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Is Media Trying to Bury Dean?

Aired January 25, 2004 - 11:00   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: Piling on in New Hampshire. Is the press trying to bury Howard Dean after his Iowa meltdown? Why aren't journalists giving John Kerry, John Edwards and Wesley Clark the same level of scrutiny? And were they so mesmerized by Dean's cyber- campaign that they missed the Kerry surge in Iowa? We'll ask a panel of top correspondents and commentators, including Steve and Cokie Roberts.
Plus, George Bush's prime time push and why the White House holds reporters in disdain.

And mocking the media: Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert on crazy campaign coverage.

ANNOUNCER: Live from New Hampshire, this is a special edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.

KURTZ: Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz.

We're here in New Hampshire, where it was four below this morning because, well, every other journalist in North America is here to cover Tuesday's crucial, all-important make or break primary.

And joining us here at CNN's Manchester headquarters to talk about the media, John Kerry, Howard Dean, and so on is Roger Simon, chief political correspondent for "U.S. News & World Report"; Jill Zuckman, political reporter for the "Chicago Tribune"; and Mark Barabak, political reporter for the "Los Angeles Times."

Roger Simon, John Kerry won Iowa. John Kerry is ahead here. Kerry riding high, says the "Boston Herald."

But the media story, unquestionably is still Dean, Dean, Dean. Why?

ROGER SIMON, "U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT": Because Dean was high, and now we have helped to bring him low. He brought himself low, but we aided and abetted him.

KURTZ: You helped?

SIMON: Well, we all helped. You know, that's the nature of things. If you're high, we bring you low. If you're low, we bring you up. And we call that the natural order.

And anyone who's in front, anyone who's in front prohibitively is going to get prohibitive coverage, and that's what we do. KURTZ: Mark Barabak, are reporters enjoy the Dean slide, kind of piling on because there's been prickly relations between the doctor and the press for some months now?

MARK BARABAK, "LOS ANGELES TIMES": You know, I'm with Roger. I wouldn't impugn any sort of personal motive to them. I mean, it's a good story. It's like the Titanic. He was the biggest, best ship that had ever set sail, and on his maiden voyage he hit an iceberg.

I don't want to take the metaphor too far. You have New Hampshire. The captain of the Titanic didn't come back a week later. But it's a great story.

KURTZ: So you're saying it's a great human drama.

I was with the Dean campaign the other day, Jill Zuckman, and he had a little news conference and all the questions were about, "Why are you being so subdued now? Who aren't you still angry? Who is the real Dean?"

And that made me wonder whether there's a lot of tension now between the Dean camp and the people covering him.

JILL ZUCKMAN, "CHICAGO TRIBUNE": Well, first of all, I'm not sure he was ever really that angry. You could always see, like, he was having a little bit of fun when he was out there.

And I think that, you know, he is trying to adapt to the changing circumstances and the way he's been perceived. And so people are noticing that.

But I think before the press buries him completely, I think you have to remember that New Hampshire voters are extremely independent people. They don't always pay attention to what Iowa has done. They don't like to do what the press has done.

I met a waitress who told me three months ago she was all the way for Dean. Last night I saw her. I said, "So are you still for Dean?"

She said, "Absolutely."

KURTZ: Your personal focus group?


KURTZ: I am sick of talking about the scream. But you've got to say this thing has permeated pop culture. It's on radio stations. It's on Web sites. It's on comedy shows.

Let's take a brief look at how CNN's Anderson Cooper handled that moment for Howard Dean in Iowa.




DEAN: Yes!

COOPER: A shriek?

DEAN: Yes!

COOPER: A hoot?

DEAN: Yes!

COOPER: A holler?


KURTZ: Roger Simon, are we overdoing it?

SIMON: We're not overdoing it because the shriek -- the "I have a scream" speech is, I think, the cleverest phrase I heard, not mine -- was in a context, a context that everyone knows.

He had just lost Iowa overwhelmingly. He won two out of 99 counties. I tell you, if he had won Iowa by five points we would not be seeing that clip, because everyone would have said, "Yes, he won; he's happy." People know the context of that.

He melted down in the polls and now he's melting down in front of people. And it's because he didn't know how to perform. He was trying to search for something to do in front of that crowd, and he's just not used to the perpetual scrutiny that you get as a major candidate.

BARABAK: I would also say, it pointed to sort of a rookie sort of mistake, if you will. I mean, you talk to people who've done this for a long time, and he made the fundamental mistake of talking to people in the room and forgetting about the TV cameras. People who were in the room said, "Hey, it fit in context."

KURTZ: Let's concede -- by the way, Governor Dean is on the live air, campaigning here in New Hampshire.

Let's concede it was reckless. It was stupid. It was idiotic. He's called it a crazy red-faced rant. This has just dominated the coverage for five or six days now.

ZUCKMAN: You know what's crazy? The people who were in the room, it didn't register with them. I've talked to so many reporters who say, "I feel so stupid. It went right over my head. It didn't mean anything."

It's because television magnifies things to such an extent. And then when you've got all the news networks playing it over and over and over again, it sort of changes the reality of what's happening.

KURTZ: And not just television, radio, Web sites, everything.

ZUCKMAN: Exactly.

KURTZ: Let me ask you this, Jill Zuckman: is there any way in which this coverage of the rant could actually work to Howard Dean's advantage for two reasons?

