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STATE OF THE UNION WITH JOHN KING

State of the Union: Reliable Sources

Aired June 14, 2009 - 10:00   ET

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


HOWARD KURTZ, CNN ANCHOR: But, first, from the moment she stepped into the national spotlight last summer, Sarah Palin has been a source of endless fascination for the media. Everything, from her hunting habits, to her looks, to her baby, to her daughter's baby, has been deemed fair game.

But, with the governor spending the last few months in Alaska, the press has lacked an opening -- until this week, when Palin first agreed to speak at a big Republican Party fund-raiser here in Washington, then backed out, then wound up attending, but not speaking, while Newt Gingrich gave the keynote address.

That was all the pundits needed to start yacking about a GOP civil war.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR, "AC360": Is she trying to remake the GOP into the party of good old Palin?

BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS: There has since been a considerable stink about whether she would show up and be allowed to speak.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Sarah Palin will not be speaking. She mustn't upstage Newt Gingrich. She knows how he got...

CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Is the GOP afraid of Sarah Palin?

DAN ABRAMS, ABRAMS RESEARCH: Sarah Palin to me is like the representative of everything that's gone wrong lately.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Palin meanwhile found a better platform. A friendly chat with Sean Hannity where she and the Fox News host took turns ripping the President Obama.

And then of course, she took to the airwaves to do battle with David Letterman.

Joining us now to talk about the media's Palin fixation and whether Letterman went way over the line in mocking her: in New York, Mark Halperin, editor-at-large and senior political analyst for "Time" magazine and editor of the blog known as "The Page;" here in Washington, Ana Marie Cox, national correspondent for "Air America Radio" and now a columnist for "Playboy" magazine; and Jim Geraghty, contributing editor at "National Review."

Mark Halperin, on this speech flap, the journalists pump up this little mishap just so they could -- oh I don't know -- talk and argue about Sarah Palin?

MARK HALPERIN, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Howie, this is one case where it's not the press creation. A lot of Republican sources that all of us talked to were very unhappy with what Governor Palin did and the confusion in her political operation.

And it goes to a larger question. If what we're interested in is Sarah Palin's political future, and not just gossip about her and her family. The question is, is she doing what she needs to do now in order to be a plausible presidential candidate in 2012? Her relationship with the National Republican Party, confusion in her operation, a lack of confidence in her and those around her is what was at issue there; not gossip and not the rivalry with Newt Gingrich. And that's a legitimate issue and one the people covered.

KURTZ: Sure, but the way that it was largely framed on television Ana Marie Cox was Sarah versus Newt. The dinner showdown and actually, Gingrich said some nice things about her at that dinner.

ANA MARIE COX, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, "AIR AMERICA RADIO: And I -- from what I understand from people that I've talked too, say the same things the people that Mark has talked to, I mean, it was not about Sarah versus Newt it was more about Sarah versus sort of the apparatus of the GOP.

And her relationship with him, indeed lack of professionalism in her operations.

KURTZ: Then television, I would say, missed the main point. Jim Geraghty did the mainstream media, some journalists, at least have something of a chip on their shoulder when it comes to Governor Palin?

JIM GERAGHTY, AUTHOR AND FOUNDER THE CAMPAIGN SPOT BLOG ON NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE: A chip or even an entire bag or maybe entire truckload. A Silicon Valley's worth of chips out. Look, let us say, there have been -- having dealt with some of Sarah Palin's staff, there are times where it's tough to get statements out of them.

They are not terribly quick to put -- at least they've gotten better. But particularly when she -- right after the election it took a long time to get a fully-staffed, fully-mobilized press operation going.

KURTZ: I've been told it's hard to get answers out of the governor's office even now which of course, let some of these stories fester.

GERAGHTY: Its not unthinkable that I'm more like -- more liked by her people in other people out but nonetheless, look, when you don't get a -- when a reporter doesn't get his phone call returned, that grates on them. That may in some form or another, get reflected in the coverage. You may end finding out people who are taking out kind of a personal dissatisfaction for her staff out of the coverage of the governor herself.

