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Have the Media Anointed Kerry?; Why Did Bush Go on 'Meet the Press'?; Is CBS Really Sorry for Super Bowl Stunt?

Aired February 8, 2004 - 11:30   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice-over): Game over? John Edwards and Wes Clark each won a primary, but in the wake of John Kerry's victories last night in Michigan and Washington, are the media all but declaring him the Democratic nominee?

Why do reporters keep asking Edwards if he'll be Kerry's running mate?

And what's behind President Bush's decision to go on this morning's "Meet the Press"?

Also CBS' super embarrassment. Why does television keep replaying this rip-off and is the network really sorry?


KURTZ: Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES, where today we turn a critical lens on John Kerry, George Bush and Janet Jackson for very different reasons.

First up, the Democratic frontrunner cemented his frontrunner status last night with victories in Michigan and Washington state, and he's expected to win today in Maine.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are looking at Mr. Kerry at the best time in his life. He is a rocket going up right now. It's a wonderful time. He's new. He's fresh.

ANNOUNCER: In the CROSSFIRE, will three more states mean three more wins for Senator John Kerry?


ANNOUNCER: Is John Kerry unstoppable?


KURTZ: But what about the other candidates? Reporters seem to hit John Edwards with the same annoying question day after day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John Kerry or some other nominee of your party comes to you and says, Senator Edwards, you've got that appeal in the South, you're a very strong candidate. You need to be the vice presidential nominee of this party. Will you say no?

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Any aspirations? In the past you've said no to being vice president?



KURTZ: Well, joining us now here in Washington, Gloria Borger. She's the co-host of CNBC's "Capital Report" and a columnist for "U.S. News & World Report"; Melinda Henneberger, reporter for "Newsweek" magazine. And in New York, CNN senior analyst Jeff Greenfield.


Gloria Borger, "U.S. News" cover on Kerry, "His to Lose." We're less than three weeks into the thing, and all the journalists who said that Dean was unstoppable now say that Kerry is unstoppable.

Are you comfortable with that?

GLORIA BORGER, "CAPITAL REPORT" CO-HOST: Maybe we're right 50 percent of the time.

I think we created Howard Dean in a lot of ways before any votes were cast and, you know, for good reason. He was drawing the crowds out there. And then we kind of created Kerry, in a way, as the default candidate after the Dean scream which was...

KURTZ: Doesn't Kerry get any credit?

BORGER: ... which we ran over and over again.

Yes, Kerry does get an awful lot of credit for pivoting and adapting to his new situation, but I do believe that we did sort of create both of these guys.

KURTZ: Jeff Greenfield, what deep psychological urge pushes journalists to try to declare a race over after only a few states have voted?

All right. Technical problem there. We'll go to Melinda Henneberger instead.

Pick up on the Howard Dean point. Dean got hammered by the press when he was the frontrunner. Kerry's had a few negative stories tying him to special interest money and that sort of thing, but you know, today's "New York Times", "Washington Post," a very balanced look at his record.

Here's "The New York Times": "In the Senate, Kerry focused on inquiries not bills."

So is Kerry getting a somewhat easier ride?

MELINDA HENNEBERGER, "NEWSWEEK": I don't think so. I don't think Kerry has had particularly warm relations with the press over the course of his career. And I think that this, if today's stories were light, I don't think that we can expect that to continue. I think...

KURTZ: You think this was a temporary lull before the heavy artillery comes out?

HENNEBERGER: Yes, I think that, yes, we were ready to anoint Dean and now we're anointing Kerry. And if he slips, we'll be more than happy to anoint Edwards or, you know.

KURTZ: We've apparently established contact with Jeff Greenfield. What about this apparent Rush in my view, Jeff, to -- for journalists to say, "Well, the race is over. These other guys might as well drop out."

Why do journalists do that?

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, first of all because sharks got to swim and bats got to fly. It's in the DNA, and it's a besetting sin.

I don't really have a problem with journalists looking at actual results after 11, 12 primaries and caucuses and saying, you know, John Kerry looks like he's a clear favorite.

The idiocy, and it is perennial, is to look at polls three or six or nine months out and make these pretentious and portentous conclusions before any human being has voted.