It keeps the spotlight on him in a time when, for example, John Edwards, who finished second in Iowa, is trying to get attention here. And also, then he goes on "PrimeTime Live" with Diane Sawyer with his wife, Judy, the wife who has not been seen on the campaign trail.

Again, the story is Dean. So could this all in a weird metaphysical way be helping Howard Dean?

ZUCKMAN: Maybe. But I know that there's that saying...

KURTZ: They can't stand it (ph).

ZUCKMAN: ... there's a saying that all publicity is good publicity. I don't really think so in this case.

But I have to say it is firing up the people who are committed to him; it is firing them up. We did a story about how Dean, you know, was having all these troubles. I was slammed with e-mails from around the country from Dean supporters saying, you know, "Now I know the media is terrible and is out to get him and I'm more committed to him than ever before."

Now, how many people that is, if that has shrunk down, what that core is, we won't know till Tuesday.

SIMON: All he has to do to kill the scream speech is win New Hampshire and do a different tone of voice.

BARABAK: Well, kill it for the time being. Because you know, if he's the nominee, you know that's going to resurface. I mean, kill it for now.

KURTZ: But you say all he has to do is win New Hampshire. And obviously, you know, Dean has made other mistakes. It's not just all about this one thing.

But it seems to me that the coverage of him as a, quote, "angry person," for which this was the metaphor -- if Kerry made that scream, nobody would have cared, because they'd just figure he's letting off steam -- has gotten in the way of Howard Dean trying to communicate anything else, because it's always about this.

SIMON: Well, yes. It's like seeing the Challenger explode time and time again. But it's not quite as serious.

And I don't think people are generally offended by seeing this on TV. It was a goofy moment. They recognize that. We don't usually don't see presidential candidates being goofy. He can get past it if...

ZUCKMAN: That's not so special. (CROSSTALK)

SIMON: It's human.

KURTZ: People said Bill Clinton playing the sax wasn't presidential.

So now we have the Titanic. We have the Challenger exploding. You guys are in metaphor.

I want to turn now to John Kerry. Where are all the investigative stories about the new frontrunner, John Kerry? "New York Times" has a piece today about his long legislative record and how the rivals are combing through it.

But he doesn't seem to be getting the same treatment from the media as Dean did when he occupied that top spot.

SIMON: You'll see them. I mean, it's only -- it's only been six days or something like that since Iowa. It takes us a little time to gear up.

And there have been stories in the past that will be dredged up again about Kerry.

Most of these guys, all of them, have been investigated endlessly in their careers, because they've had long careers and this stuff will resurface. And there will be new stuff after that.

BARABAK: I can't help but interject, coming from a newspaper that did a very controversial story just a few days before the election, it's sort of interesting to hear the argument, you know, where is all the controversy...

KURTZ: You're talking here about Arnold Schwarzenegger.

BARABAK: The Arnold Schwarzenegger story. And so now we're hearing the other argument. "Where are the tough pieces just a few days before the election?"

ZUCKMAN: It's coming. It is absolutely coming, and I can tell you last night...

KURTZ: What makes you so confident?

ZUCKMAN: Last night a reporter said to me, "Hey, do you remember that story you did about John Kerry?" And she was telling me about it.

And I said, "I have no recollection of this." It was a story I wrote ten years ago. Suddenly, she has it. She's reading it. She's asking me about it.

And I've got to wonder, is it coming from the RNC? Is it coming from his rival Democratic candidates? It was pretty -- I was really taken aback. KURTZ: Certainly, the Dean people are grumbling about, well, now it's Kerry's turn to get the heavy press scrutiny.

BARABAK: Just in case we miss it, Chris Lehane will remind us of it and send it over from the Clark campaign.

KURTZ: Lehane, working for the Clark campaign.

Full confession time. The debate was pretty positive here the other night. The ads have turned positive. How disappointing is this for you, that there are no more attacks to cover?

ZUCKMAN: You know what, what people say, oh, the press wants this to happen or that to happen, no. There are enough crazy things that happen in life. You don't have to wish for it to be more exciting, because it will happen.

Who would have guessed we would have this Florida recount a few years ago? I mean, all we have to do is wait a little while, and something wild will happen.

KURTZ: At the presidential debate here in New Hampshire on Thursday, after Fox's Brit Hume asked Wesley Clark a question about "When did you realize that you were a Democrat?" Clark took a shot at him, and he accused the Fox anchor of pushing a, quote, "Republican agenda."

So where are all the stories about Clark being thin skinned? In other words, again, Clark, Edwards, Kerry don't seem to be getting the kind of rough and tumble treatment Howard Dean has.

BARABAK: The way I liken the two is like those old movies like "The Great Escape" or, you know, the spotlight is sweeping across the yard. And for awhile it was trained on Howard Dean, and now it's going to be trained on John Kerry.

It's like as these guys rise up in the polls, you know, they get their turn. You know, if Clark were to suddenly surge and be in first place or second place, then the spotlight's on him and you see all those stories.

KURTZ: Well, the only problem I see with that is there's a certain imbalance at the time when the voters go to the polls. We shouldn't only train our media microscope on whoever happens to be in first place in the polls because the polls change.

We have to take a quick break. When we come back we'll talk more about how the political press got things so wrong in Iowa.

