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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES

Al Gore Launches Political Comeback; Is Ailes Too Close to White House?; Is Daschle Demonizing Limbaugh?

Aired November 23, 2002 - 18:30   ET

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

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: Gore's media moment, from Barbara Walters to Larry King from Katie Couric to Charlie Rose to David Letterman. Al Gore has launched a political comeback tour in the guise of peddling books. Are journalists giving him the uncritical coverage he craves?
Also, Bob Woodward takes on Roger Ailes. Is the Fox boss too close to the White House? And Tom Daschle rails against Rush Limbaugh. Is the senator demonizing the talk show host?

Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES where we turn a critical lens on the media. I'm Howard Kurtz.

Suddenly he's inescapable after laying low for almost two years. Al Gore minus the beard is making the rounds on the airwaves, usually with his wife Tipper to promote their book about families. From "20/20" to CNN to "The Late Show," he's been almost impossible to miss.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL GORE, FMR. VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would like to be president. I think I could do a great job, but is it the right thing for me to do to run again?

Oh, I haven't ruled out running again, Katie, but I'm going to wait until after the holidays to make a decision.

You're very incisive in your analysis. It did not go the way I wanted it to.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Flip open "Time" Magazine or "The Washington Post" Magazine and there he is. Check out "USA Today," "The Wall Street Journal," "The Los Angeles Times," "The New York Times." They all got one-on-one interviews as well. So what is being billed as a book tour is starting to look very much like a warm-up act for 2004.

Are reporters giving Gore the platform he deserves or being used as political props? Well joining us now in New York, Laura Ingraham, host of "The Laura Ingraham Show" on Westwood One Radio. And here in Washington two reporters who interviewed Gore this week, Karen Tumulty, national political correspondent for "Time" Magazine and John Harwood, chief political reporter for "The Wall Street Journal." So Gore has been on everything this side of "Home Shopping Network" and you were one stop on this carefully choreographed comeback tour, so naturally you felt used, right?

KAREN TUMULTY, TIME MAGAZINE: Not at all. In fact, I requested the interview. I negotiated for months to get the interview. My concern was I knew the parade was coming through town, and I wanted to be at the front of it, not walking behind the horses.

KURTZ: Now on the day that you spoke to the former vice president, John Harwood, he did 10 interviews. It must have been like an assembly line and yet, he wouldn't answer the question that everybody wants to know, which is would he run again? So isn't that kind of a frustrating situation?

JOHN HARWOOD, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: It was frustrating, but first of all, Howie, I actually did my interview the day before that he did 10, and I own an apology...

KURTZ: You were ahead of the pack.

HARWOOD: Yes, and I owe an apology to viewers of CNN because my interview went overtime and contributed to him being late for "LARRY KING." I got back to my hotel room after talking to him and saw Larry King come on with his wife and kids, and I felt a little guilty about that.

KURTZ: Well thank you for that confession. Laura Ingraham, are journalists asking reasonably tough questions on Al Gore during this incredible spade of interviews, or is he really just getting a lot of free publicity before he may well announce again.

LAURA INGRAHAM, WESTWOOD ONE RADIO: Well I think it's natural that he's going to be on all the television shows. I mean that's not a big surprise, but I think what was interesting this week is that it seemed like the three major networks and maybe a couple of the magazines out there, it seemed like they were almost more excited about the possibility of an Al Gore candidacy for the presidency than the Democratic leadership itself. I mean you saw the polls out this week , the DNC people who were polled of "The Los Angeles Times" ran the poll, didn't seem at all thrilled about the prospect of Gore running again. So...

KURTZ: So the television anchors are excited about another Al Gore...

INGRAHAM: Well I don't know if you caught the two-part commercial that NBC's "Today" Show did for Al Gore, but it was quite something, including clips of Al Gore with family somewhere in the middle west I think -- Midwest, where one member of the family -- I think it was a father, middle-aged guy said well, yes it wasn't much -- it was easier to find work in the previous administration, and that was a clip that the "Today" Show used during the interview with Al Gore, and there was more and more and more like that. So, I think a two-part interview with Al and Tipper about that book was probably a little bit excessive. KURTZ: All right, now you mentioned, Karen, a lot of negotiations in order for you to get this interview with the first news magazine. Was it difficult to work this out with the Gore brain trust?

