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Reliable Sources

American Media Tries to Keep up With Endless Election; American Public Looks for Political Patience; Was Election Day Coverage Anti- Bush?

Aired November 19, 2000 - 11:00 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: America held hostage, day 12. Is the press getting spun by both sides as the endless election drags on? We'll talk with three top political reporters.

Was the networks' election night coverage biased against George Bush? We'll ask Republican Congressman Chris Cox.

And is the country angry about all the political maneuvering? We'll hear from three radio talk show hosts, Jim Bohannon, Neal Boortz and Michael Jackson.

All ahead on a special one-hour edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.

Welcome to this special one-hour edition of RELIABLE SOURCES, where we turn a critical lens on the media.

I'm Howard Kurtz. Bernard Kalb is off today.

Well, a busy show ahead as the media scrambles to keep up with a complicated story that seems to change by the hour.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PETER JENNINGS, ABC ANCHOR: ... in some parts of the country.

KURTZ (voice-over): Another week, another whirlwind of special reports, breaking news, press conferences, live shots, up to the minute, round the clock, this just in coverage. In print, day after day, and on the airwaves, there was no escaping it.

TIM RUSSERT, NBC WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF: It's obvious there is not only a legal struggle going on, but there is a political chess game.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX CORRESPONDENT: They're even in court today talking about dimples.

TED KOPPEL, ABC ANCHOR: It's enough to make the nation's eyes glaze over.

KURTZ: And just like during O.J. and impeachment, the legal experts were out in full force. GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The court said look, we're taking charge. We're stepping in. No one asked us for this, but we're putting everything on hold while we decide this very important issue.

UNIDENTIFIED LEGAL CORRESPONDENT: The fact that these manual recounts are going forward, a mild legal victory for the Gore team.

KURTZ: The media mob in Florida, hungry for news, was fed by a constantly evolving cast of characters, from court spokesmen, to the Secretary of State, from local election boards to the vote counters. Meanwhile, the men who would be president played the game with dueling TV appearances. First Gore, then Bush, then Gore again, as their staffs continued to spin the press corps to their side of the story.

And with Friday's Florida Supreme Court ruling delaying any final announcement of the vote totals, the media drama has yet to run out of gas.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: And a new front opened yesterday as Republicans accused the Democrats of unfairly excluding some absentee ballots from overseas.

Well, joining us now from Tallahassee, Ron Brownstein, political correspondent for the "Los Angeles Times" and an analyst for CNN; here in Washington, Dana Milbank, political reporter for the "Washington Post"; and Susan Milligan, Washington correspondent for the "Boston Globe." Welcome.

I do have one other bit of breaking news from this morning's "Washington Post" page A23. "Republicans Accuse Two Democratic Counters of Each Eating A Chad." Will these people stop at nothing?

Ron Brownstein in Florida, the place there must just be crawling with reporters now. Just in terms of the atmospherics of this story, has this become just a total media circus?

RON BROWNSTEIN, "LOS ANGELES TIMES": Well, first of all, we're here in the aptly named Sunshine State, as you can see, and the big story in the media is why no one packed their scarves down here, since it's about 35 degrees.

Sure, I mean I think there are just a huge amount of reporters crawling all over the state watching a process that is, you know, sort of like a firehouse in some ways. I mean nothing happens for long periods of time and then you have sudden bursts of action in which the story scrambles and, you know, you've really got to be everywhere at once. I think it's taxing many media organizations because it is a story with so many different fronts and new fronts opening all the time Howie.

I think the implications of what we saw yesterday with the Republicans questioning the rejection of these absentee ballots and the Democrats going to court to try to invalidate some other absentee ballots in Seminole County is that both sides may be laying the groundwork to keep fighting even if the Florida Supreme Court rules against them on the issue that we all thought was going to decide this.

So we could all be here for a while. It's not clear how this ends.

KURTZ: OK, of course in 24 hour cable nobody likes to hear the phrase nothing happening for long periods of time. Dana Milbank, you're just back from Florida and despite the enormous high stakes of this story, is there something surreal about covering the Palm Beach canvassing board and looking at people holding dimpled ballots up to the light?

DANA MILBANK, "THE WASHINGTON POST": It's absolutely preposterous and it's even more preposterous to all the people of Florida watching this whole thing going on because as far as they're concerned the big issue has already been resolved. Last night Florida State beat Florida and that was the big issue in Tallahassee all week for everybody except for us. And they're pretty much wishing the whole thing would go away.

In fact, I brought back a little souvenir from my 10 days in Tallahassee that...

KURTZ: That says?

MILBANK: ... some of the locals in a coffee shop were putting it up, "Stop Electoral Dysfunction." And they've given the top 10 reasons why, including better ways you can elect a president including rock, scissors, paper.