Plus "The Daily Show's" Stephen Colbert has some fun at our expense. Stay with us.



Well, the pundits, having blown it in Iowa, are at it again.


FRED BARNES, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD" That Howard Dean is done. He's finished.


KURTZ: Jill Zuckman, could the prognosticators, as amazing as it might sound, be wrong yet again about Howard Dean?

ZUCKMAN: The prognosticators are almost always wrong in New Hampshire. And that is the problem with writing stories that say, you know, General Clark is struggling or Howard Dean is dead or, you know it is all Kerry. I mean, we don't...

KURTZ: Like obituary writers?

ZUCKMAN: Yes. Yes, I mean, we don't know until they vote on Tuesday. And I just think that you've got to wait. And, you know, the polls are the polls for a moment and they're not for election day, and if we have a big blizzard that could change things on Tuesday.

KURTZ: Did you know Howard Dean was going to get buried in Iowa?

SIMON: No, I said he would win Iowa, which was not only wrong, but I was dumb. Because I've written so much on the art and power of campaigning. And at the last minute I said, "No, it's not about campaigning. It's about organization."

He's got this great organization and it's an organization state and he's going to win. You know, presidential campaigning is about campaigning.

KURTZ: But after Iowa you wrote that one of the reasons that Dean did not do well, to put it delicately, is that he is not likable.

SIMON: Oh, I think that's a problem he has and I think...

KURTZ: Not likable to reporters, not likable to voters, not likable to Roger Simon?

SIMON: No, not to reporters, to voters. He has a likability problem, and I've interviewed him on it. He has to reach out and make people like him, because when they get in the voting booth that's what they care about.

And it's based on issues, and it's based on how they feel. But they have to have a good feeling about the candidate. And if you're just an angry man, you're not going to get voters to vote for you.

KURTZ: Did journalists, Mark Barabak, buy into the Dean bubble? I mean, how did they misjudge Iowa so badly?

BARABAK: Well, I'll dispute the premise to the extent I think you need to make a differentiation between pundits who go on the air to make predictions and some of the coverage that was coming out.

I mean, people wrote into Kerry was surging. People wrote that Edwards was surging. I mean, a lot of that was in there.

KURTZ: Well, people wrote that Kerry and Edwards were surging in the final days when they showed up in the tracking polls. If you go back and look at newspapers in the beginning of January, everybody said Howard Dean, prohibitive favorite, may win Iowa, could win New Hampshire, the race will be over.

BARABAK: I would buy that. I mean, the thing was -- I mean, look, until the votes are cast, you don't have a whole lot to go on. There's not a lot of empirical evidence. And everyone looked at everything, and the support he had and money he had raised, the organization. He seemed to have organization.

All you can do is go on what you know. And what history has shown us is that organization was the most important thing in Iowa.

Now, as someone said in the end if you get really, really hot, people organize themselves and come out for you. You know, we hadn't seen that phenomena before, so all you can do as a reporter is go on the best information you had, which at that time pointed to organization being the key thing and Gephardt and Dean having the best organization.

KURTZ: Of course, every campaign is different.

ZUCKMAN: And this is the problem with the invisible primary. You know? It's we're making it up. We're looking at...

KURTZ: Making it up?

ZUCKMAN: Well, you know.

KURTZ: Invented by journalists?

ZUCKMAN: We're looking at the money. We're looking at the organization, and we're drawing conclusions.

KURTZ: Nobody's voted?

ZUCKMAN: Nobody has voted, and until people vote you do not know what is really happening.

BARABAK: Humility's not a bad thing.

KURTZ: What explains the overwhelming desire to predict elections and look silly on the part of reporters?

SIMON: Television. That's why they have us on. We all -- you used to be able to go on TV and say, "Look, I'm not a predictor; I'm an analyst. I analyze."

And they said, "No, no, no, no, no. We want predictions. We want to see the future." That's why we do polls. Why have polls taken over campaign reporting? Because it's magic. It tells us the future.

You know, we could all just wait. We could wait for the results. We wouldn't have to do predictions. We wouldn't have to be a victim of polls, but we can't wait anymore.

KURTZ: Well, that is truly appalling. So who's going to win New Hampshire?

BARABAK: I'm going to wait for the results to come out.

KURTZ: Not going out on a limb?

BARABAK: I will not try.

KURTZ: Not with Kerry riding high?

BARABAK: Absolutely not. I'm not smart enough to even try.

KURTZ: That's because you know we have this on videotape.

Mark Barabak, Jill Zuckman, Roger Simon, thanks very much for joining us.

Coming up next, Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert slices and dices the media.

And just ahead, Steve and Cokie Roberts on the journalistic invasion here in New Hampshire. Stick around.



Joining me now is Stephen Colbert. You know him from Comedy Central's "Daily Show."

And let's take a look at some of the erudite commentary from Colbert on Comedy Central.


JON STEWART, "THE DAILY SHOW" HOST: How do you think the news networks fared in Iowa?

STEPHEN COLBERT, "THE DAILY SHOW": Well, Jon, the big surprise was Fox News. They jumped out to an early lead as the angry network, appealed to a lot of younger viewers. But they said Dean would win so they got crushed. It's got to hurt them.

MSNBC called it right, but they're really a token network. No one expects them to stay in this thing.

