The spinning of Sebelius; Sharyl Attkisson on leaving CBS, White House pressure

This is a rush transcript from "Media Buzz," April 13, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: On the buzzmeter this Sunday, she resigned from CBS News after failing to get most of her investigative reports on the air. Now, Sharyl Attkisson talks to me about media bias, the pushbacks you got from the Obama administration and what CBS did to some of her best stories.


SHARYL ATTKISSON, FORMER CBS CORRESPONDENT: It never runs or it dies the death of 1,000 cuts. Some of us say, if it is something they don't like they don't want, it will be changed and revised, and shortened, and altered so much, that it is a shadow of its former self if it does air. And that's just simply not a good operating environment for the type of reporting that I do.


KURTZ: The award-winning correspondent on why CBS changed its approach when Barack Obama took office and why she quit?

The spin wars over Kathleen Sebelius resigning as health secretary as the White House quietly tries to blame her for ObamaCare.

Al Sharpton outed by a Website as a mob informant back in the '80s. Does this mire the MSNBC's pundit's image?

Plus, Stephen Colbert taking over for "David Letterman."


STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE COLBERT REPORT": This man has influenced every host who came after him and even a few who came before him. He's that good.


COLBERT: And I've got to tell you, I do not envy whoever they try to put in that chair.



KURTZ: Can he succeed without playing a conservative buffoon? I'm Howard Kurtz and this is "Media Buzz."

President Obama was sure heaping praise on Kathleen Sebelius at the ceremony announcing her departure as HSS secretary. You would never know the White House wanted her out of there, at least according to the various versions leaked to the press months after some commentators and politicians were calling for Sebelius to be fired. The administration worked hard to stage manage her exit with expert handling of the media.


JUDGE ANDREW NAPOLITANO, FOX NEWS SR. JUDICIAL ANALYST: She has symbolized, she has personified, the catastrophic disaster that ObamaCare has been both substantively and procedurally and its rollout. I think he would rather that someone else was at the helm.

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW": And so, now Kathleen Sebelius has to go? Why now? Because the administration can't resist stepping on its own tail and turn the first good news cycle they've had about ObamaCare since it's passed it into a story instead about firing people for ObamaCare's failures?


KURTZ: Joining us now, Lauren Ashburn, Fox News contributor and host of "Social Buzz" on the Fox website. Rick Grenell a Fox News contributor and former Bush administration spokesman and syndicated radio host Bill Press.

So, "The New York Times" gets this leak. Late in the day posts this story. Just with evening news. Walk us through the spin.

LAUREN ASHBURN, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Wait, gets this leak. And it happens late in the day. They had, quote. This was the swan song, essentially, that the White House was able to put out to "The New York Times" for Sebelius. They called her a fierce advocate, they called her fearless. They said that she was tenacious. So, "The New York Times" article had all of these wonderful things that the White House had to say.

KURTZ: Wait a minute. But in that same article.

ASHBURN: Exactly. I'm not done. In that same article, they did have Reince Priebus saying that she was a disappointment, they had Mitch McConnell saying this was a cold comfort because of ObamaCare and how horrible ObamaCare was. It was balanced, but the leak was able - in the leak they were able to put their big old spin on it.

KURTZ: What fascinated me were the unnamed administration aides who said there was frustration at the White House over Sebelius's performance. It would become increasingly clear. And, Rick that there was this concern that Sebelius if she stayed in the job, it would result in lasting damage to the president's legacy. Than NBC quoting a source is saying, they wanted an HSS head who was not battered and bruised? So, what was - was this to cover up the fact that she was kind of sort of fired?

RICHARD GRENELL, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Well, they were very concerned about Obama's legacy. But it is very telling when you look at the "New York Times" story, front page how it started. They said Obama lost confidence in Kathleen Sebelius when she bombed her Jon Stewart interview.

KURTZ: This is the first time - this is the first time that recorded the story that Jon Stewart ...


KURTZ: ... has played a role in knocking out a cabinet member.

GRENELL: Well, it also is really indicative of who President Obama is. You can mess up a website. You can absolutely tank the health care system but if you bomb a Jon Stewart interview and you ruin the president's credibility with Hollywood, you are out.

KURTZ: Now, Sebelius gave an interview to NBC's Andrea Mitchell, in which she kind of ducked the question about her departure. She said it was a logical time to leave. But how different would it have been had Sebelius departed even with these official words of praise while the website was still busted.

