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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES

Observing the Media in America

Aired October 12, 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: I've gone to plenty of political rallies over the years, and there's usually a few yahoos or hecklers shouting things out or making a bit of trouble. Most of the time you don't hear about them, you don't read about them, unless the candidate is forced to respond. But this week, as John McCain and Sarah Palin campaigned around the country, the crowds became the story. Some ugly things were said and yelled, and the media, in their wisdom, began questioning whether their Republican ticket mates were to blame. By week's end, that had become the dominant storyline.
And we were going to show that to you, but we're having some technical difficulties.

So joining us now to talk about the coverage of the campaign, in New York, Lynn Sherr, former correspondent for ABC's "20/20" and author of the book "Outside the Box," a memoir, which is just out in paperback. Here in Washington, Candy Crowley, CNN senior political correspondent. And Roger Simon, chief political columnist for Politico.com.

Lynn Sherr, as I said, I've gone to a lot of rallies where a lot of crazy things have been said. Why are the media this week pumping up this story about McCain and Palin's crowds as if it is their fault if there's a bit of ugliness that breaks out?

LYNN SHERR, AUTHOR, "OUTSIDE THE BOX": Well, I think it's a logical outcome, Howie, of having citizens become, if you will, citizen journalists. We're all looking for that authentic voice. We're all looking for, what's out there, what are the people saying? And I think the real issue is, how does the candidate respond?

We want to hear these voices; they are authentic voices, if they are. We want to know how the candidate responds, however, and I think Senator McCain's response the other day when the woman said that Obama was an Arab, and he immediately took the microphone away from her, I thought was an interesting indication of how he could be quick on his feet after letting all these other terrible things go by the week before.

Just, by the way, I happened to be listening to the Rush Limbaugh show. Somebody happened to get on the phone, turned out to be a Republican for Obama. Limbaugh was for the first time speechless.

I think we see in these people how they respond, and that's what we're looking for.

KURTZ: Roger Simon, I'm certainly not saying that what people say at these rallies, particularly if it's ugly stuff, shouldn't be covered. It's part of the story. But it seems that the press has kind of adopted this theme that McCain and Palin are stoking the anger.

ROGER SIMON, POLITICO.COM: Well, it may be that McCain and Palin are stoking the anger. It seems to me that John McCain is riding a tiger, and he's trying not to fall off that tiger and get eaten by it.

When your vice presidential running mate goes around the country saying Barack Obama is palling around with terrorists, and when you run ads that say, you know, he's a liar, he's not telling the truth about this unrepentant terrorist, and then you wonder why people in the crowd shout out "terrorist" when you mention the name Barack Obama, this anger is coming from somewhere. It is being ginned up by a campaign, and it is logical, I think, to assume that these people are only responding to what they have heard from the candidate's mouth. And it's fair game and it's, in fact, responsible for us to report how the crowds are reacting.

KURTZ: For example, Candy Crowley, I was in Indiana with Obama this week. And there was some nut job in the crowd who started screaming about Obama was going to bring about the new world order, and he was ejected from the scene and people booed. Hardly anybody reported that because, who cared? But it seems to me that in the case of McCain and Palin, we have decided that they are somehow responsible for this. And I just question whether that's fair.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think it needs some context. I think, first of all, we need to know that all throughout this campaign, from the primaries on, there were lies and smears about Barack Obama on the Internet. There were people out there saying things about Barack Obama in Hillary Clinton's crowds. So, you know, it has been there all along. It's not something that just came up with John McCain.

Second of all, I think it behooves us to remember that it helps the Obama campaign to have these stories out there because it shows, you know, by osmosis McCain is intolerant. Is McCain, you know, over the top here?

It has nothing to do with -- because I agree here that there is some culpability, but it was also unclear to me because I don't cover McCain, because all I saw was the one report at the beginning about somebody in the crowd yelling "terrorist," and the author said it was unclear whether he was talking bout Ayers or Obama. Now, we saw the questions...

KURTZ: Right.

CROWLEY: ... at McCain's town hall meetings, but he answered those in the way that Lynn was talking about. So I'm unclear how big this is.

KURTZ: All right.

Let me -- does this ever happen to you, where the crowd turns on you?

SIMON: Oh, sure. Covering George Wallace.

I was at a rally in 1976, this was after Wallace had already been shot. And Wallace would put the press in the front rows and he would point to the press and say, these are the enemies, these are the people. And we went up to him afterwards because we were afraid to go outside and we said, "Why are you instigating?" And he said, "I don't instigate, I just lay down the hay where the goats can get it."

And that was George Wallace.

KURTZ: All right.

SIMON: And it was only Mary McGrory (ph) who saved us afterwards from the crowd because she engaged the crowd in calm conversation.