The big loser here was CNN. They laid it out for Gephardt, Edwards, Dean, anybody but Kerry, and they got totally blindsided. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: CNN, the big loser. CNN is not going to be intimidated by the likes of you, Mr. Colbert.

COLBERT: Well, we will crush you.

KURTZ: Look, there are hundreds of hard-working journalists up there, braving the elements, trying to educate America about the issues, and you choose to make fun of them. Why?

COLBERT: Because I'm glad I'm not actually out there in the elements, you know.

KURTZ: You're in the studio.

COLBERT: I'm actually in the studio. I'm up here in New Hampshire for the weekend to shoot lock-offs of locations so that we can put them on a green screen on Tuesday night so I can pretend to be in the freezing cold.

KURTZ: But you are here in the freezing cold.

COLBERT: No, no, no, no. I'm in a studio right now. I have a nice cozy warm car waiting for me outside, and I'm going to scoot into that and go off to the next thing.

KURTZ: How hard is it for you at "The Daily Show" to take the average political reporter on the cable news network and play with it and make the reporters look like blithering idiots? I mean, do you break a sweat?

COLBERT: Well, we have no desire to make anybody look like a blithering idiot, but we do love it when they do. Because we get it off the A.P. feed, and then we don't have to write anything for the next five minutes. We can just roll the tape.

KURTZ: So you're saying it really isn't hard to...

COLBERT: Well, there's so many of you.

KURTZ: ... to skewer us?

COLBERT: If -- there's so many of you, it's like throwing a dart at, you know, one of those children's party balloon boards. Everybody in the party, you know gets a prize. All you have to do is pop one balloon.

If it's 24-hour news cycle, you know, and there are three 24 hours and then there's the networks and there's CNBC. And then there's -- I don't know -- the National Network now has a news channel, you can throw a dart and you'll hit somebody. So you guys have made it easy for us by going out there and waving your arms and saying, "Punch us."

KURTZ: You've got a lot of darts. Now, I hesitate to bring this up, but since you're the senior political analyst...

COLBERT: Actually, I'm the senior senior political analyst. There's a junior senior political analyst, but he couldn't be here.

KURTZ: I stand corrected. Does Howard Dean seem to you a little angry?

COLBERT: Look, I think the only thing that's making him angry is how people are saying that he's angry. He's not really angry about anything else. That scream that he uttered, you know, on...

KURTZ: I saw something about that.

COLBERT: Did you hear about that?


COLBERT: Has anyone run that tape, because I would love to see it? I don't know if anybody actually has that.

I think people are being unfair to him. You know, he was just speaking -- he was in a farm community. He was just speaking the language of the farm. He was a-hollerin' as we say down on the farm.

And what you don't know -- what the media is not telling you -- is that if you'd shown the reversal shot of that audience there was 300 razor back hogs in the audience. He was just calling them to the trough. OK? That "yes!" was just a (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

KURTZ: What about John Edwards? He's a pretty slick candidate, in your view.

COLBERT: Oh, you know, I loved him in the debates, speaking of the media. We are speaking of the media, right?


COLBERT: OK. On Monday night, no, in the debate, on Monday night he...

KURTZ: He was asked about...

COLBERT: Brit Hume asked him about the Defense of Marriage Act and actually raised his voice to John Edwards. He actually said, you know, "Why would you say that about the Defense of Marriage Act when, you know, that's not what it says."

And I thought, "Wow, that was really a startling thing to hear Brit Hume raise his voice to a sitting senator."

And I think it put John Edwards back on his heels a little bit. I mean, he said, you know, "I wasn't there when the whole Defense of Marriage Act was written. I didn't vote for it. I don't know what it says. I'm not -- I don't know who you are or where I am or what the question was."

KURTZ: Now, you are a fake news show.

COLBERT: Yes, I am probably the least reliable source you could have.

KURTZ: Well, that gives me a great feeling of confidence. And yet, despite the fact that you advertise that it's all bogus...

COLBERT: Yes. We're 100 percent fake.

KURTZ: ... almost all the presidential candidates have come on "the Daily Show." In fact I can break this now on national television for the first time. Howard Dean tomorrow night is going to be on "The Daily Show."


KURTZ: So why do they do it? How do you explain this?

COLBERT: It's that opportunity to talk to a young demographic about the minutia of Medicare prescription drug benefits. I think they really want that opportunity. And ethanol subsidies. They know the 18- to 25-year-olds just really want to know about it.

KURTZ: Well, they're pandering to the young demographic that you are perceived to have?

COLBERT: I don't know why they would, because the young demographic doesn't necessarily vote.

KURTZ: But there's this poll, recent survey saying 20 percent of young people get their news from comedy shows like "Saturday Night Live" and "The Daily Show." Does that put an awesome responsibility on your shoulders?

COLBERT: No, none whatsoever, because I don't believe it. Because they wouldn't come to the show unless they knew something about the news already. You know? Because they wouldn't get any of the jokes if they didn't know what the story was.

KURTZ: You have to have some grasp of the campaign.

COLBERT: Exactly. You can't just, you know, land from a planet and look at our show and think that it's a comedy show. You might think it's news. Maybe that's what it is. Maybe they're not coming to it for comedy.

KURTZ: Now Carol Moseley Braun came on "The Daily Show."

