Jon Stewart Zings the Fourth Estate; ABC News'
Latest Superstar Lands "Titanic" Interview; Has the Press Inflamed
a Young Boy's Tragedy?
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: Elian and the media. Has
the press inflamed a young boy's tragedy? Jon Stewart zings the
fourth estate. Comedy Central's funny man punctures some journalistic
egos. And ABC News' latest superstar lands a "Titanic" interview.
Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES, where we turn a critical lens on
the media. I'm Howard Kurtz. Bernard Kalb is off this week. First
up, the story of Elian Gonzalez and the media's continuing fascination
with the Cuban boy's fate.
(Voiceover and videotape): As the boy's father,
Juan Miguel Gonzalez, arrived in the U.S., tensions were running
high on both sides. And the press remained obsessed with the international
custody battle with developments leading the news hour after hour.
(Videotape): DAN RATHER, CBS NEWS: There has
never been anything quite like this.
KURTZ: From the evening news to the talk show
circuit to televised town hall meetings to the hordes of reporters
gathered in Miami and Washington, all eyes seemed to be on this
KURTZ: Well, joining us now from New York,
Albor Ruiz, columnist for "The Daily News." And in Miami, Barbara
Gutierrez, the reader representative for the "Miami Herald" and
the Spanish language "El Nuevo Herald." Welcome. Albor in New
York, help us cut through some of the verbiage here. Has the press
taken an admittedly sad tale of a young boy who lost his mother,
separated from his father, and turned it into a kind of international
ALBOR RUIZ, COLUMNIST, "THE DAILY NEWS": It
seems to me that that's rather obvious. This is a very sad story
of a little boy with a very tragic story that should never have
been turned into an international, as you know, soap opera. This
is, by now, about the same level as the JonBenet Ramsey story
or the Monica Lewinsky thing, unfortunately, because of course
it takes away from the reality of what the Elian Gonzalez ordeal
really means. And that's a boy that lost his mother and should
be with his father.
KURTZ: And how much are the media to blame
in your view for the inflating of this story to Lewinsky-like
RUIZ: Well, I am thinking of course of one
of the most recent examples, and probably the worst of them all.
And that's the Diane Sawyer interview, or so-called interview.
I mean, interviewing a 6-year-old boy...
KURTZ: With a 6-year-old boy for ABC News.
RUIZ: ... exactly.
KURTZ: You did not think much of that, I take
RUIZ: No, I didn't think much of it at all.
I actually thought that it was - she managed to take journalism
to a new low only with this interview. I mean, we all want to
have our scoops. But you have to have a minimum of I guess professional
ethics here. I think that those were really absent in this case.
KURTZ: Barbara, let me read you from a columnist
from your newspaper, Liz Balmaseda (ph), who wrote, "In the eyes
of America, we are a national curiosity. We belong to a lunatic
fringe, a single- minded, heartless population intent on kidnapping
the son of Juan Gonzalez." Do you agree that the national press
has painted kind of a distorted picture of the Cuban American
community in Miami?
BARBARA GUTIERREZ, "MIAMI HERALD," "EL NUEVO
HERALD": Well, you can't say all the media, the national media,
has done the same thing because I think some magazines have done
a good job, some newspapers have done a good job. But overall,
many of the press, the national media, has a tendency to sweep
down on Miami at a time of crisis. And then we become sort of
caricatures. The Cubans are all fanatics. We're all Mafiosos.
And there's only one opinion. Well, it's about time that the press
learned that we're not a monolithic community, that Cubans have
all kinds of opinions. And I think that this story, especially
for us at the "Miami Herald," has proven that. I mean, I am the
reader rep. I receive lots and lots of phone calls a day. Let
me tell you that this story has touched the hearts and minds of
thousands of people, Anglos, Cubans, Haitians, of all ilk, and
they're divided. And this is not a Cuban-versus-the-rest kind
of story. This is a very human story. And it's become this way
because we are still in a Cold War sort of state with Cuba. People
tend to forget that, that that island is still the last communist
bastion here. So we're not talking about...
KURTZ: And does that give the media license
to present a more one-sided picture because you've got Fidel Castro
on the other side, and therefore you can say anything about communist
GUTIERREZ: No, I did not say that. And I...
KURTZ: No, no, I'm saying do you think the
media have been guilty of that?
GUTIERREZ: No, I think as far as local media,
given the intensity and the length and the complexity of this
story, which has many levels - it's a custody fight, it's a political
fight, and it's an immigration fight as well - I think the local
media has tried to play it down the middle. We have, of course,
a diversity of local media, including Spanish language radio stations...
