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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES

McCain Wins South Carolina; Hillary Wins Nevada, but Obama Gets More Delegates

Aired January 20, 2008 - 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): Mac is back. Or is he? John McCain edges Mike Huckabee in South Carolina, six months after the media said he was all washed up.

Are journalists now racing to crown him the Republican front- runner? And why should we believe them this time?

Hillary wins Nevada. Why don't the media care that Obama actually got more delegates?

Fanning the flames? As Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and their allies spar over Martin Luther King and racial issues, critics say the media, not the candidates, are pumping up the controversy.

Really?

Plus, first a sportscaster joked about lynching Tiger Woods. Now the editor of "Golfweek" magazine has been fired for running this cover.

Was that inflammatory?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: I was with John McCain in South Carolina this week, riding around on the Straight Talk Express, and plenty of journalists were back as well, some of the same journalists who wrote him off last summer, some of the same journalists who paid no attention to Mike Huckabee for close to a year. They liked McCain and thought he smelled like a winner this time. And last night it was too close for the networks to call until the Arizona senator finally claimed a narrow victory.

Here's what the pundits said before the vote.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: If Fred Thompson doesn't surge in South Carolina, he's out.

TIM RUSSERT, NBC NEWS: Mike Huckabee is the front-runner in South Carolina. PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: I think if you had to say anybody's a front-runner right now, it's McCain.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is neck and neck between John McCain, between Mike Huckabee.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: And after McCain beat Huckabee last night, there was a fresh wave of prediction and prognostication.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MORT KONDRACKE, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: What a gutsy performance to come, as everybody has said, from the dead.

BILL BENNETT, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: He'll be kind of grumpy in his response, but there he is. I mean, it is a heck of an achievement. And I think he is clearly the front-runner.

PEGGY NOONAN, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": John McCain was finished three, four, five, six months ago. He had no money, he had fired all his staff. He was over. This is a great comeback.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: He wasn't finished. The media said he was finished.

And what about the day's other victories? Hillary Clinton won Nevada, but the media somehow decided in advance that the state wasn't that big of a deal because, well, who could understand all those crazy casino caucus rules anyway?

Mitt Romney also won Nevada, but other Republicans didn't seriously contest the state.

Joining us now to talk about this fast-moving story, in New York, Gloria Borger, CNN senior political analyst. In Charleston, South Carolina, Jill Zuckman, national correspondent for "The Chicago Tribune." And here in Washington, Linda Douglass, contributing editor at "National Journal."

Gloria Borger, no question John McCain wins South Carolina, a big victory for him, but all of these journalists who told us six months ago he was toast, he was history, he was dead, now some of them, at least seem, to be racing to declare him the front-runner.

Whatever happened to being cautious about these things?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, let me say I did not declare him the front-runner last night because this is a race that's got no front-runners.

Look, you looked at John McCain's campaign last July. He was running on fumes, he was firing his staff. Increasingly, these presidential races are all about who's got the money to go the distance.

And you took a look at McCain, and you saw that he was out of money, but John McCain said, you know what? I'm going to go back to the way I was. So I'm going to bet back on that bus and I'm going to campaign my heart out, which is exactly what he did. And, of course, the press loves nothing better than a great comeback story, which is exactly what we have with John McCain.

KURTZ: And on that point, Jill Zuckman -- and, by the way, you were one of the few reporters to write at the time, six months ago, that McCain could come back. We all know that McCain was derailed eight years ago in South Carolina by the slimy campaign, rumors about fathering an illegitimate black child, and all of that. So, this morning, you write in "The Chicago Tribune" that the win in South Carolina provided him with a healthy dose of poetic justice.

"The New York Times" said he exercised the ghosts of South Carolina. John Dickerson in Slate said this was a spiritual victory.

So, it does seem like the press felt that he deserved this comeback.

JILL ZUCKMAN, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, "CHICAGO TRIBUNE": He did in a way deserve a comeback, but this was in a way much sweeter for him in South Carolina than even in New Hampshire. In New Hampshire, he went from dead to alive. And in South Carolina, he got to put to rest a lot of bad memories.

LINDA DOUGLASS, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, "NATIONAL JOURNAL": And I would just want to throw in there that, in South Carolina, he also proved that he can win with conservative voters. Granted, there were a lot of Independents. That's the real reason that John McCain won in South Carolina, but there's real evidence that this is actually a significant victory.

KURTZ: OK, but come back to the story line here.

First of all, the reason journalists wrote what turned out to be these premature obits is because they worship at the altar of money. John McCain ran out of money, Mike Huckabee never had any. Who ends up winning Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina? McCain and Huckabee.

So, are we sort of playing by the old set of rules that apply this year?

DOUGLASS: Well, it was absolutely true that it was a money story about John McCain, but it also looked like the entire campaign had collapsed. Everybody quit. His senior advisers had left. He himself was fairly despondent.

He cut it all down to a strategy where he just concentrated on New Hampshire and South Carolina. So there was reason to believe that John McCain had so lost his footing that he would never be able to get it back. That said, though, Jill was absolutely right when she wrote that you could never write John McCain off. He's a very appealing candidate, and we've been trying, we, the media, to declare a winner since before the first group of voters cast a vote.

KURTZ: And doing a lousy job, because it's been muddled.

BORGER: You know, Howie...

KURTZ: Go ahead, Gloria.

