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STATE OF THE UNION WITH JOHN KING

Reliable Sources Segment

Aired January 18, 2009 - 10:00   ET

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


JOHN KING, CNN HOST: And as we continue now on STATE OF THE UNION, we're doing Sunday talk in a new way. We'll be live for four hours, from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Eastern, and we'll be able to bring you what the powerful are saying, get some reaction from their opposites in power, and still travel the country. That's the critical thing, travel the country to talk to ordinary and extraordinary Americans that other shows often forget.
And every week I'll be joined at this time by "Washington Post" media critic Howard Kurtz. He's been the host of "RELIABLE SOURCES" for many years here on Sunday at CNN. And we're not going to tamper with a good thing, not in the least.

Howie, welcome to STATE OF THE UNION.

HOWARD KURTZ, HOST, "RELIABLE SOURCES": Thank you very much, John. Welcome to Sunday mornings. Having weekends off is kind of overrated.

KING: Weekends off is overrated. We're up early, and we're happy to be -- we have great guests to bring into the discussion.

But first, I want to start with you. I guess my question is, how long do you think this will last? And by that, I mean I want to show people some headlines from around the country.

This is Barack Obama's hometown newspaper, "The Chicago Tribune." A little breezy up here on the roof of the Newseum, but ":Bound for Glory." "With the White House as the last stop, Obama rides the rails into history." Special graphics, "Two days to the White House." Special sections. Pretty extraordinary newspaper there.

But it's not just at home in Chicago. "The Miami Herald" -- oops, here we go again, "A New Journey." We'll get this right. "A New Journey" here.

Howie, very good.

You see the special coverage. This, still some local coverage, but "The Inauguration of Barack Obama."

"The Boston Sunday Globe" -- hello, everybody back home. "The Boston Sunday Globe" says, "On a Fast Track to History." Again, the remarkable pictures of Barack Obama.

And one last moment we'll show you here, "The Philadelphia Inquirer," where the train ride began on to history. "Throngs Brave the Cold to Greet Obama's Train."

How long is this about a celebration and about the moment, and when that maybe the front pages turn to, well, he stumbled on this one, the challenges on that one?

KURTZ: On the one hand, John, this is an extraordinary moment for the country because of the historic trailblazing nature of Barack Obama being sworn in. But I do have to wonder, he's got great coverage, many would say, during the campaign, great coverage during the transition, blowout saturation coverage during these events right now.

I do think that expectations have been jacked up pretty high and that we, the media, have played a role in that. And obviously he's got to face reality. I guess it's this Wednesday.

KING: Well, many people, especially on the right, have criticized our business, saying we've been too easy on Barack Obama, too soft on Barack Obama, too much caught up in the significant history. No one disputes that, but maybe not taking enough time to deal with his answers to the specific challenge.

I want you to introduce your guests here this morning, because they know a lot about the subjects ahead.

KURTZ: We're going to start with -- we have two women who have stood at the presidential podium and answered tough questions from those of us in the press corps. Dee Dee Myers, was the White House press secretary under President Bill Clinton. And sitting to her right, Dana Perino, who's wrapping up her time as President Bush's White House secretary. I guess there's two more days to go.

Let me start with you, Dana.

As we were just talking with John, Obama has gotten a pretty good ride from the media. I don't think anybody would dispute that. When Robert Gibbs, the incoming press secretary, takes that podium this week for the daily briefing, it's not going to be a love-fest, is it?

PERINO: Well, I don't know. I, for one, am willing to ride this wave, you know, through Wednesday. I think it is such an exciting time for America. You can feel the excitement in the city as you -- even as you drive down the street, and people are so looking forward to this historic moment, and we'll all get a chance to see it. You'll get a front row at the seat of history.

KURTZ: But then comes Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

PERINO: But Wednesday, sure, I think there's going to be a moment when they realize that they -- they should pat each other on the back, they should give each other high-fives, they should give each other a lot of hugs, because Wednesday will be different. No press briefing is easy.

KURTZ: Dee Dee Myers, Bill Clinton got pretty positive coverage during the fall campaign in 1982. I remember I covered it. From the first day you got up there, after all the hoopla of the inauguration, you got hammered pretty hard.

DEE DEE MYERS, FMR. WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, we didn't have much of a honeymoon back in 1993. Some of that was self- inflicted, shall I say? I don't think we had -- the Clinton transition wasn't quite as smooth as the Obama transition has been, and there were some mistakes right out of the box. And the press likes nothing more than the narrative which is, you're down, and you fight your way to the top, and then you fall. And so that story got covered pretty hard.

KURTZ: You're suggesting that journalists like to sort of claw at those who seem to be doing well?

