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McCain is Still a Media Magnet; Joe Klein Talks About New Book; Did Press Invade Mayor Giuliani's Private Life?Aired May 13, 2000 - 6:30 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HOWARD KURTZ, CO-HOST: Giuliani's marital meltdown. Did the New York tabloids invade the mayor's private life, or simply report his all-too-public philandering?
Is the press still obsessed with John McCain?
And Joe Klein and the sequel to "Primary Colors."
Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES, where we turn a critical lens on the media. I'm Howard Kurtz along with Bernard Kalb.
KURTZ (voice-over): Everyone's been talking about Rudy. The New York press can't seem to talk about anything else. And the mayor is getting a little testy.
MAYOR RUDOLPH GIULIANI (R), NEW YORK CITY: Get lost. That's a -- that's -- that's a -- that's a -- that's a sneaky way of trying to invade somebody's personal life.
GIULIANI: Come on. Don't you guys have the slightest bit of decency?
GIULIANI: Do you know -- do you -- Shhhhhhh! Do you -- do you -- do you realize that you embarrass yourself doing this?
KURTZ: Rudy Giuliani and reporters doing battle after more than a week of headlines about his "very good friend," Judith Nathan, and the mayor's admission that his troubled marriage is headed for a formal separation.
GIULIANI: This is very, very painful.
DONNA HANOVER, WIFE OF RUDY GIULIANI: I had hoped to keep this marriage together.
KURTZ: Giuliani's wife, Donna Hanover, weighed in with the charge that their troubles began when her husband became intimate with a woman on his payroll.
HANOVER: It was difficult to participate in Rudy's public life because of his relationship with one staff member.
KURTZ: And that really kicked the media machine into high gear. The story that started with a blurry picture in "The New York Post" escalated into a tabloid frenzy, page after page after page, about the other woman and the other other woman, former press secretary Christine Latagano (ph). Both she and the mayor have denied any personal relationship.
All this comes on the heels of the mayor's announcement that he has prostate cancer and has boosted speculation about whether Giuliani will drop his bid for the Senate seat in New York currently being sought by Hillary Rodham Clinton, who, of course, lived through her own publicity nightmare about her husband's infidelity.
Inevitably, some wondered whether the media have stepped over the line.
BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS CHANNEL: Am I doing the right thing? Am I sensationalizing this marriage problem of a high-profile man? Should I not be playing this story so prominently?
KURTZ: So have the media delved too deeply into the private lives of public officials once again? Or did Mayor Giuliani all but invite the press coverage by going out in public with his "very good friend," Judith Nathan?
Joining us here in Washington, Joe Klein, Washington correspondent for "The New Yorker" and the author of a new novel, "The Running Mate," which we'll talk about later in the program. Also with us, Marie Cocco, columnist for "Newsday." And in New York, Walter Shapiro, political columnist for "USA Today."
Joe Klein, Donna going home to mom. Not even you, I don't think, could write a novel like this. But before this -- Maybe you could. Before this exploded, the mayor -- if the mayor is having brunch with a woman not his wife against a backdrop of a marriage where they clearly were leading separate lives, is that in and of itself a story? If you saw there -- if you saw it, if you took a picture of it, would you go with it?
JOE KLEIN, "THE NEW YORKER": No.
KURTZ: Why not?
KLEIN: Because it's his private life. I think that the answer to the two questions that you asked at the top is yes. He kind of invited it. You know, he marched with her in the St. Patrick's Day parade, he described as a very close friend instead of saying, None of your business. And the answer to the other question is yes, we're going berserk, as always, making fools of ourselves. He's right when he says, you know, Don't you realize how this looks? The reason why, you know, the press is held in such low esteem by the public -- rightfully so, I believe -- is that when these sorts of stories happen, these public soap operas, we go completely berserk. We can't control ourselves because there's a critical mass of cameras. And normally wonderful people, many -- most of whom are friends of mine, become snarling -- you know, a snarling mass.
And, you know, I think it's a story. The public is really interested in it. The question is, as always, whether we take it too far.
KURTZ: But Marie Cocco, for about a year the tabloids, the famously feisty and aggressive New York tabloids, were not chasing very hard into Rudy Giuliani's marriage...