KURTZ: Well, somebody's having a good time.

Susan Milligan, given the fast moving pace of the story, the photo-ops, the news conferences, the lawsuits, the appeals, the complaints, is it a hard story to cover and to keep up with?

SUSAN MILLIGAN, "THE BOSTON GLOBE": It's impossible to keep up with and last week we weren't even sure whether this was going to be the only end game that was going to decide the election. Last week it was unclear whether there would be a challenge of the votes in Wisconsin, in Iowa and even New Mexico, which was really enjoying the attention for a while. But it appears now that the sort of Plan B is out of the picture because the deadline has passed for challenging the count in Iowa.

It's very hard to keep up and with the different votes going on in the different counties, I'm not sure any one of us knows where this will end.

KURTZ: OK, Ron Brownstein, in terms of the P.R. war, which I would suggest may be as important, if not more, than the legal battle, what is it like, what kind of calls are you getting from the campaigns? What's it like to be in the middle of this maelstrom? BROWNSTEIN: Well, I mean both campaigns are, you know, trying to shape public opinion about this process. The Republicans clearly have escalated their efforts to portray the recount itself as illegitimate and fundamentally flawed. Democrats have, you know, tried to all the way through argue that it's not a rush to judgment. There's a lot of calls from both sides.

But I think in some ways that the big public relations battle, Howie, is much larger than the efforts to influence individual reporters. I mean if you look at what the Democrats are doing, what the Democratic goal has been, I think, has been to create sort of facts on the ground by having the count proceed before the final legal rulings come in. That creates an environment, if Gore can get enough votes in these counties to go ahead of Bush, even unofficially, even if it's not clear if those votes are going to be counted, that could obviously have a much more important impact on public opinion than any spin on the Sunday shows.

So I think the legal and public relations strategies are actually intertwined very intimately.

KURTZ: But Dana, when we strip away all of the high flown rhetoric with each side clearly trying to claim the moral high ground, the will of the people must be heard and that sort of thing, don't we really have two different campaigns that are just trying to tilt this process so that their guy comes out ahead?

MILBANK: Oh, absolutely, and they're all pretending it's not...

KURTZ: But you can't say that?

MILBANK: Yeah, they're pretending it's not a campaign. I mean you call up the Republicans and they say well, the office is closed, even though you know a hundred people are working there and I say well, what's the address? And well, I can't give out that information. But so the stealth campaign goes on.

But, sure, it's very much important and, you know, behind-the- scenes, the Gore folks are saying they'd better hurry up and count, you know? If they can, they're figuring if they just have enough days, what Ron was saying will come true, they will, you know, if it goes on long enough they will, ultimately, have more votes. They're sure of that. So, that, it's all...

KURTZ: They're sure of that. Of course, we don't know for sure.

MILBANK: Well, they, you know, they're doing regression analysis now and it shows and it, you know, obviously if it's more, it's going to come more out of the Democratic counties where they've had these problems. But they're quite confident that the longer it goes on the more votes will come in that way.

So it's all P.R. now. It's all a matter of, you know, if it doesn't get short-circuited and the longer it goes on, it looks much better for Gore.

KURTZ: Susan, what do you...

BROWNSTEIN: Howie, can I jump in?

KURTZ: Jump in, Ron.

BROWNSTEIN: Sorry, yeah, two, just two quick points. One is that I think they're less certain and less confident that they will actually have enough votes after the absentees pushed Bush up further than anybody on either side thought. But also, it is not just the P.R. battle, I think. I think they also feel that the legal battle in front of the court will be effective.

The court is sort of waiting, the Florida Supreme Court, to have some sense of whether this count is going to matter before it takes the step of overruling the Secretary of State.

So again, I think like the legal and public relations battles, in intriguing ways, sort of merge here on many fronts and it is almost like one war with two different fronts.

KURTZ: OK, it seems like a lot of wars to me.

Susan Milligan?

MILLIGAN: Yes?

KURTZ: Does it seem to you that television is playing a role here in kind of over dramatizing this? I mean clearly it's a really important story, but there's no constitutional crisis and most people, at least for now, seem willing to be somewhat patient and to let this go forward. But, of course, on 24 hour TV you've got the theme music and you've got the constant breaking news logos. What do you think?

MILLIGAN: It's not breaking news anymore, is it? But it is a terrific story. But I don't think that people see this as a crisis. I don't think people are hysterical over it. We do have a president until January 20th. We're not in some kind of situation where there's an army coup going on. I mean this isn't Milosevic to Kostunica. This is Bill Clinton to either Al Gore or George Bush and it's not a crisis at all.

KURTZ: But journalists, perhaps, want a crisis or enjoy a crisis or thrive on a crisis.

