly primetime host, is sort of like saying we have black friends. I mean, the reality is, anyone who has eyes and has a television knows that there's a lack of diversity on major network programming. That's not something that's up for dispute or debate.
GOFF: What's not helpful, though, is for someone to try to make that point by making an incredibly prejudicial, anti-Semitic, discriminatory comment.
KURTZ: I've got to go to a break.
Go ahead. One sentence from each of you.
Michael Medved, does Sanchez have a future in television after all this?
MEDVED: Probably, just because he's gotten a lot of publicity. And by the way, a lot of this helped publicize his book, which had been failing beforehand.
KURTZ: Keli Goff?
GOFF: I won't be buying the book, so I'm not sure how this helps. I'm not sure who's going to be going out to buy this book because of these comments.
KURTZ: All right.
Two words from me: Eliot Spitzer. If Eliot Spitzer can come back, anybody can.
Thanks very much, Michael Medved, Keli Goff.
And up next, Sharron Angle, a secret tape, and a press corps she views as hostile. Nevada's top political reporter joins us to talk about his controversial scoop.
KURTZ: When politicians huddle in private, they don't expect their words to be recorded. But that's what happened to Sharron Angle, the Republican Senate nominee in Nevada, when she tried to persuade Tea Party candidate Scott Ashjian to drop out of the race. We know this because The Las Vegas Sun's Jon Ralston got hold of the surreptitious tape.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
SHARRON ANGLE (R), NEVADA SENATE CANDIDATE: The Republicans have lost their standard, they've lost their principle. I believe you can do some real harm, not to Harry Reid, but to me. I'm not sure that you can win and I'm not sure I can win if you're hurting my chances. And that's the part that's scary to me.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
KURTZ: Some embarrassing words, no question. But was it fair game?
Joining us now from Las Vegas is Jon Ralston, political reporter and columnist for "The Las Vegas Sun."
And Jon, for someone to secretly tape a private meeting with Sharron Angle and leak it sounds like a dirty trick. Did you have any hesitation about publishing the story?
JON RALSTON, "THE LAS VEGAS SUN": Well, I would have had hesitation, Howard, if I hadn't authenticated the tape and made sure that there were some interesting stuff in there. And of course there were no national security secrets or anything in this meeting.
But, you know, you heard Bob Woodward tell you earlier that he tries to get the first obtainable draft of history, that famous comment. This was history.
How often do we as reporters have to talk about meetings that were held through second and thirdhand accounts? This is an actual window into how politicians really talk. And you can look at the motivations of the person who taped it, and Sharron Angle, of course, may be the most famous Republican nominee outside of Christine O'Donnell running for the U.S. Senate.
KURTZ: Fascinating story. Certainly relevant to the race. But you kind of became part of this story because you had to protect the source who gave you this in an effort to embarrass Sharron Angle.
RALSTON: Well, I don't think that the source -- and Scott Ashjian eventually outed himself. I did not get the tape directly from Scott Ashjian. He outed himself later on, actually, to CNN, Howard.
But what's ironic about this, it's obvious listening to the tape who taped it by the volume of the voices. And I knew who had taped it originally.
In fact, I knew a few days earlier that Ashjian, because of some things he had said to me, might have taped the meeting. And so I was not that surprised when I found out about it.
This was not so much designed to embarrass Sharron Angle, I don't think, as it was to elevate Scott Ashjian. If you listen to him, that's another revelation, or maybe not so much for those following this race, that he really cares about the spotlight, he really believes he's a factor in this race, which, by the way, is very debatable. KURTZ: But when you wrote that initial column before Scott Ashjian acknowledged that he had done the taping and he had somehow gotten it to you, did you have any obligation to tell your readers something -- while protecting your source -- to tell your readers something about the motivation of the person giving it to you, why you were being favored with this leak?
RALSTON: Yes, that's always a concern, right, whenever we're reporting anything that's leaked to us? And it happens a lot, especially in political reporting.
Again, if I didn't think it was clear who had taped it, and I didn't think that the goal was so much to embarrass Sharron Angle, but to promote Scott Ashjian -- and yet, Howard, it gave us such a window into Sharron Angle in terms of how desperate she was to get him out of the race, how revealing it was about what she really believes. And there was -- listen, Sharron Angle is what she says she is, but then there were some other comments that kind of indicated, listen, she's willing to play the political game.
RALSTON: Under any circumstances, I think that was news.
KURTZ: Let me jump in and ask you a broader question, which is Angle doesn't do many interviews except for what she calls friendly press outlets, such as when she goes on Fox News and raises a lot of money. Why did she do a television interview with you?
RALSTON: Well, that was early on, right after the primary, when she was getting a lot of heat for not doing interviews. She had been on video running away from reporters. And so the story I think was getting out that that she wasn't willing to do interviews.