MARIE COCCO, "NEWSDAY": In fact -- in fact, the New York press was totally out of character until now.
COCCO: Because they were leaving them alone. This couple had a -- what has been variously described as a sham marriage, there was clearly a distance, clearly some kind of breakdown in this marriage. And for the most...
KURTZ: But the tabloids don't leave anybody alone.
COCCO: ... part -- and for the most part, they were left alone, until the mayor began taking his -- we now know, girlfriend to quasi- official events like the St. Patrick's Day parade. He even took her to the Inner Circle dinner, which is the annual roast where the politicians and the press all get together.
He was outing himself.
KURTZ: So it's the mayor's fault, not the press's fault.
COCCO: He outed himself. And then it was followed by this extraordinary dueling press conferences. I mean, what is a mere reporter, a mere scribe supposed to do when the wife comes out at a microphone and makes these accusations?
BERNARD KALB, CO-HOST: I was listening a minute or two ago, listening to you go through a luxurious self-flagellation about the media. It is astonishing, because while you're talking about the media going berserk and so forth, the media is writing the story.
The question I want to put to Walter is the following. A poll shows that 77 percent of the New Yorkers do not give a hoot about the mayor's new girlfriend. So who are the tabloids writing for?
WALTER SHAPIRO, "USA TODAY": Well, well, it's one thing to say that the tabloids are writing for readers who are curious. On the other hand, they're also writing for voters who are curious about the mayor's sex life. Who couldn't be curious about this great drama? But that doesn't necessarily make it a voting issue. And I think it's really interesting that here you have a situation where the facts are being laid out for the voters, and they are making a reasonable choice. At the other hand, there is something surreal, like -- things like Friday's -- morning's "Daily News," where these were the two headlines on page one, "Donna's Dad, `We're shocked,'" was the big print. And above the logo was, "Meet the New Archbishop."
KALB: Walter, you're making a distinction between the press offering the political story as well as the personal story. But there's an acute melding here. You cannot distinguish or separate the two.
SHAPIRO: But at the same point, it is really -- number one, I think, if Bill Clinton showed up at the White House correspondents' dinner with Monica Lewinsky in 1997, even James Carville wouldn't have attacked the press for reporting it. And that is in essence what Rudy did at the Inner Circle dinner.
KURTZ: Joe, you're sort of the voice of restraint here. Let me turn it around and say, well, was "The New York Times" too decorous in its coverage of this? Not until the separation or the seeking of the separation was announced did this story make the front page of "The Times." And what happens is, these stories snowball, as you know, because you've been through many New York frenzies, until even a newspaper that doesn't intend much to focus on private lives has no choice but to cover it as a big extravaganza.
KLEIN: Well, I think "The New York Times" has been absolutely right on this one. I think it was nobody's business until it became -- until Rudy brought it out into the public. There...
KALB: But that's (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the way it happens...
KLEIN: ... there -- there's -- there -- there -- there were to happens to this that I -- there are two play -- I mean, the public loves these stories, the public loved Lewinsky for two or three days, and then we had to stretch it into a whole year, because we had to rationalize it as some kind of a legal or constitutional crisis...
KALB: Do you really believe that, what he's saying?
KLEIN: Oh, yes.
KALB: But the public was not interested in the Monica Lewinsky story?
KLEIN: Oh, I think that they were fascinated by it for two or three days. And then they were fascinated again when Starr...
KALB: The ratings fight you.
KLEIN: ... Starr published -- Starr published his pornography. We're talking about ratings in -- of a microsegment of the massive public. We're talking about ratings of all-news cable networks. I'm sorry, guys, but that's the way it is. But, you know, I think that -- I -- I think that there are two places that we go in these stories that -- where we shouldn't go. Number one is speculation on the nature of a marriage. We can't know what Rudy and Donna's marriage is about and what their -- and what, you know, their kids are about, and...
KURTZ: But we can know if they're separating, and how can that not be the story?
KLEIN: That -- that -- and that -- and that -- and...
KURTZ: She's the first lady of the city.
KLEIN: ... that's absolutely a story. But when we start saying it's a sham marriage, as some people would sometimes say, and the restraint that Marie was talking about, I thought was incredibly admirable. That's one place we shouldn't go.