MILLIGAN: It's not that it's a crisis. It's just a really good story because it's not, it's not, it's testing our constitution. We're learning about our constitution and there are some questions about how much of it we're going to have to use, whether the House would end up choosing the president and where that goes. It's been a tremendous civics lesson. But...

KURTZ: OK. I think it's testing not just the constitution but the media, as well, in this 24 hour environment. And when we come back, we'll talk about some of the partisan charges flying back and forth, not just on the political front, but in the press.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED CITIZEN: I think the media is doing a very thorough job, to say the least.

UNIDENTIFIED CITIZEN: I think the coverage is pretty much over done.

UNIDENTIFIED CITIZEN: I think it's very entertaining. I'm still confused why they're still calling it breaking news. It seems like it's like a series by now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. As we look at the news magazine coverage today, "Newsweek" portraying Gore and Bush as a pair of battered boxes and "Time" magazine with the headline "Unprecedented."

Dana Milbank, some of the coverage has gotten pretty rough. You have Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, a Republican and Co- Chairman of the Bush campaign, really being savaged. The "New York Daily News" had a gossip item about how she used to be a nightclub act where she did something called the chicken dance. And you also have the Florida Supreme Court being portrayed as all Democratic, which it is.

How much of this focus on the partisan portfolios of the players is fair or out of bounds, in your view?

MILBANK: Well, I certainly think it's fair on both sides to be doing this sort of thing. It has a regrettable result, though, and that is that no matter who comes out of this, it's going to be a sullied result and half the country is going to think the guy stole the election and it's, you know, and that plus a divided Congress is just going to be a nightmare.

But, you know, how can you say you shouldn't be looking into the who Katherine Harris is if she's at the top and may be deciding this structure? And why shouldn't you look at the Florida, the heavily Democratic Florida Supreme Court for the same reason? Why shouldn't you look at Bob Butterworth, who is the state's attorney general and was Gore's campaign chairman?

KURTZ: And Susan Milligan, some of the punditry has been, you know, conservatives using words like coup d'etat as applied to Al Gore, liberals accusing Bush of trying to steal the election. I mean some of this rhetoric has gotten really overheated, kind of like the politicians. Does that suggest to you that the media are kind of fanning the flames here?

MILLIGAN: No. I don't think so. I just think that this is so close. I think that, I'm convinced that each man personally believes he has won and I can't really begrudge them going through this process. I just think that the, you know, this was a very heated election and it's very close and people are convinced their candidate won and they're just, you know, blaming politics for it. I don't think the media is fanning the flames of it at all. This wasn't media generated.

KURTZ: OK, Ron Brownstein, I would suggest that some of this is media generated in the sense that, you know, people are interested, this is a fascinating story. But you really do have some pretty shrill rhetoric from some of the opinion journalists here and I wonder if you think we are guilty, as we often are, of kind of pumping this thing up?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, you know, Howie, we've had a decade of politics as war, really, since the Jim Wright era in the House, the Newt Gingrich rise through ethical allegations against the Democratic majority and then a series of back and forth attacks. You know, Clarence Thomas, impeachment, each side basically seeing charges of ethical scandal as sort of a tactical weapon in politics.

So it's not surprising to me to get an -- I think this is the perfect bookend to an election that began with impeachment. And we have a country that is at peace, prosperous and utterly polarized politically. That's why, as Susan said, why we are in this situation is because we have a country that is basically divided in half between the two coalitions at this side, a state that is a microcosm of the country in that it's divided in half and you have these partisans on each side who view this as holy war and a big chunk of voters in the middle for whom, you know, the question is do they buy the 25 or the 27 inch at the mall because the economy is so good.

And so it's just sort of, I just find it a very odd kind of time in America and yet it seems to be, to me, a perfectly fitting ending to this election and one for which it is really hard to see right now what is the way out.

KURTZ: Right, and let me -- go ahead, Dana.

MILBANK: You know, one of the Gore people said to me down in Florida, you know, this is like Monica all over again except this time it really matters. And I think Ron is absolutely right. And you can almost see that Katherine Harris being made into a Ken Starr character and it's the, you know, it's the same sides lining up. You know, she's getting flowers from the conservatives down there and the liberals are very mixed about it.

KURTZ: Yeah, but we're ultimately talking about the recounting of ballots. There's no blue dress. I mean we are lacking some of the more scandalous elements.

MILLIGAN: I do think, though, that these two candidates, these two campaigns, and they are still very much campaigns, are so focused on winning that they haven't stopped to think about what they're really wining. I can't imagine having to come in as president under these circumstances.

