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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES

Is Palin Becoming a Liability to McCain's Campaign?; Coverage of Charges of Anti-Americanism

Aired October 26, 2008 - 10:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice-over): Polls show her becoming a liability to McCain? Just how much attention should we pay to the Republican Party spending big bucks to beautify her? And are reporters all but ignoring the Biden blunders?

Patriotism and the press. What should journalists do when candidates throw around charges of anti-Americanism? And why is Congresswoman Michele Bachmann blaming her incendiary words on Chris Matthews?

Wake me when it's over. Why the media won't admit the Philly- Tampa Bay World Series is a snooze.

Plus, Bill O'Reilly's fat new contract, and why the pugnacious pundit is annoyed with me.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: As the presidential campaign careens into its final nine days, journalists are doing something that never happens at this stage of the game, still focusing on the second spot on the ticket. Sarah Palin remains a mighty media magnet, a polarizing figure we just can't seem to get enough of, drawing three times as much coverage as that other running mate, Joe Biden, who only seems to make news when he commits a gaffe.

Now, the Alaska governor would have made headlines this week in any event, sitting down with Brian Williams, talking to more reporters on the trail, and giving testimony into that state probe over the firing of her public service commissioner. But when Politico revealed that the Republican Party spent $150,000 on hair, makeup and designer outfits from Saks and Neiman Marcus for the self-described, Joe Six- Pack-loving, "I'm just like you" hockey mom, well, it was like a slap of red meat for the rabid dogs of the press.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS: Sarah Palin may think the world of Joe the plumber, too, but that doesn't mean she intends to dress like him.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: The story about her wardrobe broke overnight -- $150,000 worth of clothing from top retailers for Palin and her family. CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN: We are ignoring a very simple reality. Women are judged based on their appearance far, far more than men.

JOY BEHAR, HOST, "THE VIEW": Usually, she shoots her clothing. Now, she's actually buying it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Palin insists the media keep distorting her record.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. SARAH PALIN (R-AK), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There have been some unfair shots taken by some of your colleagues.

WILLIAMS: Anything you want to correct the record on?

PALIN: Oh, shoot, you know, I'm not going to rehash some of the old ugly stuff.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: So, is the media's treatment of Palin fair, especially when compared to that of Biden?

Joining us now to talk about this and the home stretch coverage of McCain and Obama, in New York, John Heilemann, national political columnist at "New York Magazine." And here in Washington, Julie Mason, White House correspondent who's just joined "The Washington Examiner." And Jonathan Martin, senior political reporter for The Politico.

John Heilemann, I'm seeing a whole bunch of stories in the last 48, 72 hours about Sarah Palin, whether she's separating from McCain, whether she's running for president in 2012.

Can't you pundits get us through this election first?

JOHN HEILEMANN, NATIONAL POLITICAL COLUMNIST, "NEW YORK MAGAZINE": Well, not when there's a compelling a candidate out there on the national state as Sarah Palin, Howie. I mean, how could we -- it would be unnatural for us to overt our eyes from the serial train wreck that her campaign has become.

KURTZ: Surreal train wreck. All right. It's hard to follow that.

Julie Mason, in these stories -- and CNN this morning was quoting unnamed sources as saying she was acting like a diva -- it seems to me that the press allows itself to be used by people who don't want to put their names on the record within the struggling McCain campaign of pointing fingers back and forth.

Should that be something that we should be party to?

JULIE MASON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER": Well, the problem is, is that she is not talking to the press. She's not really talking to her traveling press. She's just started doing it a little bit more lately.

So there's not really much to use. We don't have that much material. So we have to -- I'm seeing a lot of unnamed sources and anonymous sources, which does bothers me as a journalist. But there isn't much of an alternative when she herself won't talk. You have to...

KURTZ: But she is talking more.

And Jonathan, here's Politico. Your publication quotes one senior Republican who speaks to Palin. "She's lost confidence in most of the people on the plane (ph)." "She's going rogue." Then somebody who works for McCain, no name, says she's green and sloppy. And then here's somebody, a close Palin ally, who says she felt completely mismanaged and mishandled and ill advised by the campaign.

We are just giving a megaphone to people who don't have the guts to be quoted on the record.

JONATHAN MARTIN, POLITICO: Well, it's very difficult, Howie, as you know, to get folks on the record before the campaign is still over, offering this kind of analysis. But let me just defend my colleagues, including Ben Smith, who wrote a very smart story on this topic.

This, Howie, reflects something that is emphatically going on right now in the McCain/Palin campaign. I know from talking to my sources, this is real. There are real fingers being pointed back and forth at how she was handled.

And this all pre-stages what may happen here after Election Day regarding whether or not she's the future of the party or was a colossal mistake for McCain. It's already starting now, and this just actually reflects what's going on in the campaign.

KURTZ: I would just say if somebody is going to call the vice president nominee a diva without having their names attached, then we are aiding and abetting that sort of sniping. And it's simply not fair. I would say to that person, if you don't want to go on the record, I'm not going to use the quote.

Now, speaking of whether or not this election is over now, John Heilemann, your cover story in "New York Magazine" coming out tomorrow, here's the headline: "What an Obama Presidency Would Look Like." You talk about how -- there's the president-elect, according to you.

