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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Clinton's Comeback Coverage
Aired March 9, 2008 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice over): Resurrection. As Hillary Clinton confounds the pundits again by winning Ohio and Texas, now Barack Obama is complaining about the media coverage.
Are reporters finally asking Obama tough questions? Is that scrutiny helping to fuel Clinton's comeback? And were journalists shamed into action by the mockery of "Saturday Night Live?"
John McCain getting testy with a "New York Times" reporter. Is the romance starting to fade.
Plus, literary license. Another big-time publishers and "The New York Times" fall for an author's bogus tale of growing up with L.A. gangs.
KURTZ: I could give you a dozen reasons why Hillary Clinton, who some of my journalistic colleagues said was toast, or at least badly burnt, bounced back this week in Ohio and Texas. It was the phone ringing at 3:00 in the morning ad, it was the trial of Obama fundraiser Tony Rezko, or Obama's fumbling of a controversy about his stance on NAFTA, or maybe Hillary going on "Saturday Night Live." But there is no debate about one thing -- for the first time in this seemingly endless presidential campaign, journalists got aggressive with the Illinois senator, as we saw at this press conference which Obama tried to end early, even as Lynn Sweet of the "Chicago Sun- Times" kept shouting questions.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, no, Lynn. I'm just saying I don't think it's disputed that I stood there. You were there, Lynn. So was Mike. And I took every question. I was there until everybody had satisfied their questions.
Thank you. Thank you. Wait, wait, guys. Come on. I just answered...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: For months, the Clinton campaign has been complaining about unbalanced media coverage, and this week it was Obama chiding the press. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I am a little surprised that all the complaining about the reps has actually worked as well as it has for them. You know, this whole spin of just, you know, how the press has just been so tough on them and not tough on us, I didn't expect that you guys would bite on that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: The pundits began debating just what impact the news coverage is having on the Democratic race.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: What propelled Hillary to victory was the press and a few small slipups by Barack Obama. The corrupt media had a lot to do with that.
DAN ABRAMS, MSNBC: Yes, the latest storyline peddled by the pundits is that Clinton only won because she played dirty.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So, have journalists started to scrutinize Obama more seriously, and could that affect the rest of this Democratic campaign?
Joining us now, Jake Tapper, senior political correspondent for ABC News; Amy Holmes, CNN political analyst; and Ana Marie Cox, Washington editor for TIME.com and a contributor to the magazine Swampland Blog.
Jake Tapper, over the last year, was the media coverage a little too soft on Senator Obama, and have journalists now started to step up their scrutiny just a bit?
JAKE TAPPER, SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, ABC NEWS: Yes and yes.
KURTZ: Would you like to elaborate?
TAPPER: I mean, the coverage was I think very glowing and fawning in many cases.
KURTZ: Why is that?
TAPPER: Not everyone -- you point out Lynn Sweet of the "Chicago Sun-Times." A lot of the Chicago newspapers have been very tough on him, and looking into rhetoric versus reality and those sort of -- why is that? Because two things.
First of all, remember, he was indeed the underdog for a long time, and frontrunners get scrutiny more than the underdog. Second of all, it is a unique story, Barack Obama's rise. And third of all, I think the Clinton campaign does not do itself any favors by running a very now negative but also very tough, sometimes dishonest campaign. And that hurts them. KURTZ: We'll come back to that.
Why did it take stories about this Obama -- and Hillary Clinton's complaints and her campaign's complaints and "Saturday Night Live" making fun of journalists to spur reporters into doing their jobs?
ANA MARIE COX, WASHINGTON EDITOR, TIME.COM: I agree with Jake that I don't know if you can say that it was just "Saturday Night Live" or, you know, the Clinton communications team getting on the phone and saying, why don't you do your job? Which they do literally say.
I think it's a combination of a lot of things, and him being the frontrunner is one of them. And I too want to give a shout out to Lynn Sweet, because I think that she's an example of what happens if you cover someone for a long time.
She's not -- she was never interested in telling the story about the rock star, about the swooning, about the enormous crowds. Like, she's been covering him for long enough, and the other people of Chicago...
COX: ... that she knows the other stories about him.
KURTZ: But there was nothing preventing national journalists from reading the Chicago clips and picking up on some of those stories, which occasionally they did. But look, this morning, front page of "The New York Times," the headline -- we can put it up -- "Obama in Senate: Star Power Minor Role." It talks about his lack of influence in the Senate, how he almost immediately began running for president.
That story could have been written six months ago. It could have been written a year ago.
AMY HOLMES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And I would add a fourth reason to the list that Jake just gave. The reason why he wasn't getting this, you know, critical press attention is because he was winning. And that's a positive story.
When you win 11 contests in a row, then you're going to have the press looking at, why is he winning, why is she losing? And they were writing those types of stories.
KURTZ: But every campaign I've ever covered, when somebody starts to win, when somebody starts to pull out front, yes, they get positive press in the horse race sense, but then there's always this wave of stories like, well, this person could be president, what do we really know about them? Let's go turn over some rocks.
