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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Press Hooked on Sex?; Making Fun of Obama
Aired November 23, 2008 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST (voice-over): Hooked on sex? Diane Sawyer and "People" magazine chat up the call girl who helped bring down Eliot Spitzer. Do we really need to know all about and see so much of Ashley Dupre?
Sexism and the media. Tina Brown on whether the press demeans women and why she's questioning who takes care of Sarah Palin's kids.
Leaky ship. The new president's courtship of Hillary and Bill as told through winks and whispers.
Plus, is it too dangerous to make fun of Obama? Letterman's intrepid correspondent Andy Kindler takes his shot.
KURTZ: We are, you may have noticed, awash in leaks. One day it's "Newsweek" reporting that Eric Holder will be Barack Obama's attorney general. The next, it's "Roll Call" saying Tom Daschle will be the new health secretary. And a day later, CNN's scoop that Janet Napolitano will take over Homeland Security. Unnamed Obama aides griping to reporters about leaks from unnamed Clinton aides, which means the Obama side is leaking, too.
From the moment that MSNBC reported that Hillary might be secretary of state, it's been a roller-coaster ride of yes, no, maybe, sure. And even now it's not quite resolved, according to sources, that is.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HARRY SMITH, CBS NEWS: Hillary Clinton is being considered for secretary of state.
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: I want to go back to this Hillary Clinton thing.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: What's the latest on her possibly becoming the next secretary of state?
MATT LAUER, NBC NEWS: Let's go back to Hillary Clinton for a second.
DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC: Senator Hillary Clinton decided to accept the job of secretary of state.
ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: This is not quite a done deal yet.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: And anchors and pundits love to draw the Lincoln analogy, invoking the title of Doris Kearns Goodwin's book on the 16th president bringing his political opponents into his cabinet.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Obama and Hillary Clinton seem increasingly optimistic about the partnership -- a team of rivals.
SAM YOUNGMAN, "THE HILL": The buzz phrase lately has been "team of rivals."
KATIE COURIC, CBS NEWS: Will she be a part of a modern team of rivals?
DAVID GREGORY, MSNBC: ... team of rivals.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everybody keeps talking about this team of rivals.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: And to help us paddle through this leaky transition, here in Washington, Michelle Cottle, senior editor at "The New Republic"; Christina Bellantoni, White House correspondent for "The Washington Times"; and in Chicago, following the president-elect, Ed Henry, White House correspondent for CNN.
Christina Bellantoni, this is what you quoted a former Clinton aide as saying, that Hillary people had put out this whole secretary of state scenario prematurely and created a pickle for Obama.
Why are anonymous aides sharing all these details?
CHRISTINA BELLANTONI, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE WASHINGTON TIMES": I think that everybody wants to have their piece of this. It's very exciting. You've got 60 more days until we've got inauguration. So people really just want to have something to say, and everybody wants something from another reporter. So they're calling people up constantly and then telling me what's going on, and then somebody else will contradict it. It's just a wild ride.
KURTZ: Your phone keeps ringing.
Michelle Cottle, the mood swings here are almost comical. "The New York Times" on Friday quoting an unnamed Hillary friend as saying, she decided, well, she's not going to do it. Then she decided maybe.
So, is the Clinton style, or are reporters ginning this up by talking to everybody they can? MICHELLE COTTLE, SR. EDITOR, "THE NEW REPUBLIC": Well, ,you know, every time the Clintons are involved there must be high drama. This is kind of the defining characteristic of the Clintons. So I'm sure on some level it's fun for Bill and Hillary to be out there, and they're the ones who are kind of like, well, playing hard to get or, or along these lines.
KURTZ: But Christina says her phone keeps ringing, which means that sources want to play this game with reporters, who, of course, are granting anonymity to these sources
COTTLE: This is as exciting as it gets. I mean, we had this huge high-drama election, and then suddenly we're in transition period. And, you know, some of the transition stuff is less -- you know, a little gray.
COTTLE: We have to get the rock stars in there, and they have to do their Hamlet act.
KURTZ: You're suggesting there's a drama deficit that we are endeavoring to fill.
Ed Henry, on Friday afternoon, after a week of winks and nods, "The New York Times" online says Hillary Clinton has accepted the offer of being secretary of state, but that wasn't totally -- it certainly wasn't officially confirmed.
What did you do at that moment? Because you had a series of live shots.
HENRY: Well, we were reporting what "The New York Times" was saying. I don't think it was really a surprise to anyone though that Hillary Clinton was going to accept this job if it was officially offered. It's sort of this little dance, a kabuki dance, that goes back and forth.
The bottom line is, after former President Bill Clinton laid out all this information to the Obama team, he had a team of lawyers working behind closed doors for days to sort of smooth this forward. Of course she's going to accept if it's offered. I mean, why would they go through all of that?
KURTZ: But Ed, you threw a little cold water on it. You came out and said it's not quite a done deal, based on your reporting.
HENRY: Right. Because, again, I think it's a little bit semantical, because technically it hadn't been offered yet, technically it hadn't been accepted yet. Sure, she's likely to accept it if it's offered.