TUMULTY: Well it was clear -- when they finally decided how they were going to do it. Barbara Walters had the first cut, so I spent actually a couple of hours talking to him off the record first in Iowa in an airplane, and then at his house in Arlington. He was very concerned about an embargo. He was going to give us a lot of access -- a lot of access to our photographer, but he wanted to make sure that we didn't go into print before the Barbara Walters interview. And then the rest of the negotiation was just exactly, you know, how much access we would get. And yes, it was very complicated.

KURTZ: Sounds like the NATO talks. You wrote in your piece, John Harwood, that Al Gore, if he runs again, will face renewed combat, not just with other Democratic opponents, but the media. What did you mean by that?

HARWOOD: Well I don't think Al Gore enjoys doing the media all that much and he feels that he's gotten bad press, unfair bad press throughout the 2000 campaign and before that to some degree. So I think he's going to have to steal himself if he runs for the sniping from Democrats, which has already been going on ever since the 2000 election and Laura made reference to a poll of DNC members. We did a "Wall Street Journal"/NBC poll of Democratic voters. Fifty-three percent of them said they want him to step aside. He's going to have to fight through a lot to make another campaign work.

KURTZ: Just quickly, does he have a point in feeling that he did not get a fair shake in the media last time around?

HARWOOD: Well Al Gore has gotten himself into -- by nature of his personality and how he projects himself publicly, in a place where everything he does is dissected. When he changes his clothes, when he grows a beard, when he shaves his beard, when he adopts a different style in interviews. So I think he's right that he has been dissected more completely than most other American political figures.

TUMULTY: And also when you compare it to the kind of press treatment that George W. Bush got, I think that -- you cannot argue that that was not uneven.

KURTZ: So what explains this charm of things, Laura Ingraham, for a guy who clearly doesn't particularly enjoy sort of schmoozing with the press and who went weeks and weeks during the 2000 campaign without talking to the reporters on his plane and now he's talking to just about everyone.

INGRAHAM: Well, I think it's the charm offensive is beginning. I think he's obviously going to run for president, and he's trying to remake his image. But I think it looks painfully like he is trying to remake his image and at least to me, and I'm sure other people have different views, but at least to me he almost seems like Darrell Hammond on "Saturday Night Live" doing Al Gore. I mean, it almost becomes a caricature of himself and it just seems uncomfortable and unnatural. I think that was one of his big problems in the campaign. Bush kind of seemed like he was shooting from the hip a little bit, but (UNINTELLIGIBLE) seem natural. Gore seems stilted even when he tries to come across as natural with his wife.

HARWOOD: Laura, you're right about that, but I wouldn't be too quick to assume that he's definitely running. I think Al Gore...

INGRAHAM: I'll bet it.

HARWOOD: I think Al Gore...

INGRAHAM: I'll bet it.

HARWOOD: ... means it when he says he may not run and some people close to him think he's not going to do it.

KURTZ: Sounds like we have a wager here and of course you have a...

INGRAHAM: I'll bet it.

KURTZ: ... you have a point, Laura, because maybe he has been studying Darrell Hammond. He, after all, is going to host "Saturday Night Live" next month as part of this image remake with Al Gore being, you know, the new sense of humor being trotted out. Now, in your piece, Karen Tumulty, you wrote barring some slip in New Hampshire or Iowa, Gore is likely to prevail in the primary. Isn't it awfully early to make that kind of pronouncement? In the 1976 primaries, a year before, Jimmy Carter wasn't even an asterisk.

TUMULTY: Well, the reason I make that assessment is the way the primaries are structured. I know this is a show about the media, but the fact is that media is going to matter. A lot -- five states, at least, have moved up their primaries to right behind New Hampshire and Iowa.

KURTZ: It's all front-loaded.

TUMULTY: Which means that you're going to have to have the resources and the name ID to run a national campaign by March.

KURTZ: But you didn't write that Gore would have a huge advantage because he's run before. You basically said that he can have this locked up and someone else could come out of nowhere and blow him away in New Hampshire.

TUMULTY: If he's up -- especially if he's up against five or six other people. Anybody who can manage to nail down 30 percent in any of those primaries win.

KURTZ: Why has there been so little attention, relatively speaking, to the former vice president coming out for a government run health care system, which is a much more radical proposal than Clinton and Hillary made in '94 and yet it seems to have gotten a paragraph or two in most of these stories. Why so much more focus on the atmospherics of the Gore media tour and not the substance of what he is saying.