HOLMES: Well, and those stories are coming. And what I think is really surprising is how much that the media has gone along with the Clinton spin. Let's look at the Wyoming caucus yesterday. The media was already writing this off as an old news story before the first ballot was even cast, because, well, we all know the outcome. But with Wyoming, there were some interesting things built into there that could have been an Hillary advantage.
Are we all forgetting about the Jackson Hole vacations that the Clintons took in the '90s that were poll-tested by Dick Morris? Wyoming was the first state to have a woman governor. It gave the women the vote in 1869. So there were cards you could play that the press did not point out.
KURTZ: On the other hand, Wyoming is a total of 12 delegates. Barack Obama won seven. So it was no Ohio, it was no Texas.
TAPPER: But can I just say one thing about Wyoming? This is a perfect example of why I think the Clintons shoot themselves in the foot.
They constantly say that red states don't matter, caucus states don't matter, states with small populations don't matter. And then last night Hillary Clinton wins five delegates to Barack Obama's seven in Wyoming.
They put on this press release I got at least two or three times saying Hillary Clinton exceeds expectations. Wait a second. You've been telling us for months that red states, caucus states and small population states don't matter. Now they matter if you lose?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
KURTZ: Hillary Clinton, by winning the two big states this week, did land herself on the cover of "TIME," if we can show that, and the cover of "Newsweek" as well. "Hear Her Roar" is the "Newsweek" headline, "The Fighter" for TIME.
And Obama is quoted in "TIME" as saying, "The biggest impact was that she complained to the referees" -- that would be the journalists -- "and the referees gave her some calls."
What about this new thing I keep reading about and hearing about, that, oh, the campaign is so ugly, it's so divisive, tearing the party apart? This doesn't seem to me -- isn't it just a healthy debate?
COX: You just started hearing that?
KURTZ: I think -- but it is -- it actually has evolved -- or rather devolved -- in something a little bit uglier than it was. I remember early in the primaries people were marveling at how ugly the Republican race was and how personal it seemed to be getting.
At this point, I think it's just like -- it's like an old married couple, that finally there's bickering at each other. Like, there's no way they're ever going to get along anymore. They know each other too well, they know each other's weaknesses, and they have a referee to complain to.
KURTZ: But the subtext of the campaign is getting really ugly. And I would argue that by her -- I mean, most of it is not personal attacks. I mean, even when Hillary Clinton said, "Shame on, Barack Obama," she was talking about -- she was talking about NAFTA and health care mandates. But the subtext is it's all Hillary's fault, she could get out, she's prolonging it, the only way she can win this thing is by stealing it, by getting more superdelegates.
Is that fair?
HOLMES: Is that true? I think -- I mean, it was the Clintons that came up with, you know, we're going to use this kitchen sink strategy, we're going to throw at him what we can. And let's not forget how...
KURTZ: But that's what happens in campaigns.
HOLMES: But there were some very ugly racial undertones to the selection that the clients were ginning up. Bill Clinton, in January -- and, you know, the Clintons got punished for that. They only raced $13 million in the month of January.
We had the picture that, you know, at first the Clintons sort of ducked and said, well, we're not sure, Barack Obama in garb that could be construed as Muslim garb, and that all came out. And you know, the Clintons finally said this didn't come from our campaign, but there have been -- I think some ugly race-baiting undertones to this campaign that I think the Clintons should need to take responsibility for.
KURTZ: But it's not exactly like Bush/McCain in 2000. I mean, there have been some cheap shots, no question about it.
Do you consider this an ugly and divisive campaign?
TAPPER: Not by historic standards, but a lot of Democrats in Washington, D.C., are very concerned that what the Clinton campaign is doing is providing basically little sound bites that can be used in John McCain's ads against Barack Obama should he be the nominee, and he still is the frontrunner? And you have to look...
KURTZ: So the coverage accurately reflects those concerns by people in the Democratic Party?
TAPPER: I believe -- I think that's true. And look, John Chait in "The New Republic" had a very wise observation. Hillary Clinton is now going to spend seven weeks telling voters in the great state of Pennsylvania that Barack Obama cannot be trusted in the Oval Office.
That is a state that John McCain can win. And she's going to spend seven weeks and millions of dollars to do that.
Now, it is an argument that John McCain would make in the fall anyway, or actually is making already right now, but a Democrat making the argument -- this is the concern of Democrats in D.C. -- a Democrat making that argument is all that more powerful.
KURTZ: Well, Obama, I think, will also have some things to say about the former first lady during that period. But I want to turn to the thing that happened...
TAPPER: No, but he hasn't said she's not suitable to be commander in chief. He has not said that. And that's the difference. There is -- you can't pretend that the campaigns are going at each other with the same negative attacks. They're not, with the exception of Samantha Power's ridiculous comment.
They're not. Hillary's campaign is much more negative.
KURTZ: Let me get to Samantha Power. She is the Harvard professor, Pulitzer Prize-winning author who is also an Obama foreign policy adviser.