GUTIERREZ: ... and some TV stations that play
as a - really from not an adversarial, but certainly they have
their own point of view. And that's how they're going to report.
But their viewers are well aware of that. So when they turn to
that, they know what they're going to be getting. But I think
KURTZ: Let me turn - let me just bring Albert
here, because as you know, television is about pictures. And we
see lots of pictures of this 6-year-old boy - Elian playing baseball,
Elian on the swings. And I'm wondering if you think this prevalence
of pictures suggests something about the Miami relatives of this
young boy basically exploiting the media?
RUIZ: Yeah, you know, what I think is that
I really want to disagree with my friend Barbara here because
I don't think that this is such a complex story at all. I think
that this should be a no- brainer. And actually, if Elian had
been a boy from any other nationality, he would have been back
with his dad a long time ago. Unfortunately, everything related
to Cuba become political, even the fate of a little boy like Elian.
And I can disagree also with Barbara, I'm sorry to say because
I really like and respect her, because I think that the (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
job that the present Miami particularly has done is not a fair
and accurate one...
KURTZ: How's that? Why unfair? Why not accurate?
RUIZ: ... actually is very hard to find. It's
very hard to find someone in any of those reports that would agree
with Elian being reunited with his father. Actually, by reading
those papers, you would think that those people do not exist in
KURTZ: One more point that I want...
GUTIERREZ: Albor, Albor, then you're not actually
reading those papers very accurately.
RUIZ: Oh, yes I am.
GUTIERREZ: We have been, in the "Miami Herald,"
we have had an incredible amount of letters to the editor, of
op-ed pages, and of reaction stories. Many, of course, are going
to focus on the reaction outside the home because that's where
the action is taking place. But this has really in a sense sort
of really energized this community. And you look at our op-ed
pages, a person like Max Castro (ph), who really believes the
boy should be back with his father, as well as hundreds upon hundreds
of our readers who are saying the same thing. That's why the press
is here, because this is not an easy issue...
RUIZ: No, I...
GUTIERREZ: ... This is a very human issue.
RUIZ: ... I think this is true, not being an
easy issue. But now, of course, it's not and it cannot be anymore
unfortunately because, as I said, it has been politicized to a
degree that really makes no sense whatsoever.
KURTZ: Let me go to...
RUIZ: I wanted to point out...
KURTZ: ... Go ahead.
RUIZ: ... I wanted to point out the last Sunday
there was in Miami an incident when three young Cuban Americans
were accused in front of Elian Gonzalez's house of being distributed
communist propaganda, which was completely false. Nevertheless,
the "El Nuevo Herald" reported next day without giving their names
that these kids were distributing communist propaganda. This...
KURTZ: Barbara, Barbara, Barbara...
GUTIERREZ: Well, these three people - let me
KURTZ: ... sure.
GUTIERREZ: ... because I think this is important.
These three people were escorted out of that area because they
supposedly were distributing communist propaganda...
KURTZ: Well, no, you know what, I've got to
jump in here. I've got to jump in here because I want to come
GUTIERREZ: ... (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...
KURTZ: ... I want to come back to the question
of the television pictures and, Barbara, give you the last word.
Should the Miami relatives of Elian Gonzalez be allowing this
young boy to become basically video wallpaper for the networks?
GUTIERREZ: Well, that's a - it's a good question.
And we all ask ourselves whether we all should have played into
putting the boy's picture each and every day in our newspapers
and in our screens. But this story has taken a life of its own.
And as far as for us locally, it is our local story, we have to
be there covering it...
GUTIERREZ: ... It's become a very competitive
story right now...
KURTZ: No question on that. I've got to...
GUTIERREZ: ... But no, there's been a lot of...
KURTZ: ... We've got to take a...
GUTIERREZ: ... there has been manipulation.
There has been manipulation of all sorts. But I wouldn't blame
it all on the press. Yes, I think, you know...
KURTZ: ... OK, Barbara Gutierrez, you have
the last word. Albor Ruiz in New York, thanks very much for joining
us. When we come back, his newscast isn't always balanced, isn't
very kind, isn't even objective. But it is funny. Comedy Central's
Jon Stewart turns the tables on the press next.
KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES.
We sat down in New York with Jon Stewart, the
host of "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central. Stewart and his team
of intrepid reporters have been keen observers of the presidential
election with the coverage they've dubbed "Indecision 2000."
Let's take a look.
JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW,": Now last
week's debate in New Hampshire was one of the first times voters
had a chance to see how the candidates stacked up against each
other. "The Daily Show" was there in force with exclusive team
coverage that included brand new custom-made jackets.
VANCE DEGENERES, CORRESPONDENT: What will happen
tonight? Will it be a well-mannered love-fest or a roll-in-the-mud,
knock-down-drag- out slug-fest? One can only hope for low blows
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator Thompson, given
Governor Bush's relative inexperience, how tempted do you think
he will be to use one of his lifelines tonight?
SEN. FRED THOMPSON (R), TENNESSEE: One of his
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fifty-fifty or call a friend.
STEWART: And now the next president of New
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have a foreign affairs
question from the millennial edition of "Trivial Pursuit." Who
became the hottest pop star to come out of Iceland in the mid-1990s?
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: To come out
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Out of Iceland, that's right.
The hottest pop star. Iceland, don't dodge the question. What
do you have against Iceland, Senator?
KURTZ: And joining us now, Jon Stewart. Welcome.
STEWART: Thank you very much. Happy to be here.
KURTZ: All right. You make fun of honest, hardworking,
public- spirited journalists. And you make a lot of money doing
KURTZ: Don't you feel a little guilty?
STEWART: Yes. Shame is a better word, Howie.
I feel shamed by what we have to do to make a living. And I don't
sleep well at night. No, I mean, we try and focus where we're
going. There are definitely times where we miss the point or throw
something out there that is probably crasser than we would like.
But for the most part...
KURTZ: It's only television. It's cable.
STEWART: ... Yeah. For the most part, though,
it's also, it's the world of humor, which - you know, I always
find it interesting where - because your show, which I watch quite
frequently, is always great because it's you and Bernie, and then
it's let's say three reporters. And you guys are always bringing
up these points about how the world of media is covered and...
KURTZ: Ethics. Standards.
STEWART: ... ethics and the whole thing. And
all the reporters go off. And the final question is always, "So
do you think the media really went over the line on that issue?"
And they're all -- the conclusion is always this, "No, I thought
we did a pretty good job. Yeah, I thought we were good, yeah."
You know, it's always that. I think what the problem is actually
is that on an individual level they don't realize the aggregate
of what it is to the American public that for a particular network's
resources it may not be overwhelming. But when you tie it all
together, it is.
KURTZ: Talking about that aggregate...
KURTZ: ... what is it about the news business,
all the many sins? We could spend an hour-and-a-half...
STEWART: Right. Right.
KURTZ: ... that most ticks you off?
STEWART: I've got the time.
KURTZ: That gets under your skin? What ticks
you off about the news business?
STEWART: I think it's that, you know, look,
this is just purely from a viewer standpoint. It's that I guess
I have in the same way that people get angry about the government
not performing up to a higher level. I think there's sort of a
level of integrity that we expect from public figures, fair or
not, whether it be the news or the government, that maybe isn't
being reached because they're functioning like entertainment.
It's sort of this weird blending...
KURTZ: Odd indictment coming from you. STEWART:
... No, no, no, it's not, because I'm in entertainment...
KURTZ: Right. You're unabashed.
STEWART: ... But clearly, though, I don't have
a higher mandate. My mandate is make it funny. And if it's not
funny, no one has to watch it. And...
KURTZ: And you're gone.
STEWART: ... quite frankly, even when you make
it funny, no one really watches it. Sorry. But the...
KURTZ: But we wrap ourselves in the 1st Amendment...
STEWART: ... That's what I'm saying.
KURTZ: ... and then we stick microphones in
STEWART: You wrap it in the 1st Amendment.
I mean, the whole idea of sort of journalism having a higher mandate
than just a regular entertainment show, my point is that you function
by ratings in the same way that we do. And that's I think what
is the crux of the difficulty is that you have - I mean, you've
got 24 hours to fill a day, not just you, but Fox, but all these
24-hour news networks. Jerry Lewis, you know, he does that one
day a year. And even that by hour 13, they're bringing on a guy
who's doing the glasses and making the things. So...
KURTZ: So it's this relentless...
KURTZ: ... vacuum. You can't have dead air,
KURTZ: ... You've got to have something on.
STEWART: Can't have dead air, and...
KURTZ: You think pushes it more toward the
entertainment side of the ledger.
