Return to Transcripts main page
CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Will Couric Give Up CBS News Anchor Job?
Aired April 13, 2008 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice over): Anchor overboard. Katie Couric will likely give up the CBS anchor job now that her bosses have soured on her struggling broadcast.
Why did "The Today Show" superstar flame out in the chair once held by Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather and Bob Schieffer? Was she simply miscast in the role? And is her gender a factor?
Backlash. Bill Clinton mangles the facts in defending his wife, and Barack Obama sparks a furor with harsh sounding words about small town Pennsylvanians taped by a blogger. But are journalists are going overboard on these routine slipups?
Plus, sex and the self-made star. How did Julia Allison become a Manhattan media phenomenon, and why is the "Star" magazine editor so mercilessly mocked?
KURTZ: She was the queen of morning television, her face adorning magazine covers and New York City buses. She was lured away from "The Today Show" for the stratospheric salary of $15 million a year. And when Katie Couric became the CBS News anchor 19 months ago, there was a tsunami of hype. The first woman in what had been a man's world, Walter Cronkite's world, Dan Rather's world, everyone wanted to know, what would she say?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS: All summer long people have been asking me, "How will you sign off at the end of your broadcast?" I racked my brain, and so far nothing felt right. But here's a look at how...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: But it was downhill from there. Couric quickly fell to third place behind Brian Williams and Charlie Gibson. She eventually changed the format of the "CBS Evening News," more hard news, more traditional, more like the other guys.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COURIC: Today General David Petraeus returned to Capitol Hill. But this time he announced plans to stop those troop withdrawals in July with no timetable for resuming them.
Now to our other top story. Passengers were once again left stranded at airports coast to coast after American Airlines wiped out nearly half its daily schedule.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: But a year and a half after her debut, sources tell me that Katie Couric is talking to her CBS bosses about giving up the anchor chair after the election. Both sides frustrated that nothing seems to be working in digging the broadcast out of its third-place hole. No final decision yet, but it's now likely that Couric will be relinquishing the job and possibly leaving the network.
Joining us now to analyze what went wrong for Katie and CBS, in Boston, Emily Rooney, media critic and host of WGBH's "Greater Boston"; Gail Shister, reporter for "The Philadelphia Inquirer" and columnist for tvnewser.com; and David Zurawik, television critic for "The Baltimore Sun."
Emily Rooney, you once produced Peter Jennings's newscast. Is it something that Katie did or failed to do that is causing the audience to desert her in droves?
EMILY ROONEY, MEDIA CRITIC: You know, I think in truth, Howie, that CBS was more discredited by the Dan Rather debacle than the network ever realized. And this was their silver bullet to bring her in to sort of save the network. But the damage had been done.
Now, the truth of the matter is that the broadcast is as good as the others. They've gotten rid of the gimmicks. They've gotten rid of the Gam Cam and the snapshot feature and the Free Speecher. And it's a serious broadcast now. She looks terrific.
I think Rick Kaplan did a lot to the broadcast, although god knows why they moved him off. He's doing the mornings now. I really think it was much deeper than that.
Gail Shister, I would agree that it's a much more serious, much improved newscast. And the things like Katie's 9-minute interview with the likes of Michael J. Fox, you don't see that anymore. But on the other hand, she was trying to revolutionize what everyone agreed, all the critics agreed, was this sort of stayed old format of the evening news.
GAIL SHISTER, "THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER": It's an impossible situation. She can't win for trying, because when she came in, they were talking about reinventing the newscast, which is what they did, and it was soundly rejected by the traditional news viewers who wanted a more traditional newscast. So, she gives them a more traditional newscast, and now she's just like the other people. So basically she can't win.
KURTZ: David Zurawik, if it is a better newscast, which I strongly agree with, why does that not seem to matter? Do people just sample it and you can't get them back in the tent?
DAVID ZURAWIK, TELEVISION CRITIC, "BALTIMORE SUN": Well, I think, Howie, it's always really hard to move the needle in news -- local news, network news. And once she lost them -- I mean, in a way it's the big hype, what you call the tsunami of hype or promotion that's launched her, also did her in, because it was both the telecast was so bad at the start, that people tuned it out. And almost, I think in some ways, felt suckered for even giving her a chance about it.
Also though, Howie, I have to tell you something. I couldn't agree more with Emily about her being forged in this caldron of Dan Rather Memogate misery, that they made some really bad choices coming out of it, and that CBS was damaged.
But I have to tell you something -- and this is true -- Katie Couric did not work very hard to do that newscast. Just one quick example.
KURTZ: Very quick.
ZURAWIK: Think back to 2006 in the midterm elections. We had the three new anchors there and all of us were very excited about it. When you called the network and asked for interviews, you got Charles Gibson. You got Brian Williams. We got everybody back.
She didn't do it. Now, she's the front man. She should be selling that.
KURTZ: OK. So the fact that she is less successful you think has hurt her.
KURTZ: But let's look at the presidential campaign.