BORGER: Well, Howie, we also thought this way back in July, which seems like 20 years ago. We thought that this was going to be a very conventional campaign.

Little did we know that the Republican party would have such trouble finding a nominee that it could anoint. And so we are in essence playing by the old rules as the press. We really hadn't gotten into this, this campaign, and discovered what the voters were thinking at that particular point.

KURTZ: Which is exactly why it makes sense for us to wait for people to vote and not make these prognostications many months out, as you point out.

Jill Zuckman, I was riding on the bus, as I mentioned, in South Carolina this week. You were there as well.

Do you think McCain benefits? He did this eight years ago when he had no money and he was a long shot, spending hours and hours talking to reporters as he rolls around these states, very accessible. Mike Huckabee actually very accessible to reporters, too.

Does that help him, at least at the margins?

ZUCKMAN: Absolutely. Hey, if you're a candidate with no money and a message, you need all the free media attention you can get. And that is the strategy that John McCain has employed.

After every campaign event he does, he holds a press availability. And he stands there and he answers questions until there aren't any more from the reporters. And then he gets on his bus and he sits and talks to reporters all day long.

It's gotten him tremendous coverage. And that has allowed him to get his message out.

DOUGLASS: I would just add, because I was on McCain's bus actually just about three weeks ago with him this time, and I covered him in 2000 on the bus, as well. McCain calls reporters his base. There is no question that his irreverence and his humor and his ability to answer -- his desire to answer everybody's questions has completely charmed the press.

When I was on the bus about three weeks ago, it was a brand-new group of reporters, people I hadn't seen with him before. And it was like they were sitting around the campfire, you know, listening to the greatest stories in the world. He has got that ability to charm the press, and it helps him.

KURTZ: The romance is back.

BORGER: Howie...

KURTZ: Go ahead, Gloria.

BORGER: Howie, you know, I also want to point out that after Hillary Clinton had such a hard time in Iowa, she started to do what I call the full McCain. She started -- she had been sort of avoiding reporters and, in fact, average voters out there on the campaign trail. Then she took a page out of the John McCain's book, decided to come back and chat with reporters, answer every single person's question at every town hall meeting.

KURTZ: Yes.

BORGER: And she was pulling a full McCain. And by the way, it helped her.

KURTZ: Well, yes. I wrote a story about how she seemed to be in a bubble and was very inaccessible to the press. I'd say she's now pulled a half McCain. You don't get to spend hours and hours with her.

(CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: Let me just ask you, Gloria...

ZUCKMAN: You can't go that far with her.

KURTZ: OK.

ZUCKMAN: You just can't say that Clinton pulled a full McCain because she's not completely...

BORGER: OK, a half McCain. A half McCain. OK. All right.

KURTZ: We've settled on the appropriate fraction.

About 9:20 Eastern last night, Gloria Borger, The Associated Press projected McCain the winner in South Carolina, what was clearly a tight race. And then within five minutes, FOX, CNN, MSNBC all said, oh, yes, we declare him the victor, too.

I thought the networks were supposed to exercise independent judgment after the debacle of 2000. Everybody -- it seemed to impact (ph) journalism.

BORGER: Well, I think everybody is being cautious this time, Howie. And I think The Associated Press has its little quarantine room, and CNN has its little quarantine room. And we make our judgments independently, as you know. And I personally would rather be late and right than be first and wrong. KURTZ: Right, but my point is that suddenly everybody jumped on the bandwagon within a space of about four or five minutes.

Fred Thompson finished third in South Carolina, a state some people would be good for him, Linda Douglass. Will every journalist who wrote breathlessly about how he was going to come in and totally shake up this race and rocket into the first tier now stand up and apologize?

DOUGLASS: Well, they probably should. I mean, the whole story line has been somewhat bizarre to begin with.

I mean, here's Fred Thompson, not really that well known as United States senator, somebody who didn't really have a record that anybody bothered to analyze. They simply went on the fact that he had been a TV actor...

KURTZ: He was on "Law & Order."

DOUGLASS: ... you know? And is so therefore, immediately leapt to comparing him to Reagan. And then, of course, that story line began to disintegrate rapidly when he waited to get into the race and he ran a somewhat lazy-appearing campaign and so forth. And now I think the reporters who anointed him early have been particularly mean and eager to make fun of him as a result of perhaps being a little bit embarrassed by having exalted him so strenuously.

KURTZ: We are so fickle in this business.

Gloria, I want to move along to the Democratic race in the moments we have remaining here.

Hillary Clinton, as I mentioned at the top, winning the Nevada caucuses. Let's take a look at what some of the anchors and pundits said after that victory was assured.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: A win is a win, and this is a win for Hillary Clinton.

ALAN COLMES, FOX NEWS: She does get momentum obviously from this, but every win, of course, helps.

HOWARD FINEMAN, "NEWSWEEK": This thing between Obama and Clinton is going to go on a long time. It's going to tear the Democratic Party apart.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Gloria, I'll toss it back to you.

Did the media to some degree get sucked into an expectations gain by the Clinton campaign? Oh, Obama has such a big advantage because...

BORGER: You think?

KURTZ: ... he's got the Culinary Workers Union supporting him. What do you think?

BORGER: Yes, I think the -- I think the Clinton campaign is brilliant at tamping down their own expectations. You know, they were telling reporters earlier in the day in Nevada that, oh, my God, Barack Obama has such an advantage because of the union and the votes in the casinos. That gives them five points heading in.