KURTZ: Let me take you back to Tuesday now. I was in the spin room, or spin tent, as you might call it, after this week's presidential debate in Nashville. And most of the reporters didn't want to talk to campaign aides about the financial crisis or John McCain's new $300 billion mortgage bailout plan. They wanted to know whether McCain had been belittling Barack Obama and why he hadn't brought up William Ayers.

The candidates talked substance, and the pundits pounced on just two words.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're not going to solve Social Security and Medicare unless we understand the rest of our tax policies. And, you know, Senator McCain, I think the Straight Talk Express lost a wheel on that one.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There was an energy bill on the floor of the Senate floor of the Senate loaded down with goodies, billions for the oil companies. And it was sponsored by Bush and Cheney.

You know who voted for it? You might never know. That one.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS: Well, imagine, "That one." That got a lot of attention as the moment of the night.

HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: And I think most of the people here in the room and out in the country thought that was a weird moment.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CBS NEWS: I think that those two words are going to be what the water cooler conversation is tomorrow. Was it demeaning? Was it an insult?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: The post-game chatter also seemed to recycle one warn sports term.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There were no game-changers tonight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This wasn't one that was a game-changer at all.

KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC: No game-changer, not really for Obama, and certainly not for McCain.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: It was not a game-changer, David.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He need some sort of a game- changer last night, did not get it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: All right. Who should I start with? That one, Lynn Sherr in New York.

(LAUGHTER)

KURTZ: So the economy is falling apart, the Dow is down 18 percent just this week, the credit markets are frozen, and it seems like TV is still into "That one" or game-changers, or lack of game-changers.

What do you make of it?

SHERR: I'm glad you said TV, Howie, because it was on television, and mostly on cable television, that "That one" and the game-changing thing were talked about. It was not primarily in print.

And I have to tell you why I understand why. These are not debates, these are not town halls. These are carefully scripted monodramas, and they're not very dramatic.

So, on television, you're looking for something that will pop out. I'm not saying it's right; it probably isn't right. And every anchor wants to talk about the thing that popped out to him or her. It's very hard to deny that.

Were there more substantive issues discussed? Of course. But these were the things that sort of made people stop while they're kind of droning on.

And I think the candidates are as much to blame, because they should be, actually, talking to each other. They should be debating. They are not.

KURTZ: Well, we'll get into the debate structure in a moment.

But Roger Simon, I mean, this was a substantive debate, primarily about the economy, the issue that everyone agrees we all care about, especially now. And I'm just getting the impression that journalists don't care very much about the substance, and they're interested in the tactics and the one-liners and the zingers and all that. SIMON: Well, you are correct.

KURTZ: You're supposed to talk me down.

SIMON: These are the most theatrical part of the campaign. The candidates rehearse, and they tell people, we're going down for a week to rehearse. And they have mock stages and they have scripts with the issues called issued books, and their task is to regurgitate on stage, to give their lines.

The press doesn't like that. We've heard their lines. We've heard their lines for 19 months.

We want combat. We want them to mix it up. So when we get to a debate that is supposed to be drama and it's not dramatic, like any audience we say, we were cheated, we were robbed, we paid for these tickets. Where's the drama?

KURTZ: I thought you got in for free.

But we were -- there was something new in the Tuesday debate, and that was McCain's bailout plan for home mortgages, which is very generous to banks, and conservatives hated it. And that was sort of a blip.

And I don't want to let newspapers off the hook, Candy Crowley. On Friday, McCain made a proposal about not requiring people who are 70 to take money out of their 401(k) plans. And Obama made a proposal about helping -- more tax breaks for small business.

The next day it got eight paragraphs in "The New York Times" and one paragraph in "The Washington Post." Again, it seems to me like we've almost become allergic to the substance of the campaign.

CROWLEY: Well, as you know, these are enterprises that have to make money, both papers and networks. They are catering to their customers and what they think their customers are going to read and/or see to a certain extent.

Having said that, I don't think that we can go about saying nobody cares about William Ayers, nobody cares about this or that, people are really hurting here, and then ignore it. I agree with you in that sense, that it is hypocritical of us to talk about how no one cares about these side issues, and then talk about side issues.

KURTZ: Lynn Sherr, "The New York Times" ombudsman this morning did a count and said of all "The New York Times" election stories in a general election, period, 10 percent were about policy and the rest were about horse race polls, tactics, rhetoric, and so forth. And "The New York Times" is one of the most substantive newspapers in the world, and I found that figure kind of depressing.

SHERR: It is depressing. And as somebody who did the exit polling for so many years for ABC, I must tell you our emphasis was never on the horse race. The exit polls, the polling all year round, is so much more interesting for what it tells you about the character of our country. And we ought to be focusing more on that. I think, of course, everybody wants to know the horse race, but you can't do the horse race unless you understand the underlying part of it. So, it is depressing, those numbers that you cite. I agree with you, but I don't see a way out of it until people stop clicking off, not reading, whatever. They're going to read what they -- people are giving them, as Candy said, what they want.