I had had a decent relationship with her and her campaign. She had seen me as someone, ,at least at that time, who was fair. I'm not sure what she thinks now. And so she did the interview.
I did an interview with Harry Reid shortly afterwards that was just as tough and I thought just as revealing. But since that time --
KURTZ: Let me just jump in because we're short on time. Is the Senate majority leader any more accessible to the press in Nevada than Sharron Angle is?
RALSTON: Neither of these candidate are very accessible, neither wants to do interviews. This has been a last gaffe loses kind of campaign.
Harry Reid says all kinds of crazy and goofy stuff when he's out in public. Of course, he has an excuse that Sharron Angle doesn't, right? He's the Senate majority leader, so he has a reason for not being as accessible. But clearly, Harry Reid doesn't like doing interviews and he's not very good at them.
KURTZ: I really pine for the old days when candidates, even if they were incumbents, felt they had some responsibility to talk to journalists.
Jon Ralston, thanks very much for joining us from Las Vegas.
RALSTON: Thank you.
KURTZ: And just ahead, the Salahis star in the final episode of "Real Housewives of D.C." Were media organizations, including CNN, unfair to the so-called party crashers? Diamond Dimond delivers her indictment.
KURTZ: You know the storyline: Social-climbing couple crashes their way into State Dinner while trying out for Bravo reality series. My next guest says the media just plain screwed up the story.
But first, in the season finale of "Real Housewives of D.C.," we finally see the footage of what happened when Michaele and Tareq Salahi went to the White House more than 10 months ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TAREQ SALAHI, "REAL HOUSEWIVES OF D.C.": This is the dinner of the year. The whole world tries to come to this event, so people of the highest order are turned away.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm not seeing you guys right now. Just stay in line. The gates haven't opened anyway. OK. So we'll just stand down there.
You can go ahead down there and stand down there.
MICHAELE SALAHI, "REAL HOUSEWIVES OF .D.C.": Thank you, love.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'll have them figure it out.
TAREQ SALAHI: The gossip columnists from The Post creating rumors that we crashed the party.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Joining us now from New York to talk about whether the media blew the story is investigative reporter Diane Dimond, author of the new book "Cirque du Salahi."
And Diane, you say the media had an agenda to paint this couple as villains, but you had exclusive access to the Salahis for this book. So aren't you really giving us their side of the story?
DIANE DIAMOND, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: Well, I do finally, for the first time, give some of their side of the story in the book. But that's not why I wrote the book, Howie.
I wrote the book because the media did get this wrong from the get-go. These people stood in line like everybody else, they showed their passports. Several days before, they gave the Secret Service all their personal information, and they were waved right in.
Now, what part of that sounds like gate-crashing to you? None of it, right?
KURTZ: OK. Let me pick this up, because you sharply criticize CNN and "The Washington Post" gossip columnist for their initial reporting. Let me play a little sound from CNN as the story was breaking and we'll pick it up on the other side.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: -- got punk'd by some reality TV star wannabes.
Take a look. You'll see this couple here. Well, they were not on the guest list, but somehow managed to sneak through literally layer after layer of security. They got into the party in the same room with the president and posed with some of the most important people in our government.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: The president got punk'd, said Campbell Brown. But wasn't it accurate that two people who hadn't been cleared by the Secret Service got into a state dinner, got near the president, and this was considered a security breach for which the Secret Service apologized?
DIMOND: You just heard them say -- Campbell Brown there say that they snuck into the White House. They did no such thing.
You just saw the video. They were allowed in by a Secret Service agent.
They then went through a second Secret Service checkpoint to get checked in. They thought they were just there for the arrival ceremony. And then all of a sudden, they were ushered into the dinner tent.
They were as surprised as anybody else. But again, that's not why I wrote the book.
I wrote the book because if we don't police ourselves, who is going to police us? This story went on and on for 10 months based on a lie.
KURTZ: I'm totally in favor of blowing the whistle on the media, but if there was a misimpression created about the Salahis' motivation and their conduct -- and by the way, they were trying out for a Bravo reality series and --
DIMOND: No, they had already been accepted. KURTZ: Right.
DIMOND: They had signed the contract eight months earlier.
KURTZ: But the point is, that added to suspicions about them.
We heard Tareq Salahi say Amy Argetsinger of "The Washington Post" sent him a Facebook message trying to get comments -- she had no way else to contact him -- he ignored it. They wouldn't answer questions initially, so they bear at least some of the responsibility for the media not having the full picture.
DIMOND: Absolutely. Not only were personal attorneys, but attorneys for Bravo television, I believe, telling them, ooh, you have to be quiet.
Notice that Bravo television held that -- what I call the alibi video -- for 10 months before finally showing that the Salahis walked up to the gate and they were waved right in. There's a lot that went wrong here, but it first went wrong with "The Washington Post" gossip columnist saying these people were gate crashers when they were not, that they snuck in, that they were reality TV show wannabes when they had already been signed.