Just a tad premature, perhaps?

HEILEMANN: Well, you know, one wants to try to be ahead of the curve, I guess, Howie.

I just wanted to say one thing about what Jonathan said, which I think is exactly right. And Howie, I agree with you. It would be great to get some of these people on the record on the question of the McCain infighting. But you know, the interesting thing is that this isn't just about Palin.

I mean, the Republicans starting to turn into a circular firing squad two months ago. And for anybody who's been covering this campaign, they have been hearing from people, previous McCain advisers, current McCain advisers, about their unhappiness with the kind of campaign he decided to run. And I think it would be irresponsible, in fact, for most journalists not to point out that this has been -- that the Republican Party is unhappy with its candidate and has a lot of criticisms of their candidate, and it's in stark contrast with the way the Obama campaign is run, where you've heard none of these kind of internal criticisms throughout the campaign.

KURTZ: Well, it's a little easier when you have a double-digit lead.

But coming back to your "New York Magazine" story.

HEILEMANN: That's true.

KURTZ: And you're not the only one. The front page of "The New York Times" today, Democrats worried about, gee, they're going to have so many seats in the House and the Senate, how are they going to govern?

It does seem to me that a lot of people in the political press are basically looking past November 4th and declaring this election over. And I think some readers and viewers don't like that.

HEILEMANN: Well, that may be true. But I think that we have a responsibility.

I mean, look we are probably too poll-obsessed in the media. We look at polls constantly, and there's more of them in this election cycle than there have been before.

But if you were sitting around last week and looking at the national surveys, there was a striking consistency to those surveys, and not just at the level of the horse race number, which in many cases has now consistently had Obama ahead by 10 points. But if you look state by state, it's a very grim picture for McCain.

And again, you know, you have Republicans admitting this. I talked to four or five different Republicans last week who all said it's over, the cake is baked. Now McCain needs to start focusing on how he salvages some of his reputation, or helps the party not lose too many seats down ticket. This is, in fact, the conventional wisdom on both sides of the partisan aisle about what's going to happen.

The question is not whether Obama will win, but by how much he'll win. Now, it's possible that he won't, but it would be -- it would just not be a true reflection of reality to not acknowledge the state of play currently. KURTZ: All right. Well, I won't go through all the elections and primary days when the press was absolutely sure somebody was going to win and that person didn't win.

But Julie Mason, let's come back for a minute to -- we saw the clips there earlier about Sarah Palin's designer outfits and the Republican Party picking up the tab to the tune of $150,000.

What made that story resonate, if it did? Is it the money? Is it the hockey mom image? Or is just plain old media condescension toward this woman from Wasilla?

MASON: It was everything. That was a great story. It had every we wanted. It was a bit of a cheap shot, but it was true. It was a good story.

KURTZ: But you're enjoying the cheap shot. Look at you. You're salivating.

MASON: I am. I know. I did. I enjoyed it. I loved that story, and it just gave and gave.

And I'm not even sure where it went, because then didn't she say that she didn't use all that money for clothes and it's not really...

KURTZ: She didn't wear all the clothes.

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: And there's no bigger media obsession than hypocrisy, right? Hypocrisy, hypocrisy, hypocrisy. And there it was.

MASON: Hypocrisy, yes. We love hypocrisy.

MARTIN: There it was.

MASON: It had everything.

KURTZ: What about all the TV anchors who have their wardrobes paid for by their employer?

MASON: But they're not trying to be regular people.

KURTZ: I see. So, but...

MARTIN: And they aren't being held accountable by the public and seeking federal office either.

KURTZ: All right.

Well, let's do a little bit of a contrast here between the coverage, the amazing amount of coverage that Sarah Palin continues to get, even though the conventional media wisdom is always that, well, the election is always about the top of the ticket.

MARTIN: Right. KURTZ: And Joe Biden, who made the latest in a series of mistakes about a week ago at a rally, I want to show you the comments that Biden made, which, by the way, made their way into a negative McCain ad, and what Governor Palin had to say about those comments when she was asked on CNN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Mark my words, it will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Does Joe Biden get a pass?

PALIN: Drew, you need to ask your colleagues and I guess your bosses, or whoever is in charge of all of this, why does Joe Biden get a pass on such a thing? Can you imagine if I would have said such a thing?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Now, Julie Mason, that was a remarkable thing for a running mate to say. And yet, it got 20 seconds on a couple of evening newscasts. It was kind of an item in a lot of newspapers. Why wasn't it a bigger story?

MASON: I'm not sure why. It was an interesting gaffe. He played right into McCain's message that Obama is too young and he's untested. And it really didn't go very far. I think it's medium (ph) interesting in a really big news week. And that's why it didn't get much traction.

KURTZ: And Jonathan Martin, Biden has also had these other greatest hits, saying Hillary Clinton was more qualified to be Obama's running mate, saying Barack Obama is not taking my shotgun away. Is there...

MARTIN: The Great Depression. Don't forget the Great Depression.

KURTZ: The Great Depression, yes. FDR went on TV in 1929, when I don't believe there was television.

MARTIN: He's wrong on two counts.