KURTZ: Right.

Now, Tom Brokaw drew some flack as a moderator of that debate in Nashville. Let's take a brief look at him trying to, shall we say, rein things in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM BROKAW, MODERATOR: May I remind both of you, if I can, that we're operating under rules that we signed off on.

I'm trying to play by the rules that you all have established.

Gentlemen, you may not have noticed, but we have lights around here. They have red and green and yellow, and they are a signal.

I'm going to stick by my part of the pact and not ask a follow-up here.

MCCAIN: If we're going to have follow-ups, then I will want follow- ups...

BROKAW: I know. I'm just hired help here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Roger, did Brokaw lose control of that debate?

SIMON: No. I think he really was trying to play by the rules. And if he appeared to lose control, it's because it's live TV, and both the guys on stage are good enough at using live TV that they know they can get away with anything.

The rules say you can only go five feet from your chair, they'll go 10 feet. What, is Tom supposed to wrestle them to the ground? If it says you can't respond to your attacker, they'll respond to your attacker. What, is he going to stuff his tie in their mouths?

They will do what they want to do. They are good players on the stage. They know how to game the system.

KURTZ: Candy Crowley, some McCain supporters are saying that Brokaw kind of ruined the town hall aspect by asking some of the questions himself, but isn't that the moderator's job?

CROWLEY: Well, yes. And I think that's when he broke the rules. He just sort of saw, OK, this is -- you know, somebody's got to get in here and ask some follow-up. So I think he was trying he to get them to get out of their lanes at this point. And, you know, look, I think there's also a little bit of Ronald Reagan, "I paid for this microphone" in there. They want to show, hey, you're not in control, I'm in control. I think there's a message there they'd like to send out, which is great, but then stop spending five months coming up with these cockamamie rules, because, you know, it's insane.

KURTZ: Lynn Sherr, if Brokaw doesn't ask follow-ups, then the audience members tends to ask these very general questions like, you know, "What are you going to do about my health care and my pension?" And that would allow the candidates to simply give their stump speeches.

SHERR: Well, which is what I think they're doing anyway. The whole debate thing needs to come under examination, I think. Worrying about the rules is one part of it.

Do you remember the '76 Carter/Ford debate? In the middle of the debate, the television people lost audio for 27 minutes.

KURTZ: Yes.

SHERR: Both Carter and Ford. One was the president of the United States, Jerry Ford. Carter wanted to be president and stood there silently, immobile at their podiums, not doing anything because they were afraid of looking like chickens or cowards or whatever.

I think we've gone beyond that, thank goodness. But we really need to reassess, what is the point of seeing these two people up there, or more than two, and what do we want out of it? I think that's something we as a nation and as reporters have to do.

KURTZ: Well -- go ahead.

SIMON: My question is, do we really have to play the game that we have to pretend that town halls are all brilliant questioners? It's this wisdom of crowd stuff. We have to say, oh, yes, the real people ask better questions than professional journalists, because otherwise we look arrogant.

KURTZ: You want the journalists that can leap (ph).

SIMON: Yes. I think the best debates historically, when they had a panel of journalists, two or three or four journalists who could ask follow-ups, who could pin the candidates down, who could stop the theater, and who could ask good questions.

KURTZ: If we...

SHERR: But they're not debates.

CROWLEY: In defense of real people, can I just say that I don't think that those exact words were the questions they came up with. I mean, if you saw how short those were and you've been to real town hall meetings, they grab the microphone. So they brought them down.

KURTZ: And they read them, which took some of the spontaneity away.

Let me get a break. When we come back, the Troopergate report released late on Friday night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: It was 8:30 Eastern on Friday night when the Alaska legislator released an investigative report that concluded that Governor Sarah Palin abused her power, but broke no law in firing her public safety commissioner, Walt Monegan. This is a guy who she and her husband Todd had repeatedly pressured to get rid of a trooper who was involved in a very messy divorce and custody battle with Sarah Palin's sister.

Roger Simon, it seems to me that, until then, most of the media kind of treated this as an amusing, backwoods personnel dispute. Is that going to change?

SIMON: I think it is going to change, and I suspect the Obama campaign will remind us of what happened.

It not only raises the question of whether she abused power -- the legislative committee says she did -- but how well did John McCain vet this person? Was she the best the Republican Party could come up with?

I mean, she was actively under investigation when she was named as his running mate. Does that go to John McCain's judgment? And now that the legislative panel has ruled, what does John McCain say about it?

Does he care, is he dismissing it? Can he attack Barack Obama's judgment and not attack the judgment of his running mate?

KURTZ: Lynn Sherr, it seems to me there's been 500 more stories and debates and television segments about, is Sarah Palin a good mother, is she up to juggling the vice presidency, is she too much like Tina Fey, than this controversy which goes to her record as governor and what looks to be her heavy-handedness as governor in this instance.