KURTZ: Well, again, to talk about the media's role in this, are the media, for example, and we were just, we're short on time here, the punditry about whoever wins this is going to be tarnished, is going to be illegitimate, is not going to be able to govern, maybe that's a little premature because, after all, once the winner is declared, there is a general rallying around by the country. So do you think the media are again maybe being a little more divisive here than necessary?

MILLIGAN: I think that the partisan talk is generated by the campaigns, not by the media. I think the media is reporting...

KURTZ: You're letting us off the hook.

MILLIGAN: I'm not letting us off the hook but you can't ignore...

KURTZ: There's a million shows where people yell at each other about who's stealing the election.

MILLIGAN: Yeah, and most people don't take their cue from that. I mean this is coming from the campaigns, the questions about Katherine Harris's legitimacy to consider the situation or the member of the Palm Beach elections board that the Republicans are questioning. That's coming from the people in Florida and that's coming from the campaigns. It's not originating with us.

KURTZ: OK, but we do, of course, serve as a conduit.

Susan Milligan, Dana Milbank, Ron Brownstein in Florida, thanks very much for joining us.

When we come back, new charges about the big mistakes in the TV coverage on election night and why some members of Congress think the networks may be biased. We'll talk with Republican Representative Chris Cox, who has some strong feelings about the media, next.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. CHRISTOPHER COX (R), CALIFORNIA: We all understand that our rights to speak about public affairs, nearly unlimited as they are, come with responsibilities and sometimes consequences. The responsibility is to repair the damage that you've caused and to make sure that it doesn't happen again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. BILLY TAUZIN (R), LOUISIANA: Our purpose is to find out what went wrong and if it was biased, then cover it. If it was intentional, to call it like we see it. If it was not intentional, to find out what went wrong and fix it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Republican Congressman Billy Tauzin talking this week about the TV networks' election night coverage. Congress plans to hold hearings on just what went wrong.

Republican Congressman Chris Cox is a member of the Telecommunications Subcommittee that plans to hold those hearings. Congressman Cox, welcome.

COX: Happy to join you.

KURTZ: Let's leave aside for just a second the partisan question. Now, I'm not a big fan of these early election night poll projections by the networks, but this argument has been around for a long time. How do we know that those projections depress turnout?

COX: Well, we know because there have been plenty of people who have looked at this in the past, including the United States Congress, but also academics, pollsters and journalists. In 1980, the networks called the election early for Ronald Reagan and we had a lot of complaints about that.

KURTZ: Of course, Jimmy Carter conceded at about 9:50 Eastern.

COX: He conceded after the networks called it by, if I recall correctly, an hour and a quarter or an hour and a half, and I remember Pat Caddell saying that that was precipitated by the network calls. A lot of Democrats complained about that. The Mayor of San Francisco at the time, Dianne Feinstein, complained that it probably depressed turnout in California to the extent that it affected races that were decided by a few hundred votes there.

KURTZ: Oh, people don't come out nevertheless to vote for senate, for governor, for local ballot initiatives, even if they think the presidential race has been decided?

COX: Well, some people do and some people don't. But, of course, in close races, these are decided at the margin. If in a particular case the principle motivation was to vote for the top of the ticket, then if that person might also have voted for a Democrat further down the ticket, you lose the vote.

The same thing, the same kind of complaint came from the Democratic Secretary of State, Marge Fongu (ph). Mervin Field (ph), the well known pollster in California, found that about 15 percent of people who were told Ronald Reagan had won the race didn't turn out to vote and that there was a disproportionate depression of Democrat turnout by four percent.

KURTZ: Right. If you are the all powerful election czar and you can make this decision, would you bar the networks from using exit polls and making projections before all the polls in the country, including on the west coast, had closed?

COX: It depends on whether I'm the all powerful czar at CNN or whether I'm the all powerful czar in the government, because I don't think the government ought to tell you what you can say on the air. We do have the First Amendment and election coverage couldn't be more central to the kinds of freedoms we expect to protect. But if I were at CNN, I would say we're not going to use this exit poll data first, until the polls close, and second, once the polls close, we're going to make our projections of who won this race on the basis of real data. When the networks called, when CNN, for example, called Florida for Gore, the panhandle was still voting and so not only did that presumably depress some Republican turnout in the panhandle that's been estimated by one Yale Law School study might be as much as 10,000 votes, Republican votes depressed in the panhandle, but also you don't have any raw numbers available. The raw numbers aren't available from the panhandle until the polls close.

KURTZ: Sure. But just to clarify, CNN and other networks that called Florida for Al Gore, this was before they called it for George Bush later, did so about 10 minutes before the polls closed in the western part of the state, the panhandle, that's in a different time zone. So some people are skeptical about thousands of people, given that it was only 10 minutes, that thousands of people might have turned away.