Emily Rooney, Katie Couric has not had a presidential debate. Brian Williams has done five, Charlie Gibson is doing another one this week in Pennsylvania. But on the other hand, she has done a lot of campaign pieces, pieces from the field.
Did that help her, or does it just overshadow her correspondents?
ROONEY: You know, it makes absolutely no difference. I don't understand all this attention about her hosting a presidential debate. I mean, nobody can remember a single one of them, frankly. And they're all a blur at this point.
I think there's been something like 27 of these debates. The idea that somehow this is going to be the linchpin, the turnaround, that anchoring election night is going to make the difference, it's absolutely not going to make the difference.
Howie, look, you're the one with the sources. And my guess is it's probably her agent talking, because who else in that room is going to -- the truth of the matter is, if this were baseball, the managers would be fired. And Les Moonves and Sean McManus would be taking the hit, not Katie Couric.
KURTZ: Those are of course the chief executive and the president of CBS News.
But let me turn to the gender question with you, Gail Shister, because in order to ask this, I stumbled upon a piece in "The New York Daily News" the other day which was about her interview with General David Petraeus. And it said, "Dressed in a dark suit, pearls, and even showing a little leg during the interview."
And that's the kind of coverage that she routinely gets.
SHISTER: Well, first I have to say something to Emily. Howie's not the only one with sources. Thank you very much.
And I will address that, Howie, but I wanted to jump in about the question of the anchor, how important is it to moderate the presidential debates. I would dispute what Emily said.
I think it's very important, because it does give you a sense of -- I hate this word -- gravitas, substance. The debate I remember the most was Charlie Gibson when he did back-to-back Republican and Democratic debates. I think it says something about the anchor when they can handle something that big.
That said, moving on to what Katie was wearing, it just underscores the problem that women have had forever in any visual medium. It's absurd. When is the last time you read or heard about any clothing that a male anchor wore? What is the point?
Now, you talked about the publicity surrounding Katie Couric, David Zurawik. What about paying her $15 million a year? Did that jack up expectations to a point where she simply couldn't meet them?
ZURAWIK: Howie, it absolutely did. And I'll tell you something, I think in -- you know, Sean McManus, when he came in, talked about imitating Roone Arledge, the ABC genius' star system. I think that's changed.
I don't know if any anchor is worth $15 million anymore of an evening newscast. Maybe at some point Brian Williams, if you don't want to lose him and you have to start all over, maybe not that much money.
They could do it because they can lay the money off on "60 Minutes," those prime time dollars. And that show is so successful, so they can afford it. But I don't think she's worth that kind of money anchoring just the evening news. And, yes, with it came this big pile of expectations that she was going to turn things around, and that was crushing to her.
Emily, you mentioned Dan Rather. He, of course, has sued his old network. Half of that lawsuit was thrown out this week, the part that charged fraud. This all had to do with his leaving the anchor chair after that National Guard story, the debacle of a story. But there is still a $70 million suit having to do with his workload at "60 Minutes."
But if the fallout from that impacted Katie Couric, why was it that Bob Schieffer, who held the chair for a year and a half in between, he got the numbers up? He did pretty well.
ROONEY: I don't know. I mean, I think there was just kind of a stop gap there. I'm not sure that he would have held on to it either.
You know, going back to the Dan Rather thing, though, I mean, the same thing could happen to Katie Couric if she only goes to "60 Minutes." I mean, I'm not so sure that broadcast wants her either.
SHISTER: They do not want her.
ROONEY: Of course not.
SHISTER: They absolutely do not want her.
ZURAWIK: And they' don't need her. They don't need her. They're a top 10 show. They're having a great year.
KURTZ: So, Gail, what does she do next?
SHISTER: Well, I can tell that you "60 Minutes" wasn't that hot on getting Dan Rather either.
ZURAWIK: Oh god.
SHISTER: There's just so many -- there's so many correspondents and so much air time as it is. They're all fighting to get on the air.
So I don't think they want to have somebody else in the mix. But also, I think what doomed Katie is that I think, according to all my sources, is that she came in with a very sort of imperious attitude. She came in from the get-go with her own group of people, her own posse, and the feeling at CBS was that she thought they were all losers. And they didn't know anything.
That did not engender a lot of good will from the get-go. Anybody -- that could have been a man or woman -- that would have set them off on a bad foot.
KURTZ: That sounds a little harsh to me, but, of course, it does underscore what happens when you bring in somebody from another network, an outsider trying to blend into the culture.
SHISTER: You've got to bring somebody in.
KURTZ: OK. Well, in terms of bringing someone in, if Katie Couric in fact leaves after the election, at least leaves the anchor chair, there has been speculation, David Zurawik, about maybe CBS would try to get CNN's Anderson Cooper or NBC's David Gregory. But within CBS, one name you hear a lot about is Larry Smith. He is of course the co-host of "The Early Show" -- maybe Scott Pelley.
Not a lot of candidates there. Why is CBS' bench so thin?