HARWOOD: Well, the reason, Howie, is that he hasn't defined what he's talking about, and he doesn't really have to in the context of a book tour. You know, he said he's for a single pair system that is privately run. What does that mean? Is that a regulated utility, perhaps? He said well maybe it would be. He said it was going to have choice also. Nobody knows how that's going to work. You can get away with that in a book tour one time, but if you start running for president, you're going to have...

INGRAHAM: Well, I think...

HARWOOD: ... the media is going to demand more answers.

INGRAHAM: ... I think he's getting away with a lot in this book tour. I mean I haven't seen a lot of questions. I confess I haven't read John's piece or Karen's piece, but there haven't been a lot of questions, at least on the television interviews, of how he would handle the war on terror differently. I mean he's slamming the Bush administration pretty hard on Iraq and not focusing on al Qaeda enough. Meanwhile, we caught another big al Qaeda operative recently. That was just on the cover of all the newspapers, and you know, Ramzi Binalshibh, Bush is working on NATO expansion...

KURTZ: Are you suggesting...

INGRAHAM: ... overseas and it just...

KURTZ: ... are you suggesting that there's a different standard being applied by journalists to a guy who might kind of run, but right now he's just pedaling a book, whereas if we knew for sure he was running, he'd be getting grilled.

INGRAHAM: I don't know if he'd be getting grilled if he were running and talking about the war on terror as much. I think a lot of people are gearing up for 2004, and I think a lot of people in a way feel maybe a little bit sorry for Al Gore in the media because of what happened in the recount. He's still very pained by that. I mean they're still talking about the recount. They're still talking about it.

KURTZ: Right.

INGRAHAM: And at some point when we've gone beyond September 11, we have all these complicated issues on the table right now, it just seems so, so yesterday and...

KURTZ: OK...

INGRAHAM: ... he's still clinging to that.

KURTZ: ... just briefly, feeling sorry for Al Gore, journalists?

TUMULTY: Well, I do think that he is sort of almost a Shakespearian figure in politics and does that mean we feel sorry for him? No, but it makes him as a human being sort of intriguing because he's been offstage for two years and just sort of trying to figure out how this guy dealt with this is interesting.

KURTZ: Like somebody with tragic flaws.

TUMULTY: Yes.

KURTZ: Let's hold it right there, and when we come back, Roger Ailes and Bob Woodward square off over a letter to the president.

And Tom Daschle takes on Rush Limbaugh over the law of talk radio. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. Bob Woodward is in the news again with a new book that describes the inner most feelings of some top administration officials during the war on terrorism, and he's been making the media rounds.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOB WOODWARD, AUTHOR, "BUSH AT WAR": There were no leaks as such. No one was calling me. I was calling them and going to see them and piecing it together as best I could...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Laura Ingraham, is -- has Woodward done it again with his behind-the-scenes account of "Bush At War," or is he on some level delivering the spin of his White House sources?

INGRAHAM: I think it's a close tie. Who's been on television more, Bob Woodward or Al Gore in the last week? I think it's a dead- even tie. Woodward is great at this. He -- the administration knows that this is going to be written about the Bush war. Who's a better person to write about it? Who can call this information, organize it, put it forward in a readable fashion, make it a compelling story but Bob Woodward. I don't think it's surprising at all, and I think -- my hats off to Woodward. I think he did a good job.

KURTZ: Anyone disagree?

TUMULTY: Not at all. The fact is they knew the book was going to be written. This is an administration that is very careful about what they say and making sure that it's consistent. The interest -- the tension in the book came from a sort of Colin Powell faction versus the everybody else faction.

KURTZ: Right.

HARWOOD: And he teased that out better than has been doing at any other press account that I've seen.

KURTZ: By writing about some of the private feelings about...

HARWOOD: Exactly. KURTZ: ... as these battles took place. Now one of the things that got a bit of attention in the Woodward book was his reporting that Roger Ailes, the chairman of Fox News, had some days after the September 11th attacks written a letter to Karl Rove for the president expressing his support for what the president was doing.

Ailes issued this statement. "Bob Woodward's characterization of my memo is incorrect. In the days following 9/11, our country came together in non-partisan support of the president. During that time, I wrote a personal note to a White House staff member as a concerned American, expressing my outrage about the attacks in our country. I did not give up my American citizenship to take this job."

