This Week’s Reliable Sources

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The full transcript when you click below.

Full report from GWU later today…

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Full Transcript

THIS IS A RUSH FDCH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: Welcome back.

We’re here at the George Washington University.

More on the House page scandal in just a moment, but joining us now to talk

about coverage of the Iraq war, David Frum, “National Review” contributor and a

former speechwriter for President Bush, and Bill Press, who hosts a morning

program on Sirius Satellite Radio.

David Frum, the press is increasingly depicting Iraq as a major liability for

the Republicans, mounting violence, the situation kind of being portrayed as

hopeless. Have the media just turned against this war?

DAVID FRUM, “NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE”: Well, it is a place of mounting

violence, and the situation is very difficult. And in a way, that is an

important piece of information for the public to know.

We’re not going to be able to fix the problem unless we absorb the gravity of

the problem. So I think on the whole, the media there face incredible

dangers. I think they do a pretty good job. And I think maybe we’d be better

off now if people had paid more attention to warnings earlier on.

KURTZ: Bill Press, President Bush recently tried to kind of refrain this whole

debate by casting Iraq as just another front on the war on terror. Did news

organizations push back hard or hard enough in your view against that

argument? And if so, was that a change from the media’s behavior earlier in

this conflict?

BILL PRESS, SIRIUS SATELLITE RADIO: I don’t think they pushed back hard

enough, but I do think they — they’ve started to push back. I think what

happened unfortunately for President Bush is the national intelligence estimate

came out but sort of took the fire away from that part that was leaked.

KURTZ: It didn’t just come out. It was leaked to “The New York Times,” and

then Bush declassified other parts of it and that kicked off this whole

debate.

PRESS: The part that kicked off this whole debate. It also undermined his

argument. And then Mark Foley comes along, and then a shooting in

Pennsylvania, and suddenly Iraq and the war on terror and everything is off the

front page and George Bush can go to California and give lots of speeches about

Iraq and nobody listens.

FRUM: I think there’s a poisonous dynamic that’s governed a lot of the

coverage of Iraq. You’re supposed to believe one of two things, and only two

things.

You’re supposed to believe Iraq is really important and necessary and going

well, or you’re supposed to believe that Iraq was a distraction and a diversion

and going badly. But you should be able to cross those positions, and you

should be able to believe logically Iraq is really important, it was really

necessary, the president did the right thing, but it’s not going well and we

better act as fast as we can to fix it.

KURTZ: One journalist who says it’s not going well, Bill Press, is Bob

Woodward. We talked about his book “State of Denial” earlier in the program.

Now, you and your fellow liberals criticized Woodward on his first two books.

You thought he was way too favorable to George W. Bush. Now he writes a book

that says Bush is in denial, he’s misleading the public about Iraq, and you

love him.

PRESS: Now Bob Woodward is new hero. I admit it.

KURTZ: So great — so great journalists are the ones who agree with you?

PRESS: No, I have to tell you, I think Bob Woodward is the best investigative

reporter in the country. I think he’s proven that through a serious of 10

books now.

The first two books were very, very positive for George Bush. They showed him

as a man in charge that did the right thing, took us into a war where we should

be in.

KURTZ: The second book was mixed.

PRESS: Yes, but it was still — I thought it was still pretty favorable.

This book, you know, the same reporter did the same kind of reporting. I think

things have changed in Iraq and he comes up with a much more negative story.

KURTZ: Now, by contrast, David Frum, the White House pretty much embraced

Woodward’s first two books. President Bush gave him several interviews. And

now the White House is saying this book is very different, all sort of

mistakes, all sorts of distortions.

Isn’t that a tough sell when he was sort of the anointed favorite author of

this administration?

FRUM: Well, their behavior in the first two was reckless and inexplicable.

KURTZ: Reckless to talk to journalists?

FRUM: Reckless to invite a journalist in during the conduct of a war, to give

him that kind of access, to invite people to talk to him individually, to give

him lots of opportunities to back-bite, and then to extract no promise that

this is for history, to allow him to print…

KURTZ: Extract no promise? A journalist and author should in exchange for

being able to interview these high officials promise them an account that

they’re going to like?

