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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES

Murdoch On the Verge of Taking Over "WSJ"; Vitter Blames Media Over D.C. Madam Story

Aired July 22, 2007 - 10:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice over): Murdoch's moment. The media mogul who owns FOX News, "The New York Post," "The Weekly Standard" and other big outlets on the verge of taking over "The Wall Street Journal".

Will he tarnish one of the jewel's of financial journalism?

Unanswered questions. Senator David Vitter and his wife blame the media over the D.C. madam story.

Really?

Spoiled sports. Why did "The New York Times" and "Baltimore Sun" break the embargo on the "Harry Potter" book?

The YouTube debate. CNN gears up for tomorrow's Democratic presidential face-off with questions submitted on video. Can average people change the discussion?

Plus, the media storm over the Beckhams. But can they really score?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: At first many journalists and the family that owns "The Wall Street Journal" were aghast at the notion of Rupert Murdoch taking over perhaps the world's finest financial newspaper. Murdoch the schlockmeister, the political operator with his tentacles in movies, publishing, sports, Web sites, broadcast TV, cable, magazines, and lurid tabloids, probably the best known and most controversial media titan on the planet?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Private yacht and 737? Check. Powerful friends and enemies? Check. Much younger gorgeous wife? Check again.

But unlike other self-made tycoons, 76-year-old Rupert Murdoch amassed his $9 billion by way of media and press.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KURTZ: Murdoch may be a lightning rod, but $5 billion is a lot to walk away from, which is why the board of Dow Jones, The Journal's corporate parent, approved Murdoch's bid this week. The cash helped melt resistance among the Bancroft family, which owns the company as well.

Joining us now to talk about the impact of all of this, Frank Ahrens, media and business reporter for "The Washington Post". In New York, Rachael Sclar, media and special projects editor for "The Huffington Post". And from Albany, New York, David Carr, media columnist and reporter for "The New York Times".

David Carr, you say that Murdoch has been trying to change his image, at least in the eyes of The Journal, from a coarse self-seeking tabloid king to a savior with journalism in his blood.

How's that going?

DAVID CARR, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, $5 billion will make almost anybody look good. And given the fact that nobody else has stepped up, I think it's less important how he postures. And the Bancrofts come up with a way of justifying what is going to end up happening in the end anyway.

KURTZ: Frank Ahrens, once Murdoch gets The Journal, which seems about 99.9 percent likely, will we see the Murdoch who runs the hard- edge "New York Post" and FOX News and gets involved in editorial decisions, or the more hands-off Murdoch of "The Times of London"?

FRANK AHRENS, "THE WASHINGTON POST", : I think the Murdoch is a very good marketer and he understands different products for different markets. And with "The Times of London" more upscale, more like "The Wall Street Journal," the editors and reporters there say he is less involved.

Now with the tabloids, "The News of the World," "The Sun" in London, "The New York Post," it's more of his fun. He gets more involved, say the editors there.

So I think the analogy is closer to "The Times of London".

KURTZ: Rachel Sklar, has Rupert Murdoch been demonized as some kind of villain by the mainstream press?

RACHEL SKLAR, THE HUFFINGTON POST: He's certainly been seen as a villain on "Eat the Press," the site I run at HuffPo. We liken him to Voldemort in "Harry Potter," because that's how he's been -- he's been demonized really. But, you know, I don't think it's without reason that there -- you were just talking about "The Times of London," and that -- that the same situation happened there, where there were editorial guarantees before Murdoch took over, and then Sir Harry Evans, who is the editor of The Times, said that those, you k now, "weren't worth the paper they were written on."

So I think that that was seen at "The Times of London". In order for it to become a paper where there wasn't much interference, Rupert Murdoch had to install an editor with whom he knew -- with whom he would agree most of the time.

KURTZ: Right.

SKLAR: So, I think that that's really the concern. It's not that there is suddenly going to be a headless body in topless bar as the screaming headline of The Journal, but that there'll be more subtle changes in terms of who is hired, and that those people will have a more Murdochian point of view.

KURTZ: I'm sure the headlines will be a little more sedate than that.

David Carr, Murdoch gets stereotyped as a conservative and, indeed, his publishing company offered Newt Gingrich a $4.5 million book contract back when Gingrich was House speaker. But lately he has been raising money for Hillary Clinton and has donated half a million dollars -- or excuse me -- $500,000, yes, to Bill Clinton's global initiative.

So what do you make of that?

CARR: I think that his politics are mostly around creating opportunity for his country -- for his company. And that's what makes his ownership of The Journal, I think, problematic, is using -- you know, The Journal is a jewel of American capitalism. And they decide much of what's good and bad about business, and having that sharp of a tool Mr. Murdoch's hands, it's less about politics and more about opportunities for his company going forward.

KURTZ: Murdoch also cozied up to Tony Blair in Britain, Frank Ahrens, and in China, where he has a lot of business interests, he's certainly been accused on several occasions of trimming his journalistic sales.

Talk about that a little bit.

AHRENS: 1993, he launches a satellite network in China. And he says at the time, "This sort of thing will be a threat to totalitarian regimes every." And it's a quote he came to choke on a bit, because that network carried the BBC, which was hammering Beijing on its human rights records. In fact, people inside news corps still to this day say BBC had it out for Beijing.