MYERS: I would suggest exactly that.

KING: What is the lesson of that? I'd like each of your perspective, because you said some of them were self-inflicted. The new administration, back in 1993, did some things like talking publicly about gays in the military.

MYERS: Right.

KING: Which, a worthy subject for discussion, an important policy debate for the Pentagon and for the White House, but not right out of the box. The Bush administration has had obviously the troubled economy, but the souring of the public opinion about the Iraq war.

Offer some advice and just some insights on what it's like when the tide turns and you're dealing with that challenge.

PERINO: Well, I think the most important thing is to remember that it's so much -- it's very important for -- at least from the press secretary's point of view -- to be more prepared and have more information and more facts at our disposal than the reporters in the briefing room so that you can actually provide information and you're just not being beat up like a pinata.

MYERS: And you also have to understand that little stories can become very big stories. You have to be constantly vigilant about putting out a piece of information that might grow into a bigger story.

And the other lesson that all press secretaries learn before they get to the White House, I think, is the more information you can put out to completely answer the press' questions, if that's possible, the better. The shorter the cycle of questions and answers, the -- you know, the more quickly you can pass through a scandal. And I think that that was a lesson we learned a little too slowly in the Clinton years sometimes.

KURTZ: In a moment, I want to play some sound from the outgoing president, but first, I want to ask both of you this question. What are the limits of spin? Now, look, when you're up there, part of your job is to present the administration in the most favorable light. But Scott McClellan, for example, said that he felt he lost credibility when he was sent out there with information that tended not to be accurate.

Do you feel like your credibility is at risk when you have to insist that things are going well on the war, on the economy, on whatever the issue is, when the American public can look and see that things are not going so well?

PERINO: Well, I disagree with Scott on that, because I feel like I have worked extremely hard to understands the issues and understand how to argue on the merits. Of course I get information or a couple of points from the national security adviser, or from the president, or from the chief of staff, and then I internalize it, and then I use it to argue to try to make our case. And I think that that's the best way to try to win an argument.

MYERS: I agree with that, but I think that a lot of times it helps to acknowledge reality.

PERINO: Sure.

MYERS: And if you start by saying, yes, things are tough, we just had an unemployment report that showed a million people lost their jobs, here what happens we're going to do to address that, for example, it's a lot better than saying, no, no, the American people feel good where we are in the economy. That's just not credible.

PERINO: No, absolutely.

MYERS: And I think one thing that people don't realize about press secretaries is how much of an independent actor you really are. It's not like people tell you what to go out there and say. You talk to as many people as you can, including the president, on a regular basis, and then you have to figure out -- you know, not everything everybody tells you is something you want to go out to the podium and repeat. And you have to figure out what you can say and what's credible, and what's going to be credible three weeks from now or three months from now.

PERINO: And I would say that not only should a press secretary -- and I think I've tried to do this, is to accept that, yes, of course things aren't going well. But I also think that it's helpful when the reporters in the room actually will concede a point as well.

(CROSSTALK)

PERINO: Because they're the most defensive people I've ever met.

KURTZ: Journalists?

PERINO: Yes.

KING: No.

KURTZ: Have you ever heard that?

KING: Never. This is breaking news.

KURTZ: Why don't you get us to break, John, and we'll continuation this conversation on the other side.

KING: All right. We'll be back in just a moment with more of "RELIABLE SOURCES" -- we'll be back with more of "STATE OF THE UNION" in just a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: We're back up here on the roof of the Newseum on a somewhat chilly morning in Washington, D.C.

John King, co-host of...

KING: No. It's balmy.

KURTZ: Well, you have that anchorman constitution -- you don't need a coat, you don't need gloves.

KING: Boston blood.

KURTZ: All right.

KING: It's a good day.

KURTZ: And we've got two press secretaries that we're going to come back to in just a moment.

I want to play a sound bite from President Bush, his last press conference on Monday, taking a somewhat lighter tone with the assembled journalists than we're used to seeing.

Let's watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I'm a Type A personality, you know? I just can't envision myself, you know, with a big straw hat and a Hawaiian shirt sitting on some beach, particularly since I quit drinking.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Dana Perino, that's a George Bush we didn't see very much in the last eight years.

PERINO: Well, you know, we've been through some very serious times. I'll tell you that he is one of the funniest people I have ever known. He's extremely witty, he's always making us laugh.

And the other thing I think that is so sweet, I've been fortunate to see some moments where he's with his wife and his daughters, that he loves very much, and he keeps them laughing, too. And for those of us who enjoy time with our families, we know how important that is.