COLBERT: I don't know why Dean lost Iowa after Moseley Braun endorsed him. With that kind of backing, if you throw that away, you don't deserve to be president.

KURTZ: Yes, but it was actually very historic, because she sat down with Jon Stewart and she said, "I'm in this campaign to win. I am going to stay. I am going to win Iowa." And then an hour later, she dropped out, so...

COLBERT: That's the influence "The Daily Show" has now. It can crush a campaign in a five-minute interview.

KURTZ: Didn't you feel used?

COLBERT: Yes. We all feel very dirty.

KURTZ: What was your reaction when you heard that she was...?

COLBERT: I didn't know she was on the show. I was in Iowa, and I actually went up to her and asked her for an interview.

KURTZ: You were...?

COLBERT: I was in real Iowa.

KURTZ: Real Iowa.

COLBERT: At a real Dean rally right after she had conceded or said she was out and she was supporting Dean. I said, "Do you think I could get you for an interview?"

She said, "I was on 'The Daily Show' last night." So that's the level of communication we have in our news business.

KURTZ: Stephen Colbert, in the loop as always.

Now, this guy, Jon Stewart, you know, basically...

COLBERT: I'm sorry. Who?

KURTZ: Well, he's a second string comic on a basic cable network.

COLBERT: Basic cable, OK.

KURTZ: He winds up on the cover of "Newsweek." You see it there.

COLBERT: That's a beautiful suit.

KURTZ: This morning, "Manchester Union Leader and Sunday News," "Daily Show Tunes In." There's Jon Stewart.


KURTZ: So tell me, and I know you're going to be candid with me.


KURTZ: Has this all gone to his head?

COLBERT: He's a monster. He's a monster. He's a kingmaker. We're going to throw all of our support behind Sharpton in New Hampshire and just see how much influence we have. KURTZ: Hasn't the guy become insufferable since getting all this publicity?

COLBERT: Become insufferable?

KURTZ: All right. We have about a minute left.


KURTZ: What's your goal here in New Hampshire? You're basically here to stir up trouble?

COLBERT: This is it. I've made my goal. I'm on RELIABLE SOURCES. I can retire now. And I think I'm in this article, and so that's it.

KURTZ: Well, you're on the job, so apparently but -- really what you want to do is take people like me who are working so hard -- and make fun of us.

COLBERT: You are breaking a sweat. I can tell.

KURTZ: Yes. Sitting next to you.

COLBERT: I just am just trying to make a buck, man.

No we want to come up here. We want to introduce ourselves to politicians and press people and say, "Please, let us play in your game. Let us be in your reindeer games."

KURTZ: So you're sucking up?

COLBERT: One hundred percent. Whatever we need to suck we're sucking it.

KURTZ: Consider it done. Stephen Colbert from "The Daily Show."

COLBERT: Thank you.

KURTZ: Thanks very much for joining.

Still much more to some in this special expanded edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. Steve and Cokie Roberts on the press and New Hampshire.

And the president tries to grab a share of the media spotlight plus the latest headlines from CNN Center in Atlanta after the break.



KURTZ: Welcome back to this special hour-long edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz, live in Manchester, New Hampshire. The press had one other story to cover and dissect this week in the wake of Iowa, President Bush's State of the Union Address Tuesday night. Joining me now from Washington, Dana Milbank, White House correspondent for "The Washington Post," and Ken Auletta, he's the media writer for "The New Yorker" and author of the just published "Back Story: Inside the Business of News."


Ken Auletta Bush schedules the State of the Union speech the day after the Iowa caucuses, obviously trying to steal some of the Democrats' thunder. But in media terms, the speech seemed to come and go rather quickly. Did it work?

KEN AULETTA, "THE NEW YORKER": Well, it did for a night, but then it did fade, because you've got this great campaign for the Democratic nomination going on. But Bush got -- you know, he stole the headlines for a day or two, he insinuated some issues that he wanted to insinuate in the race, including the fact the Democrats are weak on terrorism, weak on defense, weak on Iraq, his point of view. And obviously ignored the fact that he had predicted in his last State of the Union -- he didn't predict, he actually claimed that Iraq had X number of weapons of mass destruction, which he ran over this time and ignored.

KURTZ: No mention of that in the speech.

AULETTA: Just a pretense.

KURTZ: Dana Milbank, the television pundits -- exactly -- the television pundits came on after the speech and they said it was businesslike, a little flat. Is there an unwritten rule that you can't be too critical of the president's State of the Union right after he's finished addressing the nation?

AULETTA: Yes. I mean, imagine if Howard Dean had predicted weapons of mass destruction, what we would have done to him. So I think there's a double standard.

KURTZ: Dana Milbank, your thoughts?

DANA MILBANK, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, yes. I mean, we all have to give the President his say. And you'll notice that -- in fact, we had a little controversy at our paper because actually the top story above the president's State of the Union was what was going on in New Hampshire in the Democratic race there.

The fact of the matter is, the President didn't say anything new in this speech, but there are these certain set piece speeches where you say, oh, it is the State of the Union; therefore, it is big news. If the President gives a press conference even, that's going to be page one news. So out of deference to the institution, it is given a lot of attention, it's given a lot of network time.

But I think a lot of people are saying, look, if the man didn't announce any new policies, if he's essentially giving a hyped-up version of his regular stump speech, what are we doing? Are we just being sort of tools in playing out his campaign speech?