SHERR: And this is a woman who is modeling herself as a reformer, as a maverick, and the precise thing that the report says is that she violated the ethics standard. Now, I have to say, I think the reporter is a little weasely (ph), and I would like to see more press coverage of, how do you abuse your power, but it's within your power to fire somebody?

Apparently, she violated a state ethics law. Isn't that breaking the law? I think it reflects badly on the campaign, and you noticed yesterday, when -- or Friday night or Saturday, when Governor Palin responded to that thrown-out question by a reporter, she basically said, as you see, I didn't break any laws.

Well, how about abusing power? Isn't that an ethics thing? Is that something we want to think about with a reformer? I think definitely, there has to be more made of this.

KURTZ: Well, the investigators' conclusion was that she had not broken the law and that the firing of the public safety commissioner was not only for this reason, but this reason was a factor.

Candy Crowley, Sarah Palin has gone around saying she was annoyed with Katie Couric for the kind of questions she was being asked, that she's challenging people who buy ink by the barrel. She's sort of taking on the media directly.

Is that kind of criticism of the press helping her or hurting her?

CROWLEY: It helps her in the way they want her to be functional. And that is, you go out and get this base excited, because we need every single breathing person on the conservative side to get out there.

I just want to disagree slightly on how big a story this is, not because this isn't a big story, but because I think, by and large, there will be a one-day run on the investigation simply because the shows didn't get to do it on Friday. But beyond that, it's John McCain and Barack Obama at this point. I think she's a great number two show, and I think she will continue to be covered, but I don't see this becoming this huge thing.

KURTZ: Right.

Well, here's this great tidbit dug up by "Columbia Journalism Review." 1993 -- this is before Sarah Palin was even mayor -- she wrote a letter to "The Anchorage Daily News" that called that paper a "dangerously biased, yellow, liberal rag." So apparently she has been carrying these feelings around for some time.

All right.

Roger Simon, Candy Crowley, Lynn Sherr in New York, thanks very much for joining us this morning.

SHERR: Thanks, Howie.

KURTZ: Coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, strange bedfellows. Why the McCain/Palin campaign seized on "The New York Times" in fueling its Barack Obama loves William Ayers line of attack.

Frank Rich and Debra Saunders join our discussion.

Plus, as the market continues to plunge, are TV's business analysts scaring people with high-decibel warnings about selling stocks?

Ali Velshi and David Zurawik go toe to toe.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: "The New York Times" is hardly John McCain's or Sarah Palin's favorite newspaper. McCain aides have accused the paper of publishing fiction and of being 150 percent in the tank for Barack Obama.

When The Times ran a front-page story last weekend reviving questions about Obama's association with one-time Weatherman bomber William Ayers, the McCain/Palin ticket found new respect for the paper. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. SARAH PALIN (R-AK), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I was reading today a copy of "The New York Times." And I was really interested to read in there about Barack Obama's friends from Chicago. It turns out, one of his earliest supporters is a man who, according to "The new York Times," was a domestic terrorist.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Ayers immediately became a hot media topic.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: What more do you want to know about this relationship? What does it tell you about Barack Obama?

PALIN: It tells me, again, we need to question his judgment.

HANNITY: I guess my question is, should the American people be concerned that he's capable in a post-9/11 world of fighting terrorism when he is friends with an unrepentant terrorist?

KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC: Is there any doubt that the McCain campaign is making a coordinated attempt right now to paint Senator Obama as a terrorist or a terrorist sympathizer?

DICK MORRIS, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: You're talking about the equivalent of having a close relationship with Osama bin Laden.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Joining us now to talk about the media's coverage of an increasingly negative campaign, in New York, Frank Rich, columnist for "The New York Times." And in San Francisco, Debra Saunders, columnist for the "San Francisco Chronicle."

Frank Rich, I happen to think that Bill Ayers is a legitimate story, but an old one that everyone reported on about a year ago. So can we really blame McCain and Palin for jumping on it when The Times with that new story gave them an open invitation?

FRANK RICH, COLUMNIST, "NEW YORK TIMES": No, I don't think we can blame them at all. It is a legitimate story.

We often have this syndrome now in our news cycles where stories come back five or six months later and everyone acts surprised all over again. But it's fine. And I, for one, was relieved to discover that Sarah Palin actually reads a newspaper.

KURTZ: Debra Saunders, the AP had an analysis that Sarah Palin "... carried a racially-tinged subtext..." in talking about William Ayers, who, of course, is white.

What do you make of cable news now rehashing this again and again while the economy is crumbling and people are worried about their retirement funds? It kind of feels like small potatoes to me.

DEBRA SAUNDERS, "SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE": Well, it is small potatoes. I'm not one for this guilt by association game. I think that we play it endlessly. There are more important issues to look at.