COX: Well, that's right, although, keep in mind that the analysis from the senior research scholar at Yale Law School estimated the effect to be about 1,000 votes per county and with 10 counties and half a million voters and a close election where we're talking about 900 votes, there's not much question that there was a big network influence in Florida.

KURTZ: OK. Let's get to the politics of this. Do you believe that the way in which the exit poll projections were made on all the networks on election night had a partisan tilt? There has been suggestions that perhaps the networks were kind of in a hurry to call some Gore states and kind of took their time about some Bush states. Do you believe that that was the case? Do you believe it was deliberate?

COX: Well, the latter question is much harder to answer, whether it was deliberate. People's motivations or why this happened, I haven't any idea. What we do know is that in the blowout states, the states were there were big margins, there weren't any delayed calls for Al Gore. There were nine delayed calls for George Bush in states where he won by a margin of six points or more.

Some of those delays were very, very long, indeed. For example, over three hours in West Virginia.

KURTZ: Right. But I mean there has been the clear suggestion or implication that perhaps the networks are sympathizing with the Vice President and were in no hurry to call the states for Bush. But it seems to me that in order to believe that there's at least the possibility you'd have to think that the top editorial people at five different major networks, you know, were all part of some sort of conspiracy here.

COX: Well, of course that's absurd. That is not what the evidence shows and if there is such evidence, it would be news to you and me. But what we do know simply is that there were early calls made, immediate calls made for Al Gore in every single one of the 11 states that he won by six or more, whereas in nine states that George W. Bush won by six or more they were delayed from 25 minutes till three hours and 15 minutes.

KURTZ: Right, but of course you're relying on poll data coming in from sample precincts and trying to make a projection that won't make up...

COX: There could be explanations. That's right.

KURTZ: OK, so you don't necessarily think this was intentional?

COX: But facially, facially it's clear that it all went one way and there's that kind of bias, not necessarily ideological bias, not necessarily tendentiousness by the people who are doing the reporting, but rather the kind of bias where it affects one side differently than the other side.

KURTZ: Right. But of course one of the five networks is Fox News Channel, owned by Rupert Murdoch, who's a Republican donor, has such conservative anchors as Brit Hume and Carter Snow.

COX: Right. And that would indicate more that we have...

KURTZ: And they called Florida for Gore in 10 minutes...

COX: That would indicate that we probably have more pat journalism than we do ideology driving this.

KURTZ: OK. Let's come down to the basic question. You said earlier you don't think the government should mandate that the networks do this or that or not make these early projections, but you have a lot of influence on your subcommittee and obviously Congress regulates the networks. Would you like to persuade, some would say pressure, the networks into adopting these reforms and holding off on those exit poll projections?

COX: Probably much better would be to see what we could do objectively to try and give full scope to the First Amendment and also not have the federal government or the politicians even trying to elan on people such as uniform poll closing times. There are procedural changes that can be made to minimize the impact of early calls on elections.

We know from Congress's study of this, Congress held hearings after the 1980 elections when the Democrats complained that their votes were depressed by early calls by the networks, that at least Congress in that time, not a Republican Congress, but a Democratic Congress, concluded first, that early calls by networks do undermine the democratic process by undermining people's faith in the process and the notion that their own vote counts. And we also know that they agreed, Congress, formally, with the networks in 1985, on a protocol. That was negotiated between Democratic leaders in Congress and the networks, that we wouldn't use exit polls and we wouldn't call states until most of the polls were closed.

KURTZ: A majority of the polls, which has been a little bit of a loophole for the networks.

COX: Right.

KURTZ: We'll be watching with great interest the hearings and as this issue plays out. Congressman Cox, thanks very much for joining us.

COX: Happy to join you.

KURTZ: Well, coming next, they're all over the airwaves giving us their opinions, listening to what you have to say about the Florida recount and all the political maneuvering. We'll talk with three well known radio talk show hosts in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES.

Joining us now to discuss talk radio's take on election 2000, Jim Bohannon, host of a nationally syndicated radio talk show on the Westwood One radio network. He joins us from our Chicago bureau. In Atlanta, Neil Boortz, who also hosts a nationally syndicated radio talk show. And in Los Angeles, Michael Jackson, talk show host on L.A.'s KRLA. Welcome to all of you.

Michael Jackson, let's start with you. The endless election, indecision 2000, the campaign that wouldn't leave, whatever you want to call it, how hot a topic is this on your program?

MICHAEL JACKSON, "THE MICHAEL JACKSON SHOW": The hottest topic in a very long while.

KURTZ: Wow.

JACKSON: But I disagree with many of the talking heads on television who tell us that it's dividing us as never before. I think they've forgotten the Vietnam War. I think they've forgotten the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings. I think they've forgotten the O.J. Simpson case. These devoured our attention. They held us in their grip for months in some cases and years in the case of the Vietnam War.