It is perfectly right to say last fall that Howard Dean was a great story. He raised $5 million. He was building an organization in a new way. He was tapping into Democratic anger. All that was legitimate journalism.

But then to get up and say, "It's toast. He's finished, this is going to be Howard Dean's, the secretary of education." This is why they think the press is arrogant and dumb, because that kind of behavior is arrogant and dumb.

KURTZ: A lot of people got in on that.

I want to turn to John Edwards. And, Gloria, you interviewed Edwards' wife, Elizabeth, on CNBC's "Capital Report." Let's take a look at some of that.


BORGER: So why was John Edwards in the back of the pack for so long?


BORGER: OK. Go ahead. The media. I represent the media.

E. EDWARDS: Well, the truth of the matter is, he has a positive message that doesn't -- you know, the car wreck leads the news.


KURTZ: Does she have a fair complaint? We don't understand nice guy candidates?

BORGER: Well, I think, you know, we sort of live at the bottom of the food chain, Howie.

You know, people are fighting each other; they're taking on each other. That's a better story than a guy out there who has a relentlessly positive message, which is what John Edwards had.

Now, I would also argue that he became a better candidate after having been in the race for a long time, but I do believe that there is a point there. He wasn't out there attacking anybody. He was a positive guy. He wasn't catching on, so we covered the others with more ferocity.

KURTZ: You profiled John Edwards, Melinda. Is it harder to write about somebody who's not taking whacks at his rivals? We're all so used to the attack ads and the rhetoric of that nature.

HENNEBERGER: I have to say, it's a little refreshing. I think that we -- in giving him a little less coverage than he might have gotten, we're always fighting the last war. I think we were correcting for the big coverage he got in the beginning, you know, the really kind of over-the-top "this is the guy." Which we did.

KURTZ: Golden boy. Southerner. Good hair.

HENNEBERGER: Before we anointed Dean, we anointed Edwards. And then...

KURTZ: It was several anointments ago?

HENNEBERGER: Yes. Exactly.

And I think all these questions that he's so annoyed about, I think rightly so, about is this really a vice presidential bid, I can understand why he doesn't want to hear that.

Because, first of all it's so premature. Those vice presidential picks are always made based on what's happening in that moment.

KURTZ: Way premature.

HENNEBERGER: And the pre -- the perceived gaps for the nominee, but also in Edwards' case, I mean, it's so obvious that if he wanted to seriously considered as a vice presidential choice, he could have stayed home and held onto his Senate seat. KURTZ: Right, but so why is it, Jeff Greenfield, that every interview that I have seen on television with John Edwards in the last three weeks has included the question, "Well, would you be Kerry's running mate?"

GREENFIELD: Well, it's a legitimate question. He has won one primary. He has appeal in a place where Kerry doesn't. His campaign took fire, in my view, the day after the "Des Moines Register" debate, where he unveiled what he calls his closing argument, the stump speech about the two Americas.

So it's not -- it's not an illegitimate question. But once again...

KURTZ: But isn't it a question that presumes that his campaign for president is basically going down the tubes?

GREENFIELD: I think it presumes that he's a long shot, but what I do agree with -- and I don't know what you do about that, short of repealing the First Amendment and hiring armed bands of people to hit reporters in the kneecaps when they ask repetitive questions. I'm not favoring that, by the way.

I mean, look, you know, it's almost like inflation. There's too many reporters chasing too few stories.

And I also think a great number of people who cover presidential politics don't know anything. And so they ask two questions. I really do.

They ask about poll numbers, because they seem to be objective. You know, so Joe Lieberman is the frontrunner two years before anybody votes.

And then they ask who's going to be the vice president? If we have to ask about the vice presidential nominee, I may just go on vacation.

KURTZ: Hopefully, you won't do that.

Let's turn now to -- NBC just finished airing the "Meet the Press" interview with President Bush.

Let's look at some of the exchanges with Tim Russert. Have we got that?


TIM RUSSERT, "MEET THE PRESS" HOST: How do you respond to critics who say that you brought the nation to war under false pretenses?

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yes, the -- first of all, I expected to find the weapons.

RUSSERT: But your base conservatives -- listen to Rush Limbaugh, the Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute -- they're all saying you're the biggest spender in American history.

