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Republican Convention Gets Under Way; Kerry Interviewed on 'The Daily Show'

Aired August 29, 2004 - 11:30   ET


HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice-over): New York state of mind. Will the 15,000 journalists here find their story inside the Republican Convention or out on the streets?

Will the pundits be tougher on George Bush's big moment than they were on John Kerry in Boston? Will they swoon over the party's movie star, and will the media keep pressing Bush about the swift boat attacks on Kerry?

Plus, fake journalist meets presidential candidate. Kerry's Jon Stewart moment.


ANNOUNCER: Live from the Republican National Convention, this is a special edition of RELIABLE SOURCES with Howard Kurtz.

KURTZ: Welcome to RELIABLE SOURCES here at Madison Square Garden, where journalistic invasion awaits the Republican National Convention.

But how much real news will all of us find in this age of pre- packaged, pre-scripted, heavily choreographed convention? Will the president make big news? John McCain? Arnold? The protesters? Or will we all just have to manufacture some?

Bush on the covers of all three news magazines this morning. He's done interviews with correspondents for "Time," "Newsweek" and "U.S. News." He's already spoken to "The New York Times" and "USA Today," with NBC's "Today Show" on tap for tomorrow. Quite a coming out for this press-averse president.

Well, joining me now, Chris Bury, anchor and correspondent for ABC's "Nightline." Debra Saunders, columnist for "The San Francisco Chronicle." And John Roberts, chief White House correspondent for CBS News and the anchor of the Sunday edition of "The CBS Evening News." Welcome.

Well, with the band warming up behind us, John Roberts, this question. Won't it be harder to find even a semblance of news here compared to Boston? Because after all, Bush and Cheney are not exactly introducing themselves to the country. JOHN ROBERTS, CBS NEWS: Right. The Democratic Convention was all about John Edwards and John Kerry, introducing themselves not only to the delegates, and fired them up, but can they introduce themselves to the nation. George Bush and Dick Cheney, very well known individuals.

I think the news out of this convention, Howard, will be how far down the road does the president and the vice president go together into articulating what would be an agenda for a second term of this administration. I think that so far, they've been criticized for not really coming out and saying what they would do. I think in the next few days, if we hear some of that, that's what would be the real news out of the convention.

KURTZ: We won't really hear it until Wednesday or Thursday.

Chris Bury, the broadcast network providing the same three hours of prime-time that they did at the Democratic Convention. Is there enough drama here to sustain five "Nightline" shows, not to mention all the cable coverage?

CHRIS BURY, "NIGHTLINE": You know, there are so many storylines beyond what just John mentioned. We have McCain Monday night. He's so interesting coming in here. No great friend of the president, thinking about perhaps running four years from now.

KURTZ: He's acting like a friend of the president.

BURY: Well, he's acting like it, and perhaps for the reason I just mentioned.

You've got Schwarzenegger Tuesday. The moderate face of the party. We're going to ask the question, will the real Republican Party please stand up. You've got the demonstrations going on, protests.

KURTZ: So you're suggesting that when Arnold Schwarzenegger and Rudy Giuliani and John McCain come on the stage right behind me, that you're going to go on and say, this is not the real Bush Republican Party?

BURY: We're going to examine that question. Certainly, this is a television show, and those faces that we're going to see put on television this week are not necessarily the power brokers, and the people who have the real force in this administration.

KURTZ: Debra Saunders, will journalists be looking for conflict on issues like abortion and gay marriage, for example? Dick Cheney coming out and saying that he personally doesn't favor the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage that the president does. Will that be a storyline here?

DEBRA SAUNDERS, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE: Well, journalists are always looking for conflict. That's what we do. But I think the other thing is that, in Boston, you saw basically a Democratic Party that wasn't like the party in the delegates sitting behind. They're not all veterans. They're not all gung-ho about being in Iraq. And they weren't -- they were sitting on their hands a lot of the time. But, you know, you'd see people on television saying, isn't it great the way the Democrats look so forceful militarily?