John Harwood, should the president or the chairman of a news network be writing that kind of letter to an administration?

HARWOOD: Absolutely not. Roger Ailes is a very smart guy, but he did a dumb thing. This is a guy who was a very senior adviser to the current president's father in that capacity, knew George W. Bush, who was involved in his father's campaign. It is not appropriate for a -- the head of a news channel to deliver advice to a president. Imagine what Roger Ailes would say if George Stephanopoulos wrote a strategy memo to Dick Gephardt as he began his presidential campaign. He'd be outraged about it.

KURTZ: But whether it was -- quote -- "advice" or not, Laura Ingraham, I mean didn't Ailes kind of open the door for people to criticize him and Fox and remind people that he did have a background in Republican politics.

INGRAHAM: Oh sure. I mean it may be in hindsight. You know, he wouldn't have sent it, but I -- you can't help but think this is another case of selective moral media outrage. I mean I just don't recall the great sense of consternation felt by reporters in the mainstream media when Rick Kaplan was doing sleepovers of Bill Clinton at the White House -- Rick Kaplan, former head of CNN.

And every night on the evening news we see instances of media bias, and liberals like to say conservatives are all overheated about that, and they probably are. But this is -- you get the sense that this is a lot of pig piling on Fox. It's the top dog in cable right now, and I think a lot of people are very frustrated that this upstart network with this conservative guy running it has managed to blow away the competition. And it's a frustrating situation to be in, but you know, should he have sent the note? Probably not, but I think it's much ado about nothing.

KURTZ: OK, but I know that some of the Fox commentators would have had a field day had anything like...

INGRAHAM: Sure.

KURTZ: ... that come...

INGRAHAM: Sure. KURTZ: ... from CNN and yet the ones that I watched on Fox said oh, this is really a non issue, and I don't think it's a huge issue, but I think it probably was a misstep.

I want to turn now to the Senate Democratic leader. Tom Daschle had some very provocative words to say about the nation's most popular radio talk show host. Let's take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MAJORITY LEADER: What happens when Rush Limbaugh attacks those of us in public life is that people aren't satisfied just to listen, they want to act because they get emotionally invested. And so, you know, the threats to those of us in public life go up.

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: They still haven't come to grips with the fact that they're the minority party. They have a very small playbook. For 40 years they had a free run with the mainstream press not challenging them what they said, but instead challenging us. We've had to hone our response to all the accusations they make against us, and we've gotten good at it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: What was Tom Daschle thinking, Karen Tumulty, by practically accusing Rush Limbaugh of inciting violence among his listeners?

TUMULTY: Well, Tom Daschle has had a rough year and a half or so, what with anthrax and losing the Senate and a lot of other things, and it almost felt like, you know, "battered wife syndrome" setting in here. But, the fact is he picked a fight that he couldn't win, and he came off sounding whiny. He sounded, you know, more like Eeyore than the Democratic leader of the Senate.

KURTZ: Now, Limbaugh skewers Daschle and the Democrats. He ridicules them. He beats up on them, and this is part of the game. Sometimes it's rough stuff, but to tie him to death threats sounds a little over the top on Daschle's part.

HARWOOD: I agree. You know, you -- we haven't walked in Tom Daschle's shoes. He is the guy, after all, who got an anthrax letter a year ago, and also had a bad election the other night.

KURTZ: But how is -- the bad election Limbaugh might have contributed to, but how is the anthrax letter in any way tied to a radio talk show host?

HARWOOD: Of course it's not at all. I'm just saying that he's experienced feelings and who knows what kind of communication he's gotten from people the led him to say that. But I have to say it's especially surprising because my impression is that Rush Limbaugh doesn't have near the juice he does with listeners that he did years ago. And so I...

KURTZ: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) has a huge following.

HARWOOD: He has a huge following, but I don't know that the sort of fever pitch of emotion that was generated by his diatribes a few years ago is there anymore.

(CROSSTALK)

INGRAHAM: Actually, that's not accurate at all. Rush Limbaugh's audience is about 20 million listeners every week. He's the biggest talk radio show host by far. I mean, I'm a little -- a peanut compared to him, but what I think is interesting is that years ago during the Clinton administration the mainstream media was saying oh, talk radio, all these conservative commentators, they're making their money now because of Clinton, but they're going to fade away into the background.