There was so much bad reporting here. I outline a lot of it in the book. I have all of the e-mails from the person that they were dealing, the White House liaison. Read it for yourself and see if I'm not right.
KURTZ: OK. But look, if you're working with Bravo as a possible guest on a "Real Housewives" series, I mean, you are somebody -- I don't think wannabes is all that far from the mark.
Why are you so critical of Bravo? You feel like that this would have helped the Salahis if Bravo have made this footage available right away?
DIMOND: Oh, absolutely. I think if Bravo had come out and shown that video, we wouldn't have seen that absolute kangaroo court which I write about in the book at Capitol Hill.
Those congressmen and women had already called this couple crooks and perpetrators before any facts were known, before any hearings were held. I'm not hear to defend the Salahis. I describe them in the book as being like Mr. and Mrs. Thurston Howell III from "Gilligan's Island." I mean, they live in a different social strata than I do, and probably you too.
KURTZ: Hey, that was a hit show.
But you do raise questions about their credibility. For example, you concluded that Michaele Salahi lied in telling you and telling the public that she had once been a Washington Redskins cheerleader.
DIMOND: Yes. But I also said that "The Washington Post" when they said she'd never been in the Miss USA contest. She had been. I found that she was in the Pennsylvania chapter in 1990.
I can't police the Salahis. I can help police my own profession. And my own profession messed up over and over and over again with this story, taking a lot of info from the blogosphere when they shouldn't have.
KURTZ: We're coming up on a break, but don't people bear some responsibility to tell the story themselves, to answer reporters' questions? And therefore, they are partially to blame when folks get it wrong?
DIMOND: Yes. And they stayed silent on the advice of counsel for way too long, in my opinion.
Again, I can't police them. And I'm not telling you that this is a couple that is Einstein-like. But what I'm telling you is I wrote this book because the media's got to start getting it right.
We did it with Jonbenet Ramsey's family. We did it with the Atlantic City (sic) bomber.
KURTZ: There's a long list.
DIMOND: There's a long list, and we've got to stop it.
KURTZ: We've got to go. Thank you so much, Diane.
Diane Dimond, everybody.
DIMOND: See you, Howie.
KURTZ: Still to come, Tribune Company executives party on while the place slides into bankruptcy. And "Fox & Friends" blasts off in the wrong direction.
That and more in our "Media Monitor," straight ahead.
KURTZ: Time now for the "Media Monitor," our weekly look at the hits and errors in the news business.
Here's what I liked: David Carr's "New York Times" investigation into the Tribune Company reveals an almost "Animal House" atmosphere at the media conglomerate that Chicago mogul Sam Zell bought and drove into bankruptcy.
One executive said to have offered a waitress $100 to bare her breasts, which she denies. Sex talk that some staffers said made them uncomfortable.
Former "Chicago Tribune" editor Ann Marie Lipinski saying Zell pressured her to be tougher on Governor Rod Blagojevich, using a crude term for women's genitals, while Zell was trying to get Blago's administration to buy Wrigley Field. Not a pretty picture and not an easy subject to nail down. Here's a story that really took off, "Fox & Friends" reporting on a futuristic development at the L.A. Police Department.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GRETCHEN CARLSON, "FOX & FRIENDS": The city of Los Angeles already ordering 10,000 jetpacks for its police, paramedics, and fire departments.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: And they cost a gravity-defying $100,000 a piece. It turns out the farfetched fantasy came from the "Weekly World News," not exactly a reliable organ of journalism. The jetpacks are real all right, but there are only a couple in existence.
Now, CNN had some fun with the Fox foul-up, but it's only fair to point out that the hosts corrected the mistake during the same program.
Here's what I didn't like. What on earth was "The Washington Post" doing running an opinion piece by Dinesh D'Souza, a shorter version of his widely-denounced "Forbes" cover story on how Barack Obama is a Kenyan anti-colonialist because of his father whom he barely knew?
D'Souza didn't even respond to critics in the column, just peddled his same outlandish theory. Editorial page editor Fred Hiatt says he ran several columns critical of D'Souza and wanted to give the author equal time.
And finally a few words about me.
For the last 29 years -- yes, even before RELIABLE SOURCES was launched -- my day job has been at "The Washington Post." Well, I don't change jobs very often, but I'll soon be moving into the digital world.
I'm joining "The Daily Beast," the two-year-old Web site founded by Tina Brown, as a Washington bureau chief. And I'll be expanding its presence here in the capital.
Now, I still love newspapers and have a great affection for my colleagues at The Post, but this is a heck of an opportunity. And I'll be more immersed in the online journalism that we increasingly focus on, on this program.
I'll still be here every Sunday morning, trying to provide an in- depth hour of media analysis and criticism. We hope you'll continue to tune in or check out our podcast.
Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.
I'm Howard Kurtz.
"STATE OF THE UNION" with Candy Crowley begins right now.