KURTZ: Now, is what's at play here the fact that most reporters have known Joe Biden for a long time, kind of like the guy? They know he's smart, and so they're saying, oh, it's just Joe, we don't really have to give him a hard time because it doesn't indicate any lack of knowledge? MARTIN: Well, I think there is a "Joe being Joe" element to it, Howie. But the fact is, is that these things are covered aggressively. When he makes a mistake, it's picked up. But I guess the pure volume of them after a while, it just sort of -- it doesn't have the impact.

But I would just add real fast, on that most recent gaffe, the McCain folks have picked it up and now put it in a campaign. So it actually might have more traction ultimately.

KURTZ: Yes, but that means that they're doing the job that the press should be doing.

And John Heilemann, here is what's so fascinating. I mean, the media narrative from the beginning, and it certainly was true at the beginning, is that Sarah Palin is in a bunker, she won't talk to the press, she doesn't talk to the traveling press corps.

Well, in the last week or so, she talked -- gave an interview to "The Chicago Tribune." She has been taking questions from journalists on the trail with her. She did the Brian Williams interview that we saw at the top. And Joe Biden has not taken questions from his traveling press corps since September 10th, and nobody is making an issue out of it.

HEILEMANN: Well, and I think it's outrageous, Howie, on the Biden side. I mean, this is an issue the press generally should be hammering him on. And I think it's important that these candidates make themselves available to take questions from myself and my colleagues and all the people in the press. And I think there is a double standard that's being applied there.

I would say on the supposed gaffe, however, I mean, I still don't understand exactly what's so remarkable about what Joe Biden said. I mean, he made a statement that has reasonable historical precedent. He didn't suggest that Obama wouldn't be able to handle that test. He suggested the fact that it was likely he would be tested. I can't...

(CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: Because he is a young president like JFK. And therefore, he's likely to be tested. Therefore, he's swinging the campaign debate from the economy to whether Barack Obama has what it takes to be an effective foreign policy president. That's not what you want your running mate to do..

HEILEMANN: You might say he was somewhat off message there, Howie, but it doesn't seem like a gaffe to me, though. It seems like a statement of fact.

KURTZ: Here's another thing that went off message. Yesterday, "The New York Times" reporting that John Podesta, who is a former Clinton White House chief of staff and is helping Obama with the transition, had written in a book a draft inaugural address to be given by the president. And McCain picked this up and said, see,. Obama is measuring the drapes. But it turns out, as The Times acknowledges online today but not in the paper, that when Podesta wrote this draft inaugural address, it was back in some time like March. He was a Hillary supporter at the time. It wasn't clear that Obama was going to be the nominee. So it's not exactly -- it's not exactly them deciding what he's going to say on January 20th.

MARTIN: Howie, I have a feeling that's not going to stop John McCain from using that talking point.

KURTZ: Oh, OK.

Now, as you all know, Obama went off the trail for a couple of days. He just came back yesterday from Hawaii. He had been visiting his ailing 86-year-old grandmother. And this got a lot of chatter. It was an unusual move, obviously, so late in the game.

Let's take a look at what people are saying on the airwaves.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC: One of those things that it sucks the oxygen out of the campaign for a couple days.

JULIE ROGINSKY, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: If there is a net positive out of this tragedy, it is the fact that people are going to relate to a sick, elderly grandmother.

BRAD BLAKEMAN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: You know what the outrage is today? Is Barack Obama is taking a 767 campaign play to go visit grandma. Forget about the energy that is wasted.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Julie, should this be out of bounds, or is it perfectly fair to analyze the nominee going off the trail, going out to Hawaii and giving up time on the trail?

MASON: Right. It's unusual, therefore it's news. It's perfectly reasonable.

I've heard some Republicans trying to make an issue out of this, saying that he is using -- you know, he took the Secret Service with him and the whole press corps and, you know, all the sort of trappings of a big campaign. And some of that is at taxpayer expense. And they've tried to make something out of that, but I think it backfires because he is going to see his ailing grandmother.

MARTIN: He's already back, too.

MASON: Yes, he's back. He's back on the trail.

MARTIN: He wasn't gone for that long.

MASON: We hardly had a chance to...

(CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: There's even been some analysis, John Heilemann, of, well, this was a calculated move to come off as a family man, remind people he has a white grandmother.

What did you make of that line of chatter?

HEILEMANN: Well, I think it's pretty ridiculous. I mean, it's quite clear the woman has been sick for quite some time. And though -- I mean, I think it's reasonable to analyze the question of whether the television time that's given to the fact that Barack Obama's grandmother is white is to his advantage, it's unreasonable to assume that this was a ploy concocted, her illness was a ploy concocted to advance that storyline.

KURTZ: I'm with you on that one.

All right. Let me get a break.

When we come back, a new study says John McCain's media coverage is really, really negative. Is liberal bias to blame?

And later, just what journalists should do when candidates toss around charges of opponents being anti-American.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Just how negative has John McCain's coverage been? Well, the Project for Excellence in Journalism, in a new study this week, looking at print and broadcast coverage from the conventions until after the last presidential debate. Let's put up the numbers on the screen.

McCain's coverage, 57 percent negative, only 14 percent positive. Barack Obama's coverage, if we can put those numbers up, 29 percent negative, 36 percent positive. And the rest is either neutral or mixed. Let's get that positive number up there. There it is, 36 percent positive.