And she gave an interview to "The Scotsman" newspaper. And if we can put the quote up on the screen, she's talking about Hillary Clinton here -- "She is a monster, too -- that is off the record -- she is stooping to anything," Samantha Power said.
Now, immediately -- I guess I shouldn't say immediately, but a few hours after that story became public, Samantha Power resigned from the Obama campaign.
Now, here's an interview with Gerri Peev. She is "The Scotsman" reporter who conducted that interview. She was asked about the off- the-record aspect of it. Let's talk a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GERRI PEEV, REPORTER, "THE SCOTSMAN": In Britain here, we have very firm rules about the fact that generally you establish whether a conversation or interview is on or off the record before it goes -- before it actually happens. I don't know of any journalist worth their salt who would have pulled a remark.
We're not in the business to self-censor -- or to censor ourselves. We're in the business to print the truth.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: If someone says to you an interview, so and so is a blanking blank, that's off the record. Would you give them a pass or not, since they didn't ask you for permission beforehand to say, OK, this is off the record, right?
Do you agree?
COX: I'm going to be utterly transparent and say it would depend on the situation. And I also have to say, it's very easy for someone who writes for "The Scotsman" to make the decision to make that on the record.
Like, she doesn't have -- she's probably never going to interview Samantha Power ever again. And she probably isn't going to cover the Obama White House should there be one.
I think that a journalist who wants to continue working, I mean, you can call it a sad truth, but it is a truth that you need to keep -- you need to maintain relationships with your sources. And part of maintaining a relationship means having some kind of contract with them that you're not going to do anything unfair. And...
KURTZ: So that would suggest, Amy Holmes, that when somebody immediately says something is off the record -- and this was not a wise thing for Samantha Power to say -- that it's unfair to use it.
Is it unfair, in your view?
HOLMES: I think it is, and I think that in a wide-ranging interview -- let's remember, this was about her book tour, this was not about her work for Barack Obama -- that...
KURTZ: Well, part of it -- except the part of the interview was about...
HOLMES: Certainly. And she should have expected that the journalist's main focus was going to be on her work for Barack Obama. I mean, that's a much bigger story, I think, than her book.
I'm sorry, Samantha Power.
But during the course of the interview, there are times when the source will say, OK, this is on background, this is off the record, you can quote me on that. And that's during the course of the interview, that the rules are not necessarily set up steadfast at the beginning and then adhered to from beginning to end.
KURTZ: Well, let's take a look at what Samantha Power had to say about this after her resignation, and then we'll come to Jake.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SAMANTHA POWER, FMR. OBAMA CAMPAIGN ADVISER: I'm just afraid really that the campaign would not stay at the level it had been on and let out in a wave of frustration, believing I was just talking to myself, not believing I was going to be on the record that would cause her any harm. And I'm just truly sorry at the harm that it must have caused her.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Did she get hosed by "The Scotsman?"
TAPPER: She did something stupid. You don't -- you don't -- you don't tell a reporter -- you don't trust something like that. But I thought what was even more revealing from that interview was the elitism, the disdain that she talked about, Ohioans concerned about job losses, and they're obsessed with NAFTA. That just kind of betrayed -- and that was on the record. That betrayed a sort of university elitism that we have seen before in the Obama campaign that I think is very dangerous if that develops as a narrative out there, that this is just a bunch of wonky liberals in university settings.
HOLMES: And wouldn't you agree -- I mean, it looks like Barack Obama is getting in trouble with the academics on his staff. You know, we had Goolsbee going to the Canadian Consulate, and we had...
KURTZ: Austin Goolsbee is the economic adviser for Barack Obama.
HOLMES: Exactly. Exactly. And it also seems to me that it's a lack of discipline on the campaign's part. You should be talking to your communications director before you're giving an interview.
KURTZ: Just briefly.
COX: I want to say that probably the best thing that's happened to Hillary -- or the worst thing that's happened to Hillary Clinton this week is Samantha Power leaving. She said a lot of things in that interview that could be used on a very substantive level against Obama.
KURTZ: Right. But instead, all the coverage...
COX: And -- but now she's gone.
KURTZ: All the coverage was about the "monster" quote.
KURTZ: And the "monster" quote is probably what hastened her departure.
All right. When we come back, John McCain usually charms the press on his campaign plane. This week, not so much. A testy moment with the cameras rolling, next.
KURTZ: Now that John McCain has wrapped up the Republican nomination, the media speculation has turned to his choice for VP. That prompted "New York Times" reporter Elizabeth Bumiller to ask the senator why he had denied to a Times colleague four years ago, having had a discussion with John Kerry about joining the Democratic ticket as Kerry's running mate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Everybody knows that, that I had a conversation. There's no living American in Washington that doesn't know that. There's no one.
And you know it, too. So -- no, you know it, you know it. So I don't even know why you asked.
ELIZABETH BUMILLER, "NEW YORK TIMES": Well, I asked...
MCCAIN: No, you do know it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: You've spent a lot of time with McCain. He spends hours and hours answering reporters' questions.
