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Katrina Vanden Heuvel Speaks Truth on CNN


June 12, 2005 Sunday

GUESTS: John Fund, Katrina Vanden Heuvel, John Harris, John Tierney

KURTZ: Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES, where today we turn our crucial lens on a new broadside against the press, this time from the Democrats. I'm Howard Kurtz.

Republicans have complained about media bias for decades, from the days of Richard Nixon and Watergate, to the first President Bush, to the current president, all arguing that journalists tilt to the left. But now, leading Democrats say the press has gone soft in covering a Republican administration, and the latest to make that charge at a fund-raiser this week, Hillary Rodham Clinton.


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: I mean, it's shocking when you see how easily they fold in the media today. They don't stand their ground. You know, if they are criticized by the White House, they just fall apart. I mean, come on, toughen up, guys. It's only our Constitution and our country at stake. Let's get some spine going here.


KURTZ: Now, there was a time when one of her family members occupied the Oval Office when Senator Clinton believed the fourth estate was too tough on the White House, with some journalists in league with that vast right-wing conspiracy. But she sees it differently as a Democratic senator who may well have designs on moving back into her old house on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Joining us now from San Francisco, John Fund, columnist for "The Wall Street Journal's" In New York, Katrina Vanden Heuvel, editor of "The Nation" magazine. And here in the studio, "Washington Post" political editor and long-time Clinton watcher, John Harris, author of a new book "The Survivor: Bill Clinton in the White House."

Welcome to all. John Harris, do Hillary Clinton's remarks just possibly have anything to do with her resentment over the way she and her husband were covered in the White House?

JOHN HARRIS, THE WASHINGTON POST: Absolutely. It dose. It feels like, hey, give those guys a taste of that medicine that we swallowed for eight years. And you know, she says it with resentment against the press, but I happen to know from her advisers, she says it with admiration of the Bush White House that she thinks, look, they do a good job keeping the press at heel, and they're doing exactly what she wished and tried to do in those eight years.

KURTZ: John Fund, it seems to be the new Democratic mantra. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi telling the liberal blog RawStory that the mainstream press or the print press will either leave you out of the story or mischaracterize what you are saying. So is it possible that Hillary Clinton's ripping the press here is not so much about 2008, as just as she's fed up with what she sees as a double standard?

JOHN FUND, WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, Howie, I think the Democrats are doing what they can, because if you complain about media coverage, you might get some more ink and some more perspective in. But for Hillary Clinton to complain about media coverage, this is a woman who as first lady tried an awful lot to discredit reporters, including Sue Schmidt of "The Washington Post" on Whitewater and other coverage. She has obviously had an adversarial relationship with the media for a long time. So as a presidential candidate, if she wants to give advice to the media, I think she's probably not at the top of the list in terms of credibility.

KURTZ: Katrina Vanden Heuvel, how is it that Hillary Clinton is accusing the press of timidity towards the Bush administration when millions of conservatives out there, as you know, are convinced that journalists have a liberal bias?

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL, "THE NATION" EDITOR: The liberal bias is a myth, Howie. I think that's been fully discredited, not just in the last weeks in the media's failure to cover the Downing Street memo.

But let me just say, I think this is not a left/right issue. I think at this point, when Hillary Clinton said, hey, guys, our Constitution, our democracy is at stake, that's what we're looking at. We have an administration which is waging a war against the media and trying to undermine democratic accountability, taking on a media which they know is under attack by public opinion because they want to gut the vestiges of checks and balances in our system. And I think we see that every day, Howard. And we see, let me just say, on the Downing Street memo, it took five weeks before a handful of columnists reported on this life-and-death memo. That epitomizes the timidity, the cowardice of a media that has been manipulated, intimidated, bullied by an administration that has taken it to a high level. And maybe Hillary Clinton admires that on some level, but we are seeing an unprecedented manipulation and control of the media by this administration.

KURTZ: Well, those are strong words, timidity and cowardice. I want to come back to that Downing Street memo, but first I want to ask John Harris this question. You covered the Clinton White House. And the relations with the press were extremely tense. All the scandals, impeachment and all of that. Are reporters less aggressive in covering the Bush White House? Are they being manipulated?

HARRIS: I don't think they are less aggressive, but I do think it's a fact that the Bush White House is more disciplined in information. And fine with them. That doesn't relieve us in the media of our responsibility to ask the questions and to go after it, but they do, for a variety of reasons, have better message control.