BILL PRESS, SYNDICATED RADIO SHOW HOST: First, quick story: April One, I'm in the Rose Garden. President Obama announces 7.1 million people signed up for ObamaCare. Big celebration. As I was leaving, I said to a young press man, reporter at the White House, this is a test. What was the most significant thing about that speech today? He said, I don't know. What was it? I said, he never mentioned Kathleen Sebelius. She was sitting right in front of him.

KURTZ: Washing her out of history.

PRESS: All I'm saying is, anybody watching it should have known she is history at that point.

ASHBURN: But she wasn't on the day. It was President Obama, Vice President Biden. And she was in the front.

PRESS: Oh, no, no - she was - right.

ASHBURN: She was in the front row, but as far as the cameras run, she was not there. I agree with you.

PRESS: My point is, she wasn't alongside - I thought she might be.

ASHBURN: I agree with you.

PRESS: She was right in the front ...

KURTZ: Turn to the media. Did you think that the press swallowed this spin or not so much?

PRESS: I think everybody knew she was going. It was just a matter of time. I really do. And I think - there was another thing - I think, you know, we all demanded her head right away, right? Because the media, politicians, because of the Website launch. And the problems with it. And I think Obama was playing us better. He would get some credit for playing us the way he did. He said, I'm not going to bow into it. I'm going to first fix the problem, leave her here, then I'll take care of her, which she did. A week after it comes out.

KURTZ: It reminded me of all these ceremonies that I watched in news rooms when somebody - when editors would hit praise on this reporter - it was leaving - and everybody in the room knew - that person had lost his job, and being laid off.

All right now, "The Daily Show" business got a lot of press. But there was also this moment, not too long ago with an Oklahoma anchor, when Kathleen Sebelius, well, let's take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, that's going to be -- still continue to be a tough sale. But we will see how that plays out over the coming months.

All right, Secretary Sebelius, thank you so much for being with us this morning. I think we have probably lost sound here or something.

SEBELIUS: Well, I can hear you.




KURTZ: It's still painful to watch.

ASHBURN: Six seconds is an eternity in television news. If you can't fill that space. But it is not the first time she has stumbled. She has stumbled in front of Congress. She has stumbled with "The Daily Show." She even had a problem at the end when she was reading her speech and she said, oh, a page is missing and she had to go on to the next one. It was just so indicative of the way that she has performed as a P.R. advocate for the White House.

GRENELL: But the media didn't do that, Howie. I mean "The Wall Street Journal" and "the Washington Post" both had stories about her resignation really in the context of who's next. They completely just forgot about the fact that she was a failure and they went on to the next nominee. Now, the Bush ...

KURTZ: So, leave (INAUDIBLE) is going to take her job.

GRENELL: Yeah, but the Bush administration secretaries, cabinet secretaries who decided to step down or get fired, who were controversial.

KURTZ: Like Donald Rumsfeld, for example.

GRENELL: Or Gonzales.

KURTZ: Yeah.

GRENELL: They did not get the same treatment. It was a focus from the media, on all of the failures and the controversial decisions, it wasn't let's move on to the next nominee.

PRESS: Well, I have just got to say in her defense, she gave the Obama administration, yes, the biggest embarrassment of the last six years. But she also gave them their biggest success. So, it balances.

KURTZ: Jon Stewart, you are talking about?

PRESS: Yeah, Jon Stewart, right.


PRESS: Well, believe me, she wasn't fired because of her appearance on Jon Stewart. It wasn't pretty.

KURTZ: Tell the "New York Times."

KURTZ: On the one hand, she didn't write the code. So she is not solely responsible, I mean, to say, for the website batching, but she ran that department and failed to warn the administration. But did the press just - finishing up with you, and then I'll come to your, Lauren. Did the press make her a scapegoat for all of the things that went wrong with this program?

PRESS: No, I don't think so. I mean she - there are some good things about the program. The website was botched. It should never have happened. And somebody had to pay the price.

KURTZ: Rick says double standard. This administration nominees or cabinet officers who got pushed out were beaten up by the press when Sebelius not so much. You don't agree.

PRESS: Boy, I remember a lot of beating up on Donald Rumsfeld. I don't know where you were at the time, but I don't think he was treated gingerly by the press.

GRENELL: That's my point. That's my point. If that's the story that came out ...

PRESS: But she ...


GRENELL: Yeah, but "The Wall Street Journal" and "the Washington Post" both focused on the next nominee. They didn't rehash her career. The Sebelius's career.

ASHBURN: But in the article, in "The New York Times" article, they called her a proven manager. And they said that they did give that information to the media. Whether or not they took it and ran with it was a different story.