They thought it was unfair and unbalanced coverage. So, the following year, Murdoch pulls the BBC from his satellite network in China to appease Beijing, and at which point he said it's a business decision.

KURTZ: The Journal, by contrast, won a Pulitzer Prize this past year for aggressive coverage of China's government and excesses and abuses in that country.

Rachel Sklar, this is a guy -- let's look at his record -- who has brought us topless page three girls at London's "Sun," TV shows like "Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?" and that horrible, no-good, awful O.J. Simpson "If I Did It" project that ultimately got yanked. So isn't he a bit of a schlockmeister?

SKLAR: Well, he certainly has properties that are schlocky. I think I agree with what David said about this being about business opportunism. The Journal is not a schlocky property. And that -- I mean, again, I really think that the fear is that it will change in subtle ways, that it will take a brand that has been built up over the years and has been very trusted, and sort of subtly use that to advance his own business interests, particularly when those business interests are tied up with the soon-to-be-launched FOX News Business Channel.

KURTZ: Right.

SKLAR: So, I think that's -- I mean, there is no question that Rupert Murdoch is a schlockmeister, and there's no question that he's an opportunist. And there's no question that that's sort of what makes him an exciting and sort of fun figure to write about.

KURTZ: And makes him a very successful marketer and media mogul as well.

SKLAR: Sure.

KURTZ: David Carr, your newspaper, "The New York Times," has done some very prominent reporting on Murdoch's journalistic background, history, some of the meddling incidents we're talking about. Murdoch's News Corp put out a statement on one of those pieces saying that this whole reporting by your newspaper was "blatantly designed to further 'The Times'' commercial self-interest by undermining a direct competitor."

What did you make of that shot?

CARR: I think it's crazy. We have a lot of Journal alumni at our paper. And I, like everyone else, cared deeply about "The Wall Street Journal" and the quality of its journalism.

I'm going to be reading it, you know, expecting the best, looking out for the worst. And I think that we, like other newspapers, are concerned about an aggregation of power.

People tend to, I think, overanalyze moguls like Rupert Murdoch. He doesn't have a huge plan for world domination, but he does enjoy power. He likes having his hands on the levers. And it's hard to think of a better lever than "The Wall Street Journal".

And I think that's an issue of journalistic moment that we have covered fully and fairly. And, you know, enthusiastically because it's a huge, huge story.

KURTZ: No plan for world domination. There is our headline for the morning.

Frank Ahrens, on the positive side, isn't it true at a time where newspapers everywhere are cutting back and laying off and buying out employees that Murdoch is willing to put a lot of money into "The Wall Street Journal"?

AHRENS: Murdoch sees "The Wall Street Journal" for I think two ways. He has seen that they have shown that they can make money selling financial news online, because "The Wall Street Journal" online continues to sign up subscribers.

Secondly, he sees it as a way to explode the value of "The Wall Street Journal" content on his FOX Business Channel, which will be a direct rival to CNBC this fall.

He said he's going to pour money into it. We'll see. But there aren't many other people who are saying we're going to pour a lot of money into newspapers these days.

KURTZ: There sure aren't. And the Bancroft family begins weighing this bid tomorrow, actually.

Now, here's my two cents.

I remember decades ago when Murdoch's "New York Post" was on this crusade to make Mayor Ed Koch the governor of New York. That did not work.

I remember in the '90s when "The New York Post" used to savagely attack the Clintons. Everything from the headlines to the cartoons.

So this is a guy who is willing to use his properties to further his political and business interests. But no one has ever accused Rupert Murdoch of being stupid. And he knows that his $5 billion investment will go down the drain if he is seen as blatantly meddling in "The Wall Street Journal's" coverage.

So I think if this happens we might see a little bit of restraint from a guy who sometimes has been accused of not having much.

David Carr, Frank Ahrens, thanks very much for joining us this morning.

Rachel Sklar, stick around.

Coming up, we'll talk about the CNN/YouTube debates which air tomorrow night, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, here on CNN.

And when we come back, why do some newspapers seem bent on spoiling the fun for millions of "Harry Potter" fans?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: It was by far the year's most eagerly anticipated literary event, and journalists had one name on their lips as bookstores geared up for tens of thousands of readers to descend upon them at 12:01 a.m. Saturday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: Harry Potter... UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Harry Potter...

KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS: Harry Potter...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Harry Potter...

KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC: Harry Potter...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Harry Potter...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Harry Potter...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Harry Potter...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Harry Potter...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: But copies of the final Harry Potter book leaked out early. And while millions of Potter fans didn't want any publicity to spoil the suspense, "The New York Times" and "Baltimore Sun" busted the publisher's embargo and ran book reviews on Thursday.

Aggressive journalism or sheer insensitivity?

Rachel Sklar of "The Huffington Post" is still with us. And joining us also from New York, Bruce Weinstein, who writes "The Ethics Guy" column for "BusinessWeek".

Rachel Sklar, you seemed a tad upset about this "New York Times" review. In fact, I think I saw steam coming out of your ears.

RACHEL SKLAR, "THE HUFFINGTON POST": I was upset, because, I mean, this is such a big deal. This is not just a regular book. And, you know, for those of you who don't understand the importance of Harry to his fans, I think that the hype alone should be an indicator of the fact that you just ran that segment showing all these newscasters talking about Harry Potter.

This is a big deal. This book is sui generis. And so...