KURTZ: But on the public stage, John King, maybe he was a wartime president, 9/1 1 and all of that, President Bush was not only often very serious, but sometimes testy or edgy with the journalists of which you used to be one covering the White House.

KING: He could be combative both before he was president -- but I remember way back when he was defending his father a lot, when his father was vice president and running for president. And he's a forceful advocate for what he believes in. He has been that way going back 20 years, and he is that way today.

But I think you make a very interesting point.

And I'd like your thoughts, ladies, on the challenge, because you want a president to show more of his personal side, because so much of the presidency is about a personal bond with the American people, not just about the policies. And how do you struggle behind the scenes when a wartime president who thinks this is too serious, we can't do this, and you say, "But, sir, we need you need to make a better connection," how do you do that?

PERINO: It's tough and there's a balance there that you have to address. But when you have troops in harm's way, and especially during the darkest days of Iraq, before the surge, there was really not a lot of room for humor out on the public stage.

That doesn't mean that the president was always down. In fact, that was not the truth. He was actually always driven, and driving to get a better policy result.

I hope that people will get to take a second look at the president, because he is one of the most funny people that I know. And he takes -- I think he gets it from his dad.

KURTZ: I can remember times, Dee Dee Myers, when Bill Clinton seemed a little testy because he didn't like reporters' questions.

MYERS: Right.

KURTZ: And he let it show.

MYERS: Right. And I think that's something that all presidents struggle with.

I mean, nobody likes the volume of coverage and often negative questioning or skeptical coverage that a president's faced with every day. So I think every president faces that and feels that kind of resentment toward the press. But it's really important to go out there and to strike an optimistic tonight.

I think Obama, so far, has done a very good job of letting sometimes the harsh questions roll off his back. We saw some of that during the transition. For example, when the 15th question about, would Hillary Clinton be a loyal secretary of state came up, and sort of said, hey, guys, I know this is part of the game...

KURTZ: Sometimes humor or a light touch can go a long way.

MYERS: Exactly. KURTZ: Now, Dana Perino, on Friday, you held your last briefing with the White House press corps. And you were asked some interesting questions. One of them was about the question we debate here on "RELIABLE SOURCES," and that is media bias.

Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PERINO: In this room, and the reporters who show up every morning and are here late at night and work the weekends, that the people that are covering the president out of here and the presidency strive so hard to be fair. On a scale of 1 to 10, I give you a 9 in terms of fairness.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: A 9? I don't think George Bush or Dick Cheney would give the press corps a nine.

PERINO: I do. I think that's a misconception.

I think President Bush has had such a great, professional relationship with the media. He respects them. I've heard him say that in a democracy, while it's important to have a free -- have a strong national defense, it's even more important to have a strong, free press.

KURTZ: Well, hold on. Hold on. Hold on.

PERINO: But the other thing I said, Howie, was, if there wasn't liberal bias in the media, I wouldn't always be asked about whether there was liberal bias in the media.

KURTZ: But Dick Cheney is still ticked off -- and he mentioned this in a recent interview -- that "The New York Times" got a Pulitzer Prize for the story disclosing domestic eavesdropping by the administration. I don't get the impression that these guys love the media.

PERINO: I'm not suggesting that they do, but they have a professional relationship with them.

KURTZ: And they think the media are fair?

PERINO: And they respect the job that they do. No, I said that I think that the reporters who are in that briefing room are fair and the people who broke that story were not. And when it comes to classified information, I think that people in America need to take a strong look and decide whether or not is that something we really need to know or is it something that helps the enemy?

KURTZ: I remember in 1993, when Bill Clinton was grumbling about what he called the knee-jerk liberal press not being fair to him, a Democrat. (LAUGHTER) MYERS: Well, you know, Bill Clinton often got it from both sides -- he wasn't liberal enough and he was too liberal. And I think -- but I think that the press' bias is less toward liberal/conservative than it is toward conflict and scandal. And so any time there's a possible scandal or sometime goes wrong, that's a story.

KURTZ: Let me just jump in and ask Dana Perino, when Robert Gibbs takes over, there's a tradition that the outgoing press secretary gives something to the new spokesman. What are you going to give Robert Gibbs?

PERINO: Well, he and I had a chance to have lunch the other day, and I presented to him the ceremonial flak jacket with all the notes -- which Dee Dee has one in there as well. They're fabulous to read through.

I told him when he catches his breath, spend some time reading through it. And then I sent he and his wife some flowers, and I actually got some from him. But we pass like ships in the night, so we were thinking along the same lines.

KING: Economic stimulus and the transfer of power.

KURTZ: A graceful transition.

All right. Dana Perino, Dee Dee Myers, thanks for coming on the roof with us here this morning.