Julie Mason, that gap is so wide, that it's got to suggest to some people that there's a pro-Obama bias in the media.

MASON: Right. Well, I can't stand these kind of studies, anyway, because how do you determine what's a negative or a positive story?

KURTZ: Well, you know, they do careful coding. And if it's even a close call, they toss it out and say it's neutral. So let's assume that it's close to accurate.

MASON: OK.

KURTZ: How do you explain those numbers?

MASON: Well, I don't think anyone is going to look back on John McCain's campaign and say he ran a great one this time around. And I think the coverage follows that. A lot of his problems are of his own creation, and the coverage has reflected that. Also, I would also note that in that same poll, he and Obama have finally pulled even on the amount of coverage they get.

KURTZ: Finally.

MASON: Finally.

KURTZ: Because I used to come on this show every single week and talk about Obama getting two and three times coverage, more magazine stories, more television segments.

But John Heilemann, the authors of that study say that at least in part, the reason is it's poll-driven. Obama is up in the polls, therefore he's a genius, therefore he's covered like a winner. But the difference here is 3-1. Can polls account for all of that?

HEILEMANN: Well, I think what Julie said is right. I mean, the biggest bias in the press, Howie, as you know, is towards effectiveness, right?

When a campaign -- we write so many stories now that are about strategy and tactics. And when strategies and tactics seem to be working, the candidates are lauded. And when they seem to not be working, they get hammered.

And this was true in August, when McCain's fairly negative campaign against Obama was working, seemed to be working. The same study showed that the coverage shifted. Obama was getting hammered in the press for being weak and ineffectual and Dukakis-like. And then when things turned around after the convention, you've seen the shift in the other direction.

KURTZ: It sounds like the way we cover baseball teams.

Let me run through a few things for you, Jonathan Martin.

MARTIN: Sure.

KURTZ: A big "New York Times" front page piece last week on Cindy McCain's many problems -- previous drug addiction. A big "Washington Post" piece the other day front page of McCain's role in the Keating Five.

CNN, in that Drew Griffin interview with Sarah Palin, he reads to her from "National Review" and says, well, "National Review had a story saying, "I can't tell if Sarah Palin is incompetent, stupid, unqualified, corrupt or all the above."

That's not what "National Review" said. "National Review" was talking about the coverage of Sarah Palin, and Drew Griffin did acknowledge a couple of days later that he had botched that question.

When people look at all these things, they say, you're just not being fair. MARTIN: Right. And look, I think there is a fair critique to be made, but John is absolutely right. The fact is, is that when we are talking to Republican strategists and longtime operatives, these are not members of a sort of great, you know, liberal elite conspiracy. These are folks who have worked in the trenches and the GOP for years.

And they are saying privately, look, McCain is running a terrible campaign, this thing is not going to -- and further, the party is in deep, deep trouble. We're heading for a bloodbath.

KURTZ: How does that let us off the hook? Wait a second. Maybe the fact that the coverage is tilted, some would say, also feeds into the notion that McCain is running a terrible campaign.

MARTIN: No, it is self-reinforcing, and I agree with that. I think that there's one other thing happening here, too.

I think that -- and this is not to excuse the fact that Obama hasn't gotten scrutiny this fall. But the fact is, that primary with Hillary Clinton, he got so much coverage during that race on so many issues -- you know, Jeremiah Wright comes to mind. How many times was that played over and over again on cable TV stations like this, that for some reporters, maybe that's a bit stale now? That's not to excuse it.

KURTZ: You're saying the negative stories on Obama became old stories because of the primaries.

We've got to leave with that.

MARTIN: Right.

KURTZ: All right.

Jonathan Martin, Julie Mason, John Heilemann in New York, thanks very much for joining us.

Up next, Judith Miller finds a new job.

Plus, turning the video tables on Jon Stewart.

Our "Media Minute" just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: An Arkansas anchorwoman died yesterday after a brutal attack at her home that remains a mystery. Anne Pressly was stabbed and left severely wounded a week ago. Just her purse and a few items were stolen.

Could the assault have had anything to do with her role at ABC's Little Rock affiliate, or her minor role in the new Oliver Stone movie "W?" Or was it just a random attack?

This is just an unspeakable tragedy that is all the more upsetting because it makes no sense. Our sympathies to Pressly's family and her journalistic family at KATV.

Moving on to other media news, one of the most controversial reporters in America is back in action.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JUDITH MILLER, JOURNALIST: Follow the money.

KURTZ (voice-over): When we last heard from Judith Miller, the former "New York Times" correspondent had left the paper after reporting some erroneous stories about Saddam's weapons of mass destruction. You know, the ones that didn't exist.

She also had gone to jail for 85 days before testifying in the CIA leak investigation that, yes, former Cheney aide Scooter Libby did anonymously leak her the name of operative Valerie Plame.

Now Miller has joined FOX News as a part-time analyst. Miller said this about her prewar reporting: "I think everyone regrets that the intelligence was not right, but I did the best that I could."

And while FOX News chief Roger Ailes had the checkbook open, he also signed Glenn Beck of CNN's Headline News to host an afternoon show.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: Now, every author wants to get on with Jon Stewart and flog his book. I certainly did. And The Daily Show's John Hodgman was no exception.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ (voice-over): But it took Hodgman to expose the dirty little secret that Stewart is a bit promiscuous with his praise.