KURTZ: Definitely a big deal. Let me go to Bruce Weinstein.

You say that busting the embargo is not just wrong, it's not just unethical, but it's immoral.

Explain.

BRUCE WEINSTEIN, "BUSINESSWEEK": It is immoral. I mean, "The Baltimore Sun" and "New York Times" engage in unconscionable conduct by running this piece early because -- well, The Times, of all papers considers itself to be the paper of record. And they should know better, particularly in the wake of the Jayson Blair scandal, that they have to avoid not just impropriety, but the perception of impropriety. And their argument that what they did was legal doesn't wash, because just because something is legal doesn't mean that it's ethical. And just because we have a right to do it doesn't mean that it's right to do it.

KURTZ: All right. Well, I don't think it's quite comparable to the Jayson Blair fabrication scandal.

But Rachel, let me play...

WEINSTEIN: No, no, no.

KURTZ: Go ahead.

WEINSTEIN: But in the wake of that, they should know better. They should have the highest ethical standards and be beyond reproach. And by running this review two days early and by really not making a big deal of it, just by, you know, announcing at the beginning of the review, we obtained this book in a New York bookstore, well, so what? That doesn't mean it's right.

SKLAR: You know, I'm actually finding myself in the odd position of about to defend The Times here, because it wasn't the writing of the review that I had a problem with. It was the fact that it didn't acknowledge the fact that this was a big deal and that this was breaking the embargo. And it's true "The New York Times" was not party to this embargo, but there was clearly an embargo, this was clearly meant not to be broken until the 21st of July.

KURTZ: OK. But hold on. Newspapers break embargoes on books all the time. In fact, "The New York Times" got an early copy of the Bob Woodward book.

SKLAR: Sure, absolutely.

(CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: But let me play devil's advocate.

SKLAR: OK.

KURTZ: And I'll throw this you to, Bruce.

You know, the publisher set the release date for 12:01 a.m. yesterday. So even if The Times and "The Baltimore Sun" had waited until Saturday or Sunday to run their reviews, 99 percent of the people who want to read this book still wouldn't have read it. So why...

WEINSTEIN: Well, Howard, let's look at who those 99 percent are. We're talking about kids.

Is nothing sacred in our society? Can't children be allowed to have the freedom to find out for their own how this book ends? I mean, they invested time, money and passion over 10 years.

I mean, you know, this is being treated as if this is something that adults have a stake in, but primarily it's about kids.

SKLAR: Oh, no. Adults do have a stake in it.

WEINSTEIN: And they should be allowed to read this book and finish it. And the author should have the right to have her creation treated with respect that it deserves.

SKLAR: I think -- this is what I think. I think the argument that the embargo was just for the purpose of the publisher making money really holds no water, because that's not what matters to the fans. That's not what matters to the people who didn't want to have Harry Potter spoiled for them.

WEINSTEIN: That's right.

SKLAR: And that's sort of what is key here. But I think it is a misnomer to consider it a children's book. There are far too many adults who love the books, love the characters, love the message, and were just as eagerly awaiting the book to be unpacked. People on both the pro and con side of whether or not the review should have been published, they were all waiting to unpack their book on Friday night at midnight.

KURTZ: Bruce Weinstein...

WEINSTEIN: And Howard...

KURTZ: Go ahead.

WEINSTEIN: ... I'll tell you why this is not an issue about commercialism or business interests. The argument that it's unethical to spoil an end applies whether or not Bloomsbury and Scholastic sold a quarter billion books or whether three or four copies have been sold.

The commercial component of this argument is irrelevant, really. We're talking about the right of an artist to create a work as he or she sees fit, and the duty of the public to respect that. And it's not just -- it's not just the newspapers that have disrespected it, it's these idiots all over the Web or who are spoiling it.

And you asked at the beginning of the show, why would someone do this? I'll tell you why they would do it. It's because at a critical point in their development these spoilers were denied the attention from the parents that they deserved. And so now their role in life is to splash paint all over the wall and say, hey, world, look at me, notice me.

And you know what? They deserve our pity. They don't reserve our respect.

KURTZ: All right. Then I think we should go and spank every one of them.

Rachael Sklar...

WEINSTEIN: I wish I could, Howard. I wish I could.

KURTZ: ... I've got about half a minute.

Look, there are millions of passionate Harry Potter fans who rushed out to get this, but many other people could care less.

So is this level of media hype justified?

SKLAR: Well, this is a genuine phenomenon. I mean, if we're going to say that this is a news item that justifies breaking an embargo, then it certainly does deserve this amount of hype.

I think that the crucial distinction between "The Baltimore Sun" and "The New York Times" was apparently, "The Baltimore Sun" did have a spoiler at the end of their review, and apparently "The New York Times" review did not. Now, I didn't read either review based on my desire to not be spoiled, but...

KURTZ: So, you, yourself, edited your reading so that you wouldn't find out the ending because you want to read the book.

SKLAR: Well, sure. But I read far enough in "The New York Times" review to know that they didn't say either way whether there was a spoiler. And they didn't acknowledge the fact this was a big deal.

KURTZ: All right.

SKLAR: They just treated it like a regular review, which -- and that was my problem.

KURTZ: I'm glad you both feel strongly about the subject.

Thanks for joining us this morning.

Up next, Senator David Vitter and his wife cope with the D.C. madam scandal by ripping the press. Will that really work?