This is not a constitutional crisis, not according to my listeners.

KURTZ: OK, Jim Bohannon, Michael mentioned the O.J. case, the Monica saga, those certainly were huge fodder for talk radio. In this particular case where we are, after all, talking about pregnant chads and dimpled ballots and some less sexy aspects of a constitutional election, are people as passionate about this story as they were in some of these previous melodramas?

JIM BOHANNON, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I think they're as passionate, perhaps even more so. Even during the height of the Vietnam War or the O.J. case, you could talk about other subjects in the ebb and flow of those stories. All anybody wants to talk about is this election. We're picking a president and until somebody concedes, this will be THE talk show story.

KURTZ: Until somebody concedes, the magic words. Neil Boortz, are your listeners, when they call and probably flood you with phone calls to talk about this, are they angry? Is there a sense of crisis? Do you, is this a very emotional story?

NEAL BOORTZ, "THE NEAL BOORTZ SHOW": Well, you're right about flooding with phone calls. From the very second I go on the air every day it's 10 phone lines are constantly busy. Angry? No. They weren't angry until yesterday. I saw the anger come out yesterday with the effort to discard ballots from military personnel overseas. But generally speaking the listeners or the callers, I should say, are very, very well reasoned. They've thought out what they're going to say. They're studying the situation. They're getting quite an education into our constitution, our system, our electoral process.

I must say, I think that in the long run this may be good for the republic rather than a detriment. People are getting one real big civics lesson out of this.

JACKSON: However...

KURTZ: It certainly sounds like it's good for talk radio. Michael, go ahead.

BOORTZ: Oh, yeah.

JACKSON: However, I think a very large number of people are getting their instruction from Jay Leno and David Letterman and Rosie O'Donnell and Oprah and elsewhere, and many of them are seeing the funny side of it. We know darned well we're going to have a new president come January 21. These people are not angry. They're frustrated by it. They don't believe that either of the candidates deserves the office. That's what I'm hearing. They have their preferences.

KURTZ: This is the theory that they both deserve to lose. Jim Bohannon, does it seem to you that the role of some or many radio talk show hosts in this kind of polarized environment is to whip up partisans on one side or the other? Is that what you see happening?

BOHANNON: Well, obviously there are a certain number of cheerleaders out there, people with a clear ideological bent, and for them, this is a chance to grind that ax as never before. There's no doubt about it. I think that's probably unhealthy because whoever is finally elected will be elected, certainly, without a mandate and will need for us to cut them some slack.

There needs to be a honeymoon period for this new president to succeed at all.

KURTZ: Neil Boortz, you...

JACKSON: Jim, why don't they just give it to Clinton? You know he wants it. KURTZ: The third term scenario. Neil Boortz, you mentioned that until yesterday when the Gore campaign, when the Bush campaign charged that the Gore people were unfairly, I guess, in the view of the Bushies, trying to exclude some of these overseas military ballots, that people hadn't been that angry about it.

But I would imagine that maybe you're a little angry about it or how have you handled -- in other words, you're just not sitting there passively fielding calls.

BOORTZ: Oh, no.

KURTZ: I'm sure you've had some criticisms of Vice President Gore, for example.

BOORTZ: No, I admire Jim Bohannon, for instance, because he generally treads the middle ground on his talk show and it is the supreme talent that makes it entertaining while you're treading the middle ground. I don't tread the middle ground. Now, I didn't vote for either one of these people, but I certainly am in the...

KURTZ: You must be a Ralph Nader voter then?

BOORTZ: No, no, no, no, no. No, no. No. I might take some credit for those libertarian votes down there in Florida.

JACKSON: Pat Buchanan crowd.

BOORTZ: But I certainly am partisan about this and I don't mind expressing it on the air. But I do what a lot of other talk show hosts do. I say hey, look, I'm expressing my opinion. Don't believe anything that I tell you here unless it's consistent with what you already know to be true or you've confirmed it from some other source.

But we're having some very spirited discussions about it.

KURTZ: OK, Michael Jackson...

JACKSON: We're going...

KURTZ: Michael Jackson, just briefly, what ground are you treading on this controversy?

JACKSON: I voted for Gore. I've reached the stage where I almost hope that Bush gets it because I think the winner can well be -- and my listeners reflect this -- be the loser. We know that in '02 and '04, very likely they'll be a big change in House and Senate. And whoever wins won't have the mandate to skew the Supreme Court with new nominees the way in which they might have liked to.

(CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: Hold off. You all understand this. We have to take a break. And when we come back, we will talk more about what the future holds for this talk radio story.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED CITIZEN: I'd say that post-election media coverage is a bit too much play by play.