Here it will be different. We'll be saying this isn't the real Republican Party. I don't think that's quite fair.

KURTZ: Is there attention, John Roberts, between the show, the infomercial that the parties put on at events like this and the media's attempt to kind of cut through the propaganda, to provide a reality check, if you will?

ROBERTS: Oh, definitely. I mean, these things are so heavily scripted these days, I mean, how long has it been since a convention really meant anything politically? That our job, as Debra said, is to find the inconsistency here, to find the people who aren't quite agreeing with the script that's going on on any given convention night, to get behind the story. That's what we do is we try to get the story behind the story.

One of the most important things covering the White House is, always to keep in mind, here's what they're telling us, now what aren't they telling us? And our goal over the next four days is going to be to find out what they're not telling us.

KURTZ: Perhaps the only unscripted moment will be whether the balloons above us on the roof here will drop on time, as they apparently did not in Boston.

Will the media apply the same standards to Bush and his big speech and his convention as they did to Kerry and Edwards at the FleetCenter? Or is it different when it's an incumbent president, who doesn't have to prove that he knows how to do the job?

BURY: Well, the big difference here is that Bush doesn't have to worry about his biography. And John Kerry had to worry about telling the nation who he was.

And the president's job is much different. He has to set out a forward looking message, his agenda for the next four years. I would hope, getting to your fundamental question, that the press would apply the exact same standards to George Bush that it applied to John Kerry.

SAUNDERS: But they won't.

KURTZ: They won't.

SAUNDERS: I'm sorry, they won't.

KURTZ: There is a bold prediction.

SAUNDERS: The -- John Kerry in Boston is very different from John Kerry during the primary. People weren't really applying the same standard on that. Well, I mean, John Kerry in the primary was very negative about Bush. He wasn't very negative about Bush at the convention. And John Kerry, again, the delegates were not very enthusiastic about the message that was pretty tough on defense.

KURTZ: But you're suggesting that the press was easier on Kerry?


KURTZ: I mean, after all, the pundits said that the Democratic Convention was a great success. Kerry didn't get any great benefit in the polls.

SAUNDERS: He didn't get a bounce.

KURTZ: But you're saying it's going to be tougher on the president?

SAUNDERS: The media will be tougher on Bush. They'll be talking about inconsistencies in a different way. They'll be saying...

KURTZ: For ideological reasons?

SAUNDERS: ... who isn't speaking. They'll be saying, who isn't speaking? I mean, that's how we started off this show. That's how everything starts off. We talk about the fact that moderates will be speaking.

KURTZ: Isn't that a fair question?

BURY: And we did ask the same question at the Democratic convention. We looked at who was not getting prime-time attention. And the anti-war segment of the party was not getting any attention in Boston. And we're going to see the evangelicals, who are not getting any prime-time attention here. So I think we are applying the same standards, and we're looking for these inconsistencies and who's not being heard.

SAUNDERS: I think it's half fair. It's half fair, because Bush has been running a base campaign. He's been playing to the right throughout. And now he's going to go to the middle. And that should be pointed out.

But the difference is the tone that the media take. I think with Kerry, people were saying, isn't it great how strong he looks on military issues? But when Bush reaches to the middle, people are going to be saying, that's not really who Bush is. And that's the difference in the tone.

KURTZ: Do you want to defend the honor of your profession?

ROBERTS: Well, if I see any difference -- I mean, we're going to apply the same standards to George Bush as we applied to John Kerry, regardless of what some people might think. But I think if there is any difference here, it's in the difference between, you know, he's the president of the United States. And so he's under much more scrutiny. He's the one who actually develops policy.

It's the difference between sort of looking at a hot college draft prospect and talking about the quarterback who's actually playing in the game. Everything that President Bush does affects the United States of America. John Kerry talks a good game, George Bush actually gets to play the game.

