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STATE OF THE UNION WITH JOHN KING
Aired January 25, 2009 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KING: I'm John King, and this is "State of the Union."
Right now, Howie Kurtz about to check his "Reliable Sources."
You heard it in the primaries; you heard it in the general election. The press was in love, they said, with candidate Barack Obama. We'll ask three reporters, top reporters at the White House, will that press corps now turn tough on President Obama?
Caroline Kennedy certainly flamed out this week in her push for a Senate seat, but are some news outlets going too far in reporting unsubstantiated rumors? Howie will go for the truth with Amanda Carpenter of TownHall.com, CNN's Lola Ogunnaike, and the Washington Post's Sally Quinn.
And the commander-in-chief may have changed, but Robert Gates is still top gun at the Pentagon. From the war in Iraq to questions of torture, his spokesman still gets the tough questions. We'll talk to deputy press secretary Geoff Morrell about promoting a new agenda after defending the policies of President Bush.
That's all ahead in this hour of "State of the Union."
KURTZ: Thank you very much, John.
And up first on "Reliable Sources," as John said, there has been a lot of talk for two years now about Barack Obama, the press coverage, how positive it was, how -- how gushing it was, in some people's view. But the question really hung in the air: Would journalists be as easy on President Obama as they were on the candidate?
Well, it was a marked change in tone this week at the White House. On Thursday, the new White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, taking the podium for the first time. The reporters got serious.
KURTZ: OK. We were going to play you some clips there, but we don't have them. So we will instead introduce our panel.
Joining me now here in Washington, Chip Reid, now the chief White House correspondent for CBS News; Suzanne Malveaux, who covers the White House for CNN; and Jeff Zeleny, newly-minted Whited House correspondent for "The New York Times."
Are we going to play those clips or not?
We are -- no sound now. All right.
There were some pretty tough questions here, Chip Reid, which we hope to show you about everything from lobbying restrictions to the swearing in, do-over, all of that. I kind of had the impression that the White House press corps had suddenly taken its vitamins.
REID: Yes. Well, I think when you're covering the president, you have such a heavy responsibility not to be soft. The real trick now is not going too far in the other direction.
You know, there were already some headlines in the last couple of days, "The Honeymoon is Over." Well, it is way too early to be drawing conclusions like that. You know, you've got to wait and see what happens with this economic stimulus package. But I think once you're in the White House, the responsibility is so great, the last thing in the world you want to do is go in there starry-eyed.
Whenever people ask me, "How do you cover this guy?" I say, "Not starry-eyed, steely-eyed." And you've got to be that way.
KURTZ: Jeff Zeleny, you covered the Obama campaign. The tone of the questions that we heard Gibbs fielding on Thursday was far more critical than almost anything I heard during the campaign. Is it because these are now the incumbents?
ZELENY: There's no question a presidential campaign is hypothetical in the sense that the questions about the policy are sort of, what would happen if you are elected? These are real specific things, and Robert Gibbs was giving answers to real specific questions. But one different thing was this press conference was televised live.
As Suzanne knows, most of the questioning that we did throughout the campaign was not televised in its entirety. So I think it's not quite accurate to say that the press was always soft on him.
I think there were some moments where the press definitely got under Senator Obama's skin at the time. And you saw a similar flash of that this week when he visited the briefing room, which we'll probably talk about.
He said, "I'm not here to answer questions at this point." He said those exact same things throughout the campaign. So I think you'll see a lot tougher questioning because they are real thing we're talking about.
KURTZ: Let me ask Suzanne.
In terms of it being televised -- now, you're in the TV business, you know the camera is on. If you stand up and ask a question, sometimes people think there's a little bit of showmanship involved.
MALVEAUX: You know, for some people thinks is. But I don't buy this thing that there was a honeymoon for Barack Obama. I mean, in covering him for the last 12 months, I think what happened was that there were tough questions that were being asked. I mean, I remember being on a panel asking him about reparations and slavery, and he complained and said, you know, well, why -- you know, this is not the kind of question that John McCain would get.
I remember getting the e-mails on the BlackBerry and the calls from his press folks, who were upset if you were critical or there's something that you highlighted that they were not pleased with. It was very similar to the Bush administration folks, their press office.
So I don't get this sense that there was some sort of honeymoon. I think what you're seeing is that the cameras are on, and you're seeing the questions, and you're seeing him standing before 20 journalists having to face that.
KURTZ: Well, let's let the viewers decide, because through the magic of videotape, we now have some of the questioning of Robert Gibbs on Thursday. Let's roll it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBIN ROBERTS, ABC NEWS: Just one of the highlights of this long day. When you walked out and you saw the sea of humanity all the way back to Lincoln, what are you going to remember most?
OBAMA: You know, I think it is just the way that the American people have made this about more than just an election.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: What we've just done, ladies and gentlemen, is played the wrong clip. That was ABC's Robin Roberts talking to the newly inaugurated President Obama -- this happens on live TV -- on inauguration night.
So let me ask you a question, Chip Reid, because your colleague, CBS colleague Bill Plante asked a question about that. It just so happens that ABC's parent company, Disney, paid $2 million for the rights to televise that inaugural ball and a concert. And an ABC correspondent got the exclusive interview.
Smell like a package deal?
REID: It did, and that's why he asked the question. And Gibbs simply said we don't give interviews for those reasons. Any interview we give has nothing to do with anything like that, which was his talking point, of course. And I think Robert Gibbs has had a pretty good start in some ways, but he is reading from talking points right now, as well he should, because the last thing he wants to do is make a big mistake in his first week.
My first question for him on that first day was about Guantanamo, because that was the big news that day. And I asked him, "Do you worry that people could get out of Guantanamo, go home, and rejoin al Qaeda?" The next day, "The New York Times," the big story on the front page was that. He gave me a talking point answer that really didn't answer the question. So they're in that feel their way along stage right now.