KURTZ: Well, I was just really struck by the contrast between the public words of praise and, you know, these quotes about, she was a liability. We wanted her out of there. The president's legacy. They don't come from nowhere. They come from people on background whispering to reporters. I want to turn to one more issue - it was with an interview last weekend where the Fox's Shannon Bream and Jeb Bush talked about immigration amidst context of a lot of chatter that whether he might run for president in 2016. Let's look at that and the reaction from some conservative commentators.


JEB BUSH, FORMER FLORIDA GOVERNOR: Yes, they broke the law, but it's not a felony. It's kind of - it's an act of love, it's an act of commitment to your family.

BILL KRISTOL, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: And then Hillary gets to say, I'm the first woman president and Jeb gets to say, I'm the third Bush president. That's not a good matchup for the Republicans.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: In that statement he made about illegal immigrants acting and being an act of love is kind of bizarre.


KURTZ: I ask you this lovingly, if that was a trial balloon by Jeb Bush, it tests the waters - Republicans, conservative pundits really shot it down.

GRENELL: Look, I don't think it was a trial balloon. I think the media in D.C. and New York absolutely want to see Jeb Bush as the nominee. They want to see a Bush/Clinton rematch.


GRENELL: For whatever reason, they are comfortable with him. They want to go with the establishment.

KURTZ: They like his more moderate stance on immigration?

GRENELL: Well, maybe, maybe not. But the simple fact is that this crowd in Washington is propping him up. I don't see the grassroots wanting him to come up as the nominee. He hasn't been around for ten years. And the media missed that.

KURTZ: Just to stick with immigration for a second, though, Bill, it seems like more liberal commentators on your side liked what Bush had to say, a compassionate view of the illegal immigrants and why they come here, to feed their families, you said, than did the more conservative types in his own party.

PRESS: Well, first of all, it looks to me like he is really finding - looking for an excuse not to run for president when he says something like that.


PRESS: He also came up with this common core curriculum for education. And saying that all - you know, that basically, the federal government came.


KURTZ: Why does he need an excuse? No one is saying he has to do it.

GRENELL: The media are saying that he has to do it.

ASHBURN: But his mama is saying, no, I don't want him to run.

KURTZ: Now, why media ....


PRESS: No, the media is in this frenzy about 2016 and Jeb Bush, just let's face it, he sets himself apart from the other candidates.

ASHBURN: Well, let's go to Chris Christie and Bridgegate and what happened with him. He was the front-runner. Now, the media needs another front- runner of the establishment party. And so, they look to Jeb who is one of the two political dynasties in the country. You know, it is either the Bushes or the Clintons.

KURTZ: So, do you agree with Rick that because this started, before that appearance in Texas where he talked about immigration - illegal immigration was an act of love. There were starting to be a drumbeat in the press. A lot of pundits saying boy, it would be nice if Bush got in. Or he would bring a lottery! Be a strong general election candidate. Is the beltway press kind of rooting for Jeb to take this step?

ASHBURN: Well, now, he's what happens, especially in political seasons - we love to -- reporters love to build people up. Right? So, you build up a candidate and then what do you do? You tear them down.

GRENELL: But only - they only build up people that they know. And they are missing a lot of people. Governor Snyder in Michigan, Susana Martinez in New Mexico, Brian Sandoval of Nevada. These people are not getting there.

KURTZ: They need a big name or they try to get bigger name.

GRENELL: They need a name that they know from Washington, D.C.

KURTZ: Just Bush has got to be in the mix. But they are also talking a lot about Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz and Rand Paul.

GRENELL: Washington people.

KURTZ: Yeah, look, but Rand Paul and Ted Cruz are running. We don't know what Jeb Bush is going to do. And the media loves that mystery. And also, I think you are right. I mean he is a Bush. Send me a tweet about our show this hour. Don't forget, it's @HowardKurtz. We are going to read some of your messages at the end of the program. When we come back, Al Sharpton, using his NBC platform to play down a report that he spied on the mop - many years ago.

And later, Sharyl Attkisson on why she couldn't get her investigative pieces on CBS News and about pressure from the administration.


ATTKISSON: When they call and bear that kind of pressure, I think it borders on an inappropriate if it is part of a campaign to sort of stop and influence the manipulative reporting.


KURTZ: "Reverend Rat" that was the "New York Post" screaming headline after this smoking gun website revealed new details about Al Sharpton having spied on the mob as an FBI informant back in the 1980s. The MSNBC host dismissed the story as old news, but finds himself playing defense both on the cable channel and on NBC.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sharpton says he went to the FBI after organized crime figures threatened him for seeking a greater role by blacks in promoting musical acts.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But law enforcement officials say Sharpton agreed to cooperate after meeting with an undercover FBI agent trying to gauge his interest in a drug deal.