We'll see you in a little bit, John King.

Coming up, more RELIABLE SOURCES from here on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Tuesday will undoubtedly be the biggest event this city has seen in a long time. But are journalists getting just a little swept away in covering it?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: All the big-shot anchors are heading to town. ABC bought the rights to broadcast the first inaugural ball. The newspaper is churning out special editions. And, well, we're up here on the roof of the Newseum on this rather cold morning, 48 hours before Barack Obama takes the oath of office just up the street here on Pennsylvania Avenue.

It is, of course, a nice coming together for the country, but I have to ask, are the media going totally overboard here? Are they getting swept away by Obamamania?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAGGIE RODRIGUEZ, CBS: Americans are lining up to witness this historic event. CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: Here in Washington, signs everywhere signaling this historic change. We're going to take a look. Look at it. It's going to happen.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN: How is Washington getting ready to handle the record amount of people that are planning to come for the inauguration?

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC: Federal and city officials prepare for the biggest crowd in Washington, D.C., history.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN (voice-over): Port-a-Potties, side by side, row upon row on the National Mall.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: And joining us now, Stephanie Miller, host of the nationally syndicated "Stephanie Miller Show"; Jessica Yellin, CNN's national political correspondent; and Stephen Hayes, senior write for "The Weekly Standard" and a CNN political contributor.

Stephanie Miller, you've come all the way from warm and sunny L.A. to sit up here, shiver with the rest of us, and announce your status as an Obama groupie. So I bet you don't think the inauguration coverage has been too positive.

STEPHANIE MILLER, HOST, "STEPHANIE MILLER SHOW" You know, I had picked out my Obama thong, and now I decided against it. And let me just say in advance, this is not going to be a good hair day for me at all. But I could not be more excited.

You know, I don't think you can overstate this. It really is one time in our history, Howard. So I don't think it's overstated, the history of it.

KURTZ: But, Steve Hayes, is it one time in our history when it also happens to involve a Democratic president? In other words, I've been through a lot of inaugurations. Have you ever seen anything like the media hype and hoopla for this particular inauguration?

STEPHEN HAYES, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Absolutely not. Nothing even close.

And I think to be fair to our colleagues, I think it has a lot more to do with the historical nature of what we're actually all witnessing than it does of an ideological bias. The ideological bias exists, but I think this -- what we're seeing day in and day out has much more to do with Barack Obama and the history.

MILLER: And the fact that he'll be 1,000 times better than the Bush administration. There's a little bit of bias.

KURTZ: See?

Just before I came on the air, I saw the cover of the new "New Yorker" magazine for this week. It's got a very striking image -- if we can put it up on the screen -- that I think kind of symbolizes the media. There we are, Barack Obama with a little different hairstyle.

So, Jessica Yellin, the media were accused -- yes...

MILLER: I hadn't seen that yet. That's something.

KURTZ: The media were accused of being soft on Obama throughout the campaign, as you know. Isn't there a risk right now, despite the historic nature, that we look like we are celebrating his inauguration?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think it is possible, because we're all thinking people, to separate the excitement that America as a nation feels that we can cover, that we've been able to elect the first black president. And then the media has to also, at the same time, take a critical distance and analyze his policies.

And there is a danger that, with his poll rating as high as they are, with so much momentum in the nation to be optimistic right now through a crisis moment, that we could get too swept away. I think after Tuesday, you have to take a really critical look at the media and the behavior immediately, starting day one.

KURTZ: After Tuesday, the binge will be over.

YELLIN: Yes.

KURTZ: Stephanie, your guy went to George Will's House the other night, and he had dinner with Bill Kristol, Steve's editor, and Charles Krauthammer and David Brooks and Paul Gigot and Peggy Noonan.

Did you feel a little bit like he was consorting with the enemy? These are people who criticized him for the last two years.

MILLER: I would have had a little trouble keeping my food down, Howard, but that's just me.

I think that, you know, what I've been startled is that he really is walking the talk, or however you say. Like, I'm going, this was not just campaign rhetoric, he really is reaching out to both sides.

KURTZ: And the next day he sat down with some liberal commentators, Rachel Maddow and E.J. Dionne and Eugene Robinson.

Your invitation was lost?

MILLER: I apparently lost it in the mail. It must be my hair. I wish I had borrowed that George Washington wig for this morning.

(LAUGHTER)

KURTZ: Steve, what does Obama gain by breaking bread with conservative pundits who, at least in political and ideological terms, are not his biggest fans?

HAYES: It's harder to beat people up if you know them. I mean, really, it's harder to attack people if you've had a discussion with them.