KURTZ: All right, and what also got a lot of coverage this week was of course a series of jokes by David Letterman on "The Late Show."

Let's take a look at a couple of them and then we'll talk about Sarah Palin's reaction.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST OF "THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN": Number two, bought makeup at Bloomingdale's to update her slutty- flight attendant look.

One awkward moment though, during the game maybe you heard about it, maybe you saw on one of the highlight reels one awkward moment for Sarah Palin at the Yankee game. During the seventh inning, her daughter was knocked-up Alex Rodriguez.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Mark Halperin, I give comedians a pretty wide berth for satire, but going after a teenage kid?

HALPERIN: Howie, you and I are in exactly the same place on this. David Letterman, not known -- he's not Sarah Silverman, he's not the most edgy comic actor but in this case I think people across the board say he went too far.

That's analysis of comedy, that's something we can do, but in terms of Sarah Palin, it's not necessarily clear that just because he went over the line its politically smart for her to do what she did.

KURTZ: And she certainly, either out of personal or political motives, or combination thereof she called Letterman's jokes crude, sexist, perverted. And those are even...

COX: She implied that he was a pedophile. And I have to say that I think the joke was over the line, but that's over the line, too. I think that if you look at the analysis of humor, it was a joke that shouldn't have left the writer's room but it's not something that you needed to go to war over.

Especially, since -- I think he gave a sort of smug apology, kind of smarmy non-apology. But she could have let it drop.

KURTZ: I would agree that it was a non-apology. Let's play some more for the viewers and let them decide.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LETTERMAN: Were the jokes in question in questionable taste? Of course they were.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Of course.

LETTERMAN: Do I regret having told them? Well, I think probably I do but, you know what? There are thousands of jokes I regret telling on this program.

Would I do anything to advocate or contribute to underage sexual abuse or misconduct? Absolutely not, not in a thousand years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Jim Geraghty, he knew he had stepped in it, but he didn't seem terribly sorry.

GERAGHTY: The words "I'm sorry" would have been nice. And the other thing I was going to observe is it seemed like -- look, even in the Mafia they talk about not going after civilians, people who are in the game, people who are not in the game. Don't go after kids.

If I have to explain why it's wrong for a grown man to tell a joke in which the butt of the joke is an underage child, I don't know -- if that doesn't come instinctive to you, I don't know if I can explain it.

KURTZ: And once -- and once it happened, do you believe that the press by and large gave Letterman a pass, in a way that perhaps would not have been the case if the joke had been about Obama's daughters or Chelsea Clinton when she was younger or something like that?

GERAGHTY: Anyone who told joke about Obama's daughters would be crucified in the mall and I'd probably be there carrying the torches myself. So I think again, kids should be off-limits. I think there was a mild tsk-tsking. I think everyone kind of recognized it was wrong.

But there was not the full-edge firestorm you saw for say Don Imus when he made his comments about the Rutgers' basketball team.

KURTZ: Mark Halperin, way in on that if you would.

HALPERIN: Well, I think David Letterman has a lot of goodwill in the press and again, this is not typical for him. I think given how much goodwill he has there was a fair amount of condemnation.

Again, to talk about though, from Governor Palin's point of view, if she's doing this purely for personal reasons if she feels it's important to defend her family, that's fine.

But if you're thinking about it from the point of view of -- is she increasing her chances of being a player in 2012 or her stature within the Republican Party, I don't think going after a comic, even if he's crossed the line as Letterman did in this case, is a good strategy.

KURTZ: One of the things that she did, of course, is keep the story in the news beyond the initial day or two by going on television. She was on CNN with Wolf Blitzer, she was on "The Today Show" with Matt Lauer. And in that NBC interview, Governor Palin talked about how she wouldn't want her daughter Willow anywhere near David Letterman. Let's take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATT LAUER, NBC HOST, "THE TODAY SHOW": Are you suggesting that David Letterman can't be trusted around a 14-year-old girl?