UNIDENTIFIED CITIZEN: I do want to be informed, but I don't need to know what's going on every hour on the hour.

UNIDENTIFIED CITIZEN: I feel like I've been learning quite a bit so I've definitely been tuning in for more.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: We've been getting our share of viewer feedback. Here's an e-mail from a viewer in North Carolina. "Journalists are no longer interested in pursuing truth or even information. They take what they have been given from each side and simply regurgitate it without adding any perspective. In the current political climate of divide and conquer, they are contributing to the most divided government."

And a second e-mail from California. "Instead of reporting stories and presenting reasoned journalistic points of view, programs such as 'CAPITAL GANG,' 'Equal Time,' 'CROSSFIRE' and the like only exist to polarize people and inflame the dialogue with rhetoric. Get back to reporting and pull back on the punditry."

Jim Bohannon, is there a lot of anger at the networks or resentment at the very least, particularly over the exit poll projections of election night?

BOHANNON: Oh, absolutely. A lot of people automatically assumed that that was some kind of devious attempt to influence the election. It was, of course, actually an attempt to try and call the election before people knew. It was, as Tom Brokaw put it, not egg on face but omelet on face, and it was a mistake. And as one of your earlier guests, Congressman Cox, noted, uniform closing times, maybe even voting by mail or e-mail voting ultimately might prove to be the undoing of exit polling. You can't stake out every modem in a state.

KURTZ: Neil Boortz, what are your listeners saying about the media and the media's coverage, not just on election night, but of what I call the post-election?

BOORTZ: Well, oddly enough, first of all, people are mad about the election night and some people will say let's control the media, which is obviously the wrong solution here. I like the uniform opening and closing times. But as far as bias, except for the punditry shows, where it's a natural part of the show, basically my callers only are acknowledging or identifying bias in one story out there and that's the media's coverage of the Florida Secretary of State.

They seem to harp on her Republican connections while ignoring Bob Butterworth's Democratic connections. But that's really the only area that they see anybody really adopting the Gore campaign spin on this.

KURTZ: Right. Well, Katherine Harris certainly has been getting a lot of attention. Michael Jackson, does this story have what journalists call legs, by which I mean either looking ahead to when there is a new president are we going to have constant radio chatter in the way that we did for eight years about Bill Clinton, about the illegitimate president, the accidental president? Is this going to go on?

JACKSON: I doubt it in some ways, significant ways, I doubt it. I think we're going to be looking to 2002 and a change in the makeup of Congress. As I said before, whoever gets in is going to have one very tough battle. I think we'll focus on the issues of the world.

Do you ever wonder what the headlines of the newspapers would be if the headlines that are weren't? For example, this morning we're reading about a man nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize guilty of four murders serving time at San Quentin.

Now, I can tell you in California, that would have been nearly as big a story as USC beating UCLA yesterday in the final few seconds.

BOORTZ: Well, Howie...

JACKSON: We'll go from story to story.

KURTZ: OK, Neil?

BOORTZ: Plug in also the fact that Clinton just finished a visit to Vietnam. It was a complete media non[-event out there and I want to...

JACKSON: Yeah.

BOORTZ: I want to mirror what Michael was saying, that over the next -- whoever gets in now is going to be in real trouble holding onto any power two years from now. But this will continue to be a topic if whoever enters the White House starts to try to initiate any real bold policy initiatives. Then people will start talking about illegitimacy.

BOHANNON: And I would add, too...

KURTZ: Jim Bohannon, do you agree that this story is going to be muscled aside by other news, that it's been kind of squeezed out in this frenzy?

BOHANNON: This story is going to have legs, quite frankly, Howie.

KURTZ: A disagreement.

BOHANNON: That every time, every time the new president, let's say, fails on a vote by a few votes, then the pundits will come out and say well, had President Gore/Bush had a mandate, then this would not have been the case. He could have persuaded those few extra members of Congress. I think it'll haunt the first year of this new administration.

JACKSON: Jim, I wonder whether it augers sort of almost a third Clinton administration? If Gore wins, he can say it's a continuation of the policies that made such success for the United States and the world, economically and every other way. If Gore does not do well, he can say look, I tried to but they didn't want me.

If Bush wins, then of course we know what the fodder will be.

KURTZ: Michael, I'm sure...

JACKSON: I've suggested on my program, by the way, that he become mayor of Los Angeles or if he wants to be closer to Chappaqua, New York.

KURTZ: We'll pass those comments on to the President as we search for a president elect.

When we come back, more about politics and talk radio and the future.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED CITIZEN: I think the media's done a great job in the post-election fallout. I don't think there's too much coverage. I think this is history in the making.