I mean, again, we're going back and forth. And Hillary Clinton's office itself went on the record and said, look, negotiations are moving forward, but it's not done yet. So, some of the reporting is getting ahead of it.
So, I think sometimes there's a frenzy on these kind of stories to get every last detail no matter what.
HENRY: And sometimes you've got to take a step back and say it's not quite done yet.
In terms of the leaks, you know, the Obama camp is now complaining about leaks. But remember, they promised the most open, transparent administration in history. I'm in the openness and transparency business, and we plan to keep them to that promise.
KURTZ: All right.
Now, some of these leaks really have an impact, Christina. For example, on Friday, the word that Tim Geithner would be the -- the president of the New York Fed would be the new treasury secretary. the Dow goes up 500 points. But since the Obama campaign was known for being notoriously disciplined and tightlipped, why have there been so many leaks?
BELLANTONI: A lot of people -- the things that we talk about them not leaking, the vice presidential choice or some of their financial figures, not that many people knew about that information.
KURTZ: It was a closed circle.
BELLANTONI: Yes. So now you've got all of Washington back in, they're very excited, as we've been talking about, and it's a lot of old hands that want to be part of the action again. They've already got all these old reporting sources, and they're calling them up and saying, hey, I've got some word here. And it's very interesting, just the little, incremental bits of data that we're getting, and, yes, the rally was really fascinating.
KURTZ: And of course, Michelle, the Obama operation has to consult with people on Capitol Hill to see if so and so might be a good bet for confirmation, whether it's Bill Richardson or whoever, and that means a lot of loud mouths get in on the action and can tell people like us.
COTTLE: Oh, sure. You're no longer dealing with just the Obama no-drama culture. You're dealing -- and the more you bring in old Clinton hands, I mean, old Clinton hands were famous for leaking.
COTTLE: I mean, when you're talking about a lot of people, everybody has to be involved. People talk about how large a presidential operation is, but compared to governing, it's nothing.
KURTZ: And they have long-time relationships with journalists...
COTTLE: Exactly. KURTZ: ... who they want to maintain those relationships.
COTTLE: So, you know, the presidential campaign is one thing, but then you get into governing, and you can't control the leaks.
KURTZ: Ed Henry, on Wednesday night, CNN.com put up a story that said multiple Democratic sources say billionaire Chicago businesswoman Penny Pritzker is Obama's choice for commerce secretary, then adding that the vetting process would be a challenge. By Thursday morning, Pritzker said she was going to take herself out of it.
So, have there been cases where we have all jumped the gun here?
HENRY: I don't think that was jumping the gun. I think it was accurate at the time, that she was the leading contender for that job. But again, we get into some semantics about where it is in the process.
That story -- I don't have it in front of me, but the story also carefully said that the vetting process still had to go forward. And as you know it yourself, it was essentially Penny Pritzker saying eventually on Thursday she didn't want to go rough that process, for various reasons. One being she's an international businesswoman, all kinds of dealing.
This process has been difficult for a lot of these nominees because they have to put everything on the table. And sometimes cabinet posts or an ambassadorship sounds great in theory. But when you get down to brass tacks about not just what you have to disclose, but you have to divest some of your investments, and whatnot, they don't want to do that.
So I think what we were saying on Wednesday night was that she is the leading contender for that. By Thursday, she had pulled out.
KURTZ: One thing I love about this process is journalists devote all this energy to finding out who is going to be the next commerce secretary, and then for the next four years we never cover the commerce secretary again. Just completely doesn't care.
Now, Obama is obviously about to go into the White House bubble. Indeed, it's begun to descend on him. And there was a "New York Times" story about that he has to give up his BlackBerry for privacy reasons. And he talked about this transition, this coming transition, on "60 Minutes."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT-ELECT: I mean, the loss of anonymity -- and this is not a complaint, this is part of what you sign up for. But being able to just wander around the neighborhood, I cant go to my old barbershop now. I have got to have my barber come to some undisclosed location to cut my hair.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Now, Christina, every president goes through a version of this. Why has there been so much coverage about Obama's personal transition?
BELLANTONI: Well, there's been so much coverage of everything Obama has done. I mean, we've been covering his haircuts at this barber in Chicago forever.
BELLANTONI: You know?
KURTZ: The barber is becoming famous?
BELLANTONI: Absolutely, in Hyde Park. So right now, you have so little access to him, that this trip he took to Manny's (ph) Deli, for example, on Friday became this huge story, and there were so many cameras there. And one of the things he said there was that he was not selling his Chicago home.
That ended up not making any headlines until I watched the tape. CBS, they had cut it on a Web extra. And this is something we don't have access to him on the press. People are fascinated with every asset of his life. Here you go, he's telling somebody in a deli that he's not selling his home.
COTTLE: I think on some level, though, it's also that they're a young family with young kids. And they've talked about kind of -- they've made it an issue, kind of. They like their privacy. They like backyard barbecues, they like potluck suppers, they like to hang out with friend who have nothing to do with politics. And this does not transfer well to the White House.
KURTZ: Yes, exactly. But as an example of just the breathless coverage here, the "Newsweek" cover out today. Let's put it up on the screen. "The Power of Michelle." That would be Michelle Obama, of course.