So I think from that standpoint, there may be a little bit more scrutiny on what he's saying and how it may play, not only in the next four months of his administration, but also what it could bring the United States in another four years of a Bush administration.

KURTZ: By the way, Chris Bury, Hillary Clinton on three Sunday shows this morning, including "LATE EDITION." She's the Democratic point person during this very Republican week. Is this because the party thinks she's a great spokeswoman, or because they know that we in the media can't resist covering her?

BURY: Well, I'm sure it's a combination. Hillary Clinton is perhaps the hottest lightning rod in the Democratic Party. Certainly she always fires up the base and she gets Republicans very angry. You look at any poll and you ask Republicans who's the most disliked Democrat, and it's Hillary Clinton. You ask Democrats, and she's right at the top.

KURTZ: I want to turn now to the continuing swift boat controversy. This has dominated the campaign for the last three weeks. They are going to be putting on ads until election day. Have the swift boat veterans' charges largely been discredited by the press, which is after all, shot a lot of holes in some of the inconsistencies?

ROBERTS: Well, you know, one of the big treatisies that I saw, and it was the examination that "The Washington Post" did, which I thought was incredibly thorough and incredibly balanced as well.

What I find very interesting about the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth is this is a 527 PAC that doesn't even show up on the top 50 527s.

KURTZ: It's been all media coverage. Not paid advertising that has driven this story.

ROBERTS: They had an ad on very briefly in three states and it got all this coverage. It was like the daisy ad, which ran once, but still is ingrained in our memories, the very first and very effective attack ad.

I think that this is a potential to take something out of Kerry. And I think some recent polls have shown that it has. But it also has a chance to backfire on the president, if indeed some of these connections appear to be a little closer than they were in the past, particularly this Ginsberg connection.

KURTZ: But on -- Ben Ginsberg, of course, was the outside attorney for the Bush campaign, and he resigned because he was also helping the swift boat people. But "The New Republic" says the media should be ashamed of their performance here. That they did their job, belatedly, in showing inconsistencies, going back to the Nixon tapes and so forth. And yet we're all still talking about it, it's being reported. Why are we keeping this issue alive, or are we keeping this issue alive?

BURY: Well, because it's the central tenet of John Kerry's campaign. He is campaigning as a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War. And once that issue is opened, it's fair game.

KURTZ: Now, PAC, the liberal group, has been running -- has made ads with celebrities, including Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, who picks up a Republican in her car and convinces him to vote against Bush. I guess they're going to send it to all 50 states.

I mention MoveOn, because there are a lot of liberal groups, as you know, Debra Saunders, these 527s -- have there been a double standard in the media in not trying to make Kerry denounce the liberal ads, while reporters ask the president every day, why won't you disassociate yourself from the swift boat ads?

SAUNDERS: I've never seen a voter say to John Kerry, but couldn't you just denounce the ad? Or they say that Bush is whatever. They don't ask him that question. But how many reporters would look at Bush and say, can't you just denounce this one ad? I think that we get used in this. And I think the other thing that I find so...

KURTZ: You're suggesting a double standard?

SAUNDERS: I am suggesting a double standard.

KURTZ: Why do you think that is?

SAUNDERS: I think that most journalists support John Kerry.

KURTZ: You really think that that's the reason?

SAUNDERS: Yes, I do. I work for "The San Francisco Chronicle." I've been in journalism for many years. And most people...

KURTZ: So you believe that most journalists want John Kerry to win, and therefore are asking tougher questions of the president and giving Kerry an easier ride for ideological reasons? That's a pretty serious charge.

SAUNDERS: I would say that a lot of reporters are very tough on John Kerry, and I agree with John, that "The Post" piece was great at looking at his military record. But here's the...

KURTZ: I've got to cut you off for one second, because we have breaking news in Kabul. Fredricka Whitfield in Atlanta will bring us up to date.