And, of course, that wasn't really true. But they were saying that to tamp down expectations so they can always do better than the low expectations they set for themselves. It's very clever, it's very smart. They do it, and to a certainly degree, the press falls for it every time.

KURTZ: Jill Zuckman, Barack Obama's campaign said, well, we didn't really lose. We won in delegates 13-12 in Nevada.

Did the media buy that spin? If you watched television yesterday, you certainly got the impression all day and all night long that this was an unalloyed Hillary Clinton victory.

ZUCKMAN: That's right. I think it may be that concept of the delegate count was too complicated for reporters to get across on television last night. And it may take a little time to settle in.

KURTZ: Too complicated for reporters.

Linda, I want to play an ad that John Edwards has been running on the Web. Now, he didn't do very well in South Carolina, finished with 4 percent of the vote, but earlier he had been very competitive, certainly in Iowa.

Let's take a look at his message.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... tell you whether or not Hillary went after Barack Obama.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Democratic contenders Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

RUSSERT: Because I think Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Clinton and Barack Obama...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton...

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: ... between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Does Edwards have a beef that basically we in the press reduced this to a two-person race?

DOUGLASS: Well, certainly he's got a complaint to make about Iowa, because, actually, he did better than Hillary Clinton did in Iowa. But he isn't doing very well in the polls. He's not winning.

He did terribly in Nevada. He invested an enormous amount of time in Nevada, made it one of his target states. So it really is -- doesn't look like there's very much of a way for him to get the nomination. I mean, he's going to play a role, but I think the media, reducing it to a two-person race, probably we're dealing with the reality of what was going on the ground.

KURTZ: Well, looking at this question of percentages versus delegates in Nevada, I have concluded that a victory is what the media says it is. And we say Hillary won.

All right. When we come back, how far should reporters go in challenging presidential candidates and their spouses? We'll examine a pair of testy run-ins on the campaign trail.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Glen Johnson, a veteran AP reporter, found himself the focus of a debate about journalistic conduct this week when he repeatedly challenged Mitt Romney about the role of campaign adviser Ron Kaufman. Johnson was sitting on the floor of a Staples store in South Carolina when things really heated up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't have lobbyists running my campaign. I don't have lobbyists that are tied to my...

GLEN JOHNSON, AP: That's not true, Governor. That is not true. Ron Kaufman is a lobbyist.

ROMNEY: He's not -- did you hear what I said, Glen?

(CROSSTALK)

ROMNEY: Did you hear what I said, Glen?

JOHNSON: You said you didn't have a lobbyist running your campaign.

ROMNEY: I said I don't have lobbyists running my campaign, and he's not running my campaign.

JOHNSON: He is one of your senior advisers.

ROMNEY: He's an adviser.

JOHNSON: He's just there as a window dressing, he's a potted plant.

ROMNEY: Ron is a wonderful friend and adviser. He's not paid. He's an adviser, like many others. But I do not have lobbyists running my campaign.

Glen, I appreciate that you think that's funny, but Ron Kaufman is not even in the senior strategy meetings of our campaign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Romney approached Johnson after it was over to continue the argument, and so did the former governor's spokesman, Eric Fehrnstrom.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERIC FEHRNSTROM, ROMNEY PRESS SECRETARY: (INAUDIBLE) being argumentative with the candidate. All right? It's out of line.

JOHNSON: No. He should stand her and tell a total falsehood.

(CROSSTALK)

JOHNSON: So now he's telling total falsehoods? Save your opinions -- save your opinions -- save your opinions and act professionally.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: We continue now with Jill Zuckman and Linda Douglass. We had some technical difficulties in New York with Gloria Borger.

Linda, did Glen Johnson go too far? Was he out of line?

DOUGLASS: Well, you know, he made a good point in that Kaufman is -- calls himself a senior adviser to Romney. But the tone was disrespectful. And reporters, you know, have more increasingly gotten into the habit of injecting their own personalities and their own personal opinions into these exchanges with some of the candidates.

Way back when Dan Rather asked Richard Nixon, "What are you running for?" You know, "Are you running for something?" That was considered really inappropriate. And it's become much more common now, and it probably isn't a good idea to challenge a candidate with that kind of emotion in your challenge.

KURTZ: Jill Zuckman, it seems to me that what Glen Johnson was saying and the questions were absolutely legitimate. It did seem like Romney was kind of splitting hairs about who's running his campaign versus who's an adviser to his campaign. But it did look like he was sort of debating Governor Romney.

ZUCKMAN: Not only was Governor Romney splitting hairs, he should have just said, "It depends what the definition of 'is' is." And I think Glen was absolutely right.

And not only is Ron Kaufman a lobbyist, but there are a number of other people who are lobbyists who are advising or consulting or working on the campaign to help Governor Romney get elected. So I kind of don't blame him for feeling a little fed up. And it clearly came through. And, you know, in the old days if you didn't have cameras everywhere and the Internet, that would have happened, the story would have been written, and nobody would have seen all that back and forth.

KURTZ: Yes, we do see the sausage being made.

Now, we talked earlier, Linda, about John McCain and how reporters perhaps are charmed by him, certainly have a lot of access to him. The chatter out there is that a lot of journalists don't like Mitt Romney. Joe Scarborough says they hate him. I think that's going a little far, but it did seem like there was a real edge to that exchange, as you noted.