GOV. SARAH PALIN, (R) ALASKA: Hey, take it however you want to take it. It is a comment that came from the heart that Willow, no doubt, would want to stay away from David Letterman after he made such a comment. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: So is she speaking there as a mother, as a governor, as a potential presidential candidate as Mark Halperin suggests?

GERAGHTY: For starters, I wouldn't treat her as a 2012 candidate until she gets more serious about it, which I think isn't going not to happen anytime before they -- any potential reelection bid in 2010.

But even beyond that, look, even if that's a harsh comeback against David Letterman to kind of insinuate a certain pedophilic vibe to him, you can't really beg for mercy after you just told a joke about the woman's daughter. I mean, you kind of went there, Dave. You kind of invited a rough response.

COX: And even if it's the 18-year-old, and not the 14-year-old, that doesn't make it a lot better. I thought that was a weird distinction...

KURTZ: His defense was no, no he was not talking about 14-year- old Willow who was at the Yankee game with her mother, but 18-year-old Bristol who of course has a baby, famously.

COX: Yes.

KURTZ: And so that's OK?

COX: Right. It's not OK.

I think the thing that really frustrates me about the situation is not how much people are taking Sarah's side or Letterman side, is that they were covering it all because as Halperin said, if -- I don't think this is part of a concerted strategy to position herself for 2012. I think this is an angry mom. Maybe she isn't saying -- saying things that aren't the smartest political things to say, but I don't know why we need to give it that much coverage.

There has been a back and forth that we understand what the two positions are; let's move on.

KURTZ: Well, here's my two cents. I just think that the mainstream media, they like David Letterman. They don't think we want to come down on David Letterman. Maybe they think that Sarah Palin is fair game for this kind of personal sharp humor.

And he got a total pass, very few major newspapers even talked about this. There's a big television talk-topic and even fewer had anything other than as you say Jim, a tsk-tsking toward David Letterman. This was not Tina Fey gentle mockery, this was pretty rough to go after as he did a 14-year-old girl or an 18-year-old girl.

And I don't think the apology was sufficient. Nobody at CBS has said a word about this. And I think that's unfortunate.

Let's move on to a slightly lighter topic. Sticking with the topic of comedy, we had the President of the United States in the last two weeks making -- popping up on a couple of late night programs. Let's take a brief look at the comedy stylings of Barack Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think that Conan will do an outstanding job. This is something we discussed several times in the Oval Office, how to manage this transition between Leno and Conan.

I say if Steven Colbert wants to play soldier, it's time to cut that man's hair. General, as your commander-in-chief I hereby order you to shave that man's head.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: And he did.

Mark Halperin, some people are wondering, doesn't the leader of the free world have better things to do?

HALPERIN: Well, that's part of the gift of Barack Obama. I think two-fold, one is he's a great performer in those situations. He -- I don't know how many takes that required, and how much of his time actually he gave out but he hits it every time.

Look, it's a challenge for every President who wants to be seen as an ordinary person to be -- have the majesty of the office, and show that he's hard at work but also to show that he is a regular guy.

And Barack Obama with the help of the Press Corps who really likes that side of him is able to pull it off. I think he's untouchable on things like this, even though I think there are other presidents who might have engaged in such things would have gotten a little more criticism.

KURTZ: I've got 20 seconds each. Does it help the President to hang out, electronically speaking with Conan and Colbert?

COX: Well, it certainly helps Conan and Colbert.

GERAGHTY: I've got a lot of gripes with Barack Obama; this is not one of them. KURTZ: But if some critics are going after him on this, the way they did about when he took his wife to New York to see a Broadway play, do they risk come up as little humorless?

GERAGHTY: Yes.

KURTZ: (INAUDIBLE)

GERAGHTY: No.

COX: You got short answers that of both.