And later, we'll tackle the CNN/YouTube presidential debate airing tomorrow, 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Senator David Vitter emerged from seclusion this week after "Hustler" publisher Larry Flynt disclosed that the Louisiana Republican had been calling the escort service run by the D.C. madam. Vitter and his wife Wendy appeared before reporters and they both took shots at the media.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DAVID VITTER (R), LOUISIANA: I'm not going to answer endless questions about it all over again and again and again and again. That might sell newspapers, but it wouldn't serve my family or my constituents well at all. WENDY VITTER, WIFE OF SENATOR VITTER: It's been terribly hard to have the media parked on our front lawn and following us every day. And yesterday the media was camped at our church.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Joining us now to talk about the coverage of this scandal, conservative commentator Amy Holmes, and John Aravosis, who blogs at the liberal site americablog.com.

Amy Holmes, did Wendy Vitter succeed in making the media look totally heartless stalking her family everywhere?

AMY HOLMES, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: I think she did. And I think we have to look at it in context, which is we expect the media to go big game hunting here in Washington outside of his office steps in the Hart building, which they did. But when it gets into possibly drawing in innocent victims, neighbors, churchgoers...

KURTZ: Children.

HOLMES: ... children, that's when it starts to look like the stalkarazzi (ph) and not journalism.

KURTZ: But the problem, John Aravosis, is that the senator had been in hiding all week, which is why reporters were chasing him. And it's so funny. He said, I'm not going to answer these questions over and over again.

He hasn't answered a single question from reporters.

JOHN ARAVOSIS, AMERICABLOG.COM: Look, I mean, I'll say first, I do not like the idea of media stalking churches and stalking people's homes. You know, "The O'Reilly Factor" did it this week to JetBlue. Years ago we all did it -- not we, but the media did it to Gary Condit with the Chandra Levy thing.

I live a block away. The trucks were there from September 11th, save Gary Condit.

HOLMES: And Michael Moore has made a career out of ambushing...

(CROSSTALK)

ARAVOSIS: But all of them. All of them. I don't -- for advocacy or whatever, journalism, homes and churches are off limits.

Having said that, the Vitter issue -- and we discussed it a lot on TV already -- but the hypocrisy issue of he ran on a family values campaign, he brought his kids -- I watched the ads last night on YouTube. His kids are in all the ads.

That doesn't mean you go after the kids. But he doesn't have clean hands in saying it's my private life when he made family values his entire campaign.

KURTZ: And on that point, does he have some kind of obligation as a United States senator to talk to the press about this?

HOLMES: Clearly, this is an issue of public interest, and it's involving a D.C. madam who is now under investigation for potentially prostitution. So if he's wrapped under this, there may be law breaking. But I think what's interesting...

ARAVOSIS: And nobody has a problem going after her, which is...

HOLMES: But what I think is interesting is, with Mrs. Vitter, that she is making a plea for privacy when in fact she is stepping up in a press conference to give her husband political cover. We know that when political wives support their husbands through these scandals, it's partly also to support their careers.

KURTZ: In other words, she wants the spotlight when she wants it, but then she doesn't want -- they didn't take any questions.

ARAVOSIS: You know, I will say something. I'm surprised hearing you say that, because I wasn't sure how I (ph) was going to take on the wife.

This is the same complaint that came about Hillary. And, I mean, and I kind of defended Hillary at the time, but -- you know, standing by the man, but is she really part of the political game? In choosing to put his wife forward, he made his wife an issue.

I still think...

HOLMES: Well, no, no, no. That's a little sexist there. She chose to be at that press conference.

ARAVOSIS: That's fine. That's fine. But in the -- fair enough. The wife chooses to go forward.

Having said that -- I'm going to take the right side now. I still think families -- people put their families in political ads, that's fine. I still think families should be given some deference.

My main gripe is with the guy himself. He really can't claim hands off media when he made family values -- he made gay marriage his number one issue, or one of his top issues. And now he's saying -- you know, sanctity of marriage, but when his sanctity of marriage is violated with a potential crime, you know, hey, leave me alone.

KURTZ: So we had this comical spectacle a day after that news conference where he was at the Capitol and reporters were chasing him down the hall, and he bolted. And he is still refusing to answer these questions.

ARAVOSIS: Yes.

KURTZ: Let me turn to the larger issue here, and that is, if Larry Flynt and "Hustler" magazine are going to target what they call sexual hypocrites, people who preach about the sanctity of marriage and moral values and so forth, it sounds like he is mainly targeting conservative Republicans. HOLMES: Certainly. And we're seeing right now the presidential, you know, campaigns that Democrats are talking about all the very same things because they had gotten hammered, you know, in previous campaigns for not talking about that enough.

I think Larry Flynt should not be getting credit for this. And I don't think this should be a reflection on the Republican Party, on Christian conservatives, or the movement. This is about David Vitter. This is about his potential misbehavior.

KURTZ: What do you mean that Flynt shouldn't be getting credit for it? Actually, he did say on the show last week that if a Democratic senator's name came up on the phone list of the D.C. madam he would publicize that, too. But what do you mean he shouldn't get credit?

HOLMES: Well, I don't know that he should be necessarily wading into the political spotlight. I mean, he is a pornographer. He does make his living exploiting women, exploiting women in his magazines. So now he's exploiting...

ARAVOSIS: Prostitution is OK, apparently.