KURTZ: And on that point, "The Washington Post" (UNINTELLIGIBLE) this morning criticizing the paper for, in his view, playing down the speech.

But Ken Auletta, in a 24/7 media world, maybe the State of the Union, like the political conventions and other events of that nature, aren't what they used to be. The ratings were down for the State of the Union, and the last time Bush was interviewed on television he was beaten in the ratings by this Paris Hilton reality show.

AULETTA: I mean, and maybe it's not as important. Clearly, we don't devote as much attention to political events, certainly conventions this year. You'll see much less coverage of it. And the State of the Union is consistent with that. I think the public, in an age where we play up things like Howard Dean's "whoop," other things seem very boring, including State of the Union.

MILBANK: You know, How, what it is, is...


MILBANK: ... we're look for surprises. And there was no surprise in the president's speech.

There was a surprise in Howard Dean's outburst. There was a surprise in the outcome in Iowa. And nobody knows what's going to happen in New Hampshire. Whereas the president's speech did not tell us anything we didn't know, which is why give it top billing?

AULETTA: Also, you know, it was an hour long or hour-plus long.

KURTZ: So you're saying that perhaps it should have been edited more tightly into a half-hour show.

AULETTA: I think a lot of people fell asleep.

KURTZ: Of course these things do tend to run on. Bill Clinton was famous for very long State of the Union addresses.

Ken Auletta, in last week's "New Yorker" you had a lengthy, very well reported piece about how the Bush White House views the press. Let me read a couple of quotes.

White House Chief of Staff Andy Card, "Journalist don't represent the public any more than other people do." You quoted Karl Rove, the president's chief political adviser, saying that Bush "views the press as elitist and trying to get a headline on a story that will make people pay attention."

Why all this resentment of the fourth estate over at 1600 Pennsylvania?

AULETTA: Well, this is not new. I mean, the President, be it Bush or Clinton or Nixon or Reagan, has resented the press, as the press resents the President. They each feel wronged, but what is new about the Bush administration is they believe that we, people like Dana Milbank, who cover them and cover them very well, represent a special interest, not the common interests, that they don't speak for the public.

That they're elitist, they may have a liberal bias. And therefore, because they are a special interest, they don't have to treat them as if they represent the public interests. Ipso facto, that's one reason that Bush has held fewer press conferences, 11 in three years, than any modern President.

KURTZ: Dana Milbank, as a representative of the media elitists, what is the impact on people like you trying to cover the White House when the people at the very top don't seem to have a whole lot of respect for what you do? What's the impact? How much harder is it to do your job?

MILBANK: It is daily hand-to-hand combat. It's never been easy in any administration. But with this one particularly, you know when the President says, "You're with us or you're against us," it's not just his theory in talking about terrorists and foreign nations. You could say it's the same thing in looking at the press. That we're not with him all the time, so therefore we're not to be trusted.

You know, we're sort of the Saudi Arabia in the whole equation here. And so, therefore, he's got to -- he's got to keep us at arm's length.

I think they're very wrong to view us as a special interest, but they are correct that we're not some sort of statistic representative of the population. I think where Andy Card is quite wrong is to say that we don't have a check and balance function. Our job is to ask the tough questions, our job is to expose them. And they would be very happy if we would just serve as stenographers.

KURTZ: Ken Auletta, from your observations and interviews at the White House, does it seem to you that the president and his strategists are particularly good at manipulating the press to get the kind of coverage they want, or are they really going around the mainstream press, almost ignoring it and trying to go directly to the people of America?

AULETTA: I think they do both. I think they're very good. They're very skilled and disciplined at getting their message out and controlling leaks.

There have been fewer leaks in this administration than in previous ones. But every president tries to go around the filter. Bush is no different in that regard. They're just different in that they've been more effective.

But I think you'll see as we approach the campaign, as the Bush people worry about re-election, they'll become more forthcoming. I mean, they've already begun to reach out to reporters who they hadn't talked to. And they stopped talking to Dana at one time. They're talking to him again.

Right, Dana?

KURTZ: Were you frozen out, Dana Milbank, as Ken Auletta reports?

MILBANK: I don't know. I got a lot of grief in Ken's report because he's called me, short, balding and low key, whereas...

AULETTA: Turn around, Dana.

MILBANK: ... my colleagues suggested (UNINTELLIGIBLE) high strung would have been more effective. But you know...

AULETTA: But on the other hand...

MILBANK: ... he is right that every reporter gets a lot of abuse from this White House. They don't particularly like me, but the difference between me and a reporter that they really like is almost imperceptible.

I think you could see this during the campaign in 2000. They weren't reaching out. I thought it would change when they came in the White House. Now Ken says maybe it'll change again in this campaign.

I just assume that this is the way this White House works. I mean, yes, they're speaking to me again, but I feel like it is a great achievement, when at the end of the day I've gotten the communications director or the press secretary on the telephone. And wait a second, this is their job to speak to me, and here I'm congratulating myself on this achievement.

KURTZ: But Auletta also reports that Ari Fleischer and Karen Hughes at one point tried to get you taken offer the White House beat at "The Washington Post."

MILBANK: This is true.

KURTZ: That's hardball.

MILBANK: And that is definitely hardball. And they've done lots of sort of ominous-sounding phone calls and veiled threats to many of my colleagues.