COX: It's worth pointing out that Bumiller is actually relatively new to the campaign.
Is there a downside to his policy of nearly unlimited media access?
COX: Well, you just saw it. It's true that he can -- especially -- it's almost always someone who has not -- who hasn't been with the campaign, you know, through it all that's going to make a call that makes him look bad.
I remember the lightsaber moment from 2000. That was from someone -- when he said he was going to be -- you know, fight Darth Vader.
KURTZ: But that suggests that the people who have been traveling with him regularly...
KURTZ: ... become part of the bubble, part of the team?
COX: Become part of the bubble, and also, I mean, I think what happens is that you -- if you've been covering him for a long time, there's a sense that, well, he does that all the time, it's not worth reporting, because he does -- he's a cranky old man. I mean, to be quite frank.
You know, like, and also, I've gotten much tougher terseness than Bumiller got just there. And...
KURTZ: But the cameras weren't rolling.
COX: But the cameras weren't rolling. And also, we wrote it off to, like, you know, he hadn't had his fifth cup of Starbucks today.
KURTZ: But is there a tendency for journalists to cut more slack for candidates who they have a lot of opportunity to talk, not necessarily because they like them, but because they're not just getting one crack at that person for eight minutes every three days?
TAPPER: Yes. And that's the exchange that the McCain people make now, and we'll see if it lasts until November. But, you know, they have this constant access.
I spent a couple weeks ago -- I did a couple days with each of the candidates, Obama, Clinton, McCain. And I got more time with McCain -- not just me, all of the press corps -- in one day than I had gotten with the other two candidates the entire time.
And that's the exchange. And from 80 percent of the time it's to McCain's benefit and 20 percent it's not. But two points to make about that exchange.
One is "The New York Times" is not currently his favorite newspaper. And the other point is Elizabeth Bumiller was catching him in a lie that he told in 2004. He had been lying. He said no, he hadn't had that conversation. So it was, by definition, a "gotcha" question, and he doesn't like that, but he especially doesn't like "The New York Times."
KURTZ: And of course your reference is to the story a couple of weeks ago about McCain's relationship with a female lobbyist that was widely criticized by many of us in the profession.
So is the romance starting to fade? I always wondered whether the friendly relationship that McCain has with the press generally could persist once he was the nominee.
HOLMES: Well, I think this honeymoon was over back in 2000. I think we saw the press coverage of John McCain this time around was that his campaign wasn't getting off the ground, it was a disaster, he has no money, he's firing his staff, there' no way he's getting this nomination. And here we are, he's the Republican nominee.
Going back to Jake's point about "The New York Times" not being his favorite periodical newspaper does him well with conservatives. So, you know, there's been this question about John McCain, does he benefit or is he at a disadvantage because of all the Democratic headlines?
HOLMES: This little back and forth, this bicker with "The New York Times," the general public is not paying attention to.
KURTZ: And McCain did hold a barbecue for the press at his ranch in Sedona, where some people were in attendance.
COX: Yes. Delicious dry-rub barbecued ribs, actually, baby back ribs.
KURTZ: Firsthand report.
Go to leave it there.
Ana Marie Cox, Amy Holmes, Jake Tapper, thanks very much for joining us this morning.
Coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, "Saturday Night Live" makes journalists covering the campaign look like a morons. And no joke, is that having an impact?
Plus, Rush Limbaugh stirs a debate about race and gender in the campaign. And we talk about Samantha Power resigning after a disagreement of "off the record."
KURTZ: We've debated on this program for more than a year whether the media have been giving Barack Obama walk on water coverage, but it wasn't until a few late-night comedy skits that journalists began confronting the question, gee, have we been too easy on the freshman senator?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Like nearly everyone in the media, the three of us are totally in the tank for Senator Obama. Today he is one of our nation's truly visionary leaders, and soon, knock on wood, the first black American president of the United States.
Senator Barack Obama.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you want a different future, a safe, competent, more experienced future, there is something you can do. You can call or write the offices of the Democratic National Committee and tell them, wait, we've changed our mind.
(END VIDEO CLIP, "SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE")
KURTZ: So are we all just having a few yucks, or has "Saturday Night Live" become a real factor in this presidential campaign?
Joining us now in Austin, Texas, Jeff Jarvis, veteran journalist, former critic for "TV Guide," who blogs at buzzmachine.com. And in New York, Adam Buckman, television editor for "The New York Post."
All right, Jeff Jarvis, "Saturday Night Live" comes back from the writers' strike, and suddenly the clips are all over TV and part of our political conversation.
Why is the late-night comedy show apparently having such an impact on this campaign?
JEFF JARVIS, BUZZMACHINE.COM: Because, Howie, they're finally covering the story that everybody except you has ignored, which is that media's own love affair with Barack Obama is having an impact on this campaign. It's a big part of the story -- the reporters' opinions, the reporters' views, the way they have given him a honeymoon this whole time, has an effect on the campaign, and no one was covering that. So along comes "Saturday Night Live," I think shaming media and media critics everywhere, except you.