KURTZ: Jeff (ph), do we now have the Gibbs briefing?
OK. Let's roll the right tape this time.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Mr. President, how do you reconcile Mr. Lynn?
OBAMA: Oh, see. Hold on a second, guys. I came down here to visit. I didn't come down here to...
QUESTION: You have very strict lobbying rules and Mr. Lynn was a lobbyist, sir.
OBAMA: All right.
UNKNOWN: Don't worry, guys...
OBAMA: OK. See? This is what happens. I can't end up visiting you guys and shaking hands if I'm going to get grilled every time I come down here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Now Jeff Zeleny, that was obviously not Robert Gibbs. That was the president of the United States.
And as you alluded to earlier, he walked into the press room and he wanted to shake some hands and say hello -- I'm going to be working with you guys for the next four years. And Jonathan Martin of Politico pressed him on a question about a Pentagon appointee, and Obama didn't seem to like it.
Shouldn't he be able to come in and say hi without interrogation?
ZELENY: He had not yet at this point answered any questions from reporters since becoming president. He still hasn't. So I don't know what they expected.
Of course he comes into the press room, of course people are going to ask him questions. That reminded me of a moment that during the campaign, Senator Obama at the time would always want to come back to the campaign, back to the end of the plane where the reporters were sitting, and he wanted to talk off the record.
A lot of reporters said, look, you can't talk off the record. So his tone sounded very much the same to me.
I think after he holds a press conference, after he answers questions from reporters, of course he can have some pleasant exchanges, but this was the first time that we saw him. And I think Jonathan Martin at Politico asked him a legitimate question. He asked him in a respectful tone. I thought it was fine. And what did they expect, that no one was going to ask a question?
MALVEAUX: Well, Robert Gibbs did answer the question. When Ed Henry from our own network asked the question earlier, he didn't get a response. It was kind of a non-answer. So it was just kind of hanging out there really looking for something, and they did not button that up. They didn't address it.
But one of the things I think -- I mean, there's a balance here, obviously, because, I mean, Chip, you know in covering Clinton, especially at Air Force One, he would go back there and he would talk for hours, and people would pretend they were sleeping just to get rid of the guy. You know?
MALVEAUX: I mean, it was like too much exposure. We didn't get much from President Bush. So it will be interesting to see how that relationship actually evolves with President Obama.
One thing he did say was, like, come on, guys, we'll hold a press conference. And that's what we're waiting for. That's what we'll see, is he going to hold press conferences to answer the questions?
REID: I think we knew to a 100 percent certainty that he would not ask a question like that. So the only purpose in asking it was to kind of provoke him. There were other questions we should ask.
KURTZ: So you're saying it's showing off?
REID: I don't know about showing off. I just think...
KURTZ: He came back...
REID: I just think he felt -- Jonathan, who is a fantastic reporter, felt he had an obligation to do that. I think it was a great opportunity to ask him about questions about settling in and the BlackBerry, and other things that we could have actually gotten information from him. By provoking him and confronting him with a really tough question that you absolutely knew he would not answer is not a good use of our time.
KURTZ: But let's be clear, there's no question that the question that Jonathan Martin asked was a legitimate question.
KURTZ: It's a matter of the setting.
REID: And he really wouldn't answer.
KURTZ: Now, if this had been a month into the administration, and Obama had not held a news conference, and he was not accessible, and the only opportunity that you had was this setting, then I'd say fin. But, you know, he came back to kind of shake hands and say...
REID: And it was an opportunity to learn things about him. KURTZ: You disagree? You were ready to tackle him.
ZELENY: If reporters were not asking at least one question, they would have been saying, oh, it's just like on the campaign. They want their pictures taken with him and things.
It is a legitimate question to ask. You never know if he's going to answer it or not.
Sometimes I was surprised by -- after covering his campaign for two years, I was often surprised by things he would answer. He's a very smart politician. He knows when he wants to get something out. You never know.
MALVEAUX: The contrast is kind of amazing though when you look at the tape, because, I mean, you know, there were some folks who looked like they were kind of fawning over the president there. And might be surprised...
KURTZ: One person said -- can I just say it again -- "Mr. President..."
REID: That was a cameraman.
KURTZ: That was a cameraman.
REID: That was a cameraman.
MALVEAUX: Right. And some people, I mean, it's the first time that they're seeing him in person. I mean, it's different then when you cover him on the campaign. You're used to him. You've sat down with him. Some people you could tell were a little bit caught up in the moment and the awe of it, and I think they've got to get over that.
KURTZ: Is it different for you? You covered him in Illinois when you worked for "The Chicago Tribune." You covered him on the campaign. Now the transition and the presidency. Is it different for you in terms of the way he relates to you or even the level of access, obviously, you don't have anymore?
ZELENY: Yes, the access has changed considerably from when he was a freshman senator.
KURTZ: Just a little bit? Did you have his cell phone number?
ZELENY: I did, and his BlackBerry address, which is now not the same.
MALVEAUX: Let us know if he gives it to you.
ZELENY: The old address isn't working. But no, I think you see many similarities. The flash of sort of -- it wasn't anger, necessarily, in his exchange with Jonathan Martin.
KURTZ: He was irritated.
ZELENY: But irritated. That reminded me exactly of how he looked in South Carolina almost a year ago this week, when I shouted a question at him, because he was not taking questions from reporters. I said, "Is Bill Clinton getting in your head?" And he said, "Come on, Jeff. You're better than that."
And it was this exchange that was captured on videotape.
KURTZ: I remember you saying it.
ZELENY: His tone was exactly the same. So he is not the kind of politician who likes to sort of make nice with reporters and suck up to reporters and things. He keeps his distance. It's one of his constituencies, but not sort of something that...