This is the third straight "Newsweek" cover on something having to do with Obama, the fifth in the last three months. It talks -- the article talks about her double Ivy League pedigree, her style. "Michelle has the power to change the way African-American see ourselves, our lives and our possibilities."
Well, maybe, but the media coverage here has just been relentless.
COTTLE: Well, of course. I mean, there's a certain degree of glamour. And as everybody talks about ad nauseum, there is a historic element to this. And there's like a huge group of people out here who see them not just as individuals, but as symbols. And any time you have kind of that extra level to the story, you're going to get wild coverage.
BELLANTONI: And there's still a money-making element to that, too.
BELLANTONI: Covers sell.
KURTZ: Those covers probably fly off the shelves, and the interviews produce big ratings.
Ed Henry, I've got about 20 seconds. Going a little overboard on this transition coverage?
HENRY: Well, I think part of the issue though is that there is a great hunger for the information, as you're pointing out. And the president-elect himself has not really shown his face out there very much. He's been huddled behind closed doors.
So we're having to go out and dig the information from other people. In fact, I even went to that barbershop and got a haircut, Howie. I've got to dig out the information any way I can.
KURTZ: One of the benefits of transition coverage, Ed Henry getting the haircut in Chicago.
Thanks for joining us, Ed, Christina Bellantoni, and Michelle Cottle.
When we come back, isn't it about time to start poking fun at Barack Obama? Dave Letterman's intrepid correspondent Andy Kindler will step on that landmine in a moment.
KURTZ: The Obama presidency presents a major challenge for Republicans, for foreign leaders, for special interest groups, and for one group that could really be sucking wind, America's comedians. I mean, nobody is getting a lot of laughs out of this guy. No Tina Fey has captured his comedic essence.
So, we decided to call in a professional. Ladies and Gentlemen, give it up for Andy Kindler, a standup comic whose gigs include a regular spot on David Letterman's "Late Show."
Sorry, we don't have a couch for you. It's basic cable.
ANDY KINDLER, COMEDIAN: Well, I thought there would be an actual round of applause. Hey, look what a professional newsman I am. I can't figure that out situation.
KURTZ: All right. The word on the street is that comedians are kind of shying away from making fun of Obama. Are you man enough to do it?
KINDLER: No. I don't want to make fun of him. That's the thing. You can't just decide -- I don't believe in the equal opportunity comedy where you -- I give it to the left and I give it to the right. I like having a point of view. I don't like to say left, because I don't even know what that means. But I wanted Obama to win. So I can't now pretend and try to find stuff about him.
KURTZ: He's going to be president for four years.
KINDLER: I know.
KURTZ: You don't want to put yourself out of work.
KINDLER: I don't want to do that, but it's like, you know, when I look at him I see, oh, he's inspiring. Wow, that's hilarious. He seems to have a wonderful wife and a loving family, let's get in on that real early.
So I think you actually have to wait until there's something to be made fun of. I noticed on "The Daily Show" they're saying, oh, it's going to be no problem. Well, it's going to be a problem if he doesn't do anything that's provoked humor.
KURTZ: So he needs to slip on a couple of banana peels.
KINDLER: He needs to slip on a couple of banana...
KURTZ: All right.
KINDLER: Maybe get into malapropisms. That would be good.
KURTZ: Now, just before the election, you got together with kind of a focus group of undecided voters.
KURTZ: Let's play a little bit of that from "The Late Show."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN")
KINDLER: I, as the moderator of this panel, intend to be completely impartial. You will never know for me whether I'm voting for Obama or McCain.
The campaign for presidency has been going on for two years now. What is that matter with you people that you can't make a decision? What is wrong with you? It's been two years. Decide.
(END VIDEO CLIP, "LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN")
KURTZ: So what is up with these undecided voters?
KINDLER: Well, I mean, I do think that there's a certain level where people definitely want to be on television. So they're going to say they're undecided even when they're maybe not undecided.
KURTZ: Just to get the exposure?
KINDLER: Just to get the exposure, because people really will do anything to be on television. They'll do anything to be a celebrity, because it's been proven that being a celebrity solves all your problems.
KURTZ: Ah. I'm glad you cleared that up.
Now, your guy, Dave, David Letterman, got pretty ticked off during the campaign...
KURTZ: ... at John McCain. There was the incident, as everybody remembers, when he canceled on Dave and he went on Katie Couric instead.
KURTZ: And then Dave really let loose. Just let's remind our viewers of a little bit of the Letterman turning on the senator from Arizona.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN")
DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST: It just doesn't smell right. You know? This just doesn't smell right, because this is not the way a tested hero behaves. Somebody is putting something in his Metamucil.
(END VIDEO CLIP, "LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN")
KURTZ: Now, this, of course, went on for days.
Are we in an era, Andy, where even comedians come out of the closet now and take political sides?
KINDLER: Well, I think -- you know, I think the idea that, again, it's like, if you don't have a point of view and you just want to say -- I think in the old days when Johnny Carson was on it made more sense that he didn't show what his political feelings were. And I'm not even sure that David Letterman showed what his political point of view was.