KURTZ: And no one was covering it earlier because everybody was so blinded and mesmerized by the dazzling skills of Senator Obama, you would say? JARVIS: I would say that's part of it, but also because media -- as egotistical as the drama queens in media are, they're not going to cover themselves. They're acting as if they're still objective, when I see manifestly they've failed at that in this campaign.
KURTZ: Well, we'll come back to that.
Adam Buckman, for all the -- for the fawning over Obama concept to be funny on "SNL" or any other show, there has to be some underlying reality that's being exaggerated for comedic effect.
ADAM BUCKMAN, "NEW YORK POST": Well, I suppose it must be some people's perception that in some of the debates leading up to the -- well, leading all the way up to the debate in which Hillary Clinton mentioned the situation herself on MSNBC, I suppose it must have seemed that way to somebody, that questioners were favoring Barack Obama, perhaps asking Hillary Clinton the hard questions first as she complained. I didn't notice that. I watched a great much of the debates myself, and it seemed like things were pretty well balanced out.
And I think that that's -- ultimately, there hasn't been all that much evidence, to tell the you the truth, in my mind, of this bias that Hillary Clinton claims. However, she's certainly made a lot of mileage out of it.
And let me mention that the reason "Saturday Night Live" has only recently come to this story, of course, is because of the timing of the writers' strike. And they didn't come back until February 234d. And it's also nothing new that "SNL" has become a big part of a presidential campaign. The show seems to have great skill at inserting itself into the process.
KURTZ: Yes, I have noticed that once or twice.
Well, Jeff Jarvis, you know, you talk about journalists pretending to be objective, in your view. Now, you are a Hillary Clinton supporter, so you've put your...
JARVIS: You don't have to guess about my view, no.
KURTZ: You put your cards on the table.
Even if it is true that the press has been tilted toward the Obama side, perhaps not as quite as blatantly as the "SNL" gang would have us believe, don't you think that started to change in the last couple weeks?
JARVIS: Only a bit. I think my problem is this, Howie -- is that this is a campaign that is in great measure -- well, the Obama campaign is filled with a lot of empty rhetoric -- "Yes, we can. Change we can believe in."
Well, what change? We can do what? I don't think we're hearing the press go after that enough. And so we have this movement forming, but I think it's an empty vessel. And that's part of the problem here, is that you have this kind of emptiness of that rhetoric of not being challenged, and then when Hillary Clinton puts an ad on that does what campaigns do, which is question qualifications, that's called an attack.
And I agree with you that I don't think it's an attack at all. I think it's actually getting down to the brass tacks of a campaign.
KURTZ: But you know...
JARVIS: So it's a very strange kind of tiptoeing around Obama in this campaign.
KURTZ: Adam Buckman, it's not like "SNL," among other programs, doesn't mock Hillary Clinton as well as kind of a humorless drone, but the program did give her a much-needed platform last weekend when she came on. And that was a couple days before she won Ohio and Texas.
BUCKMAN: True enough, and I'm one who doesn't really approve of the candidates going on the comedy shows, because we're really not electing comedians in chief. You know, we're electing somebody to a very serious office.
KURTZ: You don't approve? You think they should all just stop it and only go on "Meet the Press," "Face the Nation" and "Late Edition?"
BUCKMAN: I feel like by going on late-night comedy shows, they kind of associate themselves with a kind of juvenile, kind of immature comedy, that is the stock and trade of these shows. And it's their right to traffic in this kind of comedy, and I enjoy watching it, but I sometimes wonder if these candidates don't -- it's just a lot of pandering to younger viewers who they believe are watching these shows in great enough numbers to sway the elections.
And I don't think they really know what the shows are about or what some of the other topics are. Some of the stuff they cover is quite controversial. Sometimes...
JARVIS: Well, and a good thing. I wish major news shows would do that, too.
You know, the reason that Jon Stewart is so trusted is because he calls BS when journalists don't anymore. The young people see these shows as more news than the real news shows, and I think it's a legitimate platform for these candidates to go on.
BUCKMAN: Well, I don't think they should be so trusting of Jon Stewart. I thought he gave Hillary Clinton a real free ride last Monday night...
KURTZ: And since you mentioned that -- hold on.
BUCKMAN: And he obviously favors Hillary Clinton, and he obviously put her on there and gave her a whole platform the evening before the very important Ohio and Texas primaries to talk about what a great person she is. And there was no comedy to the segment.
KURTZ: Adam, since you -- hold on.
BUCKMAN: And Chris Matthews is so down the middle, hey?
KURTZ: All right. Hold on. Hold on. Since you brought up Hillary Clinton going on "The Daily Show," we happen to have an actual excerpt from that program.
Let's take a look at what Jon Stewart asked her.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JON STEWART, COMEDY CENTRAL: Either way, this is an historic race. You have done better than any woman in the history of this country running for the highest office of this land. Barack Obama has done the same for African-Americans. And I do feel like we as Americans are watching two historical figures battle it out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Jeff Jarvis, Jon Stewart is a comedic master, but he didn't exactly subject Hillary to an inquisition there.