REVEREND AL SHARPTON, HOST "POLITICS NATION": I did the right thing working with authorities. I didn't consider myself, quote, "an informant," wasn't told I was that. I was an American citizen with every right to call law enforcement.


KURTZ: Rick, Al Sharpton says he was doing good fighting crime by spying on the mafia and recording certain crime family members in the 1980s. Did he and NBC give us the whole story?

GRENELL: No, he certainly did and NBC is, you know, MSNBC trying to protect their guy who is the host. I mean this story should be all over the mainstream media I think. If it was a conservative who had his own show, this would be front and center, "New York Times" material. But it is not. Because they are trying to protect their guy over at MSNBC. And I think you've got to be honest, that you can't go there and talk about Al Sharpton because you ignite some sort of race issue, if you do.

KURTZ: But it was 30 years ago and Sharpton did work with law enforcement. So why should it be as big a story as Rick Grenell says?

PRESS: Well, first of all - I read about it in "the New York Times," more than one story in the "New York Times." I don't think this story was hidden at all. You are right. It has been reported since 1988. He wrote about it in his book. And I guess my question is - what's wrong with helping the FBI get members of the mob family? Of the (INAUDIBLE) family? It's some of this evidence, they say, police say, FBI says, led to convictions.

ASHBURN: Well, it was reported, and part of that ...


ASHBURN: CI-17, which was what his name was. That he denies being flipped. And there are a lot of people - officials sort of off the record saying that he was - he was actually flipped, did something wrong and then ratted on the Genovese family.

KURTZ: That's the thing. As "The Smoking Gun" Website followed up piece, said Sharpton was lying, that he fabricated this story, that he hadn't just decided out of his patriotic duty to risk his life by recording these crime family members that he, in fact, was filmed in 1983 during a sting talking about cocaine with an undercover FBI agent. And that film was showed to him, and he decided to cooperate. That's a very different kind of tale than the way that Al Sharpton is portraying it.

ASHBURN: Right. And, you know, there are not a lot of swing voters when it comes to support of Al Sharpton. You either love him or you hate him. And so in terms of how this is affecting him and his reputation, you know, I think he is going to skate on this, whether or not he flipped or he didn't flip.

KURTZ: And of course, this was reported just as he was getting ready to have his annual convention, on his national election network with President Obama - and they called him, (INAUDIBLE) showed up. But if he did such a good thing, Bill, why does he seem to be playing defense on this story?

PRESS: I thought he did the very smart thing, not by ignoring the story, but going out the next day to hold a news conference saying here is what I did. And I am damn proud of it. I mean I thought that was good defense with his part. What he should do is sue those who chose all the - old pictures of him when he weighed 400 pounds.

KURTZ: I covered him. I covered him during the (INAUDIBLE), for which he never apologized. And he did look that way. But here's where it might help him to your point: on the pop culture front. Look at what "Saturday Night Live" did with this last night.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's get down to business, shall we?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Business, OK. You heard it's snowing outside.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Snowing? It's June. I came here to get some cocaine.


ASHBURN: Referring to cocaine, obviously. But the Al Sharpton that we are seeing here is nowhere near the Al Sharpton who runs his show at MSNBC, who makes a lot of money running that show, and who is running this network, and so a lot of people are willing to forgive whatever it was.

KURTZ: Bill Press, Rick Grenell, thanks so much for joining us today.

Ahead on "Media Buzz," my take as someone who survived a Stephen Colbert appearance on how he'll do in David Letterman's chair, but first, an in- depth interview with Sharyl Attkisson on why she left CBS, and how her difficulties increased during the Obama administration.


KURTZ: Sharyl Attkisson is an Emmy-award-winning reporter who has interviewed a wide range of subjects including ObamaCare and what happened at Benghazi.


SHARYL ATTKISSON: Three current fairly high ranking State Department officials, an expert in security, an expert in counter-terrorism and a top diplomat, will in essence be contradicting parts of the Obama administration's accounts on Benghazi.


KURTZ: She resigned from CBS News last month after years of battling her bosses over why most of her scoops weren't getting on the air. We sat down earlier here in Studio 1.


KURTZ: Sharyl Attkisson, welcome.

ATTKISSON: Thank you for having me.

KURTZ: You had been covering the Benghazi story with CBS. Former acting CIA director, Mike Morell, recently testified that it was the P.R. people at the CIA that removed the references to al Qaeda from the infamous talking points given to administration officials. Is that a significant story at this point?

ATTKISSON: In a way, just because it was so different than what was said closer to the act actually happening. When Morell was asked these questions or when they were asked in front of him, in the months after the attacks, he didn't offer up the information. And in one case, when he did answer a specific question, he said it was not the CIA, it was the FBI who made the major editorial changes. That story has changed.