KURTZ: That's an unusually brief response from Jim Geraghty. It gives us a chance to go to break. When we come back -- crazy talk. The pundits pounce after a crazed anti-Semite kills a guard at the Holocaust museum. Here we go again, should commentators be blaming anyone but the guy who pulled the trigger?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Ten days after the murder of abortion doctor, George Tiller sparked an eruption of partisan finger pointing, tragedy struck again, this time at Washington's Holocaust Memorial Museum when James Von Brunn shot and killed a security guard this week, the pundits went at it again. Was there a link between inflammatory talk on the right and this deranged anti-Semite?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Now within less than two weeks, we have seen two shootings -- two fatal shootings in which the prime suspect is quite clearly motivated by extreme right wing political views.

KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC ANCHOR: Rush Limbaugh knows not to bother denying that Von Brunn's rhetoric sounds a lot like Rush Limbaugh's.

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: This guy is a leftist. If anything, this guy's beliefs, this guy's hate stems from influence that you find on the left, not on the right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Ana Marie Cox, is it fair in the case of this Holocaust Museum nut job for liberal pundits to suggest any link at all to right-wing media talk?

COX: Is it fair at all? That's a really complicated question. I mean, obviously, this sort of -- whether or not you could take a moral responsibility for something over a direct responsibility for something. I think if I was someone who was using some of the same rhetoric that he used, I would feel some moral responsibility for his actions, but there's not something you can draw a legal line between.

And I do think it is irresponsible to make that a very like hard connection. I have to totally disagree with Rachel and Keith on this. I think that that was going a little bit too far to compare him to Rush Limbaugh.

KURTZ: Jim Geraghty, when Von Brunn -- this guy has a well- documented history of hate, going back 30 years, which is well before there was a Fox News or Rush Limbaugh had a national radio show.

GERAGHTY: It's always very tempting to say that those who disagree with you aren't just wrong or mistaken, but that they're actively evil and that they're insane. And I think it's a temptation you find on both sides of the aisle.

The Unabomber, apparently was a very involved in varying environmental causes so there are some folks on the right who wanted to say, "This shows you that the left environmentalists are wackos. Not all of them are. In fact quite a few of them aren't.

So it's kind of just cheap point scoring to say, "Look, this is why you shouldn't listen to Bill O'Reilly or Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck because all their listeners are potential terrorists just waiting to go off.

KURTZ: And yet Mark Halperin, it seems that both sides -- at least some members on both sides -- can't resist the point scoring. We saw this in the George Tiller murder as well; an immediate rush by commentators to start assigning blame.

HALPERIN: It's really unfortunate, Howard. The first thing we should all do is deplore the loss of human life and feel bad for the victims and their families. The second thing is we should not let the freak show of our left/right politics on cable TV, on the Internet, dominate how people can cherry pick biographical aspects of some of the people who've committed these horrible acts.

What we need to do is have responsible people. And I think the president should be stepping forward more than he has. He should lead a bipartisan, nonpartisan dialogue to say what has happened here -- what does it mean for our society.

This kind of dialogue and kind of debate which is run of the mill and takes over almost every political discussion in this country cannot be allowed to dominate discussions of horrible acts of violence on either side in any case.

KURTZ: But since you raised that part, Mark, how much responsibility does cable TV have for putting on what you call this nightly freak show?

HALPERIN: A ton and it shouldn't happen. Because once you start cherry picking and trying to figure out how to connect the motivations and biography and rantings of people who commit these horrible acts with other people, you are committing an absolutely irresponsible act. And you're committing an act, which, again, is only going to inflame.

You know, cable TV does what it does. People need to step forward -- responsible people, politicians, civic leaders, people in the media -- and say we're not going to take an act of violence and turn it into a political football. KURTZ: I want to play some tape from Friday when Salon editor Joan Walsh who had pretty strongly criticized Bill O'Reilly for his repeated and personal attacks on George Tiller before of course the Kansas abortion doctor was murder. She went on the O'Reilly Factor and it got pretty heated. Let's look at that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: You don't care.

JOAN WALSH, EDITOR, SALON: He was running a legal facility.