KURTZ: Although, I'd point out that he did spend three hours at columnist George Will's House making nice with conservative columnists who have not been very nice to him.
ZELENY: And we weren't there.
KURTZ: But that's -- you weren't there. That's part of the outrage.
All right. Let me get a break.
When we come back, hot over history. Did the journalists and talking heads get a little too caught up in the pomp and the pageantry of the inauguration?
KURTZ: Tuesday's presidential inauguration was, for news organizations, a day of pageantry and punditry and pretty picture. A day of celebration.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES CARVILLE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know, this is something unbelievable. I mean, the crowd, just the entire thing here.
JIM ANGLE, FOX NEWS: This is an affirmation of all we hold dear in America, that any person of any station and now of any color can rise to the most important post in the land.
AL ROKER, NBC NEWS: It doesn't hurt, I should say, that he's a good looking guy. You know? So I think, you know, look, this is a guy -- this is a president who can take his shirt off. You know?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: "This is a president who can take his shirt off."
Now look, this was a big, important story, Jeff Zeleny. No question about it. But the days of TV coverage, the special newspaper editions, the on-air gushing, it did seem like some journalists got a little carried away.
ZELENY: It sounds like that. I mean, especially with Al Roker there. But he was covering the parade. I mean, I don't think you heard the analysis of the speech in quite that same regard.
But look, I think that was a four-day period, really beginning with the train ride from Pennsylvania to Washington, sort of through the inauguration, where there definitely was a lot of positive coverage. But you even saw the Republicans -- even President Bush said he was sort of caught up in this moment and looking forward to this.
So I think it's one of those things where it is positive coverage. But going forward, we'll see how that goes. But how could you not cover it in a positive way in terms of what was happening on the Mall on Tuesday? I've never seen anything like it.
KURTZ: Sure, there were an awful lot of people here.
Did the line between celebrating the first African-American president and celebrating Barack Obama, the Democratic politician, get a little blurry at times?
REID: I think it did at times with certain people, but, you know, there is just kind of a certain amount of license for that first day, for Inauguration Day. There's a gigantic double yellow line between Inauguration Day and the very next day. And the very next day, we were right back to asking the tough questions. And I think historically, Inauguration Day is a time to celebrate, and celebrate in a way that makes sense for that new administration.
KURTZ: Although the "L.A. Times" points out this morning, Suzanne, that there were a lot of questions raised about Bush's last -- the second inauguration costing about $40 million, was that a good use of the money at a time of hardship. And Obama's, of course, cost about the same.
I kept hearing reporters and anchor say, well, there's a lot of excitement and optimism in Washington.
MALVEAUX: That was true. That was true.
But one of the things some organizations and even journalists as myself make personal decisions about what you want to participate in, what you are not going to participate in. For me, I wasn't going to go to any of the inaugural balls. It seemed like that was too much of crossing the line. Like that was a celebration of sorts where you do have to ask the tough questions, you are holding this man to account as the president. And so you don't want to appear as if you're all caught up in the hoopla and you kind of lose sight and lose focus of what you're doing.
I think as a White House correspondent, for me, that was a decision that I made, that I had to create that kind of distance. But you do get caught up in some of the celebration. It was historic, it was symbolic, and there were things that you hadn't seen before.
KURTZ: And more so for you? I mean, do black and white journalists view this day necessarily differently? Did it resonate with you?
MALVEAUX: I think personally. I mean, my family is just so proud and so happy about the whole thing. And never imaging that it would ever happen in their lifetime, or even in my lifetime, I think. My parents, you know, just sharing their stories about growing up in the segregated South and what that was like, not to be able to go to a certain school or certain church, that this really was a very, very special moment for them.
KURTZ: All right.
Now, I kept promising in the first part of our show the questioning Robert Gibbs.
You, Chip Reid, said it's a double yellow line separating the hoopla of the inauguration from the actual business of governing.
Let's play the questions asked of the new White House press secretary.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAKE TAPPER, ABC NEWS: What does the president and his team know that the current CIA director doesn't know?
ED HENRY, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: How can the president say that he's preventing people from working in the areas where they lobbied when the number two at Defense was a Raytheon lobbyist?
BILL PLANTE, CBS WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And how is it transparent when it looks like play to pay, when the president gives his only interview on inauguration night to a network which paid $2 million for the privilege of exclusive coverage of the event, the neighborhood ball?
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I should ask that of you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So, a new tone in the press room?
REID: Yes. Well, certainly compared to what they're used to. And I think Robert Gibbs was a little taken aback.
I think one of the reason that Barack Obama came back for that informal tour that night was to bring Robert Gibbs back and say, I thought he did a great job today. And he wanted to buck Robert up. That's the first thing he said when he walked into the room.
KURTZ: Well, he was kidding. He said he expected to see some flop sweat.
REID: But he went out of his way to say, we did a fist bump and I thought Robert did a fantastic job.
KURTZ: It seems to me there's a setting of tone here. A new president, new press secretary, and it almost seemed like the White House press corps was trying to lay down its mark, especially on something like the do-over of the swearing in.
No independent network cameras were allowed to that. The White House put out the video, and a lot of people did not like that in the press corps.
ZELENY: I think there's no question that that was a legitimate concern for a lot of reporters. In fact, they didn't put out a video. They put out one still photograph. And the sound that was put out was from a reporter for Bloomberg who happened to record the proceedings.
So the four reporters who were taken into this event had no idea what was happening until they walked in. And why not put that on camera? Why not make that video available?
They made the decision to sort of keep it as close as possible. One thing that I think we'll see, this is an administration that wants to make news, they will put it on YouTube, other things, like they did during the campaign.
KURTZ: They don't necessarily need you.
A quick comment from Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: Well, one thing, I mean, you didn't hear Robert Gibbs apologize about it. He was very clear that they thought they made the right decision.