JARVIS: No, he didn't, but that's the structure of that show. I think that I Just disagree with Adam about the comedy shows. They have their role.
But I do agree with Adam that too much of this campaign is viewed as if it were a TV show, as if it were a game show, or a full reality show, when in fact it's a job interview. We're trying to figure out who should run the country and what they're going to do in office, and what qualifications they have. And a lot of that gets lost in the addiction of the drama queens and media to trying to tell a narrative.
KURTZ: All right.
Quick question for you, Adam Buckman.
Mike Huckabee, most of his campaign consisted of going on "The Colbert Report," "Morning Joe" and other shows.
KURTZ: He's out of the race now. He's talking about getting a radio show. Can you see that working out?
BUCKMAN: Yes, probably. I mean, it depends. Radio is a very different kind of medium than, you know, your five or 10-minute segments on comedic late-night shows. You know, if he can -- if he has the energy to talk for three hours, well, that's a particular skill that, frankly, I haven't seen him do that.
All I really remember about his campaign was, every time I saw him on his TV, he was playing guitar. That's all I remember.
JARVIS: If he can give sermons, he can do a show probably.
KURTZ: Probably show.
All right. Jeff Jarvis, Adam Buckman, thanks for kicking it around with us this morning.
Up next, a top Clinton adviser compares Barack Obama to Ken Starr. Will the media now start rehashing Whitewater, Travelgate, and all those old Clinton controversies from the '90s?
KURTZ: Rush Limbaugh, who's got a pretty big microphone, has certainly made his voice heard during this campaign. First he pummeled John McCain during the GOP primaries, then he made some mischief this week, urging Republicans in Texas and Ohio to vote for Hillary as a way of boosting the candidate he thinks would be the weakest opponent this fall. And he may have had some effect.
The other day, Rush had this to say about what many Democrats consider to be their dream ticket, and quickly drew some criticism from African-American commentators.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: It is Obama and Hillary -- Hillary/Obama. Let's put Hillary on the top of that. Put Hillary on top. It's a position she's familiar with.
Therefore, you've got a woman and a black, first time ever on the Democrat ticket. You don't have a prayer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think that comment is, as far as I can tell, a very un-American conversation, because African- Americans and women fight for this country, we've died for this country.
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KURTZ: Joining us now to talk about the coverage and commentary in this campaign, in New York, Keli Goff, political analyst and author of the new book "Party Crashing: How the Hip-Hop Generation Declared Political Independence." And here in Washington, Jonah Goldberg, editor-at-large of National Review Online. He's the author of "Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left From Mussolini, to the Politics of Meaning," which hit number one today on "The New York Times" best-sellers list.
Keli Goff, on Rush's statement, can you make a cold, calculating observation that trying to win an election with two groundbreaking candidates might be too risky without being accused of being racist and sexist?
KELI GOFF, AUTHOR, "PARTY CRASHING": Look, there's a lot to criticize Rush Limbaugh for. I mean, you know, we don't have enough time to go into how many things he said over the years that could be deemed offensive.
In this instance, however, Howard, I think that, you know, he simply said out loud what a lot of people are thinking and simply spoke the truth. And in fact, the ironic thing about his statement, I'd say that the sexual innuendo -- and there was probably a lot more offensive than what he said about the realities of trying to elect the first female/African-American ticket in our nation's history. You know, the reality is we're not sure that America is ready, and, in fact, the funny thing is we spend so much time wondering whether or not the country's ready for the first female president of the first black president, you know, we're not even sure about that, so how can we say we're sure that the country is ready for the first black/female ticket?
And nevertheless, Jonah Goldberg, Limbaugh got beat up for this, at least in some quarters.
JONAH GOLDBERG, AUTHOR, "LIBERAL FASCISM": Yes, and I think I agree entirely with Keli. I mean, this is a conversation we've had all across Washington for a long time now, the idea that maybe it would be too much, you know, identity politics overload to have a black guy and woman on a Democratic ticket together, and maybe that would just be too much to win. And I think that's a perfectly legitimate observation. I actually agree with that sexual innuendo was more bothersome, as well, but it also doesn't surprise me that Donna, my friend Donna Brazile, would go after Rush for this kind of thing, because I think that there is a sort of -- they want to frame these kinds of criticisms as racist, regardless.
KURTZ: Well, let's see if I can find something you two will disagree on.
The issue of "Newsweek" -- just out today, I mentioned earlier, Keli Goff, that Hillary Clinton is on the cover. Here's a piece inside that begins, "Ask any woman over 35, Clinton supporter or not, the media hate Hillary?"
Do you agree with that?
GOFF: Do I agree about asking any woman over 35 or do I agree that the media hates Hillary?
KURTZ: Either one.
GOFF: You know, look, I think that -- I think that when you're discussing the relationship between the media and Hillary Clinton, I think one of the things we have to be really careful about is there's been so much talk about this gender bias. You know, I listened to you guys talk about the "Saturday Night Live" sketch and this fawning over Obama. And I think we have to be really careful about judging the media coverage of Hillary Clinton and judging it through the lens of their coverage of all female candidates, because she's not just any female candidate.