DOUGLASS: Well, you know, one hears that somewhat from people who spend time with Romney. Actually, a lot of people who spend time with Romney say they really like him a lot. You don't actually see what he's like when you see him in these public settings.

But there definitely is a tension between that campaign and the reporters. And I think it's reflected sometimes in some of the coverage, although, you know, Jill does have a very good point. He was certainly splitting hairs in that answer.

KURTZ: All right. Bill Clinton also got into it with a member of the press. He was talking in Nevada to KGO's Mark Matthews, a reporter in San Francisco. Asked a question about a lawsuit involving the Nevada caucus rules and whether or not Hillary's campaign or her supporters were involved in that.

Let's watch what happened.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If that's your position, you have it. Get on your television station and say it -- I don't care about the home mortgage crisis, all I care about is making sure that some voters have it easier than others, and that when they do vote, when it's already easier for them, their votes should count five times as much as others. That is your position.

If you want to take that position, get on the television and take it. Don't be accusatory with me. I had nothing to do with this lawsuit.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Jill Zuckman, what did you make of the way Clinton started scolding this reporter, who, after all, had only asked a legitimate question, I thought, about the lawsuit?

ZUCKMAN: Well, I think the press is getting snookered here. This is the second or third time that the president has blown up, and I think he's doing it for effect. And I think it was part of the whole lowering expectations game that was going on in Nevada by the Clinton campaign to make it look like when they did win it was a huge triumph.

KURTZ: So reporters useful foil? In another words, was that a calculated show of temper by the former president, Linda?

ZUCKMAN: Absolutely.

DOUGLASS: I mean, I really -- I really...

ZUCKMAN: I think he was just waiting for it.

DOUGLASS: Yes, I really agree with Jill. I mean, clearly, what he was try to do was say, well, now there's no way Hillary Clinton can win because of this rule change, so therefore I'm demonstrating frustration because she's -- you know, she's been ruined now by this rule change that let them vote in the casinos, when, in fact, of course, she wound up winning.

Also, Bill Clinton has strategically been losing his temper. And it doesn't seem to be hurting him with voters. It irritates the press, and they think it's getting her in trouble, but the voters don't seem to mind it.

KURTZ: Irritating the presses is not always the worst thing for a candidate, or a candidate's spouse.

Linda Douglass, Jill Zuckman in South Carolina, thanks for joining us.

Our thanks to Gloria Borger as well.

The leading Democratic candidates will be taking center stage tomorrow night when the debate before the Congressional Black Caucus. That's tomorrow night, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, on CNN.

Up next, Chris Matthews does a belated mea culpa for denigrating Hillary Clinton. A movie star drops the "F" bomb on "Good Morning America." And Katie Couric unplugged again. More candid moments make their way on to the Internet. We had to bleep some of it.

"Media Minute" is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Time now for the latest in the news business in our "Media Minute."

Chris Matthews made a whole lot of people mad when he credited Hillary Clinton's political career to the fallout over Monica Lewinsky.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: I'll be brutal. The reason she's a U.S. senator, the reason she's a candidate for president, the reason she may be a front-runner is her husband messed around. KURTZ (voice over): Women's groups led by the likes of Gloria Steinem and National Organization for Women president Kim Gandy complained to NBC News president Steve Capus about what they called a pattern of sexist remarks.

Liberal bloggers jumped on Matthews as well. And this week, the hardballer apologized.

MATTHEWS: Was it fair to imply that Hillary's whole career depended on being a victim of an unfaithful husband? No.

If I said the only reason John McCain has come so far is because he got shot down by North Vietnam and captured by the enemy, I'd be brutally ignoring the courage and guts he showed in bearing up under his captivity. Saying that Senator Clinton got where she's got simply because her husband did what he did to her is just as callous, and I can see now it comes across just as nasty. Worse yet, just as dismissive.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Matthews may have been right on the historical details, but how you say something on television, your words, your tone, really matters, as I'm sure he now understands.

Usually when a movie star comes on a morning show, it's the star who gets the praise, but Diane Keaton turned the tables on "Good Morning America."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DIANE KEATON, ACTRESS: I was looking at you on television, and I honestly do not understand why more hasn't been made of how beautiful you are, because you are a beautiful woman, and I am not kidding you for one minute. And how that has...

DIANE SAWYER, "GOOD MORNING AMERICA": You're just trying to keep me from testifying at the trial for that Bloomingdale's thing.

(LAUGHTER)

KURTZ (voice over): Then Diane dropped the "F" bomb on the other Diane.

KEATON: I mean, I love them. I'd like to have lips like that. Then I wouldn't have worked on my (EXPLETIVE DELETED) personality -- or my -- excuse me, my personality. If I had lips like yours, I'd be better off.

SAWYER: Also a crime. Also a crime.

KEATON: Well, my life could be better. I'd be married. Not with these thin, little skinny lips. What am I going to do?

SAWYER: My mother is going to work on your personality with soap in your mouth, is what she's going to do. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: ABC didn't bleep the offending word, neither, as it turns out, did CNN on Friday when Colin Farrell was interviewed at the Sundance Festival and said about the director of his movie, "(EXPLETIVE DELETED), he's Irish.".

What on earth is going on out there? It's television, people. Get a grip.