ZURAWIK: One of the reasons -- well, they moved the who was the replacement. John Roberts is now at CNN. That's one reason.
KURTZ: Well, he left because he was passed over.
ZURAWIK: Yes, because he was passed over. And people thought he was groomed.
I remember talking to him during that period. And yes, that's exactly what he thought. So that's one problem.
The other thing is -- this goes back to what Emily said -- CBS has been in chaos for a long time. You can't groom -- it's like the Baltimore Orioles. You can't get a farm system if your A team is messed up. I think that's part of the problem.
You know, Scott Pelley -- you know, if Katie Couric goes to CBS -- and of course, this won't happen with the lawyers -- but you'd want to say to her, we'll pay you half of what Scott Pelley is making because he is carrying the broadcast right now and we're making a lot of money. She doesn't deserve to go over there.
I think Pelley might be -- but you know the irony there? He was Dan Rather's idea of who should succeed him. So we go back to ground zero.
KURTZ: Emily, let me go back to the future of CBS News. There's been some speculation, some have been overheated about Les Moonves, the chief executive. Well, maybe he'll decide we don't need news. Maybe there is no point in prolonging this. After all, ratings are down for all three network broadcasts over a period of years.
Do you see any truth to that speculation?
ROONEY: They've got to be in a panic, because if she does move out -- and I don't have any idea what the timetable is there -- are they going to go back and just do the traditional -- just put anybody in there just to, you know, fill the hole? Or are they going to really blow it up this time and do a completely different kind of broadcast?
I -- Howie, this week I was checking the ratings in the top five markets across the country. I have never seen the "CBS Evening News" lower rated than it was this week. In Boston it was -- it got a one rating on one night this week. That is just unheard of.
KURTZ: Well, let me give you my two cents. I mean, if you look at the cold, hard Nielsen numbers, yes, you would have to say that Katie Couric has failed. But drawing nearly seven million viewers a night is not failure compared to other forms of media delivery. Going to Iraq, anchoring on Super Tuesday, interviewing General Petraeus, that's not failure either.
If "The Washington Post" circulation goes down, we don't say the newspaper has failed. So I think we've been too quick to throw that word around. Maybe as a commercial matter Katie Couric is a failure. Not necessarily...
SHISTER: There's only one "Washington Post." There's three network newscasts.
KURTZ: Well, that is true. But there is also "The New York Times," "L.A. Times," ""The Wall Street Journal," and lots of competition in that field as well.
Emily Rooney, Gail Shister, David Zurawik, thanks very much for joining us.
When we come back, MTV's new reality show takes us inside a place not usually considered all that cruel, a high school newspaper. Young journalists gone wild? We'll chat with a student and the executive producer in just a moment.
KURTZ: MTV was doing reality shows before they were cool, or at least before every single channel was staging some kind of drama involving "real people." Now the network is unveiling a new program that focuses on a high school paper in western Florida. Not just journalism, of course, but the trials and tribulations of the kids who toil there and the hard-fought campaign to become editor-in-chief.
It's called "The Paper."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE PAPER")
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE), this paper will be in shambles.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): It's time to edit the news.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The top three contenders are me, you and John (ph).
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're going to make the news! Make the news!
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My mom (INAUDIBLE) Barbara Walters.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm good at newspaper.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're going overboard with those cocky jokes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm always talking.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've never seen such a competitive group of kids in my life.
(END VIDEO CLIP, "THE PAPER")
KURTZ: But how real is this glimpse of young journalists at work and at play?
Joining us now from New York, Marshall Eisen, senior vice president of MTV News and documentaries. And from Davie, Florida, Cassia Laham, a student and now a cast member of the MTV reality show "The Paper."
Marshall Eisen, are you truly interested in the inner workings of a high school newspaper, or is this kind of a plot device so we can see the kids fighting and partying and dating and all of that?
MARSHALL EISEN, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, MTV'S "THE PAPER": Oh, we're definitely interested in journalism and how these guys work together. I mean, you know, it is true that the operative word here I think is "passion." And we wanted to find -- we always want to find subject matter that we have a cast that is passionate about. That translates very well to our audience.
What we found are kids that care deeply about journalism, are very good at what they do. And I think that passion is going to play well with our viewers.
KURTZ: Cassia, when you're at the paper and there are cameras around, are people showing off and playing to those cameras?
CASSIA LAHAM, MTV'S "THE PAPER": No, not at all. I mean, we are just such a dynamic group as it is, I don't think there needs -- there need not be any added drama or anything. I mean, we are -- "The Paper" is what we do. We are the circuit. And I think the cameras capture that perfectly.
KURTZ: But you have to be obviously aware that anything you say or blurt out could be on national television.
LAHAM: Yes. That's why we think before we act.
KURTZ: Oh, OK.
LAHAM: You know, you always have to be aware that there are, you know, eight cameras following us everywhere we go. And you know, it can be nerve-racking. But it was a great experience for all of us, I think.