The Clintons do historically have a contentious relationship with the media. I don't know if it has to do with the impeachment and some of the lies told there, or then simply feeling they were picked on during all these Ken Starr investigations, but there's a contentious history that has less to do with the media covering a female candidate and more to do with their relationship with her. Some of them don't like her.
KURTZ: Let me turn to Jonah.
The examples cited by "Newsweek" are Frank Rich, Maureen Dowd and Chris Matthews. Well, the media is not only, you know, a handful of columnists and commentators, I would say.
GOLDBERG: No, I think that's right. But I also think the media has been tougher on Hillary than it has been on Obama.
KURTZ: I've been saying that for a long time, but "hate"-- "hate" is a strong word.
GOLDBERG: No, I think that's true.
KURTZ: Yes. All right. Now...
GOFF: But Howard, can I just say really quickly...
GOFF: ... again, there's a history there. You know, Obama is still relatively new, with the exception to the Chicago journalists. And he hasn't had any of these, you know, long-standing scandals.
You know, say what you will -- and I know that we can't blame Hillary entirely for the sins of her husband -- but, you know, when President Clinton pointed his finger at the camera at the news media in that press conference and said, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman," you know, it's just like Nixon. Once you lie to the press, it's -- you know, all bets are off in terms of them smelling blood in the water.
KURTZ: Yes, of course he is not running, but I certainly agree that there are scars between the media and the Clintons.
Now, speaking of that era, Jonah Goldberg, Howard Wolfson, the Clinton communications director, accused Barack Obama this week of imitating Ken Starr. Now, if he's going to bring up the special prosecutors from those days, is it fair for the media and do you expect the media to dredge up Whitewater and Travelgate and Filegate and Monica, and all the things that you and your friends in the vast right wing conspiracy had such fun with during that time?
GOLDBERG: I think all of that stuff is fair game. You can't say that Hillary Clinton's chief qualification is that she was essentially a co-president, which is the way that they've been positioning her for a very long time, and then say that none of the baggage from that period also doesn't attach.
What I think is sort of interesting though is all of this -- you know, this hysteria about Samantha Power, this Obama aide, calling Hillary Clinton a monster, well, according to Hillary Clinton, Ken Starr is the greatest monster in human history. And her communications director used those words.
So, I mean, it seems to me that there's this odd sort of double standard there. And I would think what really needs to happen for the Obama people if they're going to fight back on a lot of this stuff is Obama needs a surrogate, maybe Michelle Obama, to sort of say, if you're going to come after me about Tony Rezko and these sorts of things, well, then maybe we should talking about Whitewater, because you have no leg to stand on.
KURTZ: Right. And of course Samantha Power resigned as an Obama foreign policy adviser after that remark which she tried to put off the record.
But Keli, pick up that point. I mean, I would say, sure, it's fair game, but is there anybody out there who wasn't in diapers at the time, who doesn't know about the Clinton scandals of the '90s?
GOFF: Sure. I mean, you know, look, I think that -- I think that it is going to become fair game, because as Jonah pointed out, you can't sort of have it both ways and say, look, we weren't co- president then but I want credit for my experience, but -- what have you. I mean, I don't -- I think that the media is going to be more likely to sort of pick this up, and the conservatives are going to be more likely to pick some of this stuff up than possibly we're going to see in the primaries, because, you know, we see this back and forth with Obama being accused of being like Ken Starr for simply pressing to get her to release her tax returns, or what have you.
KURTZ: Let me jump in here, because we're a little short on time.
I want to play some of the recent network news reports about Barack Obama to show how the tenor is just starting to change.
Let's roll that.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Obama not voted for or against, but present on 129 bills, including a bill to ban sex shops and strip clubs near schools, churches and daycare centers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No flag pin on his lapel? No hand on his heart that one time? Opponents call it unpatriotic. Is he a Muslim? The whispering persists no matter how often Obama debunks it.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Tone Rezko's trial beginning today. A lot of our viewers not necessarily familiar with that name, but it's a very, very sensitive subject for the Obama campaign.
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KURTZ: Jonah, is the coverage getting a little bit tougher now?
GOLDBERG: Yes, and it's about time. You know, I mean, this is a guy who runs on all these platitudes. And you've got to -- you've got to sort of fact-check a lot of the stuff. And he did get a free ride for a long time. And -- so it's all for the good.
KURTZ: Keli Goff?
GOFF: Look, you know, I really did not buy into this argument. I think that this was less about the media being soft on Barack Obama and more about them simply having this contentious relationship with the Clintons, and it's showing up.
And so I think that, you know, Senator Clinton dropped this bombshell that she felt that she was experiencing gender bias, the media bought into it, got a little scared, just like when they hear the words "liberal bias," and they're now bending over backwards to try to prove that they're not gender biased by, you know, going tougher on him, which is what the Clintons have been begging them to do for the last several months with all of these, you know, why aren't you digging here, why aren't you digging there? Well, they're finally getting their wish.