I think a lot of us thought they missed an opportunity and made a mistake here. But in speaking with Obama aides privately, this is a process, this is a work in progress here. We're learning as we go.
So I think there was a sense here that look, they could have been more open. That maybe they would have even acknowledged that at some point, but that wasn't the place to do it, it wasn't the forum to do it -- it was the first press conference -- to acknowledge and say, hey, we screwed up.
KURTZ: Right, we screwed up. All right. They'll have more opportunities. To be continued. Suzanne Malveaux, Chip Reid, Jeff Zeleny, thanks very much for joining us.
Up next, about-face. Former ABC producer Geoff Morrell spoke for the Pentagon under President Bush. Now he'll do the same for President Obama. How is he handling his new marching orders?
KURTZ: The Pentagon has been at the center of the national debate over Iraq and Afghanistan, over torture and Guantanamo Bay. And Geoff Morrell has been its spokesman. With Secretary Robert Gates staying on, Morrell now finds himself speaking on behalf of President Obama's policies after defending President Bush's policies for a year and a half.
And the former ABC News correspondent joins me now.
So, President Bush's position, as we all know, was continue fighting in Iraq until victory is achieved. President Obama's position is withdraw most combat forces, perhaps as quickly as 16 months.
Isn't it a challenge for you to have to defend a different position?
MORRELL: Well, the beauty of this, as you know, Howard, is I am not a policymaker, I am a communicator. And my job is to help the American people, through the press corps, better understand what it is the policymakers are doing.
And President Obama has yet to completely chart his course with regards to Iraq. He met with David Petraeus, as well as General Odierno and Secretary Gates, and the chairman last week. This week, I believe, he's going to meet with the Joint Chiefs. And they're in the process of trying to figure out how indeed they go about a drawdown in Iraq.
But the truth is, as you know, Howard, we've been drawing down forces in Iraq for a year now.
KURTZ: But not with the goal that Obama has of quickly, relatively quickly, under these circumstances, safely getting most U.S. troops -- I mean, this is what we fought the election on.
MORRELL: Quickly and responsibly drawing down...
KURTZ: But you're not going to sit here and tell me there's no change in policy.
MORRELL: Well, the change in policy actually began when we signed the Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqis. And it mandates that all U.S. forces are out in three years.
KURTZ: But not necessarily in 16 months. All right. Let me turn to Guantanamo Bay. We have a clip of you at a briefing about seven months ago talking about whether Gitmo should remain open.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MORRELL: We do not have a suitable alternative to move the detainees we have in custody in Guantanamo, or those that are not suitable to be transferred back to their original countries. We are stuck with the situation we have, which is that we've got to house them in Guantanamo.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Again, Bush administration position, Guantanamo, as a practical matter, had to remain open. President Obama comes in, the second day he signs an order saying it should be closed within a year.
An about-face for you.
MORRELL: Not really. I mean, President Bush wanted it closed. Secretary Gates wanted it closed, and continues to want it closed. President Obama has now signed a series of executive orders which mandates that it be closed within a year.
The challenge now for the president, for Secretary Gates and others is, how do you close it? And that's why you didn't see it closed on day one. That's why they there's a time period set to bring about that closure. It's going to be a real challenge still.
KURTZ: Well, when you say President Bush wanted it closed, you're doing kind of the spokesman thing, which is, he may, as a goal, have wanted it closed, but it certainly wasn't a priority of the Bush administration to shut down that facility in Cuba, in part because of the practical problems. But in part, it became a symbol. It became a symbol of the U.S. mistreating detainees, which I'm going to get to in a second.
MORRELL: Well, clearly, it wasn't the same priority for the Bush administration that it is now for the Obama administration.
KURTZ: Right. I just want to get you on the record on that.
MORRELL: But it was the stated goal and position of the president that it be closed.
The bottom line is, I work primarily for Secretary Gates, who has made it clear for years now that he believes it should be closed. And he tried to close it and ran into a number of legal obstacles. It's now his burden as a co-chair of one of these committees that is going to deal with its closure to figure out how to do it, and I am confident he will find a way.
KURTZ: Now, you've defended past interrogation of terror suspects as lawful. Bob Woodward, a couple of weeks ago, quoted the Pentagon official in charge of military commissions, Susan Crawford, as saying that Mohammed Kahtani -- this is the guy who was the alleged 20th hijacker on 9/11 -- was, in fact, tortured. President Obama comes in, he bans waterboarding and other interrogation techniques that were criticized as torture.
So again, that changes your marching orders, does it not?
MORRELL: I don't think so. I mean, the bottom line is that Susan Crawford, the convening authority who spoke to Bob Woodward and made her determination to him that she believed Kahtani was tortured, that statement -- she's fully entitled to make that statement. It stands in contrast to a series of investigations that were done into his Kahtani's treatment and a number of others down at Gitmo. But I'm not here to debate whether or not she was -- her characterization is accurate or not.
The bottom line is Common Article III has governed the treatment of detainees at Gitmo, and President Obama has mandated that it continue to do so, and has asked Secretary Gates to send down...
KURTZ: But on this torture question, Obama has said waterboarding is torture, we're not going to do that anymore. So you have a different policy to keep here.
MORRELL: I don't. My building, the Pentagon, has never been involved in any waterboarding. You'll have to talk another building about that.
KURTZ: I understand it was not the Pentagon, it was the CIA.
MORRELL: But the one I represent luckily has had nothing to do with any of that.
KURTZ: But you're still in the position of having to defend it.
MORRELL: The Army Field Manuel has governed how we treat detainees at Gitmo since it was updated, I believe, in 2005.
KURTZ: Geoff, I've got half a minute.
You spent seven years as an ABC correspondent covering the Bush White House. Difficult transition to be on the other side and now be speaking for the government?
MORRELL: It's been the greatest pleasure I've ever had, actually.