You sat across the table, you've heard him out on his policies, he's heard you out on your policies. It's just much harder to be sort of nasty and angry. Now, I think it will buy him some time. I don't think it will buy him, you know, four or eight years of goodwill.

KURTZ: Now, Obama came to "The Washington Post" newsroom the other day. I was there. He met with the editorial board, and then he kind of worked through. He walked around the perimeter of the newsroom and a lot of people lined up to shake his hand.

There was some gawking, there was some steering. There was no cheering. Nobody was clapping, or I didn't see drooling. But it was widely reported as, oh, there's "The Washington Post," they're in the tank for Obama.

I just wonder whether you think, Jessica, that these perceptions, which are a hangover from the campaign, are a problem that we're going to have to address through nothing other than tough-minded coverage.

YELLIN: I do. One of the jokes I heard after "The Washington Post" visit was Obama's been looking for a place of worship, he found it.

(LAUGHTER)

YELLIN: That's not fair, given the coverage of The Post, which is very hard-hitting. But I do think that the media's going to have to work hard to be critical of a guy that they like personally overwhelmingly. The media does have -- he's a guy that's hard to dislike in person, I think, and that's a challenge. That's why he does well...

KURTZ: But he has not cultivated particularly warm, close personal relationships with most journalists.

YELLIN: Correct, but America also knows this guy has a media celebrity quality. Look at "The New York Times" today. They have photos not of anyone of famous in the Obama world, but of Obama's staffers, some random people -- celebrities they're making the entire Obama staff. And so we all know there's this fascination with him. People have to figure out in the media how to allow the media to cover him with the fascination and keep this critical distance.

MILLER: But I think he raises a good point, that when you meet somebody, it is harder. That's why I can't ever come to CNN. Now I met Dana Perino, now I like her.

KURTZ: See. Better to sit in your radio studio and take your potshots.

MILLER: Exactly. I can't go out.

KURTZ: And speaking of potshots, you have had a great time bashing Bush and Cheney and his cheerleaders like Sean Hannity.

MILLER: It's so easy.

KURTZ: I mean, you know, your whole radio show's built around that. Now it's all flipped. Now are you going to be in a position of have to defend whatever the president does?

MILLER: Well, you know, we had a good time making fun of Senate Democrats over their role in the Roland Burris thing. I think when they're idiots, we need to say they're idiots, no matter what side they're on.

But, you know, what happens is, you just go on defense now. You know, I did it during the Clinton years when I was on the air. You know, as you know, we have a feature called "Right Wing World," where we play sound clips from the right wing people and then mock them mercilessly, because they'll be saying...

KURTZ: So should we start "Left Wing World?"

MILLER: ... the same ridiculous things about him that they said during the campaign.

KURTZ: Now, Steve, what about "The Weekly Standard?" I mean, in your case, you had a lot of access to Vice President Cheney. You wrote a book about him, he came to your book party. Now are you going to feel out in the cold, to some degree?

HAYES: Well, I'm pitching the same book project to Joe Biden right now. I'm confident that he'll give me a lot of access, sit down with him.

(LAUGHTER)

HAYES: Yes. I mean, I think there's a concern there. I mean, you know, you want to have access, you want to talk to people.

I think the difference will be the number of people that I'm able to call quickly and say, "Tell me what's actually going on." It will be obviously a lot less, probably, in the Obama administration. I'm hopeful, though.

MILLER: Call me. I'll hook you up.

YELLIN: I also think there's so much news right now that it will be easy for the media to be critical quickly. I mean, with the stimulus, with the TARP, with so much going on, there's going to be a lot to dig into.

KURTZ: And I will hold you to that. But first, I need to get a break.

If you missed any of John King's exclusive interview with President-elect Barack Obama, stick around. We'll be bringing parts of that to you again in the noon Eastern hour.

When we come back, the long good-bye. President Bush spends his last week in office trying to meet and charm the press. But did that thaw what had been a very chilly relationship?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: You're looking at some of the cable networks camped out here in downtown Washington, D.C., for the big inaugural on Tuesday. There's MSNBC's headquarters. There's the Newseum.

We're up on the top right-hand part of your screen, on the roof of that interesting, new Newseum about the media. There's a shot from the Newseum looking at the Canadian Embassy, I guess. There's the Canadian flag.

Just a spectacular view up here, even though it is a bit nippy.

Welcome back to RELIABLE SOURCES.

We're talking about the saturation coverage of this period between now and Tuesday. I want to put up some newspaper covers, if we have that, just to give you a sense of what's been making news, which is -- the answer is just about anything with the name "Obama" in it.

Have we got those pictures?

We'll see if they -- OK. I guess we don't have it.