I think he was just -- when he gets a hold of something, you know, he loves to make fun of it. So, in that case, I think he was just going after the fact that McCain didn't show up.
KURTZ: But you're saying that the world hasn't changed since the Carson era, when the fear was that if you said you like the Republican candidate, you might alienate the Democrats in your audience.
KURTZ: Now people kind of expect even comedians to have opinions?
KINDLER: Well, I think so. I mean, they may expect it, but the thing is, I think that I don't believe that you can hide what -- why hide what you're doing? So I think that the idea of going after both sides, to me, it's not -- the main thing is I think that comedy has always gone after the power structure.
So, if the power structure in my lifetime has not been that much Democrat, so it's almost always been Republican, and so, you have to go after that. It's like they tried -- FOX News tried to do the half- hour news hour which is like a -- you know, who better to do an entertaining show than FOX News, where they're going to do right wing comedy? And it was like talking about the ACLU.
Now, that's not sticking in everyone's craw right now. So if you're in charge, you don't need to have the fool making fun of you.
KURTZ: So who is better positioned, for example, for the Obama administration, Chris Matthews, who's got the thrill running up, or Sean Hannity, who talks about Obama palling around with terrorists?
KINDLER: Well, Chris Matthews -- well, the thing I love about Chris Matthews, just as a general thing, is when he asks the question and provides you with several answers. He gives you the answers and then he asks you to say yes or no, and a good drinking game is to see how many times he mentions "Hardball" and how many times he mentions the Peace Corps. But he's already trying -- you see, he's already trying to find things about...
KURTZ: Like what?
KINDLER: Well, he's always saying, what are they bringing in the old guys from Clinton? Say yes or no and a good drinking game is to see how many times he mentioned hardball and how many times he mentions the peace corps. He's already trying to find things about --
What are they bringing in the old guys from Clinton? But then, again, as he -- by the time he finishes the sentence, he may be on to something completely different.
Hannity, I think this is going to be a resurgence for the right wing, because they're really good when they're out of power. That's the thing. Hannity's now hunkering down to say -- he's a conservative in exile now. That's...
KURTZ: He doesn't have to defend the administration anymore.
KINDLER: No. Yes, he's, watch out.
KURTZ: Well, we hear a lot about the liberal media if you watch FOX News, if you listen to conservative talk radio. Is there something to that?
KINDLER: Well, and the thing is, not only do they get talking points, but they really are reading off of a script, because you know if you turn on any talk radio station, they're all talking about the same issue. It's all about the fairness doctrine.
Aren't you concerned about the fairness doctrine?
KURTZ: No, because anything (ph) could happen.
KINDLER: Nobody is. Nobody really -- you know, nobody -- they want -- and they keep fighting all over the same percentage of that one demographic of angry white people who really believe that the reason why things are bad is because black people are getting all the great jobs. You know?
KURTZ: And here's the proof. He's president, right?
KINDLER: Yes. It finally happened. Right?
KURTZ: All right. Let's talk about late-night comedy. Jay Leno scheduled to give up "The Tonight Show," I guess in February. Conan O'Brien is going to take over.
Do you expect Jay to go jump to ABC or FOX and try to cream you all at 11:30?
KINDLER: Well, I just don't believe that Jay is -- he's never going to allow himself to be off the air. But I do believe -- I'm worried about Kevin Eubanks, because if he's off the air, I mean, what's he going to do? Is he going to stay at home and laugh at regularly scheduled intervals?
You know there is actual footage of Kevin Eubanks laughing at old Mussolini speeches. People don't...
KURTZ: You don't sound that worried about Jay.
KINDLER: No. Well, I have made fun of Jay my whole life, and he knows about it...
KURTZ: Yes. That's why you've got to stick with Dave.
KINDLER: Yes. I say that Jay shops for his jokes at Fish and Barrel. Sandwich (ph) for those Kenny G jokes.
KURTZ: All right. Andy Kindler livening things up for us this Sunday morning.
Thanks for stopping by.
KINDLER: Thanks so much, Howie.
KURTZ: And coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, down and dirty. Did Diane Sawyer and "People" magazine really need to illuminate the life and times of the hooker who got caught up in the Eliot Spitzer scandal?
And later, a new poll says six in 10 women see gender bias in the media. Tina Brown weighs in on the coverage of Hillary, Sarah Palin, and the celebrity aura surrounding Barack and Michelle.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KURTZ: Ordinarily, the media would never bother with somebody like Ashley Dupre. A troubled teen who became a high-class call girl isn't much of a story. But when she turned out to be Eliot Spitzer's hooker -- that is, the woman sent to service the governor of New York, the seedy arrangement that led to his political downfall last spring -- suddenly we were flooded with scantily-clad images of Ashley Dupre. Suddenly, she was just fascinating. Suddenly, she was a get.
And this week, she was gotten by "People" magazine for a big spread, and by "20/20" Friday night, where ABC's Diane Sawyer asked about her role in the public humiliation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DIANE SAWYER, "20/20": Did you feel responsible?