KURTZ: Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES, live from the Republican National Convention here in New York. Debra Saunders, before we went to Kabul, you were making a point about coverage of Bush and Kerry on the Vietnam issue, just briefly. SAUNDERS: OK. The media's coverage of Bush for only serving in the National Guard, and he might have missed a couple of months, and they act as though -- I mean, after eight years of Bill Clinton, all of a sudden you have to have this military combat record in order to be president. I think that's an example.

And also, we used to hit politicians for not telling people what they're going to do for them. Well, that Boston Convention was all about John Kerry 30 years ago. It wasn't telling people what the Democrats are going to do for them.

KURTZ: Chris Bury.

BURY: You mentioned the swift boat example of liberal bias. I think there's another bias at work. It's the bias for a good story.

SAUNDERS: Yes, absolutely.

BURY: And that was just a terrific story. You had the challenge of John Kerry, you had President Bush saying he had served admirably. And a senior official of the Bush/Cheney campaign giving advice to the Swift Boat Veterans. That's different from all the other 527s. It's fundamentally different and qualitatively different.

SAUNDERS: Excuse me, but Mr. Jordan, who's with the Media Fund, I mean, we know a lot of...

BURY: The former campaign manager.

SAUNDERS: That's right, the former campaign manager...

KURTZ: You two will have to take this outside. I want to ask John Roberts...

ROBERTS: I'm selling tickets.

KURTZ: Nobody wants to see violence here at the convention, but if there are really huge protests, if there are arrests, and so forth, that will help the story, right? Journalists will like that, right?

ROBERTS: Oh, it's absolutely going to be part of the story. And it would have been a part of the story in Boston as well. We came into the Boston Convention all geared up and ready to cover the protests, but the police had effectively cordoned off the protesters, to the point where the protesters just said it's not worth it, let's not even go down.

This city has treated the protesters a little bit differently. Not too long from now, 200, perhaps 250,000 will be marching right in front of Madison Square Garden. Hopefully they'll be doing it peacefully. That's part of the story.

KURTZ: But will television fall into the trap, Chris Bury, of taking a few arrests and incidents and making it look like things are out of control, because those are the things that tend to draw the cameras? BURY: Which television? Certainly, I mean, I think perspective is everything. I mean, we have to treat this carefully, report the facts as they are, and not try to make unwarranted comparisons. Certainly it's going to be more than Boston, but far less than Chicago in 1968. At least that's what we think so far.

KURTZ: There are a lot of these protesters who have descended on this city, and they are from all different kinds of groups and causes, and I'm not sure what some of them are protesting about, but aren't they here to get media attention? And how much do we cooperate in that?

SAUNDERS: Well, you know, the thing is, they're so creative these days. Like there is a group that's going in front of Fox News for (UNINTELLIGIBLE), they're going to yell, "shut up." Of course people are going to cover it. It's just too entertaining. And that's part of it, too.

KURTZ: All right. Well, you know, looking at how many times I saw those naked protesters, with certain parts pixellated on CNN, something tells me it's got a certain box office appeal.

ROBERTS: There are some things that shouldn't be on television.

SAUNDERS: Yeah, that's right.

ROBERTS: That might be one of them.

SAUNDERS: I'm just glad to be in a city where they arrest protesters that break the law. They don't do that in San Francisco.

KURTZ: We're showing you those pictures right now.

We're going to take a break. And coming up, if we can get these people off the air -- there we go -- John Kerry's big interview, did he give it to "60 Minutes," "Nightline"? No. Democratic candidate reveals maybe more than we want to know with Comedy Central's Jon Stewart.


KURTZ: It was the interview every journalist wanted. So who did John Kerry choose for his big sit-down last week? That Comedy Central guy.


JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW": I watch a lot of the cable news shows, so I understand that apparently you were never in Vietnam.

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That's what I understand, too. But I'm trying to find out what happened.

STEWART: Please refute, if you will. Are you the number one most liberal senator in the Senate?



KERRY: Are you happy with that?