KURTZ: Marshall Eisen, you know, for any television series, you need drama, you need kids battling it out in order to produce good TV. So how did you decide -- for example, there were 60 kids who work on the paper. How did you decide who to focus in on?
EISEN: Well, what happened was, when we finally found this paper, they were very close to making their decision for editor-in- chief. It turned out to be a very, very competitive situation. And so it sort of just played out for us right in front -- in front of our eyes.
We just ended up following the main candidates who were running for editor-in-chief. And they all are strong characters, very opinionated. And again, very passionate about what they do. And they just popped, and it was not hard to decide who to make the show about.
KURTZ: All right.
Cassia, are you worried at all that MTV will edit this in a way that will kind of provide a distorted picture or make some people look silly?
LAHAM: I mean, that's always in the back of your mind while they're filming you. But I really -- I have faith in them, because their news and documentary section is so amazing.
I mean, they do very serious segments. And this is a part of that. And journalism is a serious topic, you know? And while there is comedy and drama, I think we're going to be portrayed how we are. I don't think there needs to be much editing for that.
KURTZ: Now, assuming this show is a hit, would you enjoy being famous? Would that help your future career? Would it help you get boyfriends?
LAHAM: Boyfriends, I don't know. But, you know, I'm very head on -- I want to do journalism. Journalism is my passion, and I hope that somebody -- maybe you -- will see this and really like us and see that we are, you know, journalists in training and we're the real thing. And, you know, we want to get noticed for things we do well. And that is writing for our newspaper.
KURTZ: Well, I'll have to then tune in tomorrow night when this debuts at 10:30 Eastern.
KURTZ: Marshall Eisen, what was the most surprising theme that developed as your cameras were following these kids around? Something that told us -- you and us something about young journalists?
EISEN: Well, again, I have to go back to the passion and the competitiveness of this group. I think that really surprised us.
But, yes, they were competitive. They all wanted to be editor- in-chief. We just didn't expect that that drive and that competitive feeling would carry over into all of the episodes that followed.
This group is opinionated. They're bullheaded. They all have an idea of what they want to do at the paper. And there was a lot of conflict and clashes as they put each edition out. So I think that -- the office politics and the dynamics around that did surprise us somewhat.
KURTZ: Did you look at a number of student papers before deciding on this one? EISEN: Yes, we did. And we loved these guys, again, because they seemed so committed. They had such a great program, and an operation, a really good paper. And as soon as we met up with them, we saw how serious they were. And we got very engaged with them quickly.
KURTZ: All right.
Cassia, I have just a few seconds. Are you nervous at all about how well this is going to come out?
LAHAM: A little bit nervous. But, you know what? We know that -- I think America will like what we do. You know, we are the future of journalism, and hopefully you guys will like that.
KURTZ: All right. Well, maybe we'll get you back on o RELIABLE SOURCES one day when you're a little further along in your career.
LAHAM: Behind the table. Behind the anchor table.
KURTZ: You're right, they're ambitious.
Thanks very much, guys.
EISEN: Thank you.
KURTZ: Coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, Barack and the blogger. A seemingly harsh comment on small town America gets posted online and puts the pundits into overdrive. Was it really that bad?
Plus, Hillary's husband brings up that Bosnia blunder again and rips the press in the process.
And later, "Star" magazine's Julia Allison is a star -- a big star, huge. Got her own blog and everything. We'll ask her how she got to be so famous.
KURTZ: It happened at a San Francisco fundraiser, where Barack Obama was holding forth on the frustrations of small town folks in Pennsylvania, which holds its primary in just over a week. In the audience was Mayhill Fowler, a former teacher who describes herself as "an overeducated 60-year-old woman with politics in my blood."
She had a tape recorder going, and she posted the audio on a blog at "The Huffington Post." Obama was heard saying these words...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's not surprising then they get bitter. They cling to guns or religion or antipathy towards people who aren't like them, or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Those comments drew fire from Hillary Clinton and John McCain, and the pundits had a field day.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: It sounds to me like he is saying to small town America that they're a bunch of gun-toting, bible-thumping bigots.
KITTY PILGRIM, CNN: Now, those remarks could seriously damage Senator Obama's presidential campaign.
JUAN WILLIAMS, NPR: Look, I just think that what Barack Obama said has some truth to it. But I think it makes people uncomfortable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: But are the media blowing these remarks out of proportion?
Joining us now to talk about the coverage of the campaign and this week's war debate, here in Washington, Gloria Borger, senior political analyst for CNN; David Frum, author and contributor to National Review Online; and in New York, Keli Goff, political analyst, author and blogger.
David Frum, what Obama said was politically clumsy, maybe politically dumb. Should it be a huge media story?
DAVID FRUM, NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE: It should be an enormous media story. Here's why.
We know nothing or almost nothing about what Obama actually thinks about any substantive issue. He has been the most evasive candidate for president -- gosh, certainly in my life.
FRUM: Evasive. To know what he believes about the kind of issues he's going to face as president, we don't know.