ASHLEY DUPRE, FMR. ESCORT: No. If it wasn't me, it would have been someone else.
I was doing my job. I really didn't see the difference between going on a date with someone in New York and him taking to you dinner and expecting something in return. I really thought it was more of a tradeoff.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Except for the teensy difference that one of those transactions is illegal.
So are the media using this woman to peddle a sleazy sex story?
Joining us now in New York, Lisa Bloom, host of "Lisa Bloom in Court," and anchor of "In Session" on truTV, part of CNN's parent company; Marisa Guthrie, programming editor at "Broadcasting and Cable Magazine"; and in Philadelphia, Gail Shister, columnist for "TVNewser" and reporter for "The Philadelphia Inquirer."
Lisa Bloom, leaving aside for a moment this woman's sad story, is this sheer ratings lust on the part of ABC?
LISA BLOOM, HOST, "LISA BLOOM IN COURT": Well, I think so. And kudos to you for being the only show not opening with that busty bikini shot of Ashley, although maybe I'm going to be covered over with that in a minute.
KURTZ: We're saving it.
BLOOM: Look, what I thought was very interesting in the "People" and the "20/20" coverage was this "gee whiz" attitude. Prostitutes walk amongst us? Wow, they're real people? They're flesh and blood? They have hopes and dreams and actually some intelligence?
That's what really got me. Are we really so antediluvian that that's our attitude towards prostitution in 2008? KURTZ: Well, Gail Shister, Diane Sawyer has done two hours of specials on prostitution. So doesn't that suggest that she has a serious interest in the subject?
GAIL SHISTER, COLUMNIST, "TVNewser": Well, I don't know about you, Howie, but I'm still back on "antediluvian." I don't believe I heard that word on RELIABLE SOURCES.
I, for one, was very gratified to see Ashley Dupre covered, because after months and months of coverage of an articulate, incredibly intelligent black male, it's just very refreshing to have a high school dropout female hooker who didn't know who the governor of New York was while she was servicing him. I think it's a nice pause.
KURTZ: And on that point, let me play another clip for the show for Marisa Guthrie, where the question comes up, did she know who was client number nine?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SAWYER: You never knew who he was?
SAWYER: Hadn't seen him in the paper?
DUPRE: No. He looked familiar, but I was 22 years old. I didn't -- I wasn't reading the papers.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: There's the lesson for America: read the newspapers.
Marisa, so, all right, Ashley Dupre isn't the sharpest knife in the drawer. Would the media care about her story if she wasn't pretty sexy looking?
MARISA GUTHRIE, PROGRAMMING EDITOR, "BROADCASTING AND CABLE MAGAZINE": Well, no, of course not. But you know, what I find interesting about this whole thing is the timing of Diane Sawyer's interview, and also of the "People" story.
I mean, the interview -- this happened in March, correct? And so, the interview, for all these months she's kind of on lockdown. And then, what, a week or so after Eliot Spitzer's cleared, the U.S. attorney declines to bring charges against him, and she's cleared, here we are treated to her whole personal story. So, you know, the timing of this whole thing is interesting. And it does feel a little bit behind the curve with all that's gone on since then, with the financial crisis, with the election.
KURTZ: Right. If it had been two weeks after Spitzer resigned, it would make more sense.
Now, Lisa Bloom, ABC, it seems to me, is giving her just more than hair and makeup. They were kind of doing a bit of image rehab. She's suddenly Julia Roberts with a heart of gold. You know, so what if it's illegal? She's the girl next door who just happened to make a couple of mistakes.
Did you see it that way?
BLOOM: Well, in fact, she is the girl next door. I mean, that's the real story here.
She actually made a very rational choice based on her life at the time as a high school dropout. There are only two professions in which women as a group make more than men as a group, modeling and prostitution. And what were her economic options?
She was a cocktail waitress. Someone approached her. She said, it really wasn't all that different from my friends who were hooking up with guys at night, except I could pay the rent. I frankly thought her story was very interesting.
SHISTER: And Howie, don't forget her stepfather is an oral surgeon.
KURTZ: In other words, this was not somebody who grew up with a deprived childhood.
SHISTER: Well, in other words, it's oral. It's helpful in her new profession.
KURTZ: I'm sorry I missed that, the whole entendre.
So Lisa, you think sympathetic coverage is perfectly appropriate given that you don't see her as having been able to get a real job, as opposed to, well, between her prostitution stint she was a married man's mistress and he was paying her rent?
BLOOM: I think she has a very real story to tell. And by the way, it's different from most prostitutes, who are women of color and drug addicts. And I think we are fascinated with her like we're fascinated with missing pretty white girl stories.
She's an attractive, young white women, so she gets a long interview and a spread in "People" magazine. It's unfortunate the media doesn't cover the real stories about prostitution, although Ashley Dupre does fit the mold, because she says that she's a rape victim, she was doing drugs at the time. So, in a sense, she is a typical prostitute.
The real story is those women who are out on the streets, who don't get coverage, who are never get a spread in a national magazine or national coverage, but who have real problems.