HOLMES: No, it's not -- it's not OK.

ARAVOSIS: I mean, not from what you said, but what from what you're saying in Washington now. You know.

HOLMES: I mean, isn't he -- isn't he the sexual hypocrite? That he is trying to bring down people for their sexual behavior that he puts in his own magazines and he sells to men on street corners every day?

ARAVOSIS: I mean, I'm not going to defend "Hustler" magazine, god knows. But the larger issue here is why Republicans and not Democrats? Is the Republican Party, or at least certainly the base of the party has made family values, these sexual issues their main...

HOLMES: And Democrats have made sexual harassment against women also an issue.

ARAVOSIS: But let me -- but let me finish. But let me finish.

The Republican Party has made family values issues. They have. The base of the party is the religious right, and therefore...

(CROSSTALK)

HOLMES: Let me finish, Amy. It becomes an interesting -- Amy, let me finish my point.

KURTZ: All right. One at a time.

ARAVOSIS: It's an interesting hypocritical issue when you get into these sexual issues because the Dems don't generally run around and make your sexual private life an issue. The Republicans want to pass laws.

HOLMES: Oh, certainly they do. They talk about sexual harassment, about women in the workplace. That was part of the Bill Clinton controversy.

ARAVOSIS: OK. Well, that's a little...

(CROSSTALK)

HOLMES: That was a little bit of the Bill Clinton controversy, that he passed sexual harassment laws that he himself broke when he was president.

I think both sides have dirty hands on this. I think this is not about...

ARAVOSIS: Not on this we don't. Absolutely not.

HOLMES: Well...

ARAVOSIS: Your guy possibly went to a hooker...

HOLMES: My guy? My guy? I'm not a Louisiana constituent.

ARAVOSIS: He is a family values Republican who went after gay marriages, and now he's saying, when I'm going potentially with a hooker, marriage issues are off limits.

HOLMES: We don't know that.

KURTZ: Brief response.

HOLMES: We don't know that that's the case.

(CROSSTALK)

HOLMES: We don't know that that's the case. And I don't think we should be making allegations on this show about...

ARAVOSIS: He's a very nice man, you're right.

KURTZ: All right. Amy Holmes and John Aravosis, you'll have to take this outside.

Thanks for joining us this morning.

ARAVOSIS: Thank you.

KURTZ: Still to come, CNN and YouTube team up for a very different kind of presidential debate.

And the Beckhams invade America. Is it hype about soccer or celebrity?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Welcome back.

There have been a number of presidential debates so far this season, but the one taking place in South Carolina tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m. promises to be, well, a little bit different.

CNN, as you've probably heard, has teamed up with YouTube to allow many of the questions for the Democratic candidates to be posed by ordinary folks submitting video to the popular Web site.

YouTube has received more than 2,000 questions so far.

Here's a quick sample.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My question is, candidates, how will you fix Social Security?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And how is your education policy different?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How will your policies influence Americans rather than just using special light bulbs to do this?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: Now here are a couple that are not very likely to make it to air, but we wanted to show them anyway.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (SINGING): Are you going to help to stop telephone a courtin' (ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (SINGING): Oh, what is the worst thing you ever did? What is the worst thing you ever did?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Stick them up and hand over all your money. Sound a little like the Wild, Wild West? Well, it is.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: CNN's Anderson Cooper will moderate tomorrow's debate, and he joins me now from the Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina, along with David Bohrman, CNN senior vice president and Washington bureau chief.

Anderson, if the stars of tomorrow's debate are these ordinary people, those who've submitted these video questions, how do you see your role?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: I think my primary role is to make sure that the candidates actually answer the questions. As we all know, politicians are very good at giving a responses, but a response is not necessarily an answer.

I think the people who have made these videos, what makes them so interesting is clearly they're very personal. Many of them are very intimate. And these are people who are living the topics, who are not just asking a theoretical question.

So, I want to make sure that the candidates, you know, honor these people by directly answering their questions. And right now my role is, along with David and a couple other producers, to try to whittle down these number of videos that we have gotten, more than 2,000, as you said, and try to select really the best ones out of the group.

KURTZ: And from what you've seen, Anderson, these YouTube users, are they asking different kinds of questions that might be asked at a debate by journalists, or by you, if you were asking all the questions?

COOPER: Absolutely. I think there are different kinds of questions than a traditional moderator would ask. There are even different kinds of questions than we typically would see from a town hall format.

You know, often in those town hall formats, people stand up and they're nervous and they kind of ask a question that they've rehearsed in their heads a number of times. There is a -- there is another dimension to these YouTube questions.

You're actually kind of getting a window into people's lives. It's often the questions in their bedroom or their living room. There is an intimacy that you don't normally get. And I think it adds really another dimension to the debate.

KURTZ: And David Bohrman, you know, we have had a number of these town hall debates going back to 1992, when Bill Clinton and the first President Bush and Ross Perot faced off and took questions from an audience. But you also see the video aspect of this as being very different than if you had a studio audience there in Charleston?

DAVID BOHRMAN, SR. VICE PRESIDENT, CNN: Yes, very different. A town hall audience is in reality a very select group. They're people that belong to a certain part of -- party friends or members, or they're vetted through a process.

For this debate, realistically, anyone in the country, in fact, in the world, can get a question into this debate. And it's amazing to take a look at the 2,000 questions that are there. Anybody can go on YouTube and look at all 2,000 questions, and they feel very much different than any town hall set of questions or any other debate questions I've ever heard.