STEWART: Yeah, I'm pretty happy with that.


KURTZ: Debra Saunders, even by a comedian's standards, was Jon Stewart too soft on John Kerry?

SAUNDERS: Well, you know, it's a comedy show. Lookit, I come from a state where our governor announced his candidacy on the Leno show.

KURTZ: That's right, you do.

SAUNDERS: So I can't get huffy about this. It's a comedy show. You know?

KURTZ: All right. You run a fake news show. This is hypothetical, John.


KURTZ: The Democratic nominee comes on. Does that require you to be more serious?

ROBERTS: I think maybe the model that you might look at is David Letterman, who has I think a pretty interesting balance when it comes to interviewing politicians. He goes for the funny lines, but then he also asks some serious questions as well. And I think that would probably be the way that I would handle it. Because, you know, like it or not, legitimate news organizations have lost a little bit of an audience to the Jon Stewart show. It seems to be the favorite place where a lot of young people, my son in college gets a lot of his news from that. And I think that they perhaps have a responsibility then to not only do the funny lines, but also impart some good information.

KURTZ: Jon Stewart may be a great satirist, but I know from interviewing him, that he really cares, feels strongly about the issues and wants to have an impact. So is he becoming a player?

BURY: Oh, he's certainly a player. Because there's a lot of political information in his show. But let's not confuse entertainment and comedy with a news program. He didn't ask any tough questions. He didn't ask any follow-up questions. John Kerry had a free ride. Great venue for John Kerry. Shows off a more personable, charming facet of himself. But it's not a news show.

KURTZ: Do I detect a note of professional jealousy that he chose Stewart over "Nightline."

BURY: Absolutely. We'll be happy to have John Kerry on "Nightline" anytime. KURTZ: OK. You mentioned Arnold Schwarzenegger, to come back to our convention here. Is he going to get the movie star treatment from the press? He has sort of dropped off the national stage, but will be coming back in a big way?

SAUNDERS: And the press is going to be seeing how much he says about George Bush and how nice he is. And here's a drinking game, if you want to stay sober, have a sip every time he says "George Bush," because I don't think his speech is going to be talking about Bush a whole lot.

KURTZ: Will that, in the limited time that CBS has, will that be an important part of Tuesday's coverage?

ROBERTS: Oh, I think so. I mean, I think it's something that America wants to see. This is going to be the -- other than the last couple of movies he's made, the biggest public venue of his career. And I think a lot of people want to see what he has to say.

SAUNDERS: And they want cutaway shots to Maria Shriver.

KURTZ: By the way, the billboards outside the Garden say, "the most trusted name in fake news." But it's Jon Stewart's picture, not yours.

Thanks very much, John Roberts, Debra Saunders, Chris Bury, appreciate you joining us here at the Garden.

Well, up next, the verdict on jail time for one reporter in the Valerie Plame spy case, and Michael Moore in enemy territory here at the convention.


KURTZ: Well, it's a safe bet that "USA Today's" new convention columnist will be one of the least popular people in this hall. Bush- bashing filmmaker Michael Moore. The newspaper had signed conservative (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Ann Coulter to cover the Democratic Convention, but dropped her after her first piece was spiked as too incendiary. We'll see what kind of reception Moore gets.

And finally, Matt Cooper is not going to jail. The "Time" magazine correspondent who had been held in contempt of court for refusing to talk about confidential sources in the Valerie Plame case, testified this week after his source, Dick Cheney's Chief of Staff Scooter Libby, waved their confidentiality agreement. Cooper had quoted Libby by name in his piece about the administration outing Plame as a CIA operative, but apparently there were off-the-record conversations as well.

Several other journalists still facing subpoenas in that case.

Well, that's it for this special convention edition of RELIABLE SOURCES. I'm Howard Kurtz in New York. Join us again next Sunday morning, 11:30 Eastern, for another critical look at the media. Wolf Blitzer is here. "LATE EDITION" begins right now. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT

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