KURTZ: But was it a difficult transition?
MORRELL: It really wasn't. I think my skills were perfectly suited for it. I think I am a way for the press to better understand how the building works and for the building to better understand the needs of the press.
KURTZ: So you're an ambassador to your old profession?
MORRELL: I am. I try to be. KURTZ: All right. Geoff Morrell, thanks very much for coming in this Sunday morning.
MORRELL: My pleasure, Howie.
KURTZ: And coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, Caroline crashes and burns. Kennedy's Senate bid flames out amid tawdry tabloid allegations. Were the media downright irresponsible?
Plus, first lady fashion. Why do some of the biggest names in broadcasting sound like they're auditioning for the Style Channel? Washington Post's Sally Quinn joins us next.
KURTZ: Well, Caroline Kennedy's Senate bid ended the way it began -- badly. First, she ran, literally ran, away from reporters who wanted to talk to her about her Senate candidacy. Then she did a few interviews and, you know, she had trouble, you know, expressing herself. But the media expectation was still that New York's Governor David Paterson would appoint her to fill Hillary Clinton's seat.
On Wednesday evening, it all came apart with conflicting reports that journalists had a tough time sorting out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC: Caroline Kennedy has reportedly told New York's governor that she no longer wants to be considered for Hillary Clinton's Senate seat. But wait, maybe she hasn't done anything.
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: Caroline Kennedy, mixed reports. She's in, she's out.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Each of us separately got three different sources saying, yes, she doesn't want to do it, she's withdrawing. After that, we began to call around people who should also know, and they didn't. They said, "I have no idea what's going on."
KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC: Do we have really any idea which is true? Could both be true? Could neither be true? Could this thing still be open to her?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Joining us now to talk about this, Sally Quinn, founder and co-author of the "On Faith" blog at washingtonpost.com and "Newsweek Interactive." Also here in Washington, Amanda Carpenter, national political reporter for townhall.com. And joining us from New York, Lola Ogunnaike, CNN's entertainment correspondent for "AMERICAN MORNING."
Sally, those clips we just saw, was that sloppy journalism? Would it have been better to wait to figure out whether Caroline Kennedy was in or out? SALLY QUINN, FOUNDER, CO-AUTHOR, "ON FAITH": Well, we don't have time to wait these days with the way the news cycle goes. So...
KURTZ: Everybody wants answers yesterday.
QUINN: Yes. And everybody -- the story was changing constantly. And so people in the media were bringing the constant change of the story.
I mean, but there's some definite villains here. And I think that the story has not fully been told. I really would like to see somebody sit down and just do a tick-tock of, you know, starting from how this happened in the first place to how it ended up so badly.
KURTZ: It's still kind of murky.
And let me toss this question to Lola Ogunnaike.
It is hard to know what the reality is, even now, really, when all the sources are unnamed. And obviously there's the David Paterson camp and the Caroline Kennedy camp. Hard to sort out.
LOLA OGUNNAIKE, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: I completely agree with Sally. I'm waiting for someone to give me the chronological order of exactly what happened.
How did it begin? Where did it fall apart? Who pulled the plug? Was it David Paterson, was it Caroline Kennedy?
There are all these rumors swirling around why she left. I really want to know what exactly happened, and I'm anxious to see what the actual story is.
KURTZ: We're going to get to the reporting of those rumors, and many of them are rumors, in just a moment.
But Amanda Carpenter, people say the media swoon over celebrities, and that's usually true. But the New York press here went after Caroline Kennedy pretty hard from day one.
AMANDA CARPENTER, TOWNHALL.COM: Well, they did. It was like they had something to prove. And you kind of saw some admission of that in some of the reports where they felt bad that they didn't go after Bloomberg enough, and they felt like they had to reestablish their credentials.
And so when she sat down, I think it was at The Times interview, and she couldn't answer questions, number one, about why she felt like she should run -- sure, she had some rehearsed answers about immigration and the rest, but she couldn't answer that fundamental question. So after that, I mean, I think the gloves really came off.
OGUNNAIKE: Howard, I think that was the Katie Couric influence as well. I think a lot of people decided that they were going to get their Sarah Palin of sorts and find here in Caroline Kennedy. And they decided to go after her, especially after, you know, she kept saying "you know," and "you know" and "you know." They decided, oh, yes, we're going to get this one.
KURTZ: All right.
Well, let me go to the aftermath, because -- let me set this up by explaining the following.
There are some rumors out there that I am not vouching for. They're unsubstantiated rumors about Caroline Kennedy's marriage. But on MSNBC's "Hardball," "New York Daily News" reporter Liz Benjamin begins to talk about that. And you'll hear Chris Matthews cut her off.
And then we have "The O'Reilly Factor" on Fox News. And we're going to play you part of that tape. But what we're not going to do is play the part where Bill O'Reilly reports, based on his sources, about the person who allegedly, supposedly, maybe was involved in Caroline Kennedy's private life.
Let's roll that tape.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LIZ BENJAMIN, "DAILY NEWS": No one has confirmed, and not publicly, at least, the affair issue, but that certainly is out there. Sources on the Internet, and nobody has talked about that.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: Well, how about let's stick to journalism. I don't do that here, Liz. Liz, if it's just blogging, let's drop it, OK?
BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS: The Factor has learned that New York Governor David Paterson was told by unidentified sources that Caroline Kennedy was having an affair. Unlike "The New York Times," which at times presents gossip, innuendo and, you know, terrible stuff to hurt people with whom they disagree -- they did it to me on a number of occasions -- I don't want to do that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Unnamed sources say she's having an affair.
QUINN: Well, this is ridiculous. I mean, and it shouldn't be printed. And I think Chris did exactly the right thing by cutting it off.