KURTZ: Well, I want to play one of them. This was at least at one point the most popular question submitted on YouTube for the presidential debate.

Let's watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are your thoughts on a recent poll suggesting that 88 percent of Californians elected Governor Schwarzenegger in hopes that a cyborg of his nature could stop a future nuclear war?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Will you be using that one, David?

BOHRMAN: Well, I'm not going to tell you what questions we're going to use. But that question was the most viewed question this last time I checked of all of the 2,000 submissions, which is one of the reasons that we're having a process of sorting through the questions and looking through them.

Anderson used a great phrase the other day. This is a bottom-up process, not a top-down process.

We want to get the best questions of diverse, inventive, interesting group of questions. But we also don't want this to turn into a circus.

This is an interesting step for media right in the process of electing a president. And we want it to succeed. We don't want it to be a joke.

KURTZ: But that process that you're using has come under a little bit of criticism in the blogosphere. Let me read you something from Slate columnist Mickey Kaus, who writes that "The CNN debate completely misses what's so innovative and subversive about YouTube -- namely, the ability of average citizens to put the political messages before millions of potential voters without the approval of MSN" -- that is mainstream media -- "gatekeepers. The YouTube questions will be safely filtered through the predictable, respectable sensibilities of CNN editors."

Anderson, you want to take that one on?

COOPER: Yes, sure. I mean, one, Mickey Kaus didn't submit a question, in which he still has time to today. We're accepting questions up until the end of today.

But I think, you know, yes, we would all very much wish that there was a process by which, you know, just everybody out there could just select the questions. But it's just not possible at this point for two reasons.

One, as David was saying, the most viewed question was this cyborg question. I don't think you really necessarily want our presidential candidates having to answer a question about whether or not Arnold Schwarzenegger is a cyborg. We all know he's a cyborg. It doesn't even need to be addressed.

But the other thing is, you would see campaigns going out there and having all their people click on the questions that they wanted to be asked. And you would see campaigns attempting to manipulate the process. And there is no way to control for that if you leave it open to just a vote count on the Internet.

But, you know, we hear those concerns and we are certainly -- this is not a process where David Bohrman and I are sitting in a room with a couple of other people saying, you know what? We want -- we want 10 questions on Iraq and we want three questions on education and we want four questions on health care, and we try to cherry-pick that. This really is a bottom-up process.

We are spending -- we've spent all this week looking at these more than 2,000 videos, and the best ones are bubbling up to the surface. That's the way it really is working.

We were up until very late last night watching these videos over and over again, and the more you watch them, sort of the best stuff separates itself from the rest. So it's not -- it really is not a top-down process. It really is a bottom-up process.

KURTZ: It sounds like you've become addicted to this.

And you make a very interesting point about, if it was to be a popularity contest, people, campaigns and advocates could try to stuff the virtual ballot box. That hadn't occurred to me.

But David Bohrman, should popularity be a factor? Do you even think about the fact that one question, you know, might have been viewed 100,000 times and one question might have been viewed 100 times? And would that go into your thinking in making the final selection?

BOHRMAN: Well, what is going into our thinking is we're trying to represent what the sense of the questions are. There are a lot of -- there are very few questions on Iraq, I will tell you, if you look at the -- look at the 2,000. There are a lot of questions on Darfur. There are a lot of questions on health care and economy, pocketbook issues.

And I think we will try to represent that sort of sense or mood of the submissions in the questions that we pick. But the -- you know, the -- it's -- I think that Mickey will on Tuesday, I hope, will take a look and say, you know what? That was different. Those were real questions and they were actually pretty good, and we learned something about the candidates.

They're a little bit out of their comfort zone, I think. And I think you'll see how the candidates react to these questioners. It's going to be very different than how they react to panelists and journalists at a traditional debate.

KURTZ: Let's put up a couple more of these serious questions among the more than 2,000 that have come in to YouTube.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Would you all please give us some flexibility on No Child Left Behind?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What actions do you plan on taking to successfully implement your universal health care plan?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How are you going to save the Earth?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For me?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And me?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And me?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And me?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Anderson Cooper, aside for what makes for a colorful debate -- and you'll be doing this, by the way, again in September with the Republican presidential candidates -- could YouTube and this kind of thing help average people, particularly younger people, get more engaged or at least feel more connected to political campaigns?

COOPER: I certainly think -- yes, I think the answer is yes. And we've all seen the campaigns use YouTube, use, you know, Facebook and MySpace as a way to reach out to people. And we've seen a different side of the candidates on YouTube, for better or for worse.

I mean, some, you know, candidates we've seen, you know, using slurs that they probably would not want on, you know, a campaign commercial. And that's where YouTube works against the candidates. And some where you see Hillary Clinton, you know, doing "The Sopranos" spoof, it can work for the candidates.

I certainly think anything that brings people into the process is for the good. And if this brings young people in -- but, you know what is interesting? The perception is this is all just young people. That's not what we're seeing in these questions.

We're seeing a huge range in age, in backgrounds. And I find that very encouraging.

KURTZ: Well, it's interesting to me that the candidates won't be able to do the thing they could do with a studio audience, and that is walk to the end of the stage and look them into the eye and kind of feel their pain, because it will be on video. And that's, of course, where you say you're going to follow up, Anderson Cooper.