He, in these remarks, takes us deep into his core political theory about what drives American change. And this is, by the way, an idea very prevalent among certain left wing Democratic writers. If you know the debate, you know what he's drawing on.
But here's the most remarkable thing about what he said. Yes, it's true, it was deeply condescending. But it also indicates if you believe the key to understanding everything that is wrong with America -- the lack of jobs in small town America -- that implies you would have a plan for creating jobs in small town America. And of course, he does not. And that gets to the core vulnerability of his candidacy. KURTZ: Gloria Borger, I saw you shaking your head.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No, I disagree. Look, I think Obama made a mistake. He finally came out and said he made a mistake. He probably should have said it the first day instead of the second day. It was inartful.
This is the heat of a political campaign. We journalists are standing there, Hillary Clinton come out attacking him on this because she should. I mean, this is -- you know, this is her opportunity. And he said, I made a mistake, that's not what I meant. And this is going to continue because this is a moment for Hillary to do this.
But make no mistake about it, it's one of these things in a political campaign when you're 10 days before a primary, and you jump on something. And he's fighting two people, by the way, John McCain and Hillary Clinton.
KURTZ: And maybe himself in a way.
Keli Goff, I think most people -- I think most journalists understand what Obama was trying to say. He said it better the next day, that people who are frustrated with their economic situation, losing jobs for 25 years, they sometimes vote on some of these wedge issues. But it's not our job in the press to explain away these remarks, is it?
KELI GOFF, POLITICAL ANALYST/BLOGGER: Well, right, Howard. If only you could get do-overs in running for politics the same way that you can when you're playing, you know, hopscotch as a kid. Unfortunately for him, you're correct that, while he said it better the next day, I don't really think that that's going to be what people remember from the story.
Look, I'll tell you, the way the story has been covered, there are some shades of Howard Dean. If you remember the confederate flags on the pickup truck remark -- "I want to be the candidate for those who have confederate flags on their pickup truck." And, you know, the problem with that remark and the problem with this remark is that it comes across as a Yankee elitist looking down and sort of telling southerners or blue collar workers who they are when he's not one of them. And that's the problem with this remark.
The one last thing I would say, Howard, though, is the good news for the Obama campaign, if there is any good news out of this story, is at least it broke on a Friday. Because can you imagine if this story had broken bright and early Monday morning? We all know there is a reason celebrities announce their divorces and other bad news on Fridays, and that's because the stories get less legs on weekends than they do during the week.
FRUM: The story will still be important on Monday.
KURTZ: I agree. But you're not willing to concede. And look, you worked for President Bush at one time. You worked for Rudy Giuliani in the last campaign. But you're not willing to concede that he just said it badly. You see this as some kind of window into his soul.
FRUM: Yes. You have to say it well. Say it as well -- he said it well the next day.
He believes the same thing, which is what he believes is immigration is not an important issue. Gun control is not an important issue. These are not -- the important issue is how we create jobs in small town America.
Economics drives everything. And, oh, by the way, I don't have an economic plan. So...
KURTZ: Well, that's unfair.
FRUM: Let him put it in writing. Let him say it five times over. What he is saying to those of us who believe that immigration is an important issue is that we are mistaken. We only feel that way because of adverse economic circumstances.
GOFF: David, you extrapolated a whole speech from a 30-second sound bite. So I think you're reading a bit too much into this, but I do agree it's problematic.
BORGER: Well, I just want to say something. First of all, as a press story, look at how this started. You had somebody in the audience who writes for Huffington Post who was a San Francisco fundraiser. It wasn't mainstream media, right? It was...
KURTZ: I was about to ask you that, because this woman, Mayhill Fowler...
BORGER: Yes. Right.
KURTZ: ... I checked, and the way she got into that closed fundraiser -- reporters weren't allowed -- she was a contributor.
BORGER: She's a contributor. Absolutely.
KURTZ: So what do you make of the ethics of that? And then she posts this tape recording on her blog.
BORGER: Well, I don't know whether -- you have to assume -- I mean, I think the lesson here for any presidential candidate -- and if they don't know it already, they should -- is that you have to assume that there is no off Broadway anymore. Everything is on the record. You can't make one mistake, particularly when you're in this kind of a fight.
KURTZ: Particularly in front of a crowd.
KURTZ: Let me move on to one of the media's other favorite characters. And that, of course, Bill Clinton.
He was defending his wife the other day or -- he was defending his wife the other day on the story that had died down, her claim that she came under sniper fire in Bosnia, and then retracting it. Let's look at what the former president had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A lot of the way this whole campaign has been covered is the news media, but there was a lot of (INAUDIBLE) because Hillary one time, late at night, when she was exhausted, misstated and immediately apologized for it, what happened to her in Bosnia in 1995. 1995. Did you all see all that? All that -- and you would have thought, you know, that she robbed a bank the way they all carried on about this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Now, there's about 72 things wrong with. She didn't say it in the morning, she didn't apologize, she owned up after the press had hammered her for several days, and all of that.