But the point I was going to make is, Jessica Yellin, you have the New York tabloids doing front-page stories on Obama's official portrait and Obama's new limousine and "Parade" magazine does a story on Obama's letters to his daughters. It just seems -- we were talking earlier about he's not just the president-elect, he's a worldwide celebrity, and he's been covered that way.

YELLIN: He has. He sells.

I mean, in this economy, the media's going with what gets ratings and what sells magazines and newspapers. You see all these commemorative editions. It's because he's moving product. And so that will probably last until his poll ratings take a dip.

MILLER: Just Obama tchotchkes can rescue the economy alone.

KURTZ: I have seen a few of them on sale here in town. All right.

YELLIN: Do you really have an Obama thong?

MILLER: I have an Obama thong.

HAYES: Isn't this vindication for John McCain though and his celebrity ad? I mean, think about this. Look at what we're doing every day now. This is what John McCain was talking about.

KURTZ: Well, John McCain can't complain, because Obama's throwing a dinner in McCain's honor tomorrow night, just before the actual inauguration. MILLER: I'm going.

KURTZ: You're going?

MILLER: I'll report back to you.

KING: All right. Bipartisan Stephanie Miller. All right.

President Bush, as I mentioned earlier, held his last news conference this past week, and he some unusually positive things to say about the press.

Let's roll it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BUSH: I have respected you. Sometimes didn't like the stories that you wrote or reported on. Sometimes you misunderestimated me.

Oh, the burdens. Why did the financial collapse have to happen on my watch? Just pathetic, isn't it, self-pity?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Steve Hayes, this was an unusual performance by George Bush, and obviously he's been trying to go out on a high note, a gracious note. And yet, the media have not exactly been giving him a warm sendoff.

HAYES: No, they haven't. I mean, I think it's understandable what he says. You don't want to beat up or take shots at the people who are essentially writing this first draft of history, as we often talk about. So it makes sense that he would go out without taking shots at them.

I think we might hear a little bit different story when he finally sits down and write his memoirs, and is a little bit more critical about individual stories or coverage of the early parts of the Iraq War, things like that.

KURTZ: But Stephanie, aren't some of your friends in the so- called liberal media kind of kicking him on the way out the door? I mean, he's gone Tuesday, and yet it does seem like everybody's kind of rehashing all of the mistakes that he made, which is appropriate, but I wonder if there's too much of it.

MILLER: It is the end of an era, as they say. And I can't hear that "misunderestimated" joke enough, can you? Oh, I've got to wipe my eyes.

You know, I think it is honestly hard to misunderestimate what a disaster this presidency has been. So I think, you know, a lot of the criticism is -- when you hear this spin, it really makes you dizzy. Are you kidding me?

KURTZ: In other words, what bothers you is the fact...

MILLER: This war in Iraq -- he's left the economy...

KURTZ: What bothers you is the fact that he is someone selectively trying to put the best face, as any outgoing president would, on his record as he heads back to Texas?

MILLER: Yes. The Bush legacy project, a huge success. It's hard to spin this. It really is.

KURTZ: I wonder, Jessica Yellin, whether George W. Bush will always be a polarizing figure in the media climate. For example, when he had his farewell speech, that 13-minute address on Thursday night, I was flipping around and I see Bill O'Reilly saying, you know, he came off as very sincere, and if there was an approval rating for him as a person, as opposed to a president, it would be 60 percent. Then I see Chris Matthews saying, no, he's like a rich kid driving his father's car, and because of him, 100,000 Iraqis are dead.

And I just have the sense that this is going to go on forever.

YELLIN: Well, I guess we'll have to see. I think part of that may have to do with his electoral strategy.

I mean, he really did divide into red and blue intentionally to win, and that sort of is borne out through the eight years. At the same time, even Bill Clinton wasn't the most popular guy as he was leaving after Mark Rich and some of the sort of hangover everybody was feeling at that point. So after eight years, everybody's had enough. And we'll see what happens as history is written.

KURTZ: Some of these events that Barack Obama has been doing, meeting with Bush and the three ex-presidents, as I mentioned, inviting McCain for dinner, meeting with George Will and Bill Kristol and David Brooks, is this buying him a lot of coverage as being -- as he often talked about -- somehow post-partisan, or is it really just symbolism and we in the media like symbolism?

HAYES: Well, probably a little bit of both. I think it's gotten him a lot of coverage. We're talking about it. People have been talking about it for the whole week.