David Bohrman, I've got about half a minute;. Will video questioning, do you think, become routine in the future? Will we look back five years from now and say, you know, we really turned a corner here and, of course, this kind of thing should be part of the debate process?

BOHRMAN: Yes, I think so. I think if we do this well in '12 and '16, if you can think that far ahead, participation by voters in real time from everywhere will probably become a reality of politics. I think we're -- this is an interesting step toward sort of real -- real sort of democracy with a "D," a democratic way to reinvent the debate process. We'll see. But I think -- I think it will become much more common.

KURTZ: All right. Well, we'll give you a report card on next week's show.

David Bohrman and Anderson Cooper, thanks very much for joining us from South Carolina.

And you can watch the debate tomorrow night, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, here on CNN.

After the break, are video Web sites really changing the political game? Instapundit's Glenn Reynolds and "TIME" blogger Ana Marie Cox weigh in.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: So, are YouTube and other video Web sites really changing politics or just grabbing a lot of media attention?

Joining us now, Ana Marie Cox, Washington editor of time.com. And from Knoxville, Tennessee, Glenn Reynolds, University of Tennessee law professor who blogs at instapundit.com.

Glenn Reynolds, media analyst Kathleen Hall Jamieson was quoted the other day as describing this YouTube debate that's coming up on CNN tomorrow as the equivalent of the networks broadcasting the Kennedy-Nixon debates in 1960.

Really?

GLENN REYNOLDS, INSTAPUNDIT.COM: Well, in a very different sort of way, I think. The Kennedy-Nixon debates really emphasized the importance of polish and preparation. And I think this is going to emphasize the importance of spontaneity and maybe even, dare I say it, a degree of authenticity.

KURTZ: Authenticity. That is a word that is often tossed around in campaigns.

Ana Marie Cox, let me play a couple more of the questions that have come in and ask you a question on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIORN SVENSON, YOUTUBE: Greetings. I am Biorn Svenson.

AUTOMATED VOICE: Greeting CNN and YouTube viewers. My name is One Among Many.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi. My name is George. My question involves a scenario.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: I'll look forward to seeing all of those being televised.

ANA MARIE COX, TIME.COM: Yes.

KURTZ: But is this an exciting development that opens up the process to anybody with a Web cam, or is it more of a gimmick?

COX: Well, it's hard to say that it's not a gimmick. It's definitely a gimmick.

I mean, I'm not sure how many times I've heard about this debate today on CNN, but it's been quite a few. I'm very aware of it. And I'm aware that it's a YouTube debate.

That said, and as much as I want to be cynical about it, I remember four years ago, Howie, talking to you about whether or not bloggers were going to be an important factor in the election and whether or not they were going to be a continuing factor. And it was easy to make fun of them, but look, here Glenn and I are right here with you four years later and you seem to be taking us somewhat seriously.

I mean, I don't know, maybe you'll joke about us afterwards. But -- and so maybe, who knows, as jokey and gimmicky as this event may seem, as easy as it is to make fun, as easy as it is to submit fake, you know, questions, maybe this is something that will open up the debate to more people.

I think time will tell more than anything else. And we'll also have to see how the debate itself turns out.

KURTZ: All right.

Glenn, Ana thinks I'm taking her seriously.

YouTube is an unbelievably popular site. And so -- and at the same time, we know that a lot of people find politics boring. So I went on the site and I found out the two most popular videos, and this is out of 100 million videos out of yesterday, where one, Jessica Biel strips and, two, Michael Vincent (ph) photographs hot babes.

So how much space is politics really going to occupy in a world where those are going to be the most clicked-on videos?

REYNOLDS: Well, about the same space politics occupies in most people's lives, I think. And believe me, it's well behind hot babes. But I think that's probably healthy, too. And I hope politicians won't pick up the cue and start stripping for us.

I think the YouTube stuff actually in the humor in it is kind of nice, because I think there is a tendency to get some serious pomposity going in these sorts of things. And I think it's kind of fun to realize that ordinary people don't necessarily take this stuff as seriously as a lot of the participants do.

KURTZ: Want to weigh in on the hot babe question? COX: I'm for hot babes, what can I say? But I also want to say there's another aspect of this which I think is interesting, which is the degree to which opening up this process can allow people who have not gotten their issues addressed -- addressed.

Right now I think it's 300 -- like a quarter of the videos that have been submitted are about education, because of -- a group called Strong American Schools went out and actively solicited children to submit videos. And I think that you can say, well, this is an unfair, you know, taking over of the debate by a group that we haven't heard of before that is an illegitimate group, or you can say, well, this is a chance for people who feel like their issues haven't been addressed to get -- actually get some air time.

I mean, who knows if you'll actually use any of those videos, but they've definitely made a point.

KURTZ: But, you know, it also is -- the Web has opened up everything, really, in terms of media and politics to the point where some actress can make a funny singing video, "Obama Girl," for example, and it can get clicked on a zillion times, and then there was "Obama Girl Versus Giuliani Girl," for people who haven't been watching this stuff.

Let's play a little bit of that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (SINGING): From the GOP...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (SINGING): Obama...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (SINGING): (INAUDIBLE). Take it to the street.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (SINGING): Obama...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (SINGING): ... shake it to the beat

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COX: I thought you were taking us seriously, Howie.