You know, but I was surprised by "The New York Times" story, because it basically served as a fact check on page one that told people that Bill Ayers and Barack Obama just sort of crossed paths every once in a while. I have to think that if John McCain had a fund-raiser at the house of a man who was a pro-abortion bomber, and they had been on a board where they spent $50 million on education, people would want to know more about it. So I thought The Times story was just really superficial and didn't tell me what I would want to know.

KURTZ: Wait a minute. This was a piece that the newspaper put on the front page that dealt with all the available evidence that they had served on boards together and did a fund-raiser or reception at Ayers' house.

What else did you want to know that wasn't in there?

SAUNDERS: What did the boards do? Did the -- now, The Times had a story in September that said they spent $49 million and it didn't seem to have raised test scores for kids at all.

RICH: I think that's a totally legitimate question, and, you know, I'm not part of the news department at The Times, I'm a columnist. But I thought it was a long story, it laid out a lot of things factually so people could then pursue these leads. And some people have pursued these leads.

And you could look at that Annenberg board and ask questions about Obama's management or about the educational philosophy. All that is legitimate.

But to go back to another point, why is everyone making such a big deal of it, the McCain campaign has made a big deal about it. And that's what McCain has been talking about. He's one of the two -- he and Palin, they're two of the four candidates out there for national office, so they're setting their own agenda, to an extent, in terms of ginning up news coverage, which is entirely their right.

KURTZ: Well, Frank, you write this morning on the op-ed page about what you call "mindlessly evenhanded journalists" who are bringing up Charles Keating, the scandal involving the S&L kingpin who McCain was involved in nearly 20 years ago, as if it were equivalent to the Bill Ayers attacks. But the Obama campaign put on the Web a 13-minute video about McCain's involvement in the Keating Five. So why wouldn't they talk about it?

RICH: Well, I think you're missing my point. My point was that the two -- look, the Keating connection should be brought up with McCain, and the Ayers connection should be brought up with Obama.

The issue -- the point I was trying to make is that there is no equivalence between accusing McCain of being involved with a corrupt -- indeed, a criminal -- guy in the savings and loan racket 20 years ago, and accusing Obama of consorting -- palling around with terrorists, which means accusing Obama, essentially, of being part of a violent, criminal network that wants to bring down the United States. That's taking the Ayers stuff a bridge too far.

SAUNDERS: Which he was. Which he was at one point.

RICH: Right, when Obama was eight years old. But to say at a rally that he's palling around with terrorists when Ayers was long past that -- you can make any judgment about Ayers you want. I have no vested interest in Ayers whatsoever, but it's saying something different to say that somebody is involved with violent crime. And that's exactly what the McCain campaign was saying, and that's why things have gotten out of control.

KURTZ: Debra, I've heard McCain myself, and he has apologized many times for his involvement in the Keating Five scandal. In fact, it led to his interest in campaign finance reform. The media don't seem terribly interested in that episode.

SAUNDERS: Well, I mean, I talked to McCain at the time, as well. And he was so repentant for his very minor involvement in the Keating Five scandal, that it changed him. So, to the extent that people want to write about that, I think they learn something about John McCain that's a good thing to learn.

RICH: Right. I would add one footnote, though.

One of the many pieces of information we don't have in this campaign is the full financial records of the McCain household. Cindy McCain, we know, was involved in business dealings involving Keating, and we don't know what -- everything is hidden by a prenup agreement. We don't know what is going on in terms of her finances, which are really, no matter how you slice it, a potential president of the United States' finances, as well.

KURTZ: All right. Let me jump in and ask you a broader question, Frank Rich. And that is, one liberal columnist after another -- and you're probably in this category as well -- have written pieces saying, I used to like John McCain, he was a maverick, he took on his own party, but now he's disappointed me, he's running an ugly, sleazy campaign. But of course the difference is that in 2000, he was running against George Bush, and now he's running against what people would say is the press' guy, Barack Obama.

RICH: Well, I would say I'm not one of those who were madly in love with John McCain and then turned. Although, I did like him.

I think he's running an erratic campaign. And I think something's changed about him. And look, right now he's become a sort of big- government liberal with one liberal plan after another to deal with the economic meltdown. So he's -- there's something different about him, but I never was -- I never felt, oh, this is the greatest person since sliced bread and now he's the devil.

KURTZ: You didn't have a romance, you just flirted.

RICH: I had a flirtation, not a romance. We didn't consummate anything.

KURTZ: Debra Saunders, you want to respond to that?

SAUNDERS: I didn't consummate anything either. Just for the record.

(LAUGHTER)

KURTZ: What about McCain running against the press, whether it's "The New York Times" or MSNBC? Is he paying a price for that, and for not talking to reporters anymore, the daily gabfest he used to have on his Straight Talk Express?

SAUNDERS: First of all, the base loves it when he trashes the press. And to the extent that he does it to a certain length, yes, it helps him.

Now, I remember being in Houston at the convention in 1992, when people started running through the pressroom yelling, "Tell the truth!" You know, you can take it too far, and you can take the press-bashing too far.