STEWART: ... Entertainment, and in some respects,
what happens is the bar of responsibility gets lowered. In other
words, I mean, the examples just in this past year, right after
the Columbine incident, a terrible tragedy, those kids were on
TV during a hostage crisis. That's not right-to-know. That's not
1st Amendment. That's endangering the lives of people in a hostage
crisis. And it's not responsible to be able to - I remember right
after Columbine, I read in the paper - and I don't mean for this
to come off in any way as so critical. I have a great respect
for a lot of the people that do the stories. But there was an
article in the paper about who was first breaking the Columbine
KURTZ: Right. You beat somebody else by 16
STEWART: Right. And I just thought, but that
wasn't a question...
KURTZ: You think it's kind of heartless?
STEWART: ... Not only does it seem, it seems
like you're forgetting what you're doing. You're forgetting that
what you're doing is trying to give people an impartial analysis,
an informative version of the day's events. You know, I don't
think they should ever take a camera to a tragedy victim's house
and say, "How do you feel?" Because you know what, until you're
going to get an answer that's not some version of "terrible..."
STEWART: ... that's not news. Of course.
KURTZ: And it's intrusive, and all those other
STEWART: And it's intrusive. And it's prurient.
And I don't think it's reasonable.
KURTZ: How about the great pageant of democracy,
the presidential campaign?
STEWART: I quite honestly believe that the
fishbowl has created fake candidates, that it's now - it's all
theater, it's all entertainment, and that they are using focus
groups in the same way that my show uses focus groups, and the
same way that CNN probably uses focus groups. They're using polls
to that same extent. It's a weird melding of the same tools that
entertainment follows. But people in the public arena in that
sense should have a higher mandate...
KURTZ: In the same sense...
STEWART: ... than what we use.
KURTZ: ... you probably can't get elected president
unless you're good on television (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...
STEWART: I mean, that started with the Nixon-Kennedy
debates. As soon as Nixon started sweating, that was the end of
his campaign that year.
KURTZ: They looked better on radio.
You did an event in New Hampshire where you...
KURTZ: ... assembled a big panel, and you beat
up on the likes of Sam Donaldson, Claire Shipman, Jonathan Alter.
I think you had a pretty good time.
STEWART: But we had no idea we were going to
be beating up on them to that extent.
KURTZ: Well, but do you think that journalists
are unusually, or some would say pathetically, thin-skinned about
having the camera turned and having their conduct on trial?
STEWART: I think they're not accustomed to
it. And what was interesting to me was as soon as we flipped the
tables, they began acting as candidates act, testy to a certain
extent, a big evasive, sort of evasive.
KURTZ: What do you mean sort of defensive?
STEWART: Sort of defensive. Not you. You are
a paragon of virtue.
KURTZ: Give me some quick takes. Let's run
through some names. Larry King.
STEWART: Trend-setter. Will be having babies
past Anthony Quinn's age, probably until about 140. Pretty soon,
his kids, they'll take over. It will be a dynasty. All the young
Kings will soon take over.
KURTZ: Ted Koppel.
STEWART: The man.
STEWART: Pure and simple.
KURTZ: Big fan?
STEWART: I'm a huge fan of Koppel's. I really
loved the stuff he did this summer with the hour-long specials.
But I think he's terrific. And "Nightline" is one of the shows
I like the most.
KURTZ: "60 Minutes."
STEWART: You know, they set the trend for these
- unfortunately, they set a trend that "Dateline" and "20/20"
have jumped on and somewhat perverted.
KURTZ: How's that?
STEWART: And that's the difficulty. Because
they use scare tactics, where "60 Minutes" not so much. When you
turn on "20/20," have you ever seen a promotion for that? "Do
you know what's in your laundry room? Could it kill your children?
KURTZ: But that's become the game now. They
scare people into watching?
STEWART: They scare people, scare people into
watching. I truly believe that that's what's going on. I don't
think maybe it's necessarily cognitive. But that's what it's become.
And that's what the shame is, is that it's the question of - this
interview with Elian Gonzalez is a great example of just crazy.
I mean, you know, what's next...
KURTZ: Diane Sawyer on ABC.
STEWART: ... a hard-hitting expose of the kid
from "Jerry Maguire"? This is a 6-year-old boy. You don't do interviews
with 6- year-old boys. And to call it a visit, you know, that's
what your aunt does. She visits. She pinches the cheek. This is
not - that's not a subject. I think in some respects people are
just trying to be first rather than being good.
STEWART: And I think that's a real danger.
KURTZ: We'll put you down as a critic of ABC
and Diane Sawyer...
STEWART: No, no, no, but again...
KURTZ: ... in that instance. All right.