The other place that we go inevitably and make fools of ourselves is when we speculate about the effect it's going to have on the race, you know, things like Rudy's cancer. The guy has cancer, for God's sakes. I don't think he knows how it's going to...
COCCO: Well, well, let me just jump in there, because there are many people in New York who have felt for a long time that the mayor's most serious vulnerability as a candidate, as a public official, is his tendency to kind of self-destruct, to get into these unseemly disputes with the families of people who have been shot by cops, to kind of pop off and self-destruct in ways that are just very obvious to political observers.
I think a lot of people in New York were just kind of watching to see what would push him to the point of almost complete disintegration. So you could argue that when we saw this start happening, this was it, this was the Big Kahuna, this is even bigger than a police shooting.
KURTZ: You could also argue that for the New York press to push this story and essentially force the mayor to talk about his private life, days after he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, would seem a bit cruel and ghoulish to a lot of people.
KURTZ: Let we come back, briefly, to Walter. The level of frenzy that we're at now, where tabloid reporters are going to Judith Nathan's home town in Pennsylvania, interviewing her 93-year-old aunt and that sort of thing, speculating on the effect on Donna Hanover's career, does that strike you as, even by the normal standards of wretched excess, a bit much?
SHAPIRO: Having so -- on the fifth day of the story, I have such low expectations for the New York tabloids, "Newsday" excepted, I still find it's moderately restrained. I mean, this is New York's version of the Bronco chase in the O.J. Simpson case. KURTZ: When we come back, we'll turn our attentions to the presidential race and the media's ongoing fascination with John McCain.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I endorse, I endorse Governor Bush. I endorse Governor Bush. I endorse Governor Bush. I endorse Governor Bush. I endorse Governor Bush. I endorse Governor Bush.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: By the way, I enthusiastically accept.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Walter Shapiro, in recent weeks we've seen John McCain in South Carolina denouncing the Confederate flag. We've seen him in Vietnam, a trip paid for by NBC. We've seen him with George Bush in Pittsburgh, as we just saw in that clip.
He's got a pretty good press encourage. Why is a losing presidential candidate getting so much coverage?
SHAPIRO: Well, first of all, as somebody who was sick puppy enough to be in Pittsburgh for the joint press conference, part of it is that he's just a much more intriguing figure, whether he -- whether or not he has power, than either Al Gore or George W. Bush. I mean, the fact is, even if McCain had not run for president, the fact is that the Vietnam trip, he would have dominated the airwaves.
SHAPIRO: And not all senators have equal press coverage. If Hillary Clinton is the senator from New York, will she get more or less press coverage than Sue Bailey Hutchison, a more senior woman senator from a larger state, Texas?
KURTZ: Kay Bailey Hutchison. Joe, Walter seems...
SHAPIRO: Key Bailey.
KURTZ: ... Walter seems to say that McCain lost the race but won the charisma sweepstakes. But I'm still wondering...
KLEIN: That isn't hard.
KURTZ: Yes. But I'm still wondering if there's a bit of a pretend campaign going on here. The reporters like covering McCain, he's very colorful, so they try to keep in the news.
KLEIN: I don't know, I think that the -- McCain's doing himself a disservice at this point. You know, there's a -- it's beginning to seem a kind of addiction. And I thought that he sort of made a fool of himself at the endorsement by saying, "I endorse him" six different times in a kind of singsongy way.
He did something really terrific this year that changes the relationship between the press and the candidates. He gave us tremendous access. I think that it opens an important debate for another time, which is, what do we give them in return when they give us that kind of access?
And I think he probably should leave it at that for now. Enough already.
KALB: Marie, what are the consequences for George Bush with so much media attention still focused on John McCain?
COCCO: I -- so far, very little, to be honest with you. And Governor Bush...
COCCO: ... has used the period from the end of the primaries until the present time to really start a very strong effort for the fall. The polls are all showing him ahead of Vice President Gore. He seems to be building, sometimes quietly, sometimes less quietly a very clear public image, at least for the moment.
I don't think it hurts him at all. But someone used the term, I think Howie, "shadow campaign."
KURTZ: I said "pretend campaign."