But, David Frum, here's Bill Clinton basically attacking the media again, saying the press is being unfair to his wife.
FRUM: I remember back in 1997, when Monicagate broke immediately after the Lincoln Bedroom story, that Jay Leno had this joke, how like Bill Clinton to try to distract attention from a scandal with another scandal. And how like him in this case, he tried to compensate for his wife's outrageous invention with another set of outrageous inventions.
Look, there are a lot of things -- if she forgot the name of the county chairman, if she got the inflation rate wrong back in the Clinton years, if she made any kind of mistakes with facts or figures or names or numbers, that is a memory mistake. But forgetting that one did not participate in a heroic death-defying event, that is not a slip of the memory.
KURTZ: Keli Goff, even when the former president backed off the next day, saying his wife basically told him to zip it, he again kind of took a jab at reporters, saying, "I regret that this is the kind of thing you're interested in."
What do you make of his whole attitude toward the media these days?
GOFF: Well, it's a problem, because, again, it goes back into sort of a bit of what David was talking about, which is this idea of sort of blaming everyone else for a problem you created. And that story and song and dance gets a little bit old after a while. And as we all know, attacking the media works out really well, because then they're really friendlier towards you.
I think the bigger issue though is we all know that a story tends to go away only after every possible angle has been exhausted. And this story was starting to go away. And now, thanks to Bill Clinton, there is a whole different angle -- cover of "The New York Post," "Zip It." Not the kind of coverage and headlines that I think the Clinton campaign wants right now.
BORGER: Well, the story was starting to go away. And of course, he stoked the flames here.
But then Barack Obama stepped in to it. And that's one of the reasons Hillary Clinton started going after him on the other story we were discussing...
BORGER: ... the "bitter" remarks, was because she could do -- she could divert people away from the Bill Clinton story and start talking about Barack Obama's mistake again.
KURTZ: Apparently journalists can only walk and chew gum -- can't walk and chew gum at the same time.
KURTZ: One thing...
BORGER: One story line at a time.
KURTZ: I want to get...
GOFF: What's that -- sorry.
KURTZ: Go ahead, Keli.
GOFF: I was going to say, what is that saying about when you're running from a bear, you don't have to outrun the bear, you just have to run faster than the other guy. Barack Obama gave the Clinton campaign a bit of help with that.
KURTZ: All right. I want to turn to the debate about the war, because we had General David Petraeus testifying for two days on Capitol Hill this week, and then submitting to the inevitable interviews with the network anchors.
Let's take a look at how that went.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS: In our latest poll, 54 percent of Americans think the war is going badly. More than half, obviously.
How can you sustain this effort without more popular support here at home?
TERRY MORAN, ABC NEWS: It's the basic question really -- how long? What do you say when people ask you, "When are American troops coming home?"
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: Draw me a picture of how this war ends.
GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER, MULTINATIONAL FORCE, IRAQ: There will be some form of engagement I'm sure for years. And I think we should be realistic about that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: David Frum, was the subtext of the media coverage this week that the war is basically hopeless and Petraeus has no clue how to get out?
FRUM: Yes. They also are treating one of America's most distinguished combat commanders, a man who has said he has no political ambitions, like a political figure. I mean, imagine if Douglas MacArthur had had to take this kind of questioning during the dark periods of the Korean War. Fortunately, it was just too far to get to...
KURTZ: Wait. Hasn't the White House essentially put Petraeus out there as the political spokesman for this war and the guy who carries the water during these congressional hearings?
FRUM: He has had to answer questions of Congress. And generals do that. But to do these TV shows with this line of questioning I think is destructive.
You don't ask, for example, general -- the form of the question, the public thinks this, how do you answer? If you want to answer, ask him that question. Do it in your own voice.
And let him -- how is the war going? How do you perceive it? That is a very different kind of question from this accusatory style.
KURTZ: President Bush did get asked that question by ABC's Martha Raddatz later in the week, but he really got overshadowed by Petraeus.
Keli Goff, the pundits who have argued about the war and the latest news from Petraeus that he's not -- he's at least going to put a pause on American troops coming home, do you have the sense that everyone's just going through the motions, that this is the same old debate we've been having for years, almost regardless of what Petraeus said?
GOFF: Well, look, I think that, you know, that certain people have an agenda going into this in terms of how they were going to react to what he had to say probably. I mean, I think that it's -- you know, we'd be naive if we assume that everyone was going to approach this open-minded and say, well, you know what, I'm going to give him an opportunity to sell me. I don't think that's realistic. But I do think what's interesting is how much of the coverage actually focused less on what he specifically said and more on sort of the handicapping of how this would influence the presidential race. I mean, there were articles even in "The New York Times" before the hearing that focused not on exactly what was going to come out of the hearings, but what was at stake for the three candidates who were going to be asking questions.
KURTZ: And you very nicely set up my last question to Gloria Borger. And that is that CNN and Fox, unlike MSNBC, blew off most of the live coverage of the first days of the hearings. But the cameras came back when Hillary was asking questions, when Barack Obama was asking questions.