Here we go again. Somebody at CBS keeps leaking outtakes of Katie Couric.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ (voice over): First there was the delicious footage of her imitating Dan Rather, and now a tape of the anchor covering the New Hampshire primary results. It began with Couric mimicking her "Today Show" successor, Meredith Vieira.

KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS: My voice is so low with this cold. I feel like it's time for the weather and Al.

I'll have to ad-lib it. Give me one interesting exit poll, please.

I was like, (EXPLETIVE DELETED), I have seven seconds.

I don't know much about Huckabee. What did I ask her before?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: I'm starting to wonder about this. Maybe it's like the Hillary campaign and some CBS marketing guru is putting this out in an effort to humanize Katie. CBS officials say they have no idea how the tape leaked out.

Coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, did Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama turn their battle into a racial slugfest, or were journalists fanning the flames? The talk turned to Martin Luther King and Sidney Poitier.

Plus, a black and white debate in sports as well. Was a "Golfweek" editor out of bounds for putting a noose on the magazine's cover after a racially-charged crack about Tiger Woods?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: It began with a fairy tale. That is, Bill Clinton saying the media coverage of Barack Obama's record on Iraq was a "fairy tale." Some of the Illinois senator's black supporters took that as a racial insult.

Then Hillary Clinton said Martin Luther King couldn't have passed the civil rights law without President Johnson. And some Obama backers accused her of denigrating King. And then Robert Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television and a big-time Hillary supporter, made this unmistakable reference to Obama's drug use as a young man.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT JOHNSON, FOUNDER, BET: As an African-American, I am frankly insulted that the Obama campaign would imply that we are so stupid that we would think Hillary and Bill Clinton, who have been deeply and emotionally involved in black issues when Barack Obama was doing something in the neighborhood that I won't say what he was doing, but he said it in his book.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Suddenly it seemed coverage of the Democratic presidential contest was dominated by race. But some pundits said, hold on, this very intense focus on racial questions is little more than a media invention.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: What is true is that Hillary Clinton was making a point that it takes a powerful president to pass tough legislation. That, of course, is true. The racial component here is murky, but the corrupt American press ran with it big time.

DAN ABRAMS, MSNBC: The inside Washington media buzzing about the supposed war over race breaking out between Clinton and Obama, but in reality, the D.C. media, I believe, invented this war and sucked the candidates into race-baiting, gotcha politics.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Joining us now to examine the controversy over this coverage, in Chicago, Roland Martin, a CNN contributor and host of "The Roland Martin Show" on WVON Radio. And in New York, CNN contributor Amy Holmes.

Roland Martin, the media were sucking the candidates into race- baiting? Do you see it that way?

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No, I don't see it that way. In fact, Howie, you left a couple things out. First and foremost, it was Bill Shaheen's comment bringing up the issue of whether or not Obama was a drug dealer that first -- was the first salvo. Then, of course, you had...

KURTZ: And let me just explain that he was the New Hampshire volunteer for Hillary Clinton, who very explicitly...

MARTIN: Yes -- no, no, no. He was a co-chair of her campaign.

KURTZ: Co-chair of her campaign, a very explicit...

(CROSSTALK) MARTIN: And also the husband of the former governor of New Hampshire.

KURTZ: So a very powerful individual.

MARTIN: Secondly, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, he made a reference to "shucking and jiving" in news conferences. So you have that. And so, what people were saying is, all of a sudden, you've got a number of issues.

Look, this did not start with the D.C. media. You know, all these other guys have no clue what they're talking about.

This really bubbled up, really, on now the black blogs, black talk shows, and all of a sudden, it was constantly, what are you saying? What are you doing?

In fact, I initially did not really write much about it on my essence.com blog, but then my people were saying, wait a minute, how are you ignoring this story? That's how all of a sudden it really rolls up. Then it got into mainstream media. That's really how it started.

KURTZ: Amy Holmes, Robert Johnson made, I thought, an unmistakable reference to Obama's drug use. He now has apologized. He said he wasn't really talking about drug use.

Whether that's true or not, isn't that a story?

AMY HOLMES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it is a story, and I think Roland is exactly right. And there are others examples.

There was an unnamed adviser to the Clinton campaign who told "The Guardian," the London "Guardian," that if you care about social issues, you'll vote for Hillary Clinton. If you want a hip, imaginary black friend, you'll vote for Barack Obama.

Listen, I'm sure the Clinton campaign would love to blame the media, but it was, in fact, the Clinton campaign that was bringing it up, and now they have all the heap brought down on their shoulders. They just can't all of a sudden say, who, me?

KURTZ: And on that point, Amy, another thing that Robert Johnson said -- again, he's a big-time Hillary Clinton supporter -- was that Obama reminds him of Sidney Poitier in the movie, "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?" This is a 1967 film about the then unusual spectacle of a woman bringing her black boyfriend home to meet her family.

So, what is that about?

HOLMES: Well, that's an unmistakable racial reference, as if Barack Obama is not black enough, that he's tried to ingratiate himself with white voters. You know, actually, I loved that movie. I think it's a fabulous movie, and it was actually real quite progressive at the time, but again, the Clinton campaign can't blame the press when they have their own surrogates going out and raising these issues.

KURTZ: Roland...

MARTIN: And Howard, also...

KURTZ: Go ahead.

MARTIN: ... we played the audio of really that entire speech. He even went further in that.