JON STEWART, "THE DAILY SHOW": This is a fascinating book.

It's fascinating stuff.

Really fascinating book.

Always fascinating.

It's a really fascinating book.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: So what if he uses the "F" word with all the writers? You don't hear any of them complaining.

Well, coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, politicians and the patriotism card. Are journalists too quick to play along?

FOX News beats the drum on William Ayers. How much is too much? Plus, sinking series. Why baseball's biggest contest isn't scoring with the media.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Journalists have gotten accustomed to all sorts of political attacks at campaign time, with candidates calling each other risky, naive, elitist, dangerous, heartless, terrorist-befriending liars. But how should we react when politicians accuse some of being anti-American? Just report it as another piece of political rhetoric and ask the other side for reaction, or challenge the accuser for using that kind of harsh language?

Sarah Palin seemed to suggest the other day that parts of the country, Democratic strongholds, perhaps, are not exactly loyal to the USA. Here is what she said.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

GOV. SARAH PALIN (R-AK), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We believe that the best of America is in these small towns that we get to visit, and in these wonderful little pockets of what I call the real America, being here with all of you hardworking, very patriotic, very pro- America areas of this great nation.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

KURTZ: The governor later expressed regret in an interview with CNN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN: I certainly don't want that interpreted as one area being more patriotic or American than another. If that's the way it's come across, I apologize.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Joining us now to talk about journalism and the politics of division, in New York, Keli Goff, author and political analyst. And here in Washington, Amanda Carpenter, national political reporter for TownHall.com.

Keli Goff, should journalists say, is it our role to say, that talking about pro-America or anti-America areas of the country is over the line?

KELI GOFF, AUTHOR AND POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, but that's sort of -- I mean, there's so many things that could be argued as over the line in a political season where we've -- you know, I mean, we've heard people blatantly saying that Barack Obama is a terrorist. So it's sort of like, what officially is over the line here?

KURTZ: Well, they haven't said that. They've said he pals around with terrorists, which we'll come back to. But, so you have to draw the line for us. Where would you draw the line -- pro-America areas, acceptable rhetoric or not?

GOFF: I think it's stupid, but there's nothing illegal about saying something stupid on the campaign trail. I mean, and I think that when it's sort of taken -- you know, it's sort of been a bad week for them in terms of messaging and saying things like this. You had, you know, Joe McCain calling parts of Virginia communist country, and then you have Sarah Palin making a gaffe like this, which might not have been that big of a deal had it not sort of come in unison with these other things that were getting covered, like Michele Bachmann's comments and Joe McCain's comments.

KURTZ: All right. We'll get to Bachmann in a minute. But let me...

GOFF: Again, over the line. I think it's more about them being stupid, as opposed to them being over the line.

KURTZ: Well, there's no law against political stupidity, you're right.

GOFF: Exactly.

KURTZ: But, Amanda Carpenter, would it be advocacy journalism to say Sarah Palin said this and this is obviously unfair, this is obviously troubling, this is obviously questioning of some people's patriotism?

AMANDA CARPENTER, TOWNHALL.COM: I think that would be advocacy journalism. I think it's appropriate when a candidate makes a statement like that.

You know, Barack Obama had similar statements when he talked about voting people in Pennsylvania being bitter, clinging to their guns. And in both the cases, people asked him, what did you mean by that?

KURTZ: And he got reamed by the media.

CARPENTER: Right, exactly. And so I think it's appropriate for the media to ask for clarification.

This reporter asked Sarah Palin for clarification. She said, OK, if that's what you meant by it, I'm sorry. That's not what I meant.

So, you know, people on both sides of the aisle do this sort of demographic divisiveness. You know, we have the East Coast being called the parenthesis of the United States now and people talking about the real America down -- I mean, we need to know what they mean about that and what they're intoning. And that's perfect to ask.

GOFF: But it's not our job to save candidates or their surrogates from gaffes, Howard. I mean, in fact, that's how we all make our living, is by challenging them to clarify...

KURTZ: No, it's our job to call them on it, if you indeed think it's a gaffe. I mean, I personally am a little tired of this "real America" stuff and this idea that New York and Washington are not the real America.

GOFF: Apparently, Jon Stewart agrees with you.

KURTZ: All right.

Let me get to Michele Bachmann.

You mentioned the congresswoman, the Republican congresswoman from Minnesota. She made some news on "Hardball" a few days ago. Let's just play it and we'll get your thoughts on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: So you believe that Barack Obama may have anti-American views?

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: Absolutely. I'm very concerned that he may have anti-American views. I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out, are they pro-America or anti-America?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: So this raises the same issue, Keli Goff. Is it fair for journalists to take those comments, blow them up, talk about them, and say that they are outrageous?

GOFF: Look, it's absolutely fair for us to repeat back the words that people say and ask them to defend them. That is absolutely fair. Something that Michele Bachmann seemed to learn the hard way, since I think it was yesterday she filmed a political advertisement apologizing for her poor word choice.