FRUM: No, promise them that he’ll wait until some time has passed. Edmund

Morris made that deal for his Reagan biography.

KURTZ: Oh, you’re saying to delay the publication.

FRUM: Right.

KURTZ: But the book publishing world doesn’t work that way.

FRUM: Well, if you’re president of the United States and you’re allowing

somebody to come into your office and have national security council notes, if

you want someone to write history, let them write history.

PRESS: But they wanted the book out at that time. They wanted that book out.

They wanted that…

(CROSSTALK)

FRUM: I’m not — I’m not blaming Bob Woodward for taking this one-sided deal.

I’m blaming the White House for having agreed to it. It was predictable how

this would come out.

KURTZ: Let’s go back to our audience.

Hi. Your name and question, please.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi. My name is Matt Savage (ph) from St. Charles, Iowa.

And I guess my question for you guys is, what ethical responsibility do you

believe that the media should have in reporting the news around election time?

KURTZ: In terms of the war?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In terms of just everything. It seems like before any

election, you know, a month before the election, there seems to be some sort of

scandal that seems to be leaked right before the election to try and affect

politics.

KURTZ: But, of course, is it our fault that the scandal has erupted in five

weeks to go before Election Day?

PRESS: No, absolutely not. I think the media’s responsibility — I think the

media’s responsibility before the election is the same that it is at any other

time, which is to ferret out the facts and report the facts right straight down

the middle.

FRUM: Well, I think I would say I would agree with that, but with this

caveat. It is impossible or very difficult for journalists to avoid becoming

part of the story. And we saw with Dan Rather, for example, in the 2004

election that I think there was there a pretty conscious attempt to influence a

vote with a story that was not a highly relevant story even if it had been true

because it dealt with matters that were years old.

Now, in the end, of course, that story blew up in CBS’ face and in Dan Rather’s

face, and it ended up helping the president. But, you know, ideally you’d like

journalists to report without reference to the election cycle, but they’re

aware of the Ds and the Rs.

That’s one of the reasons why, for example, they covered — why we got so

little coverage, for example, of Haley Barbour’s handling of the Katrina

story. I think if Haley Barbour had been a Democratic governor, he would have

been on the cover of “TIME” magazine.

KURTZ: All right. Well, I need to get a break here. We’re going to come back

to this question of scandal around election time.

Stick around. Just ahead, we’ll go back to the story that is absolutely

consuming the media this week. Why are news organizations obsessed with the

Mark Foley sex scandal?

(APPLAUSE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: House Speaker Dennis Hastert told “The Chicago Tribune” the other day —

talking about the Mark Foley sex scandal — “The people that who want to see

this thing blow up are ABC News and a lot of Democratic operatives, people

funded by George soros.”

Bill Press, leaving George Soros aside, ABC News, why beat up on ABC, which

broke this story?

PRESS: Well, they didn’t want the story broken. That’s why they beat up on

ABC News. But, I mean, the idea…

KURTZ: So what is Dennis Hastert saying, that he would prefer that this not

have been reported by ABC and that Mark Foley, therefore, would still be in

Congress and still be sending messages to pages?

PRESS: Well, I think Denny Hastert would much prefer that Mark Foley still be

in Congress and we knew nothing about what he was doing until after the

election, and then deal with it after the elections.

But Brian Ross, I wish as a Democrat — I’m a Democrat, I’ll admit that. You

called me a liberal earlier. I wish Democrats were organized enough and smart

enough to have engineered this entire crisis.

They can’t organization a two-car funeral. So you can’t blame this on the

Democrats.

KURTZ: The one thing we can agree upon, David Frum, is that the story is

true. These computer messages were sent. “Do I make you horny” and all of

that.

So even as a political strategy, does it make sense for any Republicans to be

attacking the messenger in the sense of attacking the press?

FRUM: Well, I think a lot of Republicans do feel that these stories do get

orchestrated. They remember the Dan Rather story.

KURTZ: You keep bringing up the Dan Rather story. Is there any evidence that

this story was orchestrated by ABC News in order to affect the midterm

elections?