KURTZ: Coming back to that "People" magazine spread, Marisa Guthrie -- and "People," of course, Time Warner publication, again, CNN's parent company -- the article says that she seems more like the ordinary, upper middle class 23-year-old she insists she is. Now, "People" cover celebrities, but this woman, it seems to me, to be kind of a media-created celebrity GUTHRIE: Yes, well, she is in many ways. And you know, I found her kind of very convincing with Diane.
I mean, she's very soft spoken. She seems like a nice person, you know, who just kind of happened to fall into this profession.
She said she didn't do it all the time. She did it sporadically, every once in a while. So I think she's actually quite relatable. And you interestingly, on Friday night, "Nightline," another ABC program, had a whole segment on how the financial crisis is affecting the prostitution industry and how more women are, you know, seeking this out and coming to this profession to pay their bills at a time when, you know, they've lost their normal jobs.
KURTZ: Well, there's some breaking news.
SHISTER: I just wanted to say that this is not even so much about who Ashley Dupre is. I think this is another example of an attractive, young, white woman in a sex story involving a powerful man.
This is -- I saw this as sort of another Monica Lewinsky on a different scale, because it's not who is Ashley Dupre? It's not about prostitution and is this a viable career for young women? It's about who she was having sex with.
It has all the ingredients for a perfect media story. And it's hot. And let's not forget, Howie, it's sweeps. It's November sweeps.
BLOOM: But Howie, we make choices as journalists on how we're going to cover a story. Certainly it's an important story, especially when governor Spitzer lost his job as a result of this scandal. But what we don't talk about as much is how people like Governor Spitzer, typically rich, white men, ,don't get prosecuted for prostitution crimes.
Four people from the Emperor's Club have been prosecuted. Ashley Dupre got immunity. And that's the typical story. The women who are working in prostitution typically end up behind bars and the rich, white men don't. That, to me, is the real story here.
KURTZ: And why is that not covered as much as the, shall we say, sexier aspects of the woman's story?
BLOOM: Well, you know, I suppose it's less interesting. We have a certain tabloid culture. And look, the individual stories are interesting, as well. But to really delve into the sexism and the classism that goes on, I don't know. I guess it requires a different sensibility...
SHISTER: See, I don't buy it, Howie. I don't buy it. I would much rather see Ashley Dupre in a bikini, myself. KURTZ: All right.
Well, let me put up a sound that we played last spring, when the Spitzer scandal broke. And you know, it's not just ABC, it's not just "People" magazine. All of the media go into dial-a-hooker mode when there's a story like this.
Let's look at what was on the airwaves at the time.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TERRY MORAN, ABC NEWS: What makes a man like Eliot Spitzer, the governor of New York, with everything to lose, risk everything and do this?
AL ROKER, NBC NEWS: Natalie, in your experience, how much of your clientele did you get from men who were actually married?
LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": Did you think, Tracy, what were you doing was wrong?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Marisa, they're all talking to call girls.
GUTHRIE: Yes, exactly. Call girls had a very good -- you know, had a real robust news cycle there for a little while. And, you know, that's to be expected.
Look, you know, the fact is she's a very -- you know, this is a very interesting story. People were shocked that Eliot Spitzer, Mr. Law and Order, hard-charging prosecutor who had busted prostitution rings and put himself on the moral high ground, was brought down...
GUTHRIE: ... by the very thing he was really against. So, it's tailor made for television. And as you know, Howie, so much of television is theater.
KURTZ: I have noticed that.
SHISTER: Yes. But Howie, I would argue...
KURTZ: Just briefly.
SHISTER: I would argue the opposite, which is this story has almost become a cliche. What I'm waiting for, seriously, I am waiting for the powerful woman, the powerful white woman who has to step down because she's caught with a male escort. That would be news.
KURTZ: You may be waiting a while.
BLOOM: Don't hold your breath.
KURTZ: Lisa Bloom, Gail Shister, Marisa Guthrie, thanks for joining us this morning.
After the break, from "Vanity fair" to "The New Yorker" to "The Daily Beast," Tina Brown on her new Web site, women, politics and pop culture.
KURTZ: She was the hottest magazine editor in America, first at "Vanity Fair" and then later at "The New Yorker." Then there was the much ballyhooed launch of "Talk Magazine," which crashed and burned. Now Tina Brown is back with a new product, "The Daily Beast," a Web site that combines original writing, including Tina's, with a roundup of what's hot online.
I spoke to her earlier from New York.
KURTZ: Tina Brown, welcome.
TINA BROWN, "THE DAILY BEAST": Good to be here.
KURTZ: I want to ask you about this new "Daily Beast" poll finding that a solid majority of women find there to be gender bias in the media. But if we can put on the numbers on which candidates were treated fairly by the press -- this is men and women -- 76 percent for Barack Obama -- I'm surprised that's not 100 -- John McCain, 56 percent treated fairly; Hillary Clinton, 56 percent; Sarah Palin, 35.
So if Hillary Clinton and John McCain had the same number -- and these are losing candidates; obviously their fans might not be thrilled with their coverage -- that would seem to suggest that gender was not that big of a factor in terms of the former first lady.