Again, you know, I think that there's no law against people making a criticism even if we think it's stupid or even find it offensive. I think the question then becomes asking them to defend it. That's the job of the media, is to call people on things, to recognize them, and then challenge them to defend it. Just like Barack Obama was forced to defend using the "bitter" terminology.

KURTZ: What was fascinating after her Democratic opponent received something like $2 million in contributions, is that Michele Bachmann, doing a bit of damage control, went on "The O'Reilly Factor," and she had this to say about that "Hardball" interview.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BACHMANN: The reason why I went on, I knew that Chris Matthews was a leftist, but I didn't know the kind of traps that he lays for people. I should have known more about that, that he lays a trap.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Amanda, where exactly was the trap here?

CARPENTER: Well, full disclosure, Michele Bachmann does blog at TownHall.com very regularly. So we'll put that on the table.

But that interview was incredibly aggressive. I mean, Matthews, I think, was literally trying to put words in her mouth. And he's saying, you name me how many members of Congress you think are anti- American. That's not a question a journalist asks. That's a debate tactic.

And her saying that she has concerns that Barack Obama hangs out with people who have anti-American views is legitimate. To say that he tolerates radicalism is legitimate.

KURTZ: Well, hold on. I have the transcript here. Let me just clarify this.

She is talking about the relationship between Barack Obama and Bill Ayers. Fine. And Matthews follows up and says, "Do you believe that Barack Obama may have anti-American views?"

We just saw that. And she says, "Absolutely." And then she makes the comment about members of Congress.

And yes, then he's very aggressive in following up. But there's no trick question here. She's the one who made the statement.

CARPENTER: No. But he goes after her and says, "How many people do you think are anti-American?" She never said anybody was anti- American. She said that Barack Obama may have anti-American views because of his relationship with William Ayers. I think that is legitimate.

Why don't they talk about that?

KURTZ: What about the part where she says the media should investigate which members of Congress are anti-American?

CARPENTER: Yes, if there's other people that are hanging out with William Ayers, I think those are valid questions.

KURTZ: Keli.

GOFF: Howard, just because -- it's like the age-old adage of when someone asks a politician, "When did you stop beating your wife?" that's not the media's fault if the politician says yesterday. Right? And so just because someone is given the news doesn't mean they have to hang themselves with it.

And so I think criticizing a journalist for begin aggressive, it's sort of like this is one of the few times I've seen someone defend saying something stupid with allegedly pleading ignorance. Where she said...

CARPENTER: No. He was putting words in her mouth if you watch that clip.

GOFF: Sorry, Amanda. I'm not finished. I mean, she actually said, I wasn't the familiar with the show. That was her defense -- I had never seen the show. Then the second part of the show is, I'm familiar with the show, I knew he was a leftist, but I didn't realize he would be asking me tough questions.

Apparently, that's not entirely true, or she wouldn't have felt the need to cut an advertisement to save her seat.

CARPENTER: There's no doubt that "Hardball" with Chris Matthews has taken a dramatic turn and becoming more aggressive and more promoting the Democratic cause. I think if you watch it over the past year, I mean, he's been ripped in the media by...

(CROSSTALK)

GOFF: If she can't handle aggressive questioning, perhaps she shouldn't go on television.

KURTZ: Well, he was also ripped in the media for being unfair to Hillary Clinton, who is, of course, a Democrat.

I just -- I can't agree with you on this one point, about he put words in her mouth. She used that phrase "anti-American" several times.

Let me move on.

As you'll all recall, it was just last Sunday that Colin Powell went on "Meet the Press" and delivered a pretty full-throated endorsement of Barack Obama, and talked about his disappointment with John McCain's campaign. And this prompted quite a response on the radio the next day from Rush Limbaugh.

Let's play the clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I just want to button this up, because the drive-bys had a tizzy over my allegation that his nomination was about race. Well, let me say it louder, and let me say it even more plainly -- it was totally about race!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Let me start with you, Amanda. The "drive-bys" is Rush's reference to the "drive-by media," as he calls them. He is absolutely entitled to his opinion, but how does he know what Colin Powell's motivation is?

CARPENTER: Well, he doesn't. I mean, he's in opinion journalism, this is what he believes.

But I do think it's legitimate to question if race did play a role in this endorsement. I mean, I'm trying -- you know, I speak about this very carefully. You know, it was a shocking endorsement two weeks before. You know, I think a legitimate question is, if Hillary Clinton had gotten the nomination or John Edwards, would Colin Powell have made that same endorsement? Because he's talked about Obama being a transformative figure.

And race might play a role into that. And I think it's OK to talk about it.

KURTZ: Well, in fact -- let me just jump in here, Keli.

Tom Brokaw asked Powell, could people say this is one African- American endorsing another? And Powell said, look, it would be electrifying for the country and the world were Barack Obama to be elected, but he was very specific in listing all of his complaints about McCain's campaign, including quite sharply the selection of Sarah Palin.

So I don't see how that makes it all about race.

GOFF: And furthermore, I just have to say, the way that Amanda phrased it, that it's a fair question to ask, I think the fair question to ask is, you know, would we be discussing this, or would be discussing race, if we were talking about two white candidates? And the answer to that question is, no, we wouldn't, which is why this comes across as so insulting.