COCCO: It's not a pretend campaign, it's the real McCain campaign for 2004. There's nothing pretend about it at all. This is a man who really liked the first taste of this fruit...
KALB: But I -- Marie, I was thinking...
COCCO: ... and is planning to eat more.
KALB: I was thinking that the press doing constant journalistic comparisons between Bush and McCain, it seems to me inevitably that has to be to the detriment of Bush, because...
COCCO: I think it's to the detriment of both the candidates. I think Gore suffers from it as well. Neither one of the two gentlemen who actually wrapped up the nominations have got the charisma, the personality, or, frankly, the ability to manipulate the press that John McCain has.
KURTZ: Let the record show that Marie Cocco started the 2004 campaign right here on this show.
Marie Cocco, Walter Shapiro in New York, thanks very much for joining us.
When we come back, we'll talk to Joe Klein about his new novel, "The Running Mate."
KURTZ: Welcome back.
Joe Klein, author of the best seller "Primary Colors," you have a new novel out called "The Running Mate." And in fact, the novel echoes some of the things we've been talking here about, presidential candidate and senator Charlie Martin likes the media, savvy about the media, allegations about sexual misconduct.
And in fact, early in the book, there is a false allegation against the senator, and the press goes nuts, and nobody even stops to consider the fact that it might be false. Nobody cares whether it's false or not. I wonder if that reflects your view of press behavior?
KLEIN: I think it does. I think that we lose our heads very easily. I mean, you know, "The Running Mate"'s kind of a combination of your first two stories. Charlie Martin's a Vietnam war hero who's a United States senator who -- and what I decided to do is take an honorable politician and throw the entire current atmosphere in his face.
The stupid sex scandal, the confirmation hearing of a friend that disintegrates into awfulness, a reelection campaign against a candidate who is more of an entertainer than a politician. And then, you know, to really hone in, I gave him a girlfriend who is a bathing suit designer in New York who is appalled by politics, and that's -- she's kind of our eyes on this. She enables us to see how inhuman the public environment has become for people...
I mean, this is a conversation I have with politicians all the time, off the record, which is, how impossible it is...
KURTZ: How do you cope with it?
KLEIN: ... how impossible it is...
KURTZ: How do you stand it?
KLEIN: ... I mean, you have to spend all your time begging for money. Your kids find out crazy things that you did 25 years ago. Your wife has to be exposed to this stuff even when you're in the middle of a terrible marital crisis, just think of what...
KALB: Got to take a question or two, Joe.
KALB: It seems to me that you threw all the obvious furniture into this novel. Let me ask you this question, as a journalist and as having written Anonymous as well -- (UNINTELLIGIBLE) "Primary Colors," what is easier to -- how is it easier to convey reality, by fiction or nonfiction?
KLEIN: Well, it's easier to write about the intricate -- the intric...
KALB: I mean to convey reality. Forget the ease.
KLEIN: Well, there are two different kinds -- there are two kinds of reality. It's much easier to convey the intricacies of health insurance through journalism. But it's -- but what you do in novels is what you can't do -- I mean, we have these ser -- these sequential soap operas where we learn everything there is to know about Rudy and Donna and so on, without knowing how they feel.
And what a novelist does is to explore the emotional terrain, the emotional environment and the emotional texture of what it's like to be in politics and try to be a human being in this -- in these -- this -- this -- this era. You can't do that in journalism without overstepping the bounds, I think.
KURTZ: Let me come back to the portrayal of the press. It's no secret that you felt beat up by journalists, including me, during the controversy about Anonymous and "Primary Colors" when you were not owning up to being Anonymous. Did that change your view and the way you write about the press in terms of being on the other side of the spotlight?
KLEIN: I think I was much tougher on the press in "Primary Colors." You know, through a long career, I have always taken the side of the quarry rather than the pack when these scandals come up, because I think the phenomenon of the scandals are more damaging to our democracy than the individual charges.
I like politicians who are -- who do -- who have weird pets and weird hobbies and have sexual problems. But...
KURTZ: But you also like reporters, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) not bad people...
KLEIN: ... but -- and then I -- and I...
KURTZ: ... and yet you see them as caught up in these larger forces?