When he said that -- he mentioned BET and the crowd started cheering, and he said, oh, I've got whites to watch BET. I guess I can be president, too.

I mean, there were all kinds of comments that were made during this. And it was interesting in that debate on MSNBC. Clinton first said that Johnson, well, he made a statement saying that's not what he meant. Then she came back and said, well, he admitted it was out of bounds, when, in fact, he did not admit it was out of bounds.

She was pressed on it by Tim Russert. And then two days later, then he issues his apology. You know, and so, again, they can't play the game.

But here's the deal, Howard. The Obama campaign does not want to have -- they don't want to have a race conference. They really don't. In fact, they want to try to have it as race-neutral as possible because there's a fear on their side that, look, we don't want to alienate white voters, so let's not have any conversation dealing with race.

KURTZ: Let me play some of the questions that were raised at the MSNBC debate this week with the Democratic candidates and we'll talk about it on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator Obama and I agree completely.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Senator Clinton ran a good campaign up in New Hampshire.

CLINTON: And we're all family in the Democratic Party.

OBAMA: Well, I think Hillary said it well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Those obviously were not the questions, but some of the answers. It turned into kind of a lovefest.

So, Amy Holmes, do you agree with what Roland says, that the Obama campaign does not want this to become in any way an argument about race? I mean, aren't some of his supporters, by talking about how outraged they are by some of these tactics, also bringing race to the fore?

HOLMES: I do agree with that, and I -- you know, an adviser on the Obama campaign has been telling me that he believes that the Clintons are trying to bait Obama into that, to turn him into a Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, who would be a turnoff to mainstream voters. I don't know about all that conspiracy theorizing, but I do believe that the Barack Obama campaign is -- they've been trying very hard and I think very nobly, and it's what the voters, what America has been looking for, is a candidate who does transcend race, who brings us together and starts to heal this wound in the American psyche.

KURTZ: Well, let's go back to the media's role.

So I think we've kind of achieved a rough consensus here, the media certainly didn't make this stuff up, but is it certainly possibly, as they often do in their inimitable fashion, that journalists, once the racial story lines began to emerge, really started pumping it up, because it's an interesting way to create conflict?

HOLMES: Sure, Howie. I would absolutely agree with that.

MARTIN: Oh, no doubt.

HOLMES: Race conflict -- you know, in the next segment, where you'll be talking about a noose on the cover of "Golfweek," racial issues, racial tension, obviously grab headlines, and the media runs with those stories, just like they do on the Republican side when it comes to a conflict among Christian conservatives. These are hot- button issues that the public cares about.

KURTZ: Should this be surprising, Roland...

MARTIN: Howard...

KURTZ: Go ahead.

MARTIN: I would hope that we have -- we learn as journalists to have context. That's one of the other issues as well, to understand the deeper meaning of what's going on here.

You know, yesterday in Nevada, Obama was blown away by Clinton when it came to Latino voters. That's an important issue to examine in terms of the black/brown relations. And so, not all of a sudden do a story, well, you know, Latinos don't like African-Americans, but really get at the root of what's going on here.

You know, I was born and raised in Houston, Texas. I see what happens here in Chicago. I've covered the issues in Dallas, and you would have some real conflict there. I would hope that when we do discuss race, we understand the context, and not just go for the easy kill and say, oh, she's white, he's black, that's it. No, there are some other issues at play that we don't quite understand and we must delve in.

KURTZ: But aren't... MARTIN: Look at South Carolina.

KURTZ: But let me just jump in. But aren't journalists skittish about discussing race too blatantly, shall I say, because Obama is a kind of feel-good candidate who seems to transcend the old categories?

HOLMES: Well, I think...

MARTIN: No, they're skittish because they don't have the context and don't want to really delve into the issues.

For instance, we've been hearing for the last three weeks that South Carolina -- nearly half of the voters in South Carolina are African-American. Very true. And I keep saying, but the other half are white. How do you not bring that into the story and explain it?

So, again, we go for the real easy explanation, as opposed to trying to get the underneath issue of really what's at play.

KURTZ: Amy Holmes?

HOLMES: But, Howie, I think you are getting at a point that journalists are looking at Barack Obama, and they admire him, they like him. And I think the Clinton campaign, they have a point to make when they say that journalists having gone after Barack Obama, because they don't want to be the person who brought down sort of the most inspirational black candidate for president of the United States in American history.

KURTZ: Why do Republican candidates very rarely get asked about these questions? For example, some months ago there was a black/brown debate, Amy Holmes. I think Mike Huckabee was the only one who showed up.

This seems to be exclusively reserved for the Democratic side.

HOLMES: Well, there's a very simple answer. That 90 percent of the black vote goes towards Democrats, that the Republican party has not reached out to the black voters effectively, even though you can see in polling data that positions on social issues -- for example, there's a real alignment between conservatives and the black community. But the black community has not been sort of fertile ground for Republican candidates...

KURTZ: Sure. Sure.

HOLMES: ... so, it's really been rather ignored by journalists and also by Republicans.

KURTZ: But Roland, I've got 20 seconds here.

MARTIN: But also, Howard, it's weak. It's very weak on the part of journalists, because the reality is, whoever becomes president must address all issues. So they should be asked about the whole notion of how do you deal with high unemployment in African-American neighborhoods, how do you deal with African-Americans and whites having such a disparity when it comes to cancer?