But I think you have to start before all of this and see where some of these rumors were coming from. And I think that a lot of people who had been very upset with Caroline for supporting Obama, with Teddy for not allowing Hillary to be part of the -- have the role in health care that she wanted in the Senate, I think that there were a lot of Clinton supporters -- and I'm not saying this is Hillary Clinton, but there were Clinton supporters who were very sort of upset with Caroline and were not supporting her.
And then, of course, you had the whole Andrew Cuomo/Kerry Kennedy breakup. So Andrew Cuomo's people came into play. And Paterson blew it. I mean, I think Paterson is the real villain here, because I think he just handled the whole thing so badly.
KURTZ: Well, it turned into an incredible soap opera.
Lola, it was "The New York Post," of course owned by Rupert Murdoch, as is Fox News Channel, saying that a source close to Governor Paterson was quoted as saying, "Reporters are starting to look at her marriage more closely."
That's it. Now, you know, if there's a problem with a nanny and a tax issue, I think that's fair game for journalists. But this stuff seems awfully thin to me.
OGUNNAIKE: You've got to stay away from that stuff, especially if you're a legitimate news organization. "The National Enquirer" has been talking about her marriage being on the rocks since 2006. That's what they do, and they can do that. You know, outlets like TMZ, Perez Hilton, Gawker, they can do that. But if you're a legitimate news organization, you've got to stay away from this stuff, because it can be potentially very, very messy.
CARPENTER: Let me say one thing. I agree with what Chris Matthews did on his show, and I also agree with what Bill O'Reilly did on his show, because Chris Matthews had a reporter on there saying, "I read this on a blog," anonymous sources that she could not confirm. So he said, you know what? That's not journalism, don't talk about it.
Bill O'Reilly brought on Fred Dicker, who's a highly respected "New York Post" reporter who was the first one to report that. And granted, people can question whether he should have printed that because it was based on a source that didn't want to go public. But what I appreciate about what The Post did is that they put out their reporters to defend it.
It wasn't something like "The New York Times" did with Vicki Iseman, where they hid their reporters,. At least he was out there defending his reporting.
KURTZ: But hold on. Before Fred Dicker came on "The O'Reilly Factor," Bill O'Reilly named the man, a pretty prominent guy, who supposedly is having some kind of relationship with Caroline Kennedy. I don't know if it's true, and some source says it's true.
You're comfortable with that?
CARPENTER: Well, I think that's a decision that the reporter or the anchor has to make. I mean, it's their integrity and credibility that's on the line.
Bill O'Reilly is judged every night on what he does on his show. He decided to do it. He wanted to. But, you know, he was relying on something that someone had told him personally. He felt confident about it. It wasn't something he read on a blog.
KURTZ: And I should say that Caroline Kennedy kind of fueled the speculation by putting out a statement after midnight saying she's pulling out of her Senate by for undisclosed personal reasons, and never talking to reporters again. Hasn't answered any of these questions.
All right. Let's turn to a woman who's also very much in the news this week, right next to Barack Obama, Michelle Obama. And when you watch the television coverage, it all seemed to revolve in recent days around certain wardrobe questions.
Let's take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People are in love with Michelle Obama.
HODA KOTB, NBC NEWS: I think we have the answer now to the million-dollar question on who Michelle Obama's designer of choice would be for tonight.
KIRAN CHETRY, CNN: It turns out she chose a white beaded one- shoulder dress by designer Jason Wu.
MAGGIE RODRIGUEZ, CBS NEWS: At last, First Lady Michelle Obama is officially the new first lady of fashion.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Now, Sally Quinn, Michelle Obama is a fresh and interesting figure as first lady, but are the media kind of casting her as a supermodel?
QUINN: Well, she looks like a supermodel and she dresses beautifully, and I think that she's going to start a whole new style of dressing. She dresses much younger than obviously other first ladies who were not her age. She's choosing younger designers, younger American designers who haven't really been discovered, and I think that's a good thing.
And I think that we cannot underestimate the fact that it is important how the first lady dresses. It is important how she presents herself, because she is the face of our country. And her inaugural ball gown is going to go in a museum. And every first lady who is out there has -- basically says this is who I am, this is who we are, this is what our country looks like. I don't think it's a trivial issue how the first lady dresses.
KURTZ: But at the same time, Lola Ogunnaike, I'm thinking, you know, Michelle Obama was a successful corporate executive. She has ideas. She's not some shrinking violet, and she's not just a clothes horse. And I just wonder whether by going for the easy, quick hit, which is to talk about her as a fashion plate, we in the media are kind of trivializing her a little bit.
OGUNNAIKE: Well, I don't think anyone is discounting Michelle Obama's intelligence, her power, you know, her past professionalism at all. But I think people are appreciating the fact that she's young, she's contemporary, she's athletic, and she dress well.
I mean, Howard, she has the potential to be one of the most powerful women in fashion. She can move clothing. When she wore a dress on "The View," it sold out. J. Crew was hit with a ton of phone calls. Everyone was calling about the girls' coats, Sasha and Malia's coats. The fashion industry appreciates the fact that she likes clothing and that she's willing to take chances on young designers.
KURTZ: But do you think that's how she wants to be remembered as first lady? I mean, I just think the media are going for the easy hit here.
OGUNNAIKE: I think that Michelle Obama has plenty of time to introduce herself to people as more than just a fashion icon. I mean, she's just started, but we can't deny that she is a well-dressed woman and that the fashion industry does love her.
But Howard, there will be time. She's talked about wanting to really work with military families. I'm sure she'll be remembered for that as well.
QUINN: Howie, this is, you know, four days into the administration. She hasn't done anything except appear. So, you know, she's an extraordinary woman and she's going to do extraordinary things. But she's going to look good doing it.
KURTZ: Laura Bush, Barbara Bush, Nancy Reagan, did they ever get treated like this?