Usually in the Clinton White House, there were factions around Bill Clinton. We could use those factions to get more information. In the Bush administration, we've occasionally had that. Remember how we had been able to work in the first term the State Department and the Pentagon off each other, but...

KURTZ: But most of the time, it's the same set of talking points, which serves their purpose.

HARRIS: Right, because George Bush's White House is very controlled, and there aren't those factions in the White House. In the cabinet departments, yes, but inside the White House, they stay on script.

KURTZ: Now, on that Downing Street memo, British officials accusing back in 2002 the Bush administration of fixing the intelligence on Iraq in order to justify an invasion. According to Salon, two of the next 940 questions asked of White House spokesman Scott McClellan concerned the Downing Street memo. This was broken by "The Times of London." And then, finally, the president had a news conference and Steve Holland of Reuters asked him this question.


STEVE HOLLAND, REUTERS: The so-called Downing Street memo from July 2002 says intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy of removing Saddam through military action. Is this an accurate reflection of what happened?

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Somebody said, well, you know, we had made up our mind to go, to use military force to deal with Saddam. There's nothing farther from the truth.


KURTZ: Now, John Fund, does this indicate that the press is wary, shall we say, of confronting President Bush, particularly on a foreign policy issue?

FUND: No. I think there are some practical reasons why this didn't reach high altitude. It's a three-year-old memo. By the way, it was broken in "The London Times," which is owned by Rupert Murdoch, something that you wouldn't normally expect. And the memo is best characterized as a British aide's impressions of what his cabinet minister's impressions were in a meeting with U.S. officials who were unnamed, and the source of course is anonymous. And not conclusive.

So should it get some coverage? Absolutely. Is it the smoking gun? Give me a break. It didn't even get much coverage in Britain, even though it was released just days before the British election, in an obvious attempt to try to discredit and defeat Tony Blair.

KURTZ: Now, Katrina Vanden Heuvel, you've given us your thoughts on the Downing Street memo, but if you look at the coverage of the ongoing war and difficulties and casualties in Iraq, if you look at Social Security, if you look at stem cell, if you look at this "New York Times" story about a former oil industry lobbyist now in the White House, actually just resigned, who was watering down government reports on global warming, the press has not exactly been giving the president a free ride.

VANDEN HEUVEL: Howard, you are talking about a few newspapers in this country. And listen, "The Minneapolis Star Tribune" had an editorial on Memorial Day saying that Bush had lied this nation into war. There is life in the media. But let's take the Downing Street memo for a moment, Howard.

The runaway bride story has received wall-to-wall coverage. Cable news did almost nothing, virtually ignored the Downing Street memo for the first two, three weeks after it was front-page news in Britain. This is a story about how maybe more than 1,600 men and women in Iraq are losing their lives for a war that was an unnecessary and unjustified.

I think there should be no shortage, no statute of limitations, no shortage of media attention to a story that cuts to the core of this government's integrity and credibility. To me, that epitomizes it. How many people watching cable television know that over half a million Americans have signed on to a resolution seeking answers from this administration, that Representative John Conyers is holding hearings next week? A challenge to the media: Cover those hearings. After, go to that Web site to learn more.

KURTZ: John Fund, OK, Katrina, let's hear from John Fund -- John.

FUND: Katrina, I admire your passion. But even you should at least acknowledge that this memo was supposedly written in July 2002. No officials are named. Three months later, both Britain and the U.S. went to the United Nations Security Council, asked for sanctions, and action -- military action against Saddam Hussein. In November of 2002, the United Nations unanimously passed it.

KURTZ: OK, John, I don't want to -- I don't want to re-fight... (CROSSTALK)

VANDEN HEUVEL: But John, no, I don't want to re-fight it either, but here's a question to journalists. Shouldn't -- and Jeff Morley of "The Washington Post" took this up in a chat on the Web site -- shouldn't journalists try to report the hell out of this story? Who was at the meetings with Dearlove? Did Dearlove, the head of British intelligence, meet with Cheney, with John Bolton? Don't we want to see the minutes released to know this other side of the story?

KURTZ: All right, I'm coming...

VANDEN HEUVEL: Shouldn't citizens ask their local papers to publish the memo?


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