You know, I wrote a piece for "The Huffington Post" where I talked about the fact that when people sort of make comparisons of this magnitude, whether it's Rush Limbaugh or Pat Buchanan, who also weighed in on this, I feel embarrassed for them sort of in the same way you feel embarrassed for the drunk uncle at a wedding. You know, someone who sort of does something embarrassing in public and your heart sort of goes out for them.

But, you know, that being said...

(CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: Let me jump in -- Keli, let me jump in because we're very short on time. And by the way, McCain was asked if he agreed with Rush Limbaugh this morning on "Meet the Press" and he said no.

William Ayers, we've touched on him, his relationship, or lack thereof, with Barack Obama. This isn't getting a lot of play on FOX News. Let's look at some of what's being said. And it ends with a stakeout by a FOX News producer trying to get some kind of comment from Bill Ayers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: A brand-new tape of Bill Ayers saying he's an anarchist and Marxist.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS: But now we know that Senator Obama wrote a blurb in "The Chicago Tribune" praising a book by Ayers.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: But you have (ph) a picture of Bill Ayers, the unrepentant terrorist, stomping on the American flag saying, "Free as a bird, guilty as hell."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely. Thank you.

HANNITY: What a great country.

JESSE WATERS, FOX NEWS PRODUCER: What's your relationship with Barack Obama, Mr. Ayers? Did he write a blurb for your book and sit on a panel with you?

WILLIAM AYERS, RADICAL PROFESSOR: This is my property. Would you please leave?

WATERS: Mr. Ayers, do you want to take this opportunity to apologize for your terrorist acts?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Amanda Carpenter, Bill Ayers, absolutely legitimate issue. But when it's done night after night, does it get a little obsessive?

CARPENTER: Well, it's kind of incredible to me that this is the only time we have seen Bill Ayers even remotely try to be asked about the question. For this guy, he was a figure in several presidential debates, and he's just now getting asked by the media? I think there should be more of it.

KURTZ: OK. Keli Goff, you know, again, night after night. My question to you is not whether it's fair to talk about Bill Ayers, but whether FOX is on some kind of crusade here.

GOFF: Well, again, it's just sort of like we were talking about the endorsements. You can't ever figure out what's in someone else's head, right? You can't...

KURTZ: But you can judge a news organization by what it chooses to emphasize.

GOFF: But there is -- look, there is such a thing as beating a dead horse. And William Ayers is sort of becoming, it seems for some networks and outlets, the Britney Spears of this election cycle, where it's sort of like, enough already. But the thing is, it doesn't seem to be getting any traction in the polls, ,which I think is the bigger issues, is we're supposed to really follow stories that the voters care about. Voters don't seem to care about this.

KURTZ: All right.

CARPENTER: But there is a difference between the nighttime shows at FOX and the news.

KURTZ: Sure. These are opinion shows.

CARPENTER: So they have that -- yes, and the opinion shows go after it nonstop. And you know where they're coming from.

KURTZ: OK.

CARPENTER: But the news I don't think has done (INAUDIBLE).

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

Amanda Carpenter, Keli Goff, thanks very much for going at it this morning.

After the break, baseball's fall classic and the match-up that has sportswriters struggling -- struggling to gin up some interest.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: It's been greatly overshadowed by the banking crisis, the presidential campaign, and Madonna's divorce. But America remains mired in two wars. And for most of the seven years since the U.S. helped topple the Taliban, Afghanistan has drawn little media coverage. In fact, there are reports this morning that Taliban fighters seized a bus in Kandahar and killed 30 people aboard.

Lara Logan, CBS' chief foreign affairs correspondent, recently spent time with American forces in that embattled country for a report airing tonight on "60 Minutes." In Logan's first television interview since returning to Washington, I spoke to her earlier here in the studio.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: Lara Logan, welcome.

LARA LOGAN, CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT, CBS: Thank you very much.

KURTZ: Afghanistan has largely been off the media radar screen this year, except for a couple of flare-ups during the presidential campaign.

Why did you decide to go there?

LOGAN: Well, I've always believed Afghanistan was going to become more and more important again. Even in the four years I lived in Baghdad, I still went back to Afghanistan. In fact, the first year after the invasion, at "60 Minutes II," we did three Afghanistan stories.

And the main reason people aren't covering it is because it's financially crippling to cover two wars at the same time, not because it doesn't matter. And I thought it was critical to get Afghanistan back on TV screens.

KURTZ: On this trip you were out with 101st Airborne and found yourself in the middle of a firefight. Let's take a look at that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LOGAN (voice-over): Then as daybreak came, shots suddenly rang out. Bullets coming at the soldiers out of nowhere, whizzing over their heads and hitting the wall behind them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now we've got some enemy to the right side of the lot (ph) we're not exactly sure where.

LOGAN: U.S. attack helicopters fired rounds from the skies while machine gunners fired from the Humvees to clear the way forward.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Clearly, these are dangerous situations. What was it like for you personally to be out with these troops?

LOGAN: Well, you know, it wasn't easy. I mean, there are huge mountains that you climb every single day, up to 10,000 feet. Physically, it wears you down.

It's blistering hot. You inhale the dust. The dust lives in your lungs. And then obviously there is the risk. And this is a very dangerous area, but this is one of the reasons that we wanted to go there.