CARPENTER: Yes, I think Nancy Reagan, she wore pretty fantastic ball gowns. And I think Michelle Obama's ball gown was reminiscent of one of Nancy's, in fact. But, you know, this is just fun to talk about. It doesn't matter to her husband's policymaking.
KURTZ: All right.
CARPENTER: It's fun, it's good water cooler talk. But leave it on the fashion pages.
KURTZ: I'm glad we talked about it.
Lola Ogunnaike, Sally Quinn, thanks very much.
Amanda, stick around.
Up next, boiling over Blago. A Fox anchor mocks the impeached Illinois governor while he's talking. Isn't that rude?
Plus, is MSNBC now positioning itself as the official Obama network?
KURTZ: Rod Blagojevich went into one of his patented rants on Friday denouncing the impeachment trial that begins tomorrow in the Illinois Senate, but one network handled that in a rather unusual -- well, we'll show it to you in just a second. Joining us now to talk about the coverage of this and other political controversies is David Corn, Washington bureau chief of "Mother Jones Magazine" who also blogs at CQPolitics.com. He joins Amanda Carpenter and me.
All right. I've heard of sharp-edge commentary after a politician's news conference, but Fox News anchor Shepard Smith had plenty to say about the governor's performance while Blago was still carrying on.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. ROD R. BLAGOJEVICH, D-ILL.: Political figures in Illinois are just waiting to get me out of the way to raise the income tax.
SHEPARD SMITH, FOX NEWS: That is crazy. And everyone knows it.
This man is accused of shaking down a children's hospital, of trying to have people removed from the editorial board of "The Chicago Tribune." He's talking to a future jury pool, which is exactly the reason, exactly the reason no local Chicago television news organization is carrying this thing live. But all of us on the cable are.
He's good TV. Bet the ratings will be good.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Now David, that was outrageous, it was rude, and it was very funny.
DAVID CORN, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "MOTHER JONES": I'm going to talk over you now.
KURTZ: It was very funny.
CORN: Do you remember -- what was that show a couple of years ago, "Mystery Science Theater 3000," where they showed these very, very bad, grade B science fiction movies, and they had these little robots commenting on them running. That's sort of what Shep has been doing, not just at this press conference. I think at the January 9th press conference he said -- you know, as Blagojevich was speaking, he said, "Hey, where's that Iraqi journalist who throws his shoe when you need him?"
He's obviously trying to, you know, as we say in the business, step it up a bit . And, you know, I'm sure it's great for ratings, otherwise he wouldn't be doing it.
KURTZ: Well, Shep can say whatever he wants afterwards. But should he be talking over the governor? It was almost like a "Saturday Night Live" skit.
CARPENTER: Yes, it's -- well, one, it's hard to watch. I think it's bad television on some level. But he has gotten more aggressive. He does reader mail sometimes, and I know he called one reader a maggot on one occasion because he was writing bad things to the show. So he's turning it up a notch, as David said.
KURTZ: Well, Blagojevich is about to do several interviews this week. We'll see if he goes on Fox.
CORN: I doubt it.
KURTZ: As a friend put it to me, he wants to get his 15 minutes before he does 15 years.
KURTZ: I emphasize that he has not been charged with anything. All right.
CORN: Presumed innocent.
KURTZ: Let me turn to Washington politics now.
You were at the White House during that first Robert Gibbs briefing as new press secretary, and you asked a question whether President Obama had -- was deliberately dropping the phrase "war on terror." Gibbs said no.
Why did you ask and did you buy his answer?
CORN: Well, I thought it was interesting. That was the day in which he had signed all these executive orders regarding the struggle, whatever you want to call it, against al Qaeda, Gitmo, enhanced interrogation, banning torture. And in doing so, I noticed he talked about the ongoing struggle against violence and terrorism, or extremism, and he hadn't used the "war on terror" phrase.
So I asked Robert Gibbs, was he dropping the war metaphor? I mean, I think that's kind of a fundamental, a pretty newsworthy thing. And Robert -- and I think I got the shortest answer of the day. He said to me -- what he said was consistent with his language of the inauguration.
I went and looked at the inaugural speech. He never said "war on terror," but he did say we're involved in a war against violence.
KURTZ: All right. So he gave a typical spokesman's answer.
CORN: But the interesting thing was...
KURTZ: I need to get Amanda in.
CORN: ... I wrote it up quickly. And later in the afternoon, when President Barack Obama appeared at the State Department, he very briefly, almost in a quick way, used the phrase "war on terror." So I don't know -- he certainly doesn't using it in a grand way, maybe de- emphasizing it.
KURTZ: All right. David, you're having a big impact.
CORN: OK. KURTZ: Amanda Carpenter, Obama, of course, reversed the Bush policies on Guantanamo Bay and interrogation and torture. And the media reported this kind of matter of factly.
Obama said he was going to do this during the campaign, and he did it. Did they quote enough people who were opposed to it? I mean, Campbell Brown noted on CNN that 47 percent of the public says keep Gitmo open.
In other words, do you think that journalists kind of agree with what Obama did and therefore didn't make this as controversial as perhaps it needed to be?
CARPENTER: Yes, I agree with that statement, but I think the more remarkable thing about how the coverage has sort of changed is that since he issued that executive order, you've seen a lot more questioning about the logistics of closing down Guantanamo Bay.
KURTZ: Where do you send these people?
CARPENTER: Where do they go? You have people saying, you know, will they put them in my back yard?
You know, what are the legal consequences? Why won't the countries take them back? And these are good questions. And I feel like they never were explored during the Bush administration because it was just...
KURTZ: By the media.
CARPENTER: ... you know, it should be closed.
KURTZ: Right. It's a symbol.
CARPENTER: But now you're seeing people talk about how hard it's going to be. I just wish that discussion would have began earlier in the earnest way that it seems to be coming out now.