Look, the McCain people feel that there's been a double standard in the coverage. I happen to agree with it. I don't think that the media has taken a good enough look at Barack Obama, what his policies are.

That "New York Times" story where they talk about crossing -- you know, they crossed paths, well, how about how they spent that money? What is this education philosophy...

(CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: OK. That's a fair point.

Let me just jump in here because we're running a little short on time, and I want to play a piece of tape for both of you.

This is from "Hannity's America" last weekend, and he had on a guy named Andy Martin, who was making the charge that Barack Obama and Bill Ayers are much closer than anyone had realized. Martin has a bit of baggage which Robert Gibbs, chief spokesman to the Obama campaign, brought up in his appearance on that show.

Let's watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GIBBS, OBAMA SR. ADVISER: Are you anti-Semitic?

HANNITY: Not at all.

GIBBS: OK. On your show on Sunday, the show that's named after you, right, the show where the centerpiece of that show was a guyed named Andy Martin, right?

HANNITY: No, no. I know you're reading your talking points.

When I interviewed -- hang on a second. When I interviewed Baliq Shabaz (ph), when I interviewed Al sharpton, when I interviewed all these controversial figures -- you see, on FOX, we actually interview people of all points of view whether we agree or disagree. The statement you're about to read...

GIBBS: Yes. Andy Martin called a judge a crooked, slimy Jew who has a history of lying and thieving, comments...

(CROSSTALK)

HANNITY: Here's my answer to you.

GIBBS: Martin went on to write that he understood better why the Holocaust took place given that Jew survivors are operating as a wolf pack...

HANNITY: I find those comments despicable. But wait a minute.

GIBBS: You put it on your show.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Debra Saunders, even on an opinion show, should FOX have given this guy a platform?

SAUNDERS: I don't know why. I also don't understand why the Obama campaign wants to play the guilt by association game with Sean Hannity. It just brings it back to them.

I did not see the documentary that these guys were talking about. I mean, if, trying to tie somebody to somebody else's words, it needs to have a little more basis than an interview, in my mind.

RICH: Well...

KURTZ: Go ahead, Frank.

RICH: I think -- listen, realize what happened. This guy, who now has a different name than he had -- Andy Martin wasn't his name before -- is not just an anti -- I mean, he is a serious anti-Semite with a longer history than Gibbs even indicated. He's a genuine nut, and he was used as the basis for factual statements and what was presented as a documentary.

He wasn't being used as just a bloviator or talking head. He was used to, you know, level charges against Obama. So you have to consider the source, and Gibbs is right.

KURTZ: It would have bothered me less, Frank, if there had been any kind of rebuttal, somebody from the other side. I mean, Alan Colmes wasn't even on that show.

RICH: No, it was ridiculous show. And if that's their primary source and the guy is a nut, it should have been exposed.

And so, it would be one thing if it was just on one segment on FOX giving an opinion about something. And it's like there have been no anti-Semites on television on any network. But this was used as if it were a documentary source.

KURTZ: All right. We've got to go.

Go ahead, Debra, very briefly.

SAUNDERS: But let's hear about what was inaccurate in it instead of who the guy was who was behind it.

KURTZ: Well, we will look at that and...

KURTZ: He was a source for the inaccuracies.

KURTZ: All right. Got to go.

Frank Rich, Debra Saunders, thanks for joining us.

After the break, CNN's Ali Velshi responds to a TV critic's accusations that his coverage of the Wall Street meltdown has been too opinionated. And CNBC's Jim Cramer apologizes for a really bad call.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: As the market was continuing its plunge Monday -- the Dow would dive another 500 points despite that much-ballyhooed federal bailout bill -- it fell to financial commentators to offer their advice. Should investors sit tight as their mutual funds and retirement accounts continue to shrink?

Jim Cramer, CNBC's "Mad Money" man, a former hedge fund manager, and one of Wall Street's biggest bulls, suddenly broke from pack. His advice that morning? Time to bail.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANN CURRY, NBC NEWS: So, for investors, what is your advice today?

JIM CRAMER, CNBC: OK. Whatever money you may need for the next five years, please take it out of the stock market right now, this week. I do not believe that you should risk those assets in the stock market.

CURRY: Even now?

CRAMER: I do not want to say these things on TV.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: But should business pundits be making such dramatic calls? Are they adding to the volatility out there, and should we take their advice?

Earlier this week I talked to David Zurawik, television critic for "The Baltimore Sun," who also writes the "Z on TV" blog at BaltimoreSun.com, and Ali Velshi, CNN senior business correspondent and the host of "YOUR $$$$$."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

David Zurawik, let's start with Cramer. Here's a guy who made a fortune in the market. He is giving you his judgment that stocks are a bad investment right now, especially if you need the money in the next five years.

What's wrong with that?