There are critical issues. And the reality in the whole Clinton/Obama deal, we had -- back (INAUDIBLE) nothing about the actual issues dealing with black voters

HOLMES: But...

KURTZ: I've got to get a break here, guys. It sounds like a fascinating conversation we could do for another hour and a half.

Coming up when we come back, it started as an anchor's joke, a very, very bad racial joke about Tiger Woods. And now an editor has lost his job for putting a noose on the cover.

Did "Golfweek" magazine go too far?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: If there's one athlete who seems to transcends racial divisions, it's Tiger Woods. But he finds himself at the center of an increasingly ugly debate that began when Golf Channel anchor Kelly Tilghman made this very bad joke.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NICK FALDO, GOLF CHANNEL: To take Tiger (INAUDIBLE). Maybe they should just gang up for a while until...

KELLY TILGHMAN, ANCHOR, GOLF CHANNEL: Lynch him in the back alley.

FALDO: Yes, that's right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: After Al Sharpton got involved, Tilghman was suspended for two weeks for the lynching reference.

Dave Seanor, editor of the magazine "Golfweek," jumped on the controversy and decided on the cover headline, "Caught in a Noose."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVE SEANOR, "GOLFWEEK": We thought the noose was emblematic of that whole situation. And it's really not about the race angle of it, in our minds. It was more about how the noose was tightening on that whole situation that week as it evolved with Reverend Al Sharpton and everything happening there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: But the news picture sparked a huge negative reaction, with PGA Tour commissioner Tim Fionchem calling it, "... outrageous and irresponsible. It smacks of tabloid journalism. It was a naked attempt to inflame and keep alive an incident that was heading to an appropriate conclusion." ON Friday, the magazine's owner, Turnstile Publishing, apologized for the cover and fired Dan Seanor.

Joining our panel now from Fort Lauderdale is Leonard Shapiro, sports columnist for "The Washington Post."

Len Shapiro, you're friendly with Dave Seanor. This was a very -- the article itself was a very professional examination, I thought, of the issues involved with Kelly Tilghman and her suspension.

Did this simple act of putting that noose on the cover, that ugly symbol of the old South, warrant the editor's firing?

LEONARD SHAPIRO, "WASHINGTON POST": Yes. Dave Seanor is a friend of mine as well. And yes, I thought it showed incredibly bad judgment, and I feel terribly for Dave, but that's -- when I saw it, my initial reaction was just I was absolutely flabbergasted that that would be on the cover.

This was an issue that Kelly Tilghman raised. It was sort of dying down. She apologized profusely to Tiger, she apologized on the air, albeit a little bit late, about a day and a half too late. But she was in the middle of a two-week suspension, and "Golfweek," which had written about it the week before, and written about it fairly extensively, wanted to keep it alive.

Now, I've heard people say, well, you know, they did it to sell magazines. You know, you put the noose on the cover, people are going to grab it off the newsstand.

Well, guess what? They have got 160,000 subscribers, and most of them are subscription. You don't buy that magazine. You almost never see it on a newsstand. So this was not...

KURTZ: Right, but they didn't have to move the product at the newsstand, but it's not like "Golfweek" magazine was endorsing lynching. I mean, that was up there as a symbol of what the anchor had said, and of course that's exactly what this controversy revolves around.

SHAPIRO: Yes, but, I mean, you have to -- you have to say, Howie, that was a bit inflammatory. And, I mean, I can see where people got upset about it. You know that their advertisers were upset -- yes.

KURTZ: Roland Martin, Dave Seanor told Yahoo! Sports, "I knew I was pushing the envelope with that cover," and that he did not tell the owner in advance. He said, "I dropped the ball on that one."

Should Dave Seanor have anticipated that this was playing with dynamite?

MARTIN: Well, I mean, obviously, because, again, this is one of those volatile issues that we don't really like to touch. The whole point is, how do you actually examine the whole story? I was not necessarily offended just by the cover, especially if the coverage -- if the coverage was appropriate in terms of explaining it. Because a lot of people were saying, well, I don't see the big deal. Why should she get suspended?

Well, let me also say this about inflammatory, Howard. You made the comment when Reverend Al Sharpton got involved. There were many more people who were talking about this issue before Reverend Al Sharpton.

I think what happens is, we all of a sudden throw his name out there at the impetus for a change. And then all of a sudden, that becomes inflammatory. There were many columnists and talk show hosts who were driving this issue as well. Nothing against him, but there was also a lot more dialogue talking about the issue...

KURTZ: Sure. But as you know, he is a bit of a media magnate.

Amy Holmes...

MARTIN: Of course.

KURTZ: ... Jim Thorpe, one of the two black players on the champions tour, Jim Thorpe said that the cover was absolutely stupid and throwing fuel on the fire.

Your thoughts?

HOLMES: You know, I think firing the editor over this is as over the top as putting the noose on the cover. I think this is silly.

We know in the case of this young woman who made the remark that Tiger Woods said, hey, I know her. I know that she didn't mean anything by it.

In terms of the editor being fired, you know, I actually think he should get a medal for trying to put out a weekly magazine about golf. I mean, that's got to be sort of a thankless task.

MARTIN: Hey, hey, hey. I'm a golfer now.

KURTZ: Let's not get too personal.