CORN: But on the day afterwards, in "The New York Times," on the front page, on the third or fourth paragraph, in reporting on the orders, they said, "But the orders would leave unresolved complex questions."
And if you listened to the press briefing on Thursday, that was questions that the press zeroed in right away. And I think, you know, people who follow this have noted that closing Gitmo would lead to all sorts of problems, some that have been caused by the Bush administration and the way they've handled evidence and so on, and detainees.
KURTZ: All right.
CORN: I don't think...
KURTZ: I do want to talk about this whole week, the transition, the inauguration, the new president.
Rush Limbaugh was on "The Sean Hannity Show." There's a convergence of views there. And he talked about the coverage of the new president, and Limbaugh comes out and says, "I want Barack Obama to fail because I disagree with his policies."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I think they've done a great job, the media has, of covering up his deficiencies. He's too big to fail. And so whatever goes wrong, blame it on Bush, blame it on -- I mean, MSNBC's new life will be criticizing you and me because they can't criticize him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So, covering up the new president's deficiencies. And...
CORN: Boy, in the first two days. I mean, President Obama made just so many mistakes that were covered up by MSNBC and CNN.
KURTZ: Was it a mistake? Was it a tactical error for Obama, in a meeting with congressional leaders, to say, you know, you can't listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done? In other words, he's appealing to bipartisan spirit, and he's saying he's painting Limbaugh as being kind of the leader of the hard-core, hard-edge conservatives.
CORN: Well, I think Limbaugh took that crown and showed it.
CORN: Yes, it's good for ratings probably. And when he comes out and says, "I hope he's going to fail," now, listen, 58 percent of McCain voters say they're optimistic about a Barack Obama presidency. So they're rooting for him. And if you combine that with Obama voters, you've got to believe that about 70 percent of the public now wants to see Obama succeed, if not more than that.
If Rush Limbaugh wants to attack that and attack other media for supporting that notion or covering that notion, he's free to do so.
KURTZ: All right. So since he mentioned MSNBC, let's play a clip from Inauguration Day, Chris Matthews getting a little excited over the festivities and talking about the role of his network, which, as you know, has been accused of being favorable, at least in its opinion shows, toward Obama.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC: It sure as hell helps to be on MSNBC tonight. Let's talk straight here.
This is the network that has opened its heart to change, to change and its possibilities. Let's be honest about it. These people watch this network out here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: "This is the network that has opened its heart to change."
What did you make of that?
CARPENTER: It seemed like a very grand statement to make, and it seemed -- I'm going to say it was arrogant, because you can say that we're the network that ushered Obama in, we're on top, but you don't have the ratings yet. MSNBC doesn't have the ratings compared to the other networks.
KURTZ: But in terms of positioning.
CARPENTER: I know, but it's a grand statement to make, that we ushered in this change, we're the network that opened up their heart to the country, and take credit, I mean, really, for Obama/ I mean, come on.
CORN: Chris is a friend. I go on "Hardball" all the time.
But if you look at the nighttime programming of MSNBC, Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow, they have left-to-center guests. They have been very hard on criticizing Bush. They've been very supportive of Barack Obama, as they can be.
KURTZ: So wasn't he really saying, if you like Barack Obama, this is the network to watch?
KURTZ: OK. Well, I just want to be clear about it, because MSNBC denies that it's moved to the left, but I think the evidence is pretty strong.
CORN: Well, listen, I was on the show just the other day, and Chris was actually saying that we should be prosecuting people engaged in torture when that's not the Obama position.
KURTZ: All right. So maybe there will be some differences.
David Corn, Amanda Carpenter, thanks very much for joining us.
Still to come, John King rejoins me for some final thoughts on media coverage this Sunday morning.
KURTZ: And John King is back with us now.
John, you're a longtime White House correspondent. I want to play some more footage for you of President Obama schmoozing with reporters as he tours the rather cramped press room facilities at the White House. Let's roll that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNKNOWN: OK. All right. OK.
UNKNOWN: There you go.
OBAMA: Not down here.
I came to see you guys.
KURTZ: The president is shaking hands and getting to know some of the people, some of the off-camera people.
Is that the forum? Is that the proper setting, as we talked earlier, to start firing substantive questions at him?
KING: Sure. He's on the record when he's in the White House press corps.
Now, there is -- you know, it's just like any relationship. You have to decide when to start firing questions and when he's just trying to say hello.
He was clearly trying to extend a bit of an olive branch, but if he walks down there unannounced, reporters have every right to ask him questions. You have to decide how tough you want to get in those questions, or whether you want to give him a day of grace and just wander around.
You say cramped? You know, that's been renovated since I was there. So a lot nicer now than it was then.
It is tough. You know, President Clinton -- when I first started, I worked on the weekends. He would occasionally wander through on his way to the Oval Office in jeans and a sweatshirt. And he was never much in the mood to chat. Once or twice he would stop to say a few things.
Never saw President Bush down there in the basement like that in the cramped quarters.
It's a tough call for reporters. On the one hand, sure, the president has every right -- it's his house -- to come in and say, hey, welcome, the new sheriff's in town, I just wanted to say hello. But he has to assume that every second of his life is on the record, especially if he's standing in the White House Briefing Room -- Howie.
KURTZ: Yes. That's something he's certainly getting used to...
KURTZ: ... that every second his life is on the record. On the other hand, it seems to me that if the result is that he never sort of lets his guard down and comes by and says hello, that something is perhaps lost in that relationship between the two sides. But of course, it's very tempting with the guy there, newsmaker in chief, he is now, to get try to get some bit of news out of him. And he might have answered, but he seemed slightly irritated.
All right. Let me hand it back to you now, John King. Thanks for coming on my show, and we'll turn it over to "STATE OF THE UNION."
KING: Howie, we'll see you next Sunday. Thanks very much. Great program.