UNIDENTIFIED CITIZEN: I find myself watching less news this week.

UNIDENTIFIED CITIZEN: I actually have tuned into the news more often than I did before. I'm watching more often. But I think that they're stirring the pot a little bit too much.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Welcome back.

Neil Boortz in Atlanta, before this cliff hanger, I had the impression even during the campaign itself, which many regarded as rather uninspiring, that politics and Washington had kind of receded as a white hot talk radio topic.

BOORTZ: Well, it had. In fact, I found myself wondering when this election is over with, what are we going to talk about? Well, thankfully, other elements settled that question for me. You know, after 31 years, we always find something to talk about. But people were becoming disinterested in politics. Now they're very interested and frankly I'm glad to see it because what these people in Washington decide do or don't do has an affect on all of our lives and I'm glad people are more interested now.

KURTZ: Jim Bohannon, does talk radio sometimes provide a kind of a distorted measure in the sense that the people who tend to call and talk on the air waves are the most passionate, the angriest, the most partisan?

BOHANNON: Oh, absolutely. Never look upon talk radio as some scientific sampling. And then, too, remember that we're the only people in all of history who can look at the microwave oven and yell "hurry!" Relax, America. Relax, world. It's going to work out. Take a deep breath. Sit down.

KURTZ: OK. Michael Jackson, if the predictions of a new president, whoever that may be, having some difficulty governing or doing anything bold, that would seem to suggest a couple of years of beltway gridlock and that would not seem like a terribly exciting topic for those of you who make your living behind the microphone.

JACKSON: Howard, first of all, you wrote your book too early. How people would yearn to be able to have the title "Spin Cycle" and start right now. We're starting a whole new cycle. I'm hoping tomorrow morning to speak with Ralph Nader because I want to know what in hell he plans to do next and whether he thinks what he did was satisfactory. Ralph, where to now, will be one of the questions.

I keep being asked on the air, and I think people are thoughtful rather than polarized, what do they think of us abroad? Abroad they're watching with interest, but they're saying why do we care? They didn't care about us during the election campaign. I heard hardly a mention of foreign policy.

My hope is that if it's Bush, and we'll have a lot to talk about.

KURTZ: OK.

JACKSON: That he will broaden his vision.

KURTZ: One thing I've learned here is that the radio talk show hosts always have an angle.

Michael Jackson, Neil Boortz, Jim Bohannon, thanks very much for joining our discussion.

JACKSON: Thank you.

KURTZ: Well, coming up, a bubbling controversy involving Barbara Walters and election pundits reveal their political stripes, in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Before we go, a couple of notes from the world of media news.

What would you think if I sat here and said mmm, mmm good, you know, I really love that Campbell's double noodle soup? You'd probably think I've been watching too many Florida recounts and have lost it. But those are the kinds of noises that are emanating from the ABC talk show "The View" and the reason is that Barbara Walters, former "60 Minutes" correspondent Meredith Viera (ph) and the gang have cut a promotional deal with Campbell's. This isn't complicated stuff. They rave about the soup and Campbell's coughs up the bucks. This is, in a word, insidious. It's bad enough that companies pay for what's called product placement in movies and TV shows. But for experienced journalists to pollute their own discussions with a camouflaged commercial for a sponsor is nothing short of sad.

Now, Walters, the "20/20" anchor, says the arrangement is similar to that on other entertainment shows and that except for a casual remark, she doesn't do the soup talk. Fair enough. But the agreement still has an awfully strange odor.

Finally, the commentators have had plenty to say about this endlessly disputed election that has spawned more lawyers than the O.J. case and the Microsoft suit combined. And the arguments have broken down along predictably political lines, just as they did during the sex versus perjury shout fest over impeachment.

On the conservative side, George Will says Gore is attempting a coup d'etat. The "Wall Street Journal" editorial page, "We are about to find out if the law can be manipulated even to steal the presidency." Columnist Michael Kelly (ph), "It's a toss up as to what is most revolting about Al Gore's attempt to vote rig his way into the White House."

On the liberal side, MSNBC's Eric Alterman (ph) says, "Will the nation and the news media let the Republicans steal this presidential election?" Marty Perritz (ph), the "New Republic's" owner and a major Al pal, says, "The TV prognosticators were probably right the first time. Al Gore did win more votes in Florida than Bush, many more votes than we will ever know."

But what if the situation were reserved and George Bush needed a hand recount to close the gap? It's not hard to imagine these very same prognosticators reversing their outraged arguments, with conservatives demanding a full manual recount and liberals insisting the election if over. And that, in a way, shows these commentators to be as partisan as the politicians they write about.

Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz.

Coming up next, "LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER," which begins right now.

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