Was the presence of these three senators who are running for president the real story here or just the sexier story?
BORGER: Well, I think it was -- it was both, because one of those people is going to be the -- people is going to be the next president of the United States. And so it was very important to see their questioning.
And people were watching Barack Obama to see, for example, if he stepped into the commander in chief role, how tough Hillary Clinton would be, how soft John McCain would be on Petraeus, who is his good friend. So I think -- you know, I think it was important.
KURTZ: All right.
BORGER: The mistake we make though, Howie, as journalists is to think that their staff doesn't actually write these questions for them half the time. As if.
KURTZ: We've got to go.
BORGER: It's all adlibbed?
FRUM: War is a sexier story than elections. And knowing whether America is winning or losing a war, that doesn't -- you don't have a bigger story than that, even a presidential race.
KURTZ: David Frum, Gloria Borger, Keli Goff, thanks for joining us.
And this programming note. Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton will be taking part in The Compassion Forum tonight at Messiah College, Grantham, Pennsylvania. It airs on CNN. That's tonight, 8:00 p.m. Eastern.
Up next, she doesn't really report or write, except on her very personal blog. But Julia Allison keeps getting profiled by big-deal publications and may get her own reality show. Why do some people keep trashing her?
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KURTZ: Somewhere at this very moment Julia Allison is being gossiped about. And boy has she given the tongue waggers plenty of material.
"Star" magazine's editor-at-large has a very personal blog. She has been profiled lately by "The New York Times," the "L.A. Times," and Media Bistro. And she's pitching a reality show about, what else, her life.
She has a role model in mind, the woman played by Sarah Jessica Parker in "Sex and the City."
Here's how Media Bistro put it this week: "In a year, Allison has gone from an unidentifiable extra at media parties whose cleavage was more recognizable than her name, to a bona fide emblem of scorn within the chattering classes. That final step is the surest sign that she has made it."
And joining us now from New York is the increasingly famous Julia Allison.
JULIA ALLISON, "STAR MAGAZINE": Thanks.
KURTZ: Let me ask you first about this Media Bistro piece. It says that while you have the title of being Star's editor-at-large, you don't write or edit stories. That you're hired to look good on TV.
So you are playing a journalist?
ALLISON: Well, no. I mean, originally I did begin out as a columnist for "AM New York." And I wrote articles in "Cosmopolitan" and for "Men's Health." At various different -- I mean, I've done a lot of journalism.
What I do for "Star" is mainly I'm a talking head. I'm the face of "Star" magazine. And there are a lot of journalists who do things similar to this.
Now, you have this blog. You post all kinds of pictures of yourself wearing all kinds of outfits. You talk about who you've been dating, who you broke up with. You had a joint blog with one of your boyfriends that kind of fell apart when things turned nasty between you.
Why parade your private life before the public this way?
ALLISON: Well, you know, that's a really good question. First of all, I'd like to say, I don't put everything out there. I do select...
KURTZ: Really? I couldn't tell.
ALLISON: Yes, I do select -- no, it's actually a misconception. I do select very carefully about what I put out.
But it's also -- it started out as a portfolio for my columns that I was writing and it turned into something. It's part diary, part scrapbook, part memoir.
And I think that if Nora Ephron had had blogging technology 25 years ago, perhaps she wouldn't have necessarily written "Heartburn." She might have had a joint blog with Carl Bernstein.
KURTZ: Now, just last month you put up a post that says, "I can't do this anymore, it's ruining my life." So were you have a momentary meltdown?
ALLISON: Yes, I did have a momentary meltdown. You know, I think any time you put stuff out there on the Web, you have to remember there is no context for people who don't know me. They don't necessarily understand that a lot of times I'm joking, a lot of times I'm sarcastic. That doesn't always translate well.
And I think that it's really surprised me to see the difference ways that people misconstrue me and misconstrue my motivations. You know, I'm just a writer, ultimately. And I want to express myself. And part of the way I express myself is through my blog.
KURTZ: Well, because you're not just a writer. You're actually in the process of pitching a reality show that would star you. So, you seem to have a certain, how shall I say, lust for the limelight.
ALLISON: You know, I'm rambunctious. And I can't -- I can't contain it.
And a lot of -- I am lucky that I'm at the intersection of new media and technology, and I have a forum for expression that didn't exist prior to blogging, prior to the Internet. And it's really been -- it's been a lot of fun. But you know what? The Internet tends to be a cesspool of negativity as well. And there are some haters out there.
KURTZ: And since you mentioned that, there are -- you seem to have more than the usual share of detractors. I mean, some people say you're an attention addict. You've been called the Paris Hilton of the media world. And "Radar" magazine says you are the third most hated person on the Internet.
I don't know how that statistic was arrived at, but doesn't that kind of criticism and mockery, doesn't it -- don't you find it depressing?