KLEIN: I -- absolutely, it's a really -- it's a -- I'll tell you what I learned when I was on the other side. I learned how easy it is to do some -- to do and say and be stupid. I made a fool of myself in that press conference...
KALB: On the one where you went public after you...
KLEIN: Yes, yes, and I...
KALB: ... after deceiving...
KLEIN: ... made them -- and I made a fool of myself before the press conference, because I was freaked. And I think that it's -- that we in the press should understand just how difficult it is to be on the other side of those cameras, how easy it is to make mistakes, to say stupid things.
When I had those cameras pointed at me, I found that my mouth was saying things that my brain wasn't quite complicit in. I found myself referring to myself in the third person, Joe Klein...
KALB: That's right, you did, that's right.
KLEIN: ... did this. I mean...
KALB: Well, Joe, when you look...
KALB: ... back, did you pay any price for deceiving us all that you were Anonymous?
KLEIN: Long-term, no. I -- in fact, I (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...
KALB: Well, what does it tell us about society? If you could go around denying, deceiving, et cetera, on a best seller that you wrote, "Primary Colors," what does it tell us about this culture? Everything is forgiven?
KLEIN: No, I think it's...
KALB: Deception, lies?
KLEIN: I think that it speaks for the sanity of the American people, as -- as does...
KLEIN: ... as -- as does Bill Clinton's ratings. I think that there are things that are important. If I had deceived and lied on a matter of fact, on a matter of journalistic, you know, un -- on a matter of journalistic import, like for example whether or not we had killed people or bombed or -- Then I should be drummed out of the business.
But what I was doing was pursuing the world's oldest literary scam, which is anonymity. I mean, I had a few precedents in that area, including Benjamin Disraeli, Henry Adams, and many others.
KURTZ: Well, we'll have to end the inquisition here for Joe Klein, "The Running Mate." Good luck with the book. Thanks very much for joining us.
When we return, Bernie's "Back Page."
KURTZ: Time now for the "Back Page" -- Bernie.
KALB: Howie, I'd like to make a point, a point, a point, a point, a point, a point. Now, did I actually say that six times in a row? Well, it's a little something I picked up the other day from you-know-whom. You heard it earlier in the show. Let's take another look.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) MCCAIN: I endorse, I endorse Governor Bush. I endorse Governor Bush. I endorse Governor Bush. I endorse Governor Bush. I endorse Governor Bush. I endorse Governor Bush.
BUSH: By the way, I enthusiastically accept.
KALB (voice-over): Six "endorse"s in a row, almost as though the guy was on automatic pilot.
BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS NEWS: Today, he made it official, and official, and official.
KALB: The media had a lot of fun with that six-pack endorsement. It also gave them 6 million possible interpretations of exactly what John McCain was actually saying, or meant to say, or wasn't saying. In short, a great day for psychiatric journalism.
Here, the pulling-teeth approach, "Bush Wrests Endorsement From McCain." Here, handled with an adverb, "McCain Endorses Bush -- Softly." Here, reduced to a cartoon. By contrast, the mighty "New York Times" wimped out.
"Endorsement," by the way, a word McCain used only after a reporter without a scrap of decency hit McCain with the e-word.
REPORTER: Senator, why do you have difficulty using the word "endorsement" (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Governor Bush?
MCCAIN: I endorse Governor Bush. I endorse, I endorse Governor Bush. I endorse Governor...
KALB: Was this an audition for "The Marriage of Figaro," a comedy routine for "Saturday Night Live"? Or was he simply being a politician? Is this a great country, or what?
TV also got into the psychiatric business.
TOM OLIPHANT, "THE BOSTON GLOBE": Half-hearted, though I'm not even sure it was that. I'd call it maybe one ventricle.
UNIDENTIFIED CNN CORRESPONDENT: From the body language, though clear these two men do not have much of a personal chemistry...
KALB: And the story is not yet over. There's a big philosophical problem that still has to be addressed. Why exactly six times? Why not seven, or eight, or 18? And this question, with all that heavy coverage, will we all now begin talking and sixes?
Don't laugh. There's enough here to keep the pundits going right through to election day, election day, election day...
But enough of that.
KURTZ: Bernard Kalb, Bernard Kalb, thanks. 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.
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