And lo and behold, several years later, here they are, people like Limbaugh, myself, others on talk radio and garnering a pretty solid audience of people who are politically committed. And I think it drives Tom Daschle nuts and it may be understandably so that these people listen and they actually learn sometimes. They're entertained, but they also learn, and so, what are we supposed to have, not a diversity of opinion according to Tom Daschle now.

KURTZ: Well, when it comes to Limbaugh and Ingraham and Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly and Oliver North, do you think, Laura, that the Democrats are frustrated because it's become such a conservative medium and they feel like they can't compete, that they can't get their message out, at least...

INGRAHAM: Well...

KURTZ: ... on the radio airwaves.

INGRAHAM: ... probably. I mean they have the universities. They have the courts. They have...

KURTZ: Oh...

INGRAHAM: ... you know a lot of the churches and they have the mainstream networks, so apparently they're not satisfied with that, so they want more people on talk radio. It's a big world. They can have their own radio shows...

KURTZ: Just briefly...

INGRAHAM: For whatever reason, they're not successful.

KURTZ: ... the mainstream networks -- the mainstream networks don't deliver a pro Democratic line the way that...

INGRAHAM: Well you don't listen...

KURTZ: ... Rush Limbaugh does for conservatives.

INGRAHAM: ... to ABC every night. No, of course not. This is commentary -- this is commentary. This is opinion. And Tom Daschle presides over a party, which had those Internet ads that shows George Bush pushing grandma down the stairs a few months ago, had -- the party that had the war room during the Clinton administration. The party that said it was OK to have these dragging death ads, the James...

KURTZ: OK...

INGRAHAM: ... Byrd ads during...

KURTZ: OK...

INGRAHAM: ... the last election and he's accusing conservatives of being shrill. This is politics. I mean he just looked wimpy and it just -- it looked -- it looked pathetic at that point.

KURTZ: Got to blow the whistle. Commentary and opinion Laura Ingraham, John Harwood, Karen Tumulty, thanks very much for joining us.

When we return, more on Bob Woodward's role as a scoop artist in Bernard Kalb's "Back Page."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Time now for the "Back Page." Here's Bernard Kalb.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BERNARD KALB, CNN CONTRIBUTOR (on camera): It was JFK, wasn't it, who said life is unfair. Well, it certainly is true in the world of journalism. Some reporters spend their whole lives developing sources, but still can't get the inside scoop. In Bob Woodward's case, line forms to the right, and boy did they.

(voice-over): The most powerful people in town turned up in Woodward's latest book, "Bush At War." It's all about the president and his five top national security advisers and their advisers and how they reached the big decision during the first 100 days after 9/11. The book has direct quotes of who said what to whom, even people's "thoughts, conclusions and feelings" -- unquote. So, how does Bob do it, especially since this administration has a reputation for being more closed than open-mouthed?

WOODWARD: For reasons that are not clear to me, I was able to talk to people. I was able to get all kinds of documentary information, specific information, conversations.

KALB: For reasons that are not clear to me is a bit modest. People talk to Woodward because they respect his integrity and credibility, but there's more to it. People also talk to Woodward because, among other things, they want to put their spin on the role they played in the big decisions. Now, obviously Woodward crosschecks all this, but what ends up in the book becomes part of the first draft of history, part of the record for future historians. WOODWARD: I was able to get a lot of the notes of the NSC meetings. There are 15,000 words quoted, so you can see exactly what Bush says, what Cheney says, what Powell is saying and so forth.

KALB: All of which prompts this subversive thought, that maybe someone, someone might have leaked a bit of classified information, but instead of Woodward being hauled off by the FBI for interrogation about discussing NSC notes, the president invites him down to the ranch for a two and a half-hour interview.

(on camera): Well, the way things stand now, Woodward's got something of a monopoly on giving us the inside account of the big decisions of our time. But he's done this now for almost a dozen books. What about a little competition, ladies and gentlemen of the press? Any volunteers?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: Bernard Kalb.

Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz. You can catch our program again tomorrow morning at our new Sunday time, 11:30 a.m. Eastern, 8:30 Pacific.

"CAPITAL GANG" is up next.

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White House?; Is Daschle Demonizing Limbaugh?>

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