BROWN: I don't think that people are saying these women are feeling necessarily that she lost because of the media coverage. I think it really reflects a kind of bad taste in the mouth that's been left with women at the end of this election, both Palin fans and Hillary fans.
I think women -- what shows really in our poll is that women basically were left feeling that this was not a great win for women this year. It was just not a great election for women.
There was a lot of feeling that Hillary, in particular, was covered with tremendous kind of negativity by the media. And I think that it won't really be allowed to happen next time. I think what you're really seeing, and was suggested, too, in the poll, is that women are beginning to really feel that they have to be more activist about this stuff. That, in fact, there is a sense that women are slightly mobilizing for the next election.
KURTZ: All right. But let's take Sarah Palin, who obviously has generated so much controversy and continues to after the election loss.
Right after the election you wrote on your blog, "Now that it's all over, Sarah, who does look after the kids?"
Now, isn't that the kind of thing where, if a man had made that observation, you would say, oh, this would never be said about a male politician?
BROWN: No. I tell you why, because I go on in the piece to discuss the fact that I'm saying at the end of the piece that what my issue is about all that is that, since Sarah Palin was discussing these issues about her family when she was asked about her family, what it really, I felt, was that she missed the chance to actually air the issues that for women are a real electoral issue, that should be a political issue. Namely, the issue...
KURTZ: In other words, you thought she wasn't being candid with the press...
KURTZ: ... about the balancing act that all working women go through.
BROWN: Sure. And I feel that's a real political opening for women. This was my point, that this is actually something that needs it be discussed about child care and how women are supposed to do it. And actually, she hasn't really discussed that. And I would love to hear her do so.
KURTZ: All right.
Let's talk a little bit about Barack Obama.
The British press and many media outlets in Europe really hailing the president-elect. Is there a certain, how shall I say, vicarious thrill here, because a black politician, undoubtedly, could not be chosen as the leader in any of those countries?
BROWN: Absolutely. There's a kind of vicarious swoon going all over the world for Barack Obama.
I think it's a horrible sort of projection for the new president, as a matter of fact. I mean, because people all over Africa are thinking that Obama's going to give them foreign aid. People in Europe are feeling that he's the kind of -- you know, going to sort of pave the way for a Muslim president of France.
I mean, there's a tremendous amount of expectation. And I think there is a great projection going on and a real feeling that -- a sort of wake-up call, if you like, all over the world, really, about America having chosen Barack Obama.
KURTZ: And I think the American president, I've written, are totally in the throes of Obamamania. And I'm wondering whether you, as a biographer of Princess Diana, think that Barack and/or Michelle are being elevated not just to the first family, but to a certain celebrity status that might have both positive and negative effects once Senator Obama takes office. BROWN: Well, I think, you know, it's absolutely true that now Obama is beginning to reach that level of celebrity that has probably only been enjoyed by four or five major celebrities in our time. And I'm thinking about, you know, JFK, Princess Diana, Elvis. You know, these are the kind of the megawatt celebrities that we've seen, and there aren't that many that one could name that are that giant.
And I think that Obama himself is kind of heading in that direction. And it definitely does have a sort of blowback downside to it.
He seems to be aware of that. He seems to be trying to manage expectations somewhat. And there are times when it's almost as if Obama goes into deliberately boring mode, where he suddenly dials back all his charisma, gets really professorial and wonky and says, I am not going to be boring for a while. And then he comes back, and kind of with a kind of knock 'em dead speech which raises the whole level. He's pretty good at that, I think.
KURTZ: Yes. I think he deliberately dialed it down as he got closer to election and certainly in the post-election period.
On MSNBC the other day you referred to the Bush administration as "House of Horror." I'm wondering if people might conclude that your new Web site, "The Daily Beast," is going to lean to the left a little bit.
BROWN: Actually not. We're completely sort of bipartisan on our site.
You know, we've had as many Republican pieces, perhaps more, actually, than we have Democratic pieces. I think that it's a kind of bipartisan feeling about Bush, quite frankly, that it's been a bit of a house of horrors. I don't think that's kind of a purely Democratic view at this point.
When you look back on everything that we've seen from Guantanamo Bay to Hurricane Katrina to Abu Ghraib to the meltdown, I mean, this has really been a presidency of unbelievable sort of catastrophes all around, not to mention Iraq. So I really meant that.
But no, the site is absolutely what I call polypartisan. We're open to all comers. And we kind of -- you never quite know what point of view you're going to see on our site, I'm very happy to say.
KURTZ: Well, I'm a big fan of unpredictability.
Now, there are hundreds of good Web sites out there, as you know. In your view, what is the niche for "The Daily Beast?" What makes it unique?
BROWN: Well, the nice for "The Daily Beast" is that very thing you've just said, that there are so many sites out there, that what I felt what the intelligent reader needed was a kind of pilot fish that would take them through this absolute sort of mass of data and Web sites and material and links and everything that's hurled at people morning, noon and night, and give them, like, 10 smart things that they should read every day that are interesting and provocative, with no bias except whether or not it's interesting. And then another half a dozen or 10 things that we assign which we think are provocative and interesting.