O'REILLY: You know who has blood on their hands? You.

WALSH: That's ridiculous, Bill.

O'REILLY: It isn't ridiculous.

You're the zealot, you are the zealot.

WALSH: You're a piece of work my friend.

O'REILLY: You're the one who has blood on your hand.

WALSH: I don't have blood on my hand. You do.

O'REILLY: You're the zealot who wouldn't even -- you won't even consider this man...

(CROSS TALK)

WALSH: I'm a pro-choice Catholic.

O'REILLY: Oh, baloney.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Did O'Reilly bully Joan Walsh and tried to tie her to the killing of babies?

COX: Yes. But the only thing that can make that more of a freak show would be clown shoes. I think that's really unfortunate. I almost am sorry that we watched it just now.

Because these are all -- these are very serious issues. There are some things that actually all three of these cases have in common which are why they were allowed to happen, not what the motivations were. All three of the people -- I'm referring to the third case is the shooting of the National Guard station in Arkansas. The alleged assailants in these cases all had previous crimes that should have been really big red flag.

I want to make one point about George Tiller though. The Tiller case is different than the other two in one way which is that as a country we are usually really good about not letting terrorists scare us. People will continue to go to the Holocaust Museum. I imagine people will continue to sign up for the National Guard. George Tiller's clinic got shut down.

KURTZ: O'Reilly was defending himself before things got out of control against Walsh saying that he bore some responsibility or at least indirect responsibility in the Tiller murder. What George Tiller was doing, whether you like it or not, was legal. What did you make of that confrontation?

GERAGHTY: I found it extremely edifying. When people yell at each other and then wave their fingers and say how dare you, it seems like this was destined for an endless, ever-increasing "how dare you" effect.

KURTZ: But Joan Walsh was trying to respond, he was talking over her, and then they started talking over each other.

GERAGHTY: Which is what some cable news programs do at their best like you see there or as part of the schtick. I don't think there's anything particularly useful about it. But to a certain extent, if you are going to accuse someone of having blood on their hands, they're not going to react, gee, maybe I do. They're going to respond "How dare you." And then maybe you're destined to have that screaming pointer.

(CROSS TALK)

KURTZ: Just briefly, Mark Halperin, some of the conservative shows have been playing up the murder of Private William Long -- this was the guy who was killed by a Muslim extremist allegedly at a recruiting station -- it seems like ideology even plays a part in these news decisions?

HALPERIN: Well, it may in some news organizations, but it's also the reality of one murder taking place in Arkansas, one taking place in Washington, and one taking place involving someone who had been a national figure. There are other things at issue.

I think our friend Bill O'Reilly might want to go on dictionary.com and look up the word "host" and get a sense of what that actually means.

KURTZ: This is a complicated and emotional issue. And I appreciate all of you discussing it this morning, Ana Marie Cox, Jim Geraghty and Mark Halperin in New York. Thanks for joining.

Coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, taking on Twitter -- CNN's Rick Sanchez will respond to a bit of mockery by Jon Stewart over his addiction to viewer feedback and a columnist who finds the whole Twitter thing just plain annoying.

The ABC News president David Westin on reporting the human face of the recession, the evening news race and the future of "Nightline."

And coming up at noon Eastern, as the Obama administration makes its push for health care reform, John King sitting down with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: I'm John King and this is "STATE OF THE UNION." Here are the stories breaking this Sunday morning.

New clashes between police and protesters in Iran today even though President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad insists his re-election was legitimate. At a news conference today he refused to guarantee the safety of his rival, Mir Hossein Mousavi.

On the streets of Tehran, Ahmadinejad supporters held a huge victory rally.

Joe Biden says it is critical that the United Nations and other nations enforce new United Nations sanctions against North Korea. Those sanctions include searching ships suspected of carrying banned weapon material to North Korea and expanding an arms embargo against the Communist nations. The sanctions were passed on Friday in response to Pyongyang's recent nuclear tests.