I was interesting. I interviewed Mitch McConnell this week, and I asked him -- because he's doing the same thing with politicians on Capitol Hill. And I asked him about this, and he said, "Look, we appreciate the attention. I've enjoyed talking to Barack Obama. We sincerely want to work with him. But charm only goes so far. At the end of the day, if he wants Republican support for things, he's going to have to adopt Republican policies."

KURTZ: Stephanie, I've got half a minute.

I mean, George Bush talked about changing the tone when he comes to office. Obama really seems determined to reach out to Republicans and conservatives. Of course, we'll see what happens when he takes office. But I have the sense that, you know, we still live in a very partisan political media culture. MILLER: Well, but, Howard, as you said earlier, the steps he's even taken so far, he's been more of uniter than George Bush has been in eight years. He's done more of the compassionate conservatism or whatever, all those catch phrases we heard of and never saw any evidence of, than George Bush did in eight years.

So I'm hopeful. I'm a hope monger.

KURTZ: Well, we'll see. I have to remind everybody that he hasn't taken office yet, although that's coming very soon.

Stephen Hayes, Stephanie Miller, Jessica Yellin, thanks very much for joining us.

Up next on RELIABLE SOURCES, black and white at the White House. With the nation's first African-American president ready to take office, he'll be greeted by a press corps containing few members of color. Two African-American correspondents join our discussion. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: When President Obama holds his first news conference, he will look out at a sea of faces and see that most of them are white. A few news organizations are adding black correspondents to Washington's most visible beat, but by and large, there is a striking lack of African-American journalists at 1600 Pennsylvania.

Is this a problem for the news business, especially when it comes to covering the nation's first black president.

Joining us now, April Ryan, White House Correspondent for American Urban Networks, and Dan Lothian, CNN's newest White House correspondent.

April Ryan, explain why this is a problem. Do black correspondents and white correspondents do their jobs differently?

APRIL RYAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, AMERICAN URBAN NETWORKS: No, no the at all. Basically, the issue is accountability.

Each correspondent there is there to question the president, holds him accountable on statements that he's made or statements that he's looking to make for the future, or issues that are going on. And we all cover the White House in the same way, but we all bring different nuances to it.

You know, I am African-American. My history, my heritage, I am that person. And sometimes that may play into a story, particularly, for instance, Bill Clinton and race.

KURTZ: Give me an example where you either asked different kinds of questions or reported a story differently than your white colleagues at White House.

RYAN: Well, unfortunately, my seat is in the fourth row of the White House, and by the time...

KURTZ: You're not getting called on?

RYAN: Well, I get called on, but by the time my mainstream press colleagues are called upon, the questions, the main questions, are asked. And you know, for instance, Hurricane Katrina, you know, President Bush had not been asked that during the press conference. He made a comment about it.

And I specifically listened to the questions, and those are some issues that don't come out, issues like Hurricane Katrina, issues about Africa, you know. I'm one of the only ones who is asking about Africa, for instance, Mugabe, the issues in Zimbabwe.

KURTZ: We're hearing some music that might, I suppose, be some kind of warm-up for Tuesday's inauguration right here on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Dan Lothian, why did you want to cover the White House? And do you bring a different perspective than, say, Ed Henry?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, I was asked to cover the White House. So...

KURTZ: But did they have to twist your arm?

LOTHIAN: Well, they didn't have to twist my arm, but certainly, this was -- it was a historic moment to be here and cover this White House. And obviously it's an important job. And I don't think anyone would want to turn this job down.

But I agree, as well, I mean, it's important for African- Americans and others, Hispanics, Asians, to be in these key positions from the standpoint of it's good business. I mean, you need to reflect your audience, and those people need to be in key positions. When people are sitting at home watching television, if it's an African-American, they'd like to see an African-American at the White House, covering the White House.

KING: If everybody in the White House press corps were men, which was the case decades ago...

LOTHIAN: Right. Right.

KURTZ: ... I'm sure people at home would sit there and say, where are the women? So is it a similar question of diversity here when it comes to race?

LOTHIAN: I do think is it an issue of diversity. On the one hand, you know, people want to see people covering these beats, covering other stories as well, who look like them.

On the other hand, I don't think we need to have a White House press corps now that is majority black. That would be like saying that when you were covering a white president, it should be, you know, majority white, which it was, but that wasn't the rule. KURTZ: Right. Right. Right.

LOTHIAN: I don't think you have to have that. But I do think you need to have a press corps that mirrors the audience that you're reaching.

KURTZ: Everyone seems to agree, April Ryan, that there were more minorities covering President Clinton than covering President Bush. Why did this happen? And do the executives at news organizations bear part of the responsibility?

RYAN: Yes, the news executives bear a lot of the responsibility. One, when these news organizations think about who they're going to place there, they want to make sure they're placing the right person there, someone who will have access. Access is key.