BUSH: Well, they're wrong.


KURTZ: Gloria Borger, why would the president go on Russert, who's famous for his sustained interrogations, as opposed to taking his wife and his dog and sitting down with Oprah?

BORGER: Well, I think that's going to come later in the campaign. You can be sure he will sit down with Oprah.

But right now, obviously, they're on the defensive. They've been pounded for six or seven weeks, Howie, by these Democratic candidates. They haven't responded. The polls are heading in the wrong direction.

KURTZ: Bad news on Iraq.

BORGER: Bad news on Iraq, on weapons of mass destruction.

And when he had his moment at the State of the Union speech, where a president usually goes up in the public opinion polls after getting a free hour, hour and a half of network air time, this president went down after his State of the Union speech. So they know they had to do something.

KURTZ: Jeff Greenfield, did Tim Russert let the president go on too long, kind of like at a press conference in his answers, or was his tone just about right?

GREENFIELD: No, you're in the Oval Office and the president of the United States has a certain amount of deference. I have a feeling that this is not going to be, to use this wretched cliche, the defining moment of the 2004 campaign.

But I think Gloria is right about why he did it.

KURTZ: And Melinda Henneberger, does the president benefit from this sort of Sunday morning interrogation, as long as he doesn't make an obvious gaffe or mistake or something that we can all replay like the scream? There was no screaming in there.

HENNEBERGER: I think he does because I think -- I think I would expect him essentially to stick to what's worked for him in the past, which is limiting access to the press.

But I think that he sends a strong message that he's taking criticism seriously when he does something like, you know, go on and talk to Tim Russert.

I also found it really interesting that his wife gave a rare interview this week to "The New York Times," in which she tried to counter the idea that her husband wasn't -- wasn't concerned about criticism and was a little out of touch, saying, "You know, when he told us that he doesn't read newspapers, what he really means is he doesn't read columnists he doesn't like." So I thought...

KURTZ: Revising the record there. In our system where a president doesn't testify before Congress, that Russert interview might be as close as we get to a sustained interrogation with the president on a lot of important subjects.

When we come back, CBS' Super Bowl fumble: is the so-called Tiffany network permanently tarnished?



Yet another controversy has given CBS a big black eye.


KURTZ (voice-over): It's been a tough year for CBS.

First the network tried to land a Jessica Lynch interview by offering her a movie deal and book contract.

Then CBS bowed to pressure in canceling the movie "The Reagans."

Then the entertainment division told Michael Jackson CBS wouldn't air his lucrative music special unless he granted a news interview, which went to "60 Minutes."

And now CBS says it's shocked that Janet Jackson's Breast was exposed during the Super Bowl halftime show. This after having sister company MTV choreograph the bumping and grinding and raunchy rap lyrics.

The media couldn't get enough.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know, this moment has probably been replayed more than any other highlight out there.

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: All Americans were defamed internationally.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When Justin Timberlake tore off part of Janet Jackson's costume and exposed her breast.

TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: I'm inclined to believe they planned it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you naked before this interview is over, as Justin says.



KURTZ: Gloria Borger, this was wildly inappropriate for a game watched by millions of kids. End of discussion.

But if this moment was so shockingly crude and awful and horrifying, why has television -- all the cable networks, all the broadcast networks, replayed it 670,000 times?

BORGER: You know why. Because people want to see it. And there's this echo chamber out there.

KURTZ: How many times do people want to see it?

BORGER: OK. Why did we replay the Dean scream five million times? I plead mea culpa, replaying on our show, the Janet Jackson exposure of the breast so we could talk about it and talk about it and talk about it.

We like to complain about CBS in saying, oh, my goodness, how could they let this happen? And we talk about it incessantly. We replay it, because it's what people want.

KURTZ: Jeff Greenfield, CBS is also the network that aired the Victoria Secret lingerie show. Whenever I watch football, you usually see scantily clad cheerleaders.

So why is everyone acting like TV isn't ordinarily drenched with sex?

GREENFIELD: I'm not sure. I think it's because it's great fun.

I mean, one of the things that made CBS the winner of the hypocrisy bowl, which is a tough call, was that in the middle of the Super Bowl they aired a promo for their sitcom, "Two and a Half Men," that showed a young boy and an older man ogling the pretty much naked backside of an attractive young woman.