KURTZ: Well, there was all that fawning about the Oprah endorsement and the Ted Kennedy endorsement.
Let me move on to John McCain, now the Republican nominee, all but official. He accepted an endorsement from the Reverend John Hagee. Now, Hagee has been attacked by the Catholic League as a bigot. In the past he has called the church anti-Christ and a false cult.
And let's listen to what John McCain had to say about that endorsement.
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SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When he endorses me, it does not mean that I embrace everything that he stands for and believes in. And I am very proud of Pastor John Hagee's spiritual leadership to thousands of people.
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KURTZ: Keli Goff, why hasn't that been more of a story?
GOFF: I think the bigger story here is why didn't John McCain reject and denounce Pastor Hagee's remarks? You know, I think it's just really ironic here, because you have the comparison with Farrakhan, and Barack Obama sort of wasn't allowed to have it both ways and say, look, he's done some great things, and I think his supporters are nice people. I don't agree with everything that he says. And yet you're completely correct that I think the media sort of fell asleep at the wheel on this one in terms of John McCain having a little wiggle room.
don't know if it's because Hagee is less well-known than people like Robertson or Dobson, but I definitely think the media sort of fell asleep on this one.
GOLDBERG: I think there's some fairness to that. I think that McCain probably had some bad staff work on how this thing was rolled out, this endorsement was rolled out. But I do think the better comparison isn't to Farrakhan, which a lot of people will want to make. It's to Jeremiah Wright, who is Obama's pastor, who Obama has deep and abiding ties with, who is a -- who's been closely associated with Farrakhan and has some very disturbing views.
And if McCain is going to reject this guy who he clearly doesn't know and get into all this kind of trouble for it, I think the comparison with Wright, who is very close to Obama, that hasn't been explored very much at all.
KURTZ: And who's made some inflammatory statements.
Now on Friday, McCain told The Associated Press -- this is a week after the endorsement -- "I repudiate any comments that are made, including Pastor Hagee's, if they are anti-Catholic."
So I guess he belatedly addressed some of that criticism.
Keli Goff in New York, Jonah Goldberg right here, thanks very much for joining us. Congratulations, both of you, on your news books.
KURTZ: And if you missed any of today's show, you can download our video podcast, available at iTunes or CNN.com/podcast.
Still too come, why so publishers keep falling for phony memoirs? Anyone out there ever heard of fact-checking?
KURTZ: It had all the makings of a best-selling memoir -- a young woman writing about her troubled life growing up as a foster child amid the gangs of south-central L.A., making drug deliveries at age 13. But it was, as cynical journalists sometimes joke about great stories, too good to check.
And Penguin Group, which published Margaret Jones' "Love and Consequences," didn't check and is facing the consequences.
KURTZ (voice over): The bogus tale fell apart after a glowing profile of Jones in "The New York Times" home section. "Her memoir," it said, "is an intimate, visceral portrait of the gangland drug trade of Los Angeles. The author, a mixed-race white and Native-American foster child. She ended up following her foster brothers into the gang. And it was only when a high school teacher urged her to apply to college that Ms. Jones even began to consider the future."
But then Jones' sister called to say it was all a lie. Margaret Jones is actually Margaret Seltzer, and she grew up with her parents in the affluent L.A. suburb of Sherman Oaks. Seltzer fessed up in a tearful interview with The Times.
Penguin editor Sarah McGrath, who happens to be the daughter of Times writer and former book review editor Chip McGrath, said she felt betrayed by Seltzer, but she also said she didn't check out anything in the book and never even met Seltzer, despite an author's note in which Seltzer said she had combined characters and changed names and dates.
All of this might remind you of James Frey. His memoir of a life of crime and addiction sold two million copies, boosted by an endorsement from Oprah Winfrey, but it turned out that "A Million Little Pieces," published by Doubleday, was filled with fabrications.
JAMES FREY, AUTHOR, "A MILLION LITTLE PIECES": I've acknowledged that there were embellishments in the book, you know, that I've changed things, that in certain cases things were toned up, in certain cases things were toned down. That names were changed, that identifying characteristics were changed.
KURTZ: And then there was novelist J.T. LeRoy, the supposed son of a truck stop prostitute. He turned out to be Laura Albert, a Brooklyn mother who then lost (INAUDIBLE) by a movie company that had bought one of his -- her books.
KURTZ: And to top it off, Belgian author Mischa Defonseca admitted this week that her decade-old memoir of being raised by wolves -- wolves -- during the Holocaust was a fabrication, and she isn't even Jewish.
Now, faced with that history, how could Penguin editors have failed to lift a finger to check out "Love and Consequences?" Sarah McGrath says Margaret Seltzer is very, very naive, but given the history of lying authors, it's the publisher that displayed a stunning degree of naivete in taking this melodramatic memoir on faith.
Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.
I'm Howard Kurtz.
Join us next Sunday morning, 10:00 a.m. Eastern, for another critical look at the media.
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