FRUM: I don’t have evidence of that, but I know that there are a lot of

Republicans who have a smell politics about the timing of this story. And what

they do know is that because they operate in a more hostile information

environment, the Democrats do, they remember in 2000 how the George Bush DUI

story broke just the weekend before the election. They remember Dan Rather.

They remember — and there’s a long list of these things engraved in the

Republican memory…

KURTZ: Sure.

FRUM: … going back to 1968. And they feel that they are always in the

disadvantage in the information war. And that may — they could be wrong about

that, and there may be a perfectly innocent explanation, but when a story like

this breaks five weeks before the election, a lot of old wounds start twitching

among Republicans who know the media — you know, the media is an institution

that tends to see the world through Democratic eyes, even if it’s not actively

sympathetic to them.

KURTZ: Well, just for the record, Brian Ross has said that his source on this

initially were Republicans. He’s obviously plugged into the network of former

House pages. And so, if anybody’s got any evidence that this was orchestrated,

I’d like to see it.

We have a questioner here in the audience.

Hi. What’s your name?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi.

KURTZ: Stand up, please.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Jamie Barmerra (ph) from Diamond Bar, California.

KURTZ: And your question?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I just wanted to know, do you think the media

coverage would have been different if it were a female page and if Foley wasn’t

gay?

KURTZ: Gentlemen?

PRESS: I would hope there would be equal outrage. I think there would be.

And not just hope.

I think there would be equal outrage, maybe even more outrage if it were a

female page. And I think that Mark Foley is gay has nothing to do with this

whatsoever. This is a grown person taking advantage of an underage child.

KURTZ: But don’t you think a congressman taking advantage of an underage child

if it was a woman would have been a 10 on a scale of 10, but this is an 11 on a

scale of 10 because it led to all these sidebar stories about gay Republicans

and why they’re closeted, David Frum?

FRUM: I think for sure it gives an extra impetus, because the Democrats use

the story as a way of splitting the Republican coalition. And, I mean, I think

we now have this very ironic punch line where Nancy Pelosi is trying to signal

in coded language and the kind of dog whistle politics above the air that, vote

Democratic is a way to clean up that nest of perverts on Capitol Hill. And, I

mean, it’s a strange message for a Democrat to run on.

KURTZ: But before you completely go off on the Democrats, David Frum, there

was an editorial in the conservative “Washington Times” days ago that demanded

Denny Hastert’s resignation at a very early stage here. A number of

conservative commentators have piled on, have criticized Hastert’s handling of

this.

Why?

FRUM: Because the handling of it has been bad. And so people would pile on.

And I think they are very genuinely shocked by the story.

And I think what is laudable about conservatives is they do not have the

impulse to protect and shield their own when their own are guilty. I mean,

William Jefferson is still in Congress, after all, and Mark Foley is not.

KURTZ: Bill Press?

PRESS: Well, first of all, I think that the Republicans here have — are

shielding their own, and they’re shielding — they’re shielding — but they’re

shielding Dennis Hastert, who knew about this, didn’t know the explicit e-

mails, but certainly knew that there was unwelcome or inappropriate activity

going on and didn’t…

(CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: But just to bring you back to the press coverage. We’ve got about half

a minute.

PRESS: I’m sorry.

KURTZ: Just to bring you back to the press coverage, is what — is part of

what is fueling this is a story day after day, the fact that there are

conflicting accounts among Hastert and his top Republicans, a lot of finger-

pointing? Isn’t that providing some of the fuel for this fire?

PRESS: I think it’s several things, Howie. It is that.

KURTZ: We only have time for one or two.

PRESS: We don’t know — we just said earlier we don’t know all of the answers,

right? Also, you have a congressmen preying on an underage kid, and you have

leadership who knows about this. The alarm should have gone up, did not go

off. And they all gathered around to protect him, and now they’re protecting

Dennis Hastert.

So it keeps going. And it’s gong to keep going.

KURTZ: It will probably keep going until our next show.

Bill Press, David Frum, thanks very much for joining us.

Well, that’s it for this special edition of RELIABLE SOURCES here at George

Washington University.

I’m Howard Kurtz.

I want to thank the studio audience here at the university for their insightful

questions.

We’ll be back in our own studio next Sunday morning, 10:00 a.m. Eastern, for

another critical look at the media.