So I guess maybe it depends which body part you expose and under what circumstances.

I mean, this whole thing is worth a hundred laughs. People like to talk about sex, look about sex, hopefully have sex. And this is a chance to both condemn it and appeal to it at the same time. Who could ask for anything more?

BORGER: But there are also going to be congressional hearings next week now next week, which is so funny, because Congress can't resist this. Congress is going to get into the act on this and see whether Viacom ought to be punished. And so we'll probably have more opportunities to show the Janet Jackson exposure.

GREENFIELD: This will be great fun. Sorry.

KURTZ: Do you have kids?


KURTZ: Did they see it?

HENNEBERGER: No, but they've been talking about it without cease, nonetheless.

KURTZ: Because they keep seeing it on television after the fact?

HENNEBERGER: No. No, because they heard about it from their friends at school. They're eight, so they're a little bewildered.

KURTZ: OK. Do you think that CBS' credibility has been damaged here because of the incessant focus on this moment?

HENNEBERGER: CBS' credibility was not at a real high going in, so, yes, it didn't help them any. I mean...

KURTZ: Not at a real high, because of these other incidents?

HENNEBERGER: Yes, exactly. I mean, I think that for Janet Jackson, the ultimate indignity might have been that "The New York times" actually ended up reviewing the -- critiquing Janet Jackson's breast and saying that giving...

KURTZ: "The New York Times"?

HENNEBERGER: And giving it a bad review. Yes. Alessandra Stanley wrote that it looked like the average middle-aged woman's breast and may not have helped her image as a sex symbol.

KURTZ: It's a tough world out there. Now, it's...

HENNEBERGER: Really tough world out there. OK.

KURTZ: Let's talk about tonight Grammy awards. It's not clear whether Janet Jackson is showing up or is disinvited, but Justin Timberlake, why is he being allowed to even show his face? I mean, if I reach over -- well, let's not go there.

BORGER: Show his face, much less anything else.

KURTZ: He's the guy who liberated Janet Jackson's breast. Why does he get to go on national television a week later?

BORGER: Well, you know, this is the question that I've talked to a lot of women about this, actually. Because while none of us believe Janet Jackson did the right thing, we also believe that she is taking the complete fall for this, that Justin Timberlake has distanced himself from Janet Jackson, saying nice things like, "I didn't need this for my career."

And yet he gets to go on the Grammies and sing tonight and she doesn't.

KURTZ: Right after the -- Right after the event he was seen on "Access Hollywood" saying, "This is pretty cool. We gave people something to talk about."

And later he's all "I'm clearly so sorry."

BORGER: Really too different -- Clearly too different stories. KURTZ: Right.

BORGER: When you dissect it. But guess what? He gets to sing.

KURTZ: Jeff Greenfield, CBS dangles goodies before Jessica Lynch to try to get an interview with her.

CBS makes that music special deal with Michael Jackson, where he got a lot of money.

CBS then has MTV, you know, produce this halftime show, which not only featured this moment we keep talking about but, you know, rap lyrics like I want to get you naked.

Isn't there a pattern of bad judgment here?

GREENFIELD: They've had a bad track on this. I mean, you know, you could also raise some questions, since they were so shocked at this, they did have to approve the ads they ran at $2.3 million for 30 seconds, that featured, among other things, a dog biting a man's crotch, a flatulent horse and a monkey making sexual advances to a woman.

So, you know, that used to be the Tiffany network and I guess they're just in the same primordial ooze that the rest of us are in, looking those of us who look at it so we can comment on it while watching the tape 500 times.

KURTZ: So your view -- you view, Jeff. You use the term hypocrisy bowl. There's hypocrisy plenty to go around, because everybody who's anywhere near a camera gets to both exploit this and denounce it and joke about it and hopefully get people to watch.

GREENFIELD: Yes, I mean, it's kind of like the, you know, the confession magazines of the '50s that used to run these lurid stories about sexual perversion while having the attitude of "Isn't it terrible. Let us show you this again so you'll know just how bad it is." Yes.