I think things have changed a bit with Scott McClellan, the new press secretary, who is very well liked, even if he does not disclose a great deal of information. And I think the White House is developing more of a thick skin. They realize how the game works here.

They're able to brush off a lot of the criticism they see in the press. I find that when they really get -- something gets under their skin, it tends to be something that the president himself has noticed in paragraph 19. That's when they just won't let you go about something.

KURTZ: Well, I thought he didn't read the newspapers. Ken Auletta, we have about 30 seconds. I'm surprised, because in the 2000 campaign George W. Bush got along very well with reporters and courted reporters. Now, of course, it's different as an incumbent president. But do you see a charm offensive coming as we get into re- election season?

AULETTA: I think there will be a little more of a charm offensive. But listen, the truth of the matter is the president doesn't think his interests and ours coincide, and he acts accordingly. He's very tough-minded, as are his people about that.

KURTZ: All right. We'll have to leave it there. Ken Auletta from "The New Yorker," Dana Milbank of "The Washington Post," thanks very much for joining us.

Much more ahead on this special edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.

Coming up next, a high-profile couple with plenty of Washington journalism experience critiqued the coverage of the Democratic candidates here in New Hampshire. Steve and Cokie Roberts next.


KURTZ: Welcome back.

There aren't too many Washington couples with more experience covering politics than Steve and Cokie Roberts. He is a former "New York Times" reporter who now teaches journalism at George Washington University. She's an ABC correspondent and the former co-host of "This Week." These days, Steve and Cokie write a nationally syndicated newspaper column together, and they join me now from Washington.




KURTZ: Cokie Roberts, I was with Howard Dean in a coffee shop the other day, and there were 11 photographs behind the counter snapping away as he tried to have a cup of hot chocolate. This is supposed to be a great retail politics state. But I'm wondering whether the media have come to utterly dominate the New Hampshire primary.

C. ROBERTS: Sure they have. Not just us, the foreign media as well. You probably saw some people in that coffee shop who didn't speak English.

It is definitely a media event, as are the Iowa caucuses. But you know, I suppose that's appropriate, because since Iowa and New Hampshire are in the position where they get to choose the nominee for the rest of the country, it is a good thing that there are a lot of reporters there to tell us who these fellows are. KURTZ: But there are also a lot of reporters, Steve Roberts, to tell us who won, not just in the sense of who got the most votes, but on Tuesday night we'll hear, "Did John Kerry win by a big enough margin? Did Howard Dean (UNINTELLIGIBLE) a sufficient comeback? Did Edwards and Clark lose momentum?"

Is there too much of that interpretation in these early primaries?

S. ROBERTS: Yes. I think there is -- a lot of this is a game. Do you -- are you BTE or LTE, better than expected or less than expected? And certainly we have a role to play in doing that. Maybe we do a little too much of it.

But Cokie's point is a good one. Look, since only Iowa and New Hampshire really are voting, this is such a small segment of the electorate. In a sense, the press are surrogates for the rest of the country, for voters in other places.

We get to ask questions that people in Michigan can't ask. We get to react in ways that people in Florida can't react. So we have a very important role to play, because Iowa and New Hampshire are pretty small places.

KURTZ: By my calculations, Howard Dean has gotten about 5,000 times more media scrutiny than the other candidates combined. He's also made a lot of mistakes. But has there been a fundamental imbalance in the way the doctor is covered versus the other candidates?

S. ROBERTS: I was talking to one Democratic consultant yesterday, Howie, who said, "You know, for Howard Dean to complain about press coverage is for Aspen, Colorado to complain about snow." I mean, this is a guy who rode to the head of the pack on -- in many ways, on favorability press coverage.

So to be complaining now about the press is -- is a little weird. I mean, look, he has gotten a great deal of scrutiny, and he hasn't stood up to it very well. And maybe it's gone overboard, particularly all the talk about the scream. But the fact is, as he himself said, when he started this campaign, he went to see Gary Hart, who knows something about press scrutiny, and Gary Hart said no wimps ever become president. And that means you've got to be able to stand up to that scrutiny. If you can't stand up to George Stephanopoulos and Tim Russert and everybody else asking you questions, maybe you shouldn't be president.

C. ROBERTS: Well, it's also true...

KURTZ: The old Russert primary.

Go ahead, Cokie.

C. ROBERTS: This does get back to that -- the first question you asked, though. Howard Dean is the least known nationally of these candidates, of the top-tier candidates. And I think that that is another reason that the scrutiny has been there, is that, you know, people in Vermont might know him.

KURTZ: Sure. He was like Jimmy Carter.

C. ROBERTS: Right.

KURTZ: He was like Jimmy Carter. He came out of nowhere.

C. ROBERTS: That's right.

KURTZ: But now 12 years ago, Cokie Roberts, you were up here and you moderated a Democratic debate with a then relatively little known small state governor, Bill Clinton. And it was right after the Jennifer Flowers story broke. And you asked him -- I checked the transcript -- about concerns that the Republicans will find someone else and she will come forward. And he said that was highly unlikely, which is interesting in terms of what happened during his presidency.