KURTZ: OK. But so here's the thing -- you have candidates from Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, to John McCain and Rudy Giuliani, putting up their own sort of speeches and -- but what gets clicked on the most? It's "Obama Girl".

COX: Are you shocked? I mean...

KURTZ: No, I'm not shocked at all.

COX: I'm not shocked either. And I think that it -- I think Glenn put it exactly right. Politics takes up the same amount of, you know, sort of space and energy on YouTube that it takes up in most people's heads. And to the extent that adding a little, you know, cleavage can make it more interesting, or at least more clicked on, well that's going to happen.

I think that -- I also think that Glenn is right in that it's also an indicator that we need -- all of us that take this very seriously, that's wonderful. But there are a lot of people that don't. And we need to remember that.

And we need to remember that there are ways to involve people -- those people in this process as well. I'm not sure if "Obama Girl" is the exact, you know, method I would go with. Maybe "Obama Boy".

KURTZ: Glenn Reynolds, is it potentially revolutionary, if you take the broad view of the cyber landscape here, that we now have a situation where anybody can bypass the mainstream media -- you don't need a printing press, you don't need a TV station -- and put up something like, for example, that Hillary 1984 video which kind of mocked Hillary Clinton and have an impact to the point where people like me then need to write about it and television shows it?

REYNOLDS: Oh, absolutely. And it really is often not what you expect.

I put a short video on my site which was about a car. And I got over half a million views on it because, you know, people are more interested in cars than they are in politics, I think.

KURTZ: What was so interesting about your car video?

REYNOLDS: Oh, it was a -- I happened on it in a mall. It was a Saturn Aura and it had an attractive interior. And I did about a 90- second video that said, look, a GM car with an attractive interior. It's a miracle.

And, you know, a lot of people watched it because -- well, that actually is news, right?

KURTZ: All right.

REYNOLDS: But I think that, you know, you'll see some focusing on what people want to see and what people care about, as opposed to what they think they ought to.

KURTZ: Ana Marie Cox, I've got about half a minute. But the candidates are also turning this into a tool.

When Hillary Clinton uses YouTube for a contest to pick her theme song, or she makes "The Sopranos" spoof with Bill Clinton, isn't that a way of successfully softening her image?

COX: I don't know if it's successful, but it definitely got us talking about whether or not her image had been softened. And that definitely works for her.

I think that she's using this medium, however, in a very top-down way. And kind of the opposite way that Glenn is talking about.

I mean, this is a candidate who is using the ability to bypass, you know, mainstream media and taking her message directly to the voters in a exact way she wants to. Which is sort of the opposite of what these YouTube videos are all about.

KURTZ: All right.

Glenn Reynolds in Tennessee, Ana Marie Cox, thanks very much for joining us.

And Ana, this is for you.

Well, first of all, a quick note.

In our discussion about filmmaker Michael Moore last week, blogger Mary Katharine Ham said that Moore thought the release of the iPhone was designed to stop his buzz. Well, it turns out that Ham was taken in by a satirical Web site that made up that tale.

She's apologized. And we're happy to correct the record.

And now I want you to listen closely.

Don't forget to tune into the debate tomorrow night, 7:00 p.m. Eastern, on CNN.

Still to come, David Beckham, sports superstar. Victoria Beckham, reality show star. But can they make Americans care about soccer?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Beckham fever has hit the media this week, a potent combination of soccer, star power and Spice Girl schlock.

Will America ever be the same?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ (voice over): There he is on a red carpet on the cover of "Sports Illustrated" -- "Welcome to L.A., David Beckham."

There he is in "USA Today," "Bank it With Beckham."

The British star and his hype machine have arrived here and the media seem to love it.

BECKY ANDERSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Well, the air of anticipation and curiosity, I'd say, is palpable here. I mean, certainly at the L.A. Galaxy. And this is their stadium, hoping they can bank it with Beckham.

KURTZ: Once Europe's most celebrated soccer star signed a $250 million deal with the Los Angeles team -- he played his first game yesterday -- there was plenty of chatter about whether he can boost American interest in the sport. But the biggest spotlight seems to settle on Victoria Beckham, the former Posh Spice from the band Spice Girls who landed on "The Today Show". MATT LAUER, NBC NEWS: When you guys are in London...

VICTORIA BECKHAM, SPICE GIRLS: Yes?

LAUER: ... you can go nowhere without being followed by the press, the paparazzi. You're one of the most photographed and talked about couples in Europe. And as a result, in the world.

How do you think the attention level is going to change here in the United States?

BECKHAM: I think -- I mean, not as many people know who we are here, you know?

KURTZ: And then there was NBC's reality show, such a snooze that network had to cut it down from six episodes to just one. We got to see Victoria Beckham chat with Internet gossip Perez Hilton about her body.

BECKHAM: They're not that big in the flesh. They're not that big in the flesh.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: There's just one flaw in the media frenzy over David Beckham. Most Americans would rather study paint drying than watch soccer.

I know. I know. It's a huge sport internationally. But fans here like scoring home runs, touchdowns, slam-dunks. On TV, soccer looks like a bunch of guys running up and down the field.

And if Beckham fails to change that image, a better spectator sport might be watching the paparazzi chase his wife.

Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.

I'm Howard Kurtz.

Join us again next Sunday morning at 10:00 a.m. Eastern for another critical look at the media.

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