STEWART: ... in that instance, I think the
pressure to get ratings has overwhelmed what is a really strong
industry of very intelligent people.
KURTZ: Bob Dole, star commentator this year
on Comedy Central.
STEWART: Wonderful man.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOB DOLE, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: I don't want
two debates a week, as Al Gore suggested. I mean, nobody would
be watching. But...
STEWART: I honestly, I would only watch because
to me Al Gore is like the Yule log. I mean, he puts me out...
STEWART: ... He is so - it's when you have
- you know like when you have like a white noise machine... DOLE:
Well, not only that, when he gives a fireside chat, the fire goes
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEWART: He, just wonderfully dry sense of
humor. And wonderful dancer. Oops...
STEWART: ... No, he's - I've had a wonderful
time with him.
KURTZ: But you're going for the celebrity,
for the big name, to get people to watch your show.
STEWART: Absolutely. But here's the difference.
I'm a fake journalist.
STEWART: We're not actually really reporting
KURTZ: We're going to use this tape in the
STEWART: Yeah, please. Believe me, no, I'm
a comedian. And we're on level above strippers on the show business
ladder. So believe me, I know my place.
KURTZ: Comedy Central's Jon Stewart, host of
"The Daily Show," turning his critical lens on us.
Up next, reporting from the White House, Leonardo
DiCaprio, the furor over his ABC News interview with President
KURTZ: Leonardo DiCaprio's brief plunge into
the world of journalism has become something of a Washington whodunit.
Was the movie star's chat with Bill Clinton for an ABC News prime
time special an interview? Depends on your definition of interview.
"We did not send him to interview the president," ABC News Chief
David Westin told his staff in an e-mail. "No one is that stupid."
Right. Westin says it was meant to be a walk-through,
a guided tour by Clinton showing Leo the White House weather stripping
and the like with some conversation along the way. But the White
House says that explanation is inoperative, Spokesman Joe Lockhart
calling the network to say that ABC asked for a regular sit down
interview weeks ago and to please set the record straight. DiCaprio's
spokesman sides with the White House. Even the president couldn't
resist turning the tables on ABC at the Radio/TV Correspondents'
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED
STATES: Now ABC doesn't know whether Leo and I had an interview,
a walk through, or a drive by. Don't you news people ever learn?
It isn't the mistake that kills you. It's the cover-up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So, what did the ABC folks know and
when did they know it? Well, they air the tape? Should a special
prosecutor subpoena the footage? And the most titanic mystery
of all, how did the network of Peter Jennings and Ted Koppel wind
up morphing its journalistic image with that of a Hollywood hunk?
When we return, the "Back Page."
KURTZ: Welcome back. Bernard Kalb may be off
this week, but he left behind his "Back Page."
BERNARD KALB, CO-HOST: I've been doing some
reckless ruminating about the future of the media these last few
days. And here goes.
(voice-over): It has to do with this fellow,
who went down with the Titanic and who interviewed the president
the other day on all kinds of environmental issues, interviewed
the prez not for Hollywood but for ABC News. That came just a
few days after Diane romped through a kind of giant playpen interviewing
the most famous 6-year-old in the world. Those moments with Elian,
played and replayed by ABC News, those moments produced a spike
in the ratings for "Good Morning America." So since it's a proven
that a famous face produces spikes, why not assign a celebrity
to do a Q-and-A with the president on whether the planet can survive
our mishandling of it? After all, Leonardo does have some firsthand
experience with the elements. And how did it go, this one-on-one
Leonardo and Bill? Well, we don't know, and we may never know,
because the story now is that ABC News is rethinking using that
session with the president because assigning Leonardo to the job
has created a bit of an embarrassing flap. But use it or not,
the very fact that the environmental assignment went to a movie
idol and not to a Ph.D. in environmental studies highlights that
emerging trend, journalism's surrender to the nearest celebrity
and the pursuit of bigger ratings, fatter profits. Keep tuned.
If Leonardo ever gets fed up with Hollywood, what about this?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: From ABC News world headquarters
in New York, this is "World News Tonight" with...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KALB: Leonardo DiCaprio.
KURTZ: Bernard Kalb. Well, that's it for this
edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz. Join us again next
time for another critical look at the media.
"CAPITAL GANG" is up next. Mark Shields
has a preview.
MARK SHIELDS, CAPITAL GANG: Howie, we'll look
at the politics behind the Elian Gonzalez custody case and at
the Microsoft decision. Republican Congressman David Dreier of
California joins us for that and much more right here next on