KURTZ: But the criticism, as you know, is that Fox News and conservative media have been flogging this for a year and a half trying to turn this tragic attack for which the country was clearly unprepared at the Libyan consulate into some kind of a scandal.

ATTKISSON: I think that's a strategy in and of itself. If you disagree with some damaging facts of things that have happened on your watch and you can controversialize it or call it political, then perhaps some people won't listen to it. If you liken it to Watergate, Watergate was at its heart a political scandal in every sense of the word, but it didn't mean it wasn't a legitimate issue to look at. I don't think anybody today would argue today it wasn't. But there is this tendency to use a strategy that says, it's political, therefore, don't listen to it. I think there are many valid questions still to be asked.

KURTZ: Why did CBS lose interest in your reporting on Benghazi, in your reporting on ObamaCare and other subjects, to the point where you were just having difficulty getting on the air?

ATTKISSON: I think that's part of a broader trend that's happening, not just at CBS, but there seems to be the last couple of years much less interest in what I call original, investigative, in-depth reporting that hasn't been seen elsewhere. There seems to be a visceral reaction to doing stories that could ruffle feathers, whether it is certain people in the political spectrum or even corporate interests. I think there has come to be a narrowing universe of stories that are desired by the broadcasts, and it leaves us sometimes I think with newscasts that don't dig very deep.

KURTZ: How did you reach the point that you gave up a 20-year career at CBS News and said, I want to be let out by a contract, I need to leave?

ATTKISSON: In the end, it was pretty easy to want to leave. There really wasn't much left for me to do. And I am not the only one that felt that way about the type of reporting that I do. Other correspondents who feel as though they bring some very good original reporting to the table, not just at CBS but at other networks, feel as though they too are not being appreciated for the type of work they do. They are being asked instead to sort of copy reporting from other media outlets that have already published something, which is really not what we consider our mission.

KURTZ: But what were the objections to these various stories? Was it that you didn't have something nailed down, that you were relying on an anonymous source or were you obsessed with Benghazi or ObamaCare?

ATTKISSON: None of those things were ever said to me. I think it was more when someone, a broadcast doesn't want a story, they don't really say those things to you. They simply don't air the story. They may even say they love the story and wish they could run it and they intend to run it.

KURTZ: But --

ATTKISSON: It never runs, or it dies the death of 1,000 cuts as some of us say, if it is something they don't like or do not want, it will be changed and revised and shortened and altered so much that it is a shadow of its former self if it does air. And that is simply not a good operating environment for the type of reporting I do.

KURTZ: You were going to leave about a year ago, and you spoke to CBS News chairman, Jeff Fager, who came up through the ranks, veteran producer, still runs 60 Minutes. How did he get you to stay and why did you ultimately leave anyway?

ATTKISSON: I was still under contract, which was a compelling argument to- - if they didn't want me to leave, I needed to work with them on that issue. And Jeff Fager, as always, is very sympathetic and empathetic, he seemed to agree, we seemed to have a meeting of the minds as to what the news should be about, what my role was and should be. I agreed to give it some more time. But there is a difference between some managers wanting and believing in a mission, and it actually translating to the broadcasts, which are, by and large, very independent in some ways. The translation just never got made. I think it is more of a trend than something that just involved me at CBS.

KURTZ: The question obviously has come up about liberal bias. This is often thrown as news organizations. Do you think some of these sensitive topics, and they weren't all Obama administration scandals, but do you think that CBS has been too timid in challenging this administration?

ATTKISSON: The press in general seems to be very shy about challenging the administration as if it is making some sort of political statement rather than just doing our jobs as watch dogs. I didn't run into that same kind of sentiment as I did in the Obama administration when I covered the Bush administration very aggressively on its secrecy and lack of freedom of information responses and its poor management of the Food and Drug Administration, and the National Laboratories, the Halliburton Iraq contract questions of fraud. There was one thing after another. The bait and switch of T.A.R.P., the bank bailout program. All of those stories under Bush were met with a good reception. These were different managers at that time as well, but nobody accused me of being a mouthpiece for the liberals at that time.

KURTZ: Let me make sure I understand. You are saying you aggressively reported on various Bush administration problems and scandals, and those pieces by and large got on the air, and you are known as an aggressive investigative reporter, but in the Obama administration, not so much. So that would suggest there is a political aspect to it?