Israel's prime minister is scheduled to give what's being called a major speech on Mideast peace today. Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected the idea of two states for Israelis and Palestinians and rejecting freezing Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Those are the goals President Obama endorsed during his policy speech recently in Cairo.

That and more ahead on "STATE OF THE UNION."

Time now though to turn things back over for to the second half hour of Howie Kurtz and his RELIABLE SOURCES -- Howie.

KURTZ: John, before you ago, as you know, it's now one year since the death of Tim Russert, watching some of clips on NBC. I'm reminded of his great passion both for politics and for life. His passing has left something of a void, hasn't it?

KING: Without a doubt he's left a void in our business but Howie, I will tell you how I miss him most. I'm a Wizard season ticket holder here in Washington. Used to see him quite a bit with his son Luke and as a parent I admired him for how much he loved his son. That's the model I would follow.

KURTZ: Yes, he talked about Luke quite a lot. And of course, his passing also has intensified the Sunday morning competition as you and David Gregory and Stephanopoulos and Bob Schieffer and Chris Wallace all try to seize that mantle.

We'll talk to you later in the hour. Thanks very much.

You heard me talk more than once about being on Twitter.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Today's story this week, what would Shakespeare tweet? Lots of folks at CNN talk about the Web site and make an art of brevity; all messages are limited to 140 characters. In fact, Twitter has become so embedded in the culture here that Jon Stewart had a little fun with the subject the other night.

JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW": By the way, why do I have to follow CNN on Twitter? If I want to follow CNN, I can follow them on CNN. RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: I'm talking about twitter. This is "Time" magazine. It's on the cover. Twitter, which I think is fabulous.

TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Tell us what you think about president Obama's speech? Leave us a comment on my blog.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Why don't you tell us what you think? Tweet us.

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Tell me what you're doing this weekend. I want to hear from you.

STEWART: CNN has basically given up. They've actually put the power of the news in your hands.

DON LEMON: A lot of you are weighing in tonight. Here's what Bugsack says, "Fighting for the life of children should not include the killing a doctor."

STEWART: Whenever I'm troubled with the difficult moral question of abortion, I think what would Bugsack say?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Are we going overboard with this Twitter business? Joining us now from Atlanta is CNN anchor and Twitter fan, Rick Sanchez. You just saw him with that "Daily Show" bit and in Orlando, where he's covering the NBA finals, Gregg Doyel, columnist for CBS Sportsline.

All right, Sanchez. Jon Stewart basically says you're a wuss and you're just filling up your programs with these brief bursts from the masses.

SANCHEZ: Here's what's going on. There is no question that there's a group of people out there who have formed communities and they want to be connected. What could possibly be wrong with us wanting to connect to people who want to connect to us?

It just makes all the sense in the world. For the longest time we, who call ourselves, journalists have really been a bit of a closed community. I think what social media is doing is allowing us to talk to people for the very first time and give them an opportunity to talk back to us.

KURTZ: Rick, is it really two-way communication when so many people write in? Isn't it more like talk radio when only a few callers get through?

SANCHEZ: Very different from talk radio. With talk radio, you're lucky if you get in. And usually the one person who gets in is chosen is chosen because they're going to make a lot of noise. The host doesn't go home and continue the conversation with all those people on talk radio. Twitter and social media is very different. I use it because within there I find reliable sources and I also find consensus builders. So I get -- look, social media has made me a better journalist. It's made my show a better newscast. I'm convinced of that.

KURTZ: Let me toss the ball to Gregg Doyel. I want to quote something you wrote about Twitter. Let me make sure I get this precisely. You called it annoying as hell.

DOYEL: Yes. That pretty much sums it up. Twitter is the teeny bopperification of America, the dumbification of America. L.O.L. -- it's one more example of us going down the tubes. We are already falling behind in science and math in the rest of the world. Let's go ahead and fall behind on English, too. Why the hell not?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Why do you call it "the dumbfication of America" and I'll let Rick Sanchez here in a minute. It seems to me as somebody who's on that site a lot -- there's a lot of smart people on there if you -- depending on who you follow. And you are underestimating what you can learn in terms of lengths and commentary and breaking news.