Do you see, not in sexual terms, obviously, Howard Dean and his wife, Judy, his little scene (ph), going on with Diane Sawyer on "PrimeTime Live," as a similar media strategy to try to defuse the problems that he's been having the way Bill Clinton did, perhaps, with Hillary on "60 Minutes?"

C. ROBERTS: Well, it's not in the face of scandal like that was. But certainly it has the effect of softening the image that that speech projected.

And I must say, Steve and I were watching that speech from the coziness of our bed and we both had the reaction of, my goodness, that is really over the top. So it wasn't just generated after the effect -- after the fact. The effect of it was quite startling.

And Dr. Judith Steinberg-Dean is a very refreshing sort of person. And I think she certainly has been brought out to try to round his edges a little bit.

The problem there, Howie, though is that it's like the religion conversation. It's like the Confederate flag. None of it seems quite genuine when he's already said, my wife's got a life of her own, she has a medical practice, she's got a kid at home, she's not going to be here. All of a sudden, he's in trouble, she's there.

KURTZ: Right, suddenly the wife is trotted out.

S. ROBERTS: And I also think...

KURTZ: Go ahead.

S. ROBERTS: Another thing, Howie, is there's been a lot of talk about have we overdone the coverage of the scream? And there's no doubt that we all tend to overreact to certain stories. I call them one-word stories.

If you can sum up a story in one word, Monica, Chandra, Kobe, O.J., sniper, these are the stories that the press tends to go overboard on. And this is "the scream" in the same way. KURTZ: Before I run screaming from the room, Steve Roberts, you say that, you know, intensive scrutiny and coverage comes with being the front-runner. But then why is John Kerry, who is ahead in the polls right now, or John Edwards, who did well in Iowa, not getting the treatment from the press as well?

S. ROBERTS: Well, in some ways there's not enough time. And I was talking to one Democrat this week who said, "Look, one of the advantages that Kerry has is that now that he's suddenly become the front-runner, but there are matter of days for reporters to go after his record." They had months and months and months to go back and look after Dean.

And also a very important thing. That given the fact that negative ads in Iowa brought down both Gephardt and Dean, there's almost a pact among Democrats not to go negative. Kerry does not have the same scrutiny from the press because there's not enough time, and he's not getting attacked by his rivals because negative ads are out of favor. So he's benefiting from both of those.

KURTZ: OK. Well, we can move quickly when we want to. And we'll have to see whether that scrutiny comes up.

We'll take a quick break here. When we come back, why do journalists treat this small state primary as such a big deal?


KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES. We're back with the Roberts family, who have been covering politics for, well, a real long time.

Cokie Roberts, in the last two weeks, there's been almost no focus in the media on issues. For example, Dean, the only remaining candidate who wants to roll back all of President Bush's tax cuts. Does that brother you at all?

C. ROBERTS: Look, I actually think we've done an awfully good job so far in this campaign of putting issues out both on broadcast media and in the newspapers. And keep in mind these candidates have had five trillion debates. And anybody who wants to know where they stand on the issues can watch the debates and now can go on the Internet and replay the debates if they want to.

We're in a different world media-wise in terms of issues than we used to be, because there's not just sort of one shot at them. You can go back and look at them over and over and over again, and I think that's very useful.

S. ROBERTS: And I also think, Howie, that sometimes we get sort of this elitist notion about, well, the campaign should be about issues. I can tell you that I've (UNINTELLIGIBLE) at a lot of voting booths in Iowa and New Hampshire over the years, and when people come out of the voting booth and I ask them, "Well, why did you vote the way you did," they never say, I voted for Al Gore because of his 18- point program on education. What they say is, "I like somebody. I trust somebody. I have a comfort level with somebody." I think the questions of temperament...

KURTZ: But you just said that we've overdone the scream coverage and the temperament and so forth.

S. ROBERTS: Yes, but...

KURTZ: You know? And maybe it's partially our fault.

S. ROBERTS: Well, no. But I think we've overdone the scream coverage, but I think a lot of the scream coverage was legitimate because I think that it did say something important about Howard Dean's judgment and temperament, sense of lack of discipline. And I do think those are important issues. I think we went overboard, but I think understanding the ability of these people to act under pressure is much more important than their programs on education.

C. ROBERTS: Right. I mean, there's that question of, you know, finger on the button business. But you know, Howie, that's also a good example of how things have changed in terms of media over the years. A lot of the currency of Howard Dean's scream was on late night television, with comedians making jokes about it. And then there were all of those Internet renditions of it. And, you know, this is basically live by the Internet, die by the Internet, in terms of Howard Dean.

KURTZ: It's become part of the pop culture. Very brief question. New Hampshire, rural state, 96 percent white. Cokie Roberts, do the media overdo it in terms of its importance in the nominating process?

C. ROBERTS: Well, no, because the nominating process ends very quickly after New Hampshire in recent years. And it is a place where you can see the candidates up close and where you see them with all different kinds of people.

KURTZ: Right.

C. ROBERTS: I mean, those poor little New Hampshire schoolchildren are using props by candidates over and over and over again.

KURTZ: Well, that makes it fun for journalists as well.

Cokie Robert, Steve Roberts, thanks very much for joining us.

C. ROBERTS: Good to be with you.

KURTZ: We'll be right back.


KURTZ: Well, that's it for this New Hampshire edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurt. Join us again next Sunday morning at our regular time, 11:30 Eastern, for another critical look at the media.



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