And Bill Clinton was someone who was termed as the "first black president." So, i.e., you had eight or nine African-American White House correspondents at that time. And then there was a stark contrast when George Herbert Walker Bush, the 43rd president, came in -- into the White House. The numbers dwindled.

And you know, he even said when he first came in, I understand why black America didn't vote for me, because, one, I'm a Republican, I'm from Texas, and my father, and so on and so on. But at the same time...

KURTZ: But that doesn't let the news business off the hook.

RYAN: That's what I'm saying.

KURTZ: Yes.

RYAN: Maybe the news organizations picked up on his same philosophy, understanding that maybe, you know, this president wasn't necessarily one who enveloped the African-American community.

KURTZ: You know, the cable news networks do a pretty good job here. I mean, you're joining Suzanne Malveaux at the White House, for example, on this network. You look at the broadcast networks, ABC, CBS, NBC, and I thought back maybe 10 years, and they basically seem to be -- usually there's two correspondents -- all white teams. And somebody said to me, well, that's because they're being groomed to be anchor of "The Today Show" or something like that.

LOTHIAN: And they probably are.

KURTZ: Yes. But it does -- it does create an imbalance. And let's face it, television is what most people see. I mean, the newspapers might or might not have greater diversity, but the people you see at those press conferences, the stars, are the TV guys and women.

LOTHIAN: Well, you know, I think the problem really goes back to the beginning. There aren't a lot of African-Americans in the pipeline. And you look back to local television, even -- when I got into this business, some of the early jobs that I got, I was getting the job that an African-American had just vacated. And so there were a lot of these local stations that essentially had the black position.

KURTZ: So it was kind of a slot?

LOTHIAN: There was a slot. And so, when you have this slot and you're only filling this slot, you're not going to get a lot of diversity in your newsroom.

And I'm not complaining about it, because it did allow a lot of us to get into the business. But you didn't have a large sort of vacancy so that different kinds of minority groups could get into the system.

That's how you make it to the White House, that's how you make it to the network. You have to get in at the local level and work your way up. If they're not coming in in the farm league, they're not going to make it to the professionals.

KURTZ: We'll continue this in a second. I hear some introductions in the background. I think that's just a dry run for Tuesday's inaugural.

More RELIABLE SOURCES from Pennsylvania Avenue in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're talking with two White House correspondents about the inauguration of the nation's first African-American president.

And April Ryan, I've asked this question to Byron Pitts and a number of other black journalists. Do you feel great pride in Obama winning the election? And are there suspicions, unfair or otherwise, that somehow you're going to be easier on him?

RYAN: Well, yes, I feel great pride. He's the first African- American to become president of the United States.

KURTZ: Something many of us thought would be impossible in our lifetimes.

RYAN: Right. And I'm five generations removed from the last known slave in my family.

And to actually work at the White House, to question a United States president, is awe-inspiring just alone. And then to be able to sit in front of the president -- but, yes, you know, history has its place -- a pause for history -- but at the same time, he's like any other president. I have to hold him accountable for his questions or for his statements.

For instance, he's talking about jobs, creating jobs. One thing that is really blaring to me, how are you talking about creates jobs at the same time you're talking about going line by line through the budget and possibly cutting programs?

KURTZ: Cutting "wasteful spending."

RYAN: Yes.

KURTZ: Dan Lothian, what about the racial pride factor and the perception -- I'm just saying it's a perception -- that maybe he gets a little more of a break?

LOTHIAN: Well, there might be that perception there, and there certainly is pride. And there will be pride on my part. But I hope that as I cover the president, that it will be -- he will be covered as the president of the United States, someone who is the president and happens to be black. That's how he ran his campaign.

KURTZ: He did not run a racially explicit campaign. LOTHIAN: He did not. It was Barack Obama running for president, happens to be black. And I hope, that people will look at me as Dan Lothian, the White House correspondent who happens to be black. There will be times that I might ask a question that comes from my background what my perspective that I bring to it, but I hope on a regular basis it will be about that question of the day.

KURTZ: Well, we'll be paying close attention on this program.

Dan Lothian, April Ryan, thanks very much for joining us here at the Newseum.

RYAN: Thanks, Howard.

KURTZ: Coming up, the countdown to inauguration continues. Donna Brazile, David Gergen, Alex Castellanos, all will be here to offer their take on the days ahead.

I'm going to go warm up, but you can see RELIABLE SOURCES every Sunday at our usual time, 10:00 a.m. Eastern, for a full hour of media analysis. It's part of the "STATE OF THE UNION" with John King.

John comes back in a moment, right after a quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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