I mean, when we said to people we went to Forward Operating Base Wilderness, everybody was like, "Why would you go there?" Because it's known to be such a bad area. But, I mean, that was -- it was particularly important for us to show what the soldiers go through every day.

KURTZ: Defense Secretary Robert Gates says that the war has not been going well. The commander wants 15,000 more troops.

You were told that the Taliban strength was up 20 or 30 percent last year. And yet, as we just noted, few western journalists are there, the story is barely on television, and it's often on the inside pages of newspapers.

Is it just because of Iraq, or is it because somehow media types have lost interest in this grinding, seven-year-old war?

LOGAN: I don't think anyone has lost interest in the war. I mean, especially now. But I think in a political year with the campaigns, it's hard to get air time. With an economic crisis it's hard to get air time. Then you have Iraq as well. which doesn't get much air time now anyway.

And so -- and the biggest problem is money, because it's so logistically difficult to get out there, it costs so much. And budgets cripple news coverage these days.

KURTZ: And yet, you know, journalism organizations have priorities. And they spend money on what they think is important. And I have to think they don't think there's any great ratings, to use a television term, in keeping correspondents stationed in Kabul.

LOGAN: Well, "60 Minutes" is leading with this story on Afghanistan. They had an Iraq story last week, they had an Iraq story on the opening show of the season. I mean, clearly there are people like Jeff Fager, who do think -- the executive producer -- that it's critically important to keep it out there. And you know, he's not alone. But it would be -- it would be great if you could have a bureau in Kabul and cover this, more of this, and keep it in people's minds as much as it should be, because it is that important.

KURTZ: You're an experienced war correspondent. You've done this for years. You were running around with troops while you're six months pregnant.

What were you thinking?

LOGAN: Well, my doctor said, you're pregnant, you're not dying. So I took that as a good sign. And obviously I took whatever precautions I had to medically to make sure that not only was I safe, but that I wasn't going to be a burden on the military.

And I have to say, I mean, the soldiers were absolutely amazing. They didn't care that I was I pregnant. And as long as I was keeping up and holding my own, it was an absolute non-issue out there.

KURTZ: Treating you as one of the guys, so to speak?

LOGAN: Yes, with my own personal Port-a-Potty.

KURTZ: All right.

Now, you got pregnant while you were in Baghdad. Your divorce was not yet final. It is now. You found yourself on the front page of the "New York Post" and you were kind of tabloid fodder for a while.

Was that a difficult period for you?

LOGAN: Yes, I think it's very difficult, especially when your job is to be a journalist and not to be a celebrity. I mean, you don't make your living out of being a celebrity as a journalist. And especially the last seven years of my life has been mostly spent in Iraq and Afghanistan. And it's not just a question of being the only person willing to be out there, or one of the few, it's a question of, that's what you believe in, that's what's important.

And so to find -- I found the whole debate over whether or not -- you know, now suddenly it's a question of whether or not you have the ability to do your job or the brains to do your job. And I find it amazing. I don't think that...

KURTZ: Is it sexist? Is it demeaning?

LOGAN: It is demeaning. I think it is demeaning. I mean, it's sort of 17, 18 years that I've been doing this. And now people question whether or not you have the brains to do it?

I mean, would they question that if I was a man? I don't think so. Not to the same degree.

KURTZ: But even some of your friends didn't suggest that maybe you pass up this trip?

LOGAN: There were people that didn't think that it was a good idea. Absolutely. But you know, the most -- well, why would I listen to that?

KURTZ: All right.

Now, having spent a good chunk of your career in Iraq, where there are still 140,000 America troops, does it bother you that the media seem to have largely moved on, that the bureaus are being cut down in size, and that it's barely been an issue in the presidential campaign?

LOGAN: Yes, absolutely. Of course it bothers me.

I mean, I'm mindful of the realities, you know, that you have the political campaign, you have the economic crisis, you have -- which are huge, huge issues and obviously critically important. So you understand it to a degree. And when I was in Iraq during the invasion, it occupied most of the air time.

You know, every story has peaks and sort of lows and ebbs and flows. But what's happening in Iraq and what is happening in Afghanistan remains absolutely critical. And I mean, how can you have American troops on the ground in foreign countries and not pay attention to that?

KURTZ: I've got about half a minute. The troops that you spent time with -- you stayed there for about a month in Afghanistan -- were they happy to see a CBS crew? Do they feel neglected by the lack of media attention, or do they not worry about it?

LOGAN: No --absolutely. Well, one of the things that comes out in the piece is that the troops feel that the roles were reversed. It was all about Iraq before they got out there because that's what they heard about in the media.

They had -- they, even the soldiers themselves fighting the war in Afghanistan, had no idea when they were coming in that it was going to be as bad as it was. And what does that tell you? How can you be sending troops to a war when they don't even have a real sense of how intense the fight is that they're going to be fighting?

KURTZ: That's a question that's difficult to answer for those of us in the news business.

Lara Logan, we'll look for your "60 Minutes" report tonight. Thanks very much for joining us.

LOGAN: Thank you, Howie.

(END VIDEOTAPE) KURTZ: Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.

I'm Howard Kurtz.

We hope you'll join us again next Sunday at 10:00 a.m. Eastern. Another critical look at the media.

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