DAVID ZURAWIK, "THE BALTIMORE SUN": Well, part of it, Howie, is that two weeks before he told -- he gave us dead wrong advice on Wachovia.

KURTZ: We'll get to that in a minute.

ZURAWIK: Yes. And this act that goes with it, here it was, the theater that surrounded it. I mean, why would you trust that information on Monday when he gave us such bad information two weeks before?

But also, it's kind of alarmist information presented without any context. And it's the kind of information, Howie, that can really drive people to action immediately.

KURTZ: Although if it had driven you to action on Monday morning, you would have saved about 15 percent of your nest egg given the week that the Dow has had.

Ali Velshi, would you hesitate to tell people to get out of the market, even if you believed that that was the best course, for fear of contributing to a stampede?

ALI VELSHI, CNN SR. BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely not. Absolutely not.

You know Cramer. I don't know if David does. David certainly doesn't know me. It doesn't stop him from writing about me. But Cramer is exactly the same off camera as he is on camera, he is emphatic.

You know, David, you wrote about me. You said something about how I'm loud and excitable. You know what? I'm loud -- you can talk to my mother and my sister. I'm loud and excitable all the time, and I'm emphatic in my belief that there are things that people have to understand here.

You also wrote that we are all opinion and few facts. I am on TV about 15 times a day. I invite you to find the one fact that I've been wrong about...

ZURAWIK: Ali, no, no, no, no. Listen. I'm not going to get excitable and loud either. Let's have a civil conversation.

VELSHI: I don't actually have a problem with excitable and loud.

(CROSSTALK)

ZURAWIK: But I do. I do at a moment of crisis.

VELSHI: That's great, but the American public need facts.

ZURAWIK: After the -- they do need facts...

VELSHI: And I have been providing the facts.

ZURAWIK: You are not providing the facts after...

VELSHI: What didn't I provide? What did I say that was wrong?

ZURAWIK: After the first bailout bill failed, Ali...

VELSHI: Yes?

ZURAWIK: ... you were literally sitting on the set screaming that it had to pass or Armageddon was going to follow.

VELSHI: I absolutely didn't say those words.

KURTZ: Hold on.

Ali, I'll give you a chance to respond. Rather than...

VELSHI: I actually said Armageddon will not come...

KURTZ: Hold on. Hold on. Rather than accepting Zurawik's characterization, let's play an exchange...

VELSHI: Oh!

KURTZ: ... that you had a couple weeks ago with a guy who hosts a business show on radio...

VELSHI: Right.

KURTZ: ... Steve Cordasco, and then we'll give you a chance to talk.

VELSHI: Yes.

ZURAWIK: OK. Fair enough.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: I can't even believe this, Mike. I don't understand what Steve's talking about. He couldn't be more wrong. I really hope none of your listeners listen to him.

This is not the shareholders on Wall Street. This is the person who can't get a mortgage today because the credit markets are frozen up. This is the person who can't sell their house because the buyer can't get a mortgage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mike, I'm sorry, who is that I am talking to?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ali Velshi.

VELSHI: Someone who knows a bit about how the markets operate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sorry, and what does he do?

VELSHI: Steve, I understand how the credit markets...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know. I'd like to hear the qualifications, who I'm talking to. Are you a journalist, are you a market guy?

VELSHI: Really, the advice is more useful than the qualifications.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Ali?

VELSHI: Yes. I mean, again, I appreciate you taking a clip that has the same suit that I'm wearing right now. Howie, you've known me for a long time. That -- if David is concerned that that's loud and excitable, I need to rethink my career.

But the fact is I feel very strongly that this was misrepresented as a Wall Street bailout. I think Americans have every right, as you do, to be angry at Wall Street and at Washington for doing this. But I've spent a lot of time explaining the connections between the bailout and people.

KURTZ: But did you become an advocate for the bailout?

VELSHI: No.

KURTZ: Which, by the way, doesn't seem to have done o stop the markets falling.

VELSHI: The bailout was never going to do much in this period of time. People have to understand that.

ZURAWIK: But Ali, that's not what you were saying in the wake of it. You said this has to pass.

VELSHI: Yes.

ZURAWIK: And I'll tell you what it is. Ali, this is all I'm saying, is...

VELSHI: Actually, I've got a lot of what you're saying. This isn't all of it, but you've got a whole lot of stuff that you're written...

ZURAWIK: See, now you're doing shtick. You're doing cable TV shtick instead of a nice discussion here. You're throwing things...

VELSHI: I don't get to press delete when I say something on TV like you do. I don't have a shelter of a desk.

ZURAWIK: No, let me make one point.

VELSHI: Yes.

ZURAWIK: OK? And then you can shout me down like you did the other guy.

VELSHI: Right. I do that a lot.

ZURAWIK: Here is what I am saying. In times of crisis when something like this happens...

VELSHI: Right.

ZURAWIK: ... the role all of us, you, me, all of us play -- I don't care if you're in TV and I'm in print.