KURTZ: So aren't the networks, not to mention newspapers and magazines, which have run many, many articles on this, aren't they as bad as Janet Jackson? She allowed the exposure, and everybody else is going to make sure that we never ever forget it.

HENNEBERGER: I don't know, but I do think that overall the coverage has been valid. Because I think for a lot of people...

KURTZ: Not excessive?

HENNEBERGER: I'm not so sure, because I think a lot of Americans were really upset about it. I mean, if the FCC got 200,000 calls and e-mails on it, I think we have to respond, too.

KURTZ: But Gloria Borger keeps replaying it on her show.

BORGER: I keep replaying it. Well, and then we have debates over Justin Timberlake and over -- but, you know, it's also to be fair. Let's just -- it's a diversion. It's sort of a fun story at Janet Jackson's expense.

KURTZ: Not Iraq.

BORGER: Yes. It is not Iraq. We are a nation at war. We deal with that. But that is one of those diversions that we can all relate to, because some of us got to watch it with our children, and we really didn't think that was a terrific idea.

And I agree with Jeff. I thought a lot of those ads on erectile dysfunction and the rest during the Super Bowl were probably not a great idea either.

KURTZ: Yes, I think all the kids who watched it, that point is getting lost.

BORGER: The kids thought it was a great idea.

KURTZ: Some of them, at least.

"The Wall Street Journal" editorial page, Jeff Greenfield, says that the president of MTV, Judy McGrath, should resign not only over this incident but because she puts soft core kiddy porn on TV. The chances of that happening?

GREENFIELD: As long as MTV's ratings are good and it's making money for the parent company, I'd say the chances are nil.

Unless -- unless Viacom, the parent company, decides that somebody has to be thrown over the side to assuage the congressmen and women who, as they have since the dawn of television, have periodically held hearings to denounce the terrible things that are going on on television.

That's the only chance I could see of somebody having to really take a fall for this.

KURTZ: You say the coverage is valid because it's an important cultural moment. And there was a lot of outrage, and there's still a lot of outrage, but you don't see the media as sort of part of the problem here?

BORGER: Well, I'm not defending...

KURTZ: By turning this into the new scream?

HENNEBERGER: I'm not defending running the tape a thousand times, but I do say that if the viewer feels that this is one of those tipping point moments in which, you know, you just say, "OK, this is it, I'm so tired of this general trend in popular culture," then I think that's a real story.

BORGER: But they're not going to turn off the Grammies. Now they're going to turn to the Grammies to see if Justin Timberlake apologizes and whether Janet Jackson shows up in some form. KURTZ: Last word.

BORGER: So they'll get more viewers.

KURTZ: Gloria Borger, Melinda Henneberger, Jeff Greenfield in New York, thanks very much for joining us.

When we come back, it seems there's a positive explanation for even the messiest situations. Up next in the "Spin Cycle."


KURTZ: Problem, doing something stupid. Solution, a new form of damage control in the "Spin Cycle."


KURTZ (voice-over): Now that this piece of videotape has replaced this one...


KURTZ: ... as television's latest obsession, you can't help but admire what some P.R.'ers wrote for Justin Timberlake.

He didn't just rip off part of her top before a global audience, it was a wardrobe malfunction, which made me wonder how things would sound if engaged in that kind of creative obfuscation.

Dean's scream therapy, for example, was nothing but an accidental volume enhancement.

George Bush's claims about Saddam's weapons of mass destruction, an intelligence misunderestimation.

This balcony scene with Michael Jackson, child-based overstimulation.

Jayson Blair's bogus stories for "The New York Times," exaggerated literary license.

Geraldo Rivera tracing troop movements in the Iraqi desert, unauthorized sand play.

And Martha Stewart trimming her stock portfolio after getting a tip from the company's CEO, premature spring cleaning.


KURTZ: This could come in handy the next time I screw up.

When we come back California's first lady chooses between politics and journalism.


KURTZ: California's activist first lady Maria Shriver is out at NBC.

Under pressure from the network to terminate her "Dateline" job, Arnold Schwarzenegger's wife says she's calling it quits, saying she was in uncharted territory for a journalist.

That's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. "LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER" begins right now.


the Press'?; Is CBS Really Sorry for Super Bowl Stunt?>

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