HOLMES: I mean, how many weeks can you be talking about plaid pants and golf cart - but I also think, Howie, that there's a larger problem. That if an editor is worried about getting fired whenever they put on an inflammatory cover or they try to cover an issue that, you know, can be touchy or sensitive, I think it really inhibits journalism and it inhibits editors and they don't even touch it, they shy away from it, and we should be able to talk about this as grownups.

KURTZ: All right. Let me go back to Len Shapiro.

Now, I've even had people ask whether Kelly Tilghman should have been suspended for her lynching joke. And it was clearly a joke. She's friendly with Tiger Woods. She apologized to him. So some people are saying this is political correctness run amok.

SHAPIRO: Yes. But, you know, there are certainly words in the English language that are sort of radioactive, and when you say them on the air, you better be prepared for the firestorm of criticism that's going to follow.

Yes, it was a casual comment, off the cuff, ha, ha, but nobody was laughing. It's kind of funny -- they didn't even realize it at the time, because there was a replay of that telecast later that night and it wasn't bleeped out of that. So...

(CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: I've got 20 seconds.

MARTIN: Howard...

KURTZ: You don't buy -- let me just finish up with Len Shapiro.

You don't buy the fact that this was an overreaction. You thought it was a firing offense?

SHAPIRO: Yes, I really do. As a former editor, I think I can say that, and particularly in not telling the publisher, not telling people above you this was coming. You know, we always had a rule at The Post, Howie, no surprises. Boy, that publisher sure must have been surprised when they saw that cover.

KURTZ: All right. My thanks to all of you.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Fran Lewine died yesterday. She was one of the unsung figures in journalism, a longtime producer here at CNN, 86 years old.

She worked at the AP for decades. And joining me to talk about her career is Frank Sesno, special CNN correspondent and professor of Media and Public Affairs at The George Washington University.

She started in this business in 1942 at "The New York Daily News." Not a lot of women in the news business at that time.

FRANK SESNO, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: I was struck this morning. You were talking to Linda Douglass, Jill Zuckman and Gloria Borger, three women. They're here on the shoulders of Fran Lewine.

When Frank Lewine came to Washington, and when Fran Lewine started covering the first administration -- the first of six she covered -- Dwight Eisenhower's administration -- women were relegated to covering teas and socials, and things like that. Women were relegated to the balcony at the National Press Club. They...

KURTZ: And she challenged that.

SESNO: She challenged it, she changed it. And she and Helen Thomas worked together to do that.

Helen Thomas has stayed very public, but in the latter part of Fran's years, she moved here to CNN and she worked behind the scenes. But at 86 years old, she's a producer. And she's going out on stakeouts.

She was a regular. An icon, really, at the Sunday morning stakeouts. After the morning shows, she would go out with all these other young producers, stand by the cameras, and get these newsmakers as they would come out of CBS, "Face the Nation," the others.

She was deferred to. She always got the first question there, Howie.

KURTZ: After all those years at the AP, how was it that she came to work for CNN in 1981?

SESNO: 1981, assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan. Fran Lewine was in town. CNN was a young, upstart network. Nobody had heard about it.

She walks in the door and she says, "I'm here to help." She actually had information about the type of gun that John Hinckley used. She was brought on board, paid 80 bucks for that information, and shortly thereafter hired. And she stayed with CNN. She said, you're going to have to fire me to get me out of here.

KURTZ: She was tough. And, you know, the fact that long past 80, most people would like to have retired, she stayed with the news business. I mean, it was almost like you couldn't pry her out of that chair.

SESNO: She had a quiet resolve to her. She was an unbelievably gracious person. In fact, LBJ's daughter, Lucy, said that Fran Lewine was there when she was married and she was there when Lyndon discovered America.

Bill Moyer said she was an exemplar, and the craft has lost a devoted exemplar. "Devoted" is the word to describe Fran. She believed passionately in what journalism could and should do, most particularly here in Washington -- hold those in power to account. And I can't remember a day when I was bureau chief here and we were thinking about, what are the stories going to be, what is the weekend going to be, when she wouldn't come up and have an idea, something to pitch and a story to do, and questions to put to those who were in a position of responsibility.

KURTZ: There she is with David Bohrman, CNN's Washington bureau chief.

As you said, she covered the White House from the Eisenhower administration to the Carter administration. She -- I think we have a picture of her with Jackie Kennedy, President Kennedy.

This was a career that really spanned modern history. SESNO: It spanned modern history. And again, the change that she saw and that she helped to bring about is really something that journalism and American society in many ways have seen completely altered.

Our colleagues here at CNN are also remembering Fran in really profound ways. Candy Crowley remembers in early days when she was freelancing for CNN she came in here. She said it was a holiday weekend, she was assigned a transportation story, and she was trying to figure out who to call. And Fran said, well, call the secretary of transportation and put it right to him.

And Candy sell, well -- you know, guess what? Fran worked the phones and got the secretary of transportation on the phone. That's the kind of person she was. And she never stopped, into her 80s.

KURTZ: And, you know, the people who are not in front of the camera sometimes don't get the recognition they deserve.

I'm glad to have you here, Frank Sesno, to talk about Frank Lewine.

SESNO: We all owe Fran Lewine a great, great tribute.

KURTZ: She would have been 87 years old today.

Well, that's it for us at RELIABLE SOURCES.

I'm Howard Kurtz.

Join us next Sunday morning for another critical look at the media.

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