ALLISON: Actually, I found that really amusing. I actually ranked above the Marine who through the puppy off the cliff. That's quite an accomplishment.
I mean, you know, I said to "Radar" -- I said, "Thank you very much for hating me more than Rachael Ray, more than Tony Kornheiser." I mean, how is that possible? I was impressed with that, yes. My parents were very proud. KURTZ: But you seem to have the attitude of, I don't really care whether people are praising me or denouncing me as long as they're talking about me.
ALLISON: You know, no. I don't believe that all press is good press. But I do believe that I don't have a heck of a lot of control over it anymore.
People are going to say what they're going to say. And if they read my blog, they'll see that, I mean, I'm not really a jerk. I'm not mean. I'd never say anything negative about someone.
And so ultimately, if people want to -- if people want to be jerks to me, then fine. Go for it. You know, if you don't have anything else going on in your life, go for it.
KURTZ: But you provide so much material that you've asked -- you actually kind of advertised for a man to take you to the Super Bowl. And you wrote, "I won't make out with you, but I'm willing to discuss wearing a cheerleader outfit."
ALLISON: See, Howie, this is where something is lost in translation. I mean, clearly, I'm joking, right? Clearly. I think that's obvious.
I think most of the times when I'm doing sort of pranks on the Internet, stunts, it's obvious that I'm kidding around. But some people do take it seriously.
KURTZ: But you have written about men who have taken you on long, expensive and exotic trips.
ALLISON: Yes. I mean, I'm trying to think of a specific example that you're thinking of. I mean, you know, I do go on trips. I think a lot of people do. But...
KURTZ: All right.
Now, is it true that you kind of sat down when you came to Manhattan with a two-year plan to become a cult figure?
ALLISON: A cult figure. You know, I shared that with the writer of this Media Bistro piece because I thought it was hysterical. Because obviously it's tongue-in-cheek. I mean, but I guess I succeeded. I mean, maybe I should have taken the book "The Secret" a little less seriously.
KURTZ: All right. I've got about 20 seconds for you here.
Is there some danger that you'll become rather overexposed and famous for being famous, and people will eventually move on to the next flash in the pan?
ALLISON: Oh, you know what? The Internet is a tankful of jumping sharks. And I fit right in there.
KURTZ: That's a good note to end it on. All right.
Julia Allison, thanks for extending your media exposure here with us this morning.
ALLISON: Thanks, Howie.
KURTZ: We appreciate it.
Still to come, Air America takes action against Randi Rhodes for cursing out politicians. Ellen DeGeneres and Hillary Clinton have some choice words for Chris Matthews. And the mayor's mistress speaks out about her affair with Antonio Villaraigosa while covering him as a TV anchor.
Our "Media Minute" straight ahead.
KURTZ: Time now for the latest in the news business in our "Media Minute."
Warning: the following is truly revolting.
You've probably seen the video of eight teenagers beating up another teen which the alleged assailants themselves videotaped and put online. Well, Dr. Phil was so hot to book one of the teenagers, that his staff posted the bail to spring her from jail so she could come on his talk show.
A spokesman for Phil McGraw says some staffers went beyond the show's guidelines. Do you think? And the segment has been dropped.
Well, it took a few days, but Randi Rhodes has resigned from Air America.
KURTZ (voice over): The liberal radio host had been suspended after an obscenity-laced routine in which she like likened Geraldine Ferraro to David Duke and called Hillary Clinton a whore. She insists it was all a joke.
RANDI RHODES, FMR. AIR AMERICA RADIO HOST: It was absolutely 100 percent pure standup, Larry. It was a Saturday night in San Francisco in a club.
KURTZ: Air America executives had expected Rhodes to apologize. And when she refused, they were relieved to see her go.
Well, it's official. Hillary Clinton can't bowl either. She tried on Ellen DeGeneres' show, and she isn't any better than Barack "Gutter Ball" Obama. But the two women got to talking about Chris Matthews, who, as you may recall, got pretty aggressive with Ellen during a bungled attempt at "Dancing With the Stars."
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Your personal admirer and friend Chris Matthews was in the front row. Yes. And I -- you know, I had guards, armed guards, between him and me.
ELLEN DEGENERES, TALK SHOW HOST: Don't dance with him. Don't do it.
CLINTON: No. Well, I feel like he manhandles me every night. So...
DEGENERES: Yes. Those of you that didn't see when Chris Matthews was on -- it's not right.
CLINTON: I couldn't believe it.
KURTZ: The mayor's mistress is now engaged, but not to L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. In her first interview since the extramarital romance became public, former Telemundo anchor Mirthala Salinas says it was a learning experience.
She also says, "I felt special. It was a beautiful feeling."
KURTZ: Salinas does say she regrets hurting people, but nothing about the outrageous conflict of covering the politician she was sleeping with before her station demoted her and she quit. To preserve her dignity, she says.
Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.
I'm Howard Kurtz.
Join us again next Sunday, 10:00 a.m. Eastern, for another critical look at the media.
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.voxantshop.com