ATTKISSON: I think there is a political aspect on the part of some people. CBS News is not a monolithic organization. We know we have a lot of different personalities at play, and I've had bosses in the past that are liberal or conservative, and don't let that play into their story decisions because they are at their heart great journalists, but I do think some of that was at play. But in the bigger picture, there is just a tendency to avoid certain controversies, because of the pushback, the well organized or orchestrated and financed campaign that come against us before, during and after our pursuit of stories that certain people don't want. That includes some conservative/corporate stories. So there is this competing issue of bias if you want to say there is some sort of liberal political bias at play at times, there is also, I would argue, a competing corporate bias. But instead of leading to a perfect balance of news, because those two things have a good, natural tension, I think it has led to a very narrow universe of stories that they are willing to cover at all.

KURTZ: And yet, when you were pursuing ObamaCare problems and Benghazi and some of these other stories involving this administration, some on the right were cheering you on. You were almost being painted as a conservative within a big mainstream network. Did that portrayal bother you, was it accurate?

ATTKISSON: It didn't bother me at all. I don't care which side--

KURTZ: Was it an effort to discredit you in a way?


KURTZ: You were pursuing stories for ideological reasons.

ATTKISSON: I do think that was part of a strategy or a campaign, especially from people that don't like the stories you are doing. I was lauded equally at times from liberals, by liberals for stories I've done in the past, and that didn't bother the same people the way they were bothered when conservatives lauded me. I don't care which side. I am happy if the stories that I do receive legitimate recognition from whoever appreciated them, but it's not why I do one thing or another. But I think it has been an effective strategy to try to turn factual stories into a controversy or controversialize the reporter such that maybe some members of the public won't listen to the story.


KURTZ: Tweet me your thoughts about this interview @howardkurtz.

Next, Sharyl Attkisson on exactly what the Obama administration did to pressure her and her bosses at CBS.

Plus, is Stephen Colbert the guy to take on Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel?



KURTZ: More now of my conversation with the woman who quit CBS News, Sharyl Attkisson.


KURTZ: You left in part to write this book which is called "Stonewalled: My Fight for Truth Against the Forces of Obstruction, Intimidation and Harassment in Obama's Washington." What are the forces of obstruction and intimidation?

ATTKISSON: I think any journalist who has been covering Washington for a few years would agree, and they have agreed in letters written to the White House and a recognition given to the White House over the unprecedented secrecy and lack of FOIA responses and so on, that there are -- there is pressure coming to bear on journalists for just doing their job in ways that have never come to bear before. There have always been tensions, there have always been calls from the White House under any administration, I assume, when they don't like a particular story. But it is particularly aggressive under the Obama administration, and I think it's a campaign that's very well organized and designed to have a sort of a chilling effect. And to some degree, it has been somewhat successful in getting broadcast producers who don't really want to deal with the headache of it, why put on these controversial stories that we are going to have to fight people on when we can fill the broadcast with other perfectly decent stories that don't ruffle the same feathers.

KURTZ: So you are saying that you and other reporters, journalists have made these observations, obviously, about this administration's hardball tactics. Are you saying that you personally got a lot of pushback from the Obama administration officials, White House officials on stories you were doing, or they went over your head and tried to apply some pressure to your bosses?

ATTKISSON: Both. They worked through me and they often went over my head to the bosses. I didn't always know what they did so. But they would sometimes refer to it later, or I would be coped on an e-mail, or bosses would copy me on e-mails. And they would consistently tell me, even really the last year or so, if I would write an article online, which would be the fallback position when something couldn't get on television, but it was still a great story that could be circulated, I would publish it online, they would even call about those or they would call about a headline they didn't like about the online article.

And these articles were perfectly defensible, legal, accurate, factual, legitimate. But I feel like we didn't defend them in some cases as strongly as we should have. When they call and bear that kind of pressure, I think it borders on inappropriate if it is part of a campaign to sort of stop, and influence and manipulate the reporting.

KURTZ: What would some officials say to you? How is this more than the usual sort of working the refs that goes on every day in Washington?

ATTKISSON: Rather than providing the information I think they are required to provide, the public information we own in answering questions, it is just a lot of obfuscation, accusations, saying things are phoney scandals, bogus, not real, giving misinformation and false information. That's provably true in some cases, and then modifying it when they are caught doing so when you try to go back at them for a piece of additional information, and you say -- you point out that what you said earlier isn't true. They may now in retrospect admit that, but craft a slightly different story. And it is just a tedious process that results in very little real information. And I believe the public owns the information that they are guarding as if they are some sort of corporation almost with P.R. officials. And they think we are not entitled to see it or have it.

KURTZ: So Sharyl, did you feel like at times you were fighting a two-front war with the administration in order to pry information and deflect these charges of what you are pursuing as bogus, and then with your own management team, to try to get something on the CBS Evening News or CBS Sunday Morning?

