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Reliable Sources

New York Media Goes Nuts for Subway Series; Are the Pundits Picking the Real Winners in the Presidential Debates?

Aired October 21, 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: The last debate: Has the press lost sight of the issues? Or is it all horse race all the time?

And a tabloid town gets a Subway Series. Are the New York media going insane?

Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES, where we turn a critical lens on the media.

I'm Howard Kurtz along with Bernard Kalb.

We begin with debate number three and the pundits looking for a winner.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): The candidates roamed the stage, fielded questions from the audience and provided plenty of fodder for the talking heads.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: If you want somebody who's authoritative on the issues, Gore did a much better job tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have a feeling Mr. Bush made some distance towards closing the deal this evening.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just think, God, you saw Al Gore tonight. Do you want that in your living room for four years?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL PRESS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Bush sometimes looked like he was taking Sominex.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TUCKER CARLSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Gore as himself is pretty unattractive. And I think that's what Americans saw.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: But does any of this chatter have an impact?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARA LIAISSON, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Even when people who comment on these debates right away like us give the debate on points to Gore, it doesn't seem to help him. The question is, is this going to change the race at all?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: After the first debate, some pundits and polls declared Gore the winner. So what happened over the next few days? Just the opposite. Gore lost ground.

So this week, some members of the chattering class were holding back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think we have to wait and see what the next couple of days bring and how people are reacting.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: And some politicians were flat-out saying that the commentary isn't important.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Forget the journalists.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: Joining us now, Paul Begala, former counsel to President Clinton, the co-host of MSNBC's "Equal Time," and the author of the new book "Is Our Children Learning: The Case Against George W. Bush," and in New York, Rich Lowry, the editor of "National Review."

Paul Begala, you helped Al Gore prepare for the debates. In fact, you played your fellow Texan George W. So let's stipulate, cut through the spin here, you think your guy is the greatest debater since Lincoln. My question is...

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Sure. Steven Douglas is not bad either. But he's right up there with them both.

KURTZ: Did the press care about the issues that Gore raised against Bush, principally Social Security and taxes? Or was it mostly that he was aggressive? He roamed the stage, he invaded Bush's space.

BEGALA: Yeah, it was all theatre criticism. And I think that's lamentable.

A lot of these reporters are terribly smart people. And they actually understand the complexities of Social Security or Medicare or prescription drugs far better than Governor Bush does.

I don't know if it's a problem of time or space or following the herd, but that's we got was this incessant, constant theatre criticism. Now on theatre, I still think Gore did better. I would rather have a president more commanding than somnolent.

But I want substance. And there ought to be referees in this.

In the second debate, the governor of Texas three different times said, for example, "My state spends $4.5 trillion on health care for the poor." Well, it turns out most of that is spent by charity, not the state. And the "New York Times" called him on it, but not the Stockholm Syndrome gang.

BERNARD KALB, CO-HOST: Howie, how long are you going to let him go on with this commercial?

KURTZ: All right, we'll stop it right there because I want to bring in Rich Lowry.

And, Rich Lowry, you were out in this enough to write that the candidate who you prefer, George Bush, did not have a great night in the third debate in St. Louis. But the same question to you. The press reaction, the press handling, the press handicapping, enough attention paid to issues like affirmative action and other issues that the governor had to tackle?

RICH LOWRY, EDITOR, "NATIONAL REVIEW": No, and this is a big frustration for me is that the press is interpreting this race entirely as a matter of personality, which I think is really wrong. The dominant media clich

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