So, the site is as much about what isn't there as what is there. This is really saying, here's a menu for you every day, it happens to be our menu, our subjective menu, but we think these things are interesting. Now just read these.
KURTZ: So this is like you're coming to my house and telling me what you think is hot and what I need to check out?
BROWN: Yes. That's the idea. The idea is like we're like the smart friend that always sort of has the thing that they've found that's interesting and you're glad you opened it.
KURTZ: In terms of putting this together every day, how is your editing life different from when you were running "Vanity Fair" or "The New Yorker?"
BROWN: I spend a hell of a lot of time in my pajamas. I always seem to be sitting there in, you know, until about 11:00 in the morning unable to leave my chair.
KURTZ: I haven't seen any video of that.
BROWN: It's nonstop, but it's extremely fun. I must say, I think I'm having more fun doing this site than I have since I was 25 years old and editing the "Tatler" magazine in London.
It's something about the fast response of this, to have kind of intelligence at warp speed. It's very addictive to do.
It's great to be able to kind of meet people, say that's a great idea, why don't you just sit down and just write that in, like, 10 paragraphs, dispatch it, and see it up there the next day? I love it, actually. I am finding it enormous fun.
It is kind of, you know, demanding. But in some ways, it's almost less stressful than print, because there's never that angst about, will this scoop hold, you know, have I got the space? You know, is this going to live for very long? All of that stuff, all that headache is removed.
KURTZ: Right. We're all sort of living our lives in real time online.
KURTZ: But now, if everyone is reading blogs and clicking on video -- and certainly the world seems to be moving in that direction -- is the future rather bleak for old-fashioned print magazines?
BROWN: Well, I do think that print has had its heyday. I think print will always be with us. I'm a print junkie. I love print myself.
I still start my day with my four newspapers, love the actual act of holding and feeling them. But I do feel that the energy and the excitement and the innovation right now is online.
And I must say, for an old print editor like me, I do find the multimedia aspects of being online, and social media, and the way that there is this incredible, wonderful, sort of blogosphere community that taps into what you're doing and amplifies it and spreads it out, it feels so kind of democratic, and it feels so inclusive. But it's actually a very heady world to sort of be working in. And I'm not sure now that I would want to go back into print having experienced the immediacy and the inclusiveness of this kind of journalism.
KURTZ: All right. Tina Brown, thanks very much for joining us.
BROWN: Thank you.
KURTZ: And now for your e-mails. Last week we asked, "Have the media been unfair to Sarah Palin?"
Ava Perez from New York said, "Utterly and incredulously too fair. They seemed reluctant to call it like it really was, with softball questions and not following up vigorously enough on her numerous weak responses. Why wasn't there a chorus of voices flatly admitting what we all knew: Sarah Palin was simply not credible as the VP candidate."
But Ganeen Gibsony from Georgia wrote, "I think it was overall very negative and extremely biased. I know more about Sarah Palin's wardrobe than I do about Barack Obama."
Next up -- first, let me give you the address: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can send us a video response, ireport.com.
Next up, our "Media Minute."
KURTZ: Time now for the latest from the news business in our "Media Minute."
The intense interest in the presidential campaign was a great boost for the media, but for the network evening newscasts, not so much.
KURTZ (voice-over): The Nielsen numbers have actually dropped by 280,000 since late September, compared to a year earlier, continuing a 25-year slide. Brian Williams' at "NBC Nightly News" were up slightly by 1 percent, but the audience for Charlie Gibson and NBC's "World News" dropped 2 percent, while Katie Couric and the "CBS Evening News" were down 3 percent. Cable news ratings, meanwhile, were way up, as we saw on election night when CNN, with 12 million viewers, drew a bigger audience than NBC or CBS.
(on camera): It must have been that magic wall.
Now, one thing about TV celebrities, they know how to stay in the public eye.
(voice-over): Rosie O'Donnell has been quiet for a while, but now that she has got an NBC variety show to promote next week, she is taking a swipe at Barbara Walters, who had brought her to "The View" for what became a very turbulent year. Rosie told the "L.A. Times" that Walters wants everyone to think that "The View" ladies "... get along and are really good friends and are happy and hang out together, and, you know, that's just not the reality. I'm not saying they loathe each other, but the fact of the matter is there was not a lot of camaraderie off camera."
Walters responded without naming Rosie, but her target was clear.
BARBARA WALTERS, "THE VIEW": But there are some people who have done this show, and then for years feel they have to dump on it. Maybe for their own publicity. And that not only hurts me, but I resent it.
KURTZ (on camera): And talk about people who do anything to get on television, how about John King and the other CNN anchors lusting for the chance to play along on "The Daily Show?"
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello?
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's John King, John.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where are you John King?
KING: Sprinkles make the cupcakes, don't you think?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No!
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN: Tonight, we'll bring you any late developments as they happen.
KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: The tanker dumping thousands of gallons of oil.
CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: When the presidential candidates try to talk about any other issue, they are bombarded with questions about our economy.
KURTZ: They need to do something about security there.
Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.
I'm Howard Kurtz.
Join us again next Sunday morning at 10:00 a.m. Eastern for another critical look at the media.