ATTKISSON: I think that's true of me and of a lot of reporters now, so they do fight these battles on a multi-faceted front. Part of it is the job. It's expected. You have to defend and push your stories internally to get them on television. You have to fight the outside forces that don't like them. But I would say those two things combined were stronger and more forceful than they have ever been in my 20 years at CBS the last couple of years.

KURTZ: You said in the end that leaving CBS News was an easy decision because you had reached a point where essentially you hit a wall and most of your stories weren't getting on the air. You were coming up with what you believed was newsworthy, original information, and it wasn't making air. But on a personal level, when you think about walking away from a place that had been your professional home for so long, talking to your husband about it, wasn't it hard?

ATTKISSON: It wasn't in the end. They made it so easy to make the choice, because there was really nothing left meaningful for me to do. And it eased into that way of being the last couple of years.

KURTZ: You could have at least served there until your contract had run out and kind of shown up and done what they wanted you to do? You decided to take a stand.

ATTKISSON: I thought that too. I thought that really I could have stayed there as long as I wanted to. And done day-of-air stories and weather stories and reported for anything that was happening at the moment that they wanted me to do. But I found it increasingly difficult as a journalist to have such terrific access, probably better than I ever have had to stories and sources and really good information, and yet have almost no outlet for what to do with it. And to disappoint people over and over again, to get sources to go out on a limb, to convince them to come forward, tell you what they know, and then have to go back to them after all of that time and time again. And say I know I said this was a really important story, worth going out on a limb for, but actually nobody wants it. It is the kind of thing you can't do to people.

KURTZ: Sharyl Attkisson, thanks very much for joining us.

ATTKISSON: Thank you.


KURTZ: You can read her work at

See if this one passes the smell test. Julia Louis Dreyfus, the star of "Veep," poses for a cover of Rolling Stone in a state of undress. Well, kind of, the picture basically shows her back, adorned with a fake tattoo of the Constitution. So lots of news outlets pounce on a factual flub. It turns out John Hancock, whose name is there on her back, didn't actually sign the Constitution. Anybody think the media were more interested in a history lesson than in bare skin?

After the break, what Stephen Colbert told me about his political leanings, and whether he is right for David Letterman's desk.


KURTZ: Nation, there is no one more qualified than me to hold forth on Stephen Colbert being tapped to replace David Letterman, because I, your media guru, have appeared on "The Colbert Report" back when Hillary was running against Barack.


KURTZ: Remember when Hillary Clinton was inevitable, we all said she was inevitable?

STEPHEN COLBERT: They were wrong about her being inevitable. Right?

KURTZ: We were all wrong.

COLBERT: Exactly. She was not inevitable, she was unkillable. You cannot stop her. OK? You can chop off her head and she will crawl toward you.


KURTZ: When Colbert takes over CBS's "Late Show" next year, he won't be appearing as his character, the bombastic conservative bloviator, but as the real Stephen. Here he is out of character explaining to the late Tim Russert how he puts together his Comedy Central show.


COLBERT: We show up exasperated or angry about something, and we try to turn that into jokes six hours later.


KURTZ: Can he succeed without the shtick, as just the guy from South Carolina, and let's face it, yet another white guy in late night. Having interviewed Colbert, I can tell you he is a Democrat, but he says he has no political axe to grind. He once flamed out as a correspondent for GMA, that he didn't know when launching his show whether it would last beyond an eight-week tryout. Oh, and he sat next to Michelle Obama at a state dinner.

Colbert will have to broaden his appeal, but he has good comedic instincts, as when we were talking about the press giving Obama a soft ride in that 2008 campaign.


KURTZ: What happened is, a couple weeks ago, Saturday Night Live started making fun of us, us, journalists, said we were in the tank for Obama. And now that coverage has gotten a little bit tougher.

COLBERT: Do you really think that late night comedy shows should have any influence on what goes on in politics?


KURTZ: Stephen Colbert will soon have a lot more influence in David Letterman's chair. Whether he can beat Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel, that's another story.

Up next, our video verdict. Stay tuned.


KURTZ: Time now for our video verdict. Mika Brzezinski was at the White House this week to moderate a roundtable that included Obama aide Valerie Jarrett on the president's Equal Pay Act, a proposal the MSNBC anchor has enthusiastically embraced.


MIKA BRZEZINSKI, MSNBC: How do women speak out? How do they say something? I could say something. It was easy.


BRZEZINSKI: My co-host is behind me. My boss is progressive. I can get in their face. I have a powerful job.