VELSHI: Right.

ZURAWIK: We have to provide the public with verified factual information that they can make decisions about.

VELSHI: Agreed.

ZURAWIK: If CNN calls you the lead business correspondent, not host or anchorman now, right? Lead business correspondent...

VELSHI: I am both a host and an anchor at CNN.

ZURAWIK: But not in that role. Not right after that meltdown when everybody turned to CNN.

KURTZ: All right.

ZURAWIK: CNN is the place we turn, and we need information, and I felt you were giving us only opinion, not information.

KURTZ: Ali's turn.

VELSHI: OK. I can't tell you that I disagree with any of your views of what we should be doing on TV, but your first column came after the Dow plunged 777 points. And in fact, in the very conversation, you were very selective in what you wrote. You didn't mark the point where I said we have never seen a bigger point drop in the history of the stock market.

But you know what you need to look at when you have a 401(k)? You need to look at the percentage drop. And the percentage drop here isn't even in the top 10.

That was the same sentence, David. How did you forget that part? Are you that much of a channel surfer that you were gone by the time I finished by sentence?

ZURAWIK: Ali, I swear, I didn't ellipses you, I was talking about the overall mode of...

VELSHI: Right. You are conveniently using Cramer and me as a way to do your job as a critic and...

ZURAWIK: Ali, as you know, I wasn't the only one out there saying these things. I really ask you guys seriously, ask you guys not to do the cable host shtick. Right now we need information.

You are one of the best reporter/correspondents we have in America. CNN is the most trustworthy place on cable TV for information. We are in crisis. Please, rise to the occasion the way some of the anchor people did after...

KURTZ: Let me jump in here, because I do want to come back to Jim Cramer, who is an influential guy with the markets.

And you mentioned this before, David. About three weeks ago, Cramer gave a vote of confidence to Wachovia Bank's stock. He is a longtime friend of the CEO, Bob Steele. And then, of course, Wachovia came to the brink of collapse, now it looks like it's going to be sold to Wells Fargo.

Here is what Cramer said after the company basically collapsed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CRAMER: I let you down because I wasn't skeptical enough. I let my judgment of Steele cloud my thinking about Wachovia.

Is he to blame? Did he take advantage of me? Perhaps yes.

I didn't protect you -- I didn't protect you better. I screwed up. I apologize.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: And by the way, CNBC declined to have Cramer appear on the program this week.

Talk with us, Ali Velshi. Does he deserve credit having made a wrong call, having blown it for apologizing to his viewers?

VELSHI: Listen, I'm not going to speak for Cramer. I will say one thing. Before Cramer's show, there is a very long disclaimer that runs to tell you that you should seek personal financial advice before making any decisions, and Cramer himself has pointed out on many occasions that if you want to trade on the advice he gives you, you'd better stick with him, because these things change and markets change.

So again, that's not a defense of Cramer, but we do have to take some personal responsibility in whether we're going to make decisions based on somebody's decision to tell you to buy a stock or sell one on TV.

KURTZ: And David, I've got 30 seconds for you.

Wouldn't it be a copout for these guys just to come on and say, well, on one side there is this, and the other people argue that? I mean, we want to know what they think, not yelling and screaming. We want to know what they think. ZURAWIK: Howie, they need first in crisis, get us information. Then bring us expert analysis, and they can join in that and then bring us reaction from people.

There is a three-step flow to breaking news. You know it oh so well. They didn't do it. They went right to the opinion.

And by the way, really, in this case, Ali is so much better than Cramer has behaved in this. And this is really how we're going to judge these financial reporters. This moment of crisis, for years to come, I hope they step up to it. I really do.

KURTZ: All right. A qualified endorsement.

VELSHI: He sounds a little loud and excited to me.

KURTZ: He does get that way. All right.

ZURAWIK: Ali, you make me...

KURTZ: Ali Velshi, David Zurawik, thanks very much for joining us.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

KURTZ: What a subdued discussion.

And for more Ali Velshi, he and Christine Romans host "YOUR $$$$$," today at 3:00 p.m. Eastern.

Still to come, Tina Brown returned to the media world this week in a very different role. Can she make it in the online jungle?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Tina Brown, the big-time British buzz queen, is back.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ (voice-over): You'll recall she edited "Vanity Fair" and "The New Yorker," started "talk" magazine, which flopped, and wrote a book on Princess Di. Now she's launched a Web site called The Daily Beast, and it's pretty intriguing. Lots of links to other blogs the way that Drudge and The Huffington Post do, but also a big, fat story, a cheat sheet and, naturally, a buzz board. And original writings from the likes of Christopher Buckley, Michael Kinsley, Tucker Carlson, and Tina Brown herself.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: So, why should we read this beast and not hundreds of similar sites? Tina's answer? Sensibility, darling.

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

I'm Howard Kurtz.

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

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