JARRETT: This is the concern that the president has, is that there are so many women who are afraid of retaliation, who cannot afford to lose a job.

BRZEZINSKI: What transparency does in my opinion, and everybody knows where I stand on this, but what it does is it keeps people from being in Amanda's situation or Lily's situation, where they probably had some misgivings about coming forward.


KURTZ: I like Mika, but for her to moderate an event set up by the White House, ask no skeptical questions and make a big pitch for this equal pay bill kind of makes it look like part of the administration's propaganda machine.

ASHBURN: Do you think she's not a liberal? She's a liberal and she says that she's a liberal, therefore it is expected.

I would have liked to see a contrarian point of view. An AEI study had come out that said that 88 percent of the women -- women were paid at 88 percent of men staffers, that wasn't addressed in this interview. That would have been nice, but we know her politics.

KURTZ: It's about appearances. If Sean Hannity had gone to the Bush White House and moderated a roundtable of Karl Rove, he would have been barbecued, but because there was a fair debate with Joe Scarborough, I'll give it a 3.


KURTZ: 6, okay. All right.

ASHBURN: Let's go on to the next on. Talk about in your face, in a video obtained by the New Yorker's Ryan Lizza, Joy Behar, the former "View" panelist and HLN host is performing at a roast for a former New Jersey governor, and, boy, does she let Chris Christie have it.


JOY BEHAR, COMEDIAN: -- blocking off three lanes on the bridge. I said, what the hell is he doing standing in the middle of the bridge? Why doesn't he get up here at the microphone if he's being such a coward.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, R-N.J.: Because I don't get paid for this.


BEHAR: Let me put it to you this way in a way that you can appreciate. You're toast, okay?


ASHBURN: Well, I don't know. I think she was a little bit over the top there, but the grainy footage actually made it seem like it was this nefarious plot to embarrass Chris Christie.

KURTZ: This secret event.

Joy Behar is a liberal comedian, everybody knows that. But Christie wasn't even the one being roasted. It seemed like it had a touch of meanness. Fat jokes about blocking the bridge?

ASHBURN: I agree. I give it a 3.

KURTZ: My verdict, 3. We actually agree.

ASHBURN: Oh my gosh, that never happens.

Still to come, your best tweets, and the tiny news organization that broke the story of a congressman caught on tape kissing a staff member.


KURTZ: A few of your top tweets. On my interview with Sharyl Attkisson, Carol F, excellent segment. Maybe we'll get back to professional, honest journalism. Brave woman. Stephen Colbert headed to CBS. Merilyn (ph) says, Colbert taking a job is a classic who cares. It is merely a trade of one liberal for another. Bud McLaughlin, Colbert is a young, smart-alecky Letterman, much like the early Dave. Pamela Jones on the Kathleen Sebelius resignation. The male MSM class did a hatchet job on Sebelius and seemed to be unaware of the difference between past mistake and successful outcome. The male?

ASHBURN: Can't agree. Tired of that argument. And I really think she deserved the coverage that she got. It would have been the same if it were a man.

KURTZ: Gender not a factor? Here is a tip of the hat for a tiny newspaper -- how do you pronounce this?

ASHBURN: Ouachita.

KURTZ: Ouachita Citizen of West Monro (ph), Louisiana that broke a pretty big story this week. You've undoubtedly seen the grainy security video obtained by the paper of Congressman Vance McAllister, a family values Republican with five kids, kissing a woman on his staff. She's resigned, McAllister hasn't.

ASHBURN: I talked to Sam Hanna Jr. (ph), who is the publisher. This brings up an interesting point about small newspaper. He said even the smallest of weekly newspapers can make a difference, and he owns three of them, another one was a finalist for a Pulitzer.

KURTZ: And did he tell you how he got the scoop?

ASHBURN: It was dropped in his inbox.

KURTZ: Interesting. Now we're going to show you this picture. It is kind of gross, I have to warn you. The conservative website is promoting its new West Coast edition with posters featuring a photoshopped version of Nancy Pelosi, scantily clad, twerking in a Miley Cyrus pose. Now that is pretty low.

ASHBURN: And it's hypocritical. Can you imagine if that were Sarah Palin, how crazy Breitbart news would have gone or any other conservative outlet? We need to stop putting women in this light.

KURTZ: And I think the people on the right and the left should denounce this kind of ugliness, as we just did.

ASHBURN: Agreed.

KURTZ: That's it for this edition of Media Buzz. I'm Howard Kurtz. Give us a like on our Facebook page. We post a lot of video there. We have a conversation with you. Check out our home page and follow us on Twitter. We are back here next Sunday morning at 11:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Eastern with the latest buzz.

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