In other words, there are lots of different conversations going on there. You seem to think it's a bunch of tongue-tied teenagers.

DOYEL: There's too many conversations going on in the world. I think part of the problem is there's so many things to listen to, we choose to listen now to nothing.

You can't possibly hear everything, so let's just listen to nothing and play Sudoku all day long. I think we need to limit a couple of these conversations and cut out all these corporate Christmas cards of communications which is all Twitter is. It's not one to one. It's one to 10 million. I've got no time for that myself. Get off of my lawn.

(LAUGHTER)

SANCHEZ: Well, you know, I can't help but accuse Gregg of being extremely priggish and over weaning when he says that. I mean that's like saying that journalism is bad because there are some people out there who write ridiculous columns or some newscasters who say ridiculous things.

I mean you have to kind of look at this thing in its totality. There are people out there who are talking to each other and talking to us. They have provided on my particular newscast bits of information that I wouldn't otherwise have been able to furnish the rest of my viewers.

They've also given me opportunity to connect with regular people. Not just us talking. Not just journalists talking, or not just the so-called newsmakers, but what people around the world are thinking about a particular story. Iran, in particular, is a story that hits that right on the buzzer. Here you have an opportunity to talk to people about what they're thinking about what's going on in Tehran in Tehran, as I did on my newscast the other day. And then I was able to go through Gmail and interview one of them on the air. KURTZ: Right.

SANCHEZ: I wouldn't have been able to do that have not bee for social media, Gregg.

KURTZ: Gregg, you seem to feel that it's particularly kind of an ego boost for celebrities and TV types to amass big numbers of people.

SANCHEZ: He's right. He's right about that.

KURTZ: Let me hear from Gregg.

SANCHEZ: He's right.

DOYEL: Yes, there are media applications that are more mature and sensible than Lance Armstrong telling people at 5:30 in the morning, I just woke up and had a Denver omelet. You know if that's what Twitter is and that's ridiculous.

The media has applications, I get that. But there are so many now Twitter feeds and Twitter whatevers getting sent out.

I sat next to a guy game three of the NBA Finals the other night who has spent the whole game, not watching the game, reading his Twitter updates, looking at Twitter updates, who's getting updates all day long, eventually it becomes white noise. We're going to hear none of it.

SANCHEZ: Well, and what happens is -- and I think Gregg has a point there, all right? Just like I called him over weaning and priggish a minute ago, now I'm going to call him brilliant.

DOYEL: Oh.

SANCHEZ: I think it's -- I think what's -- there you go. See? And -- anyway. I think there is too much attention being paid by us in the media, as usual, where instead of looking at the serious nature of something, we start looking at the fact that Ashton Kutcher is doing it. And look, Oprah is doing it.

And that becomes the story about Twitter, which sends a message which isn't really what it's all about.

(CROSSTALK)

SANCHEZ: That's bothersome. He's right.

Let me now jump in and ask you a journalistic question. We in the news business used to do man on the street interviews, call on people, knock on doors. And obviously there's still some of that. But is there a danger this is becoming a lazy way to have the illusion of being connected to the public? DOYEL: I love that possibility. Yes. And I -- and let me jump in quick and say it is totally the lazification and the illusion and the teener bopperification and the dumbification of America. It's the lazification of America. And we're just -- journalistic flailing -- look, we were all behind the times in the Internet 10 years ago. We all missed it. We all thought it was big. We have no idea how big it is now.

Everything that comes along now, we jump on it with two hands and two feet. Let's jump on Twitter. You know what Twitter is? Twitter is the pet rock from the 21st century.

SANCHEZ: You're 150 percent wrong, Gregg, and here's why. The opportunity to actually go on a Web site, where you can talk to different people and there is so much sharing and connecting going on on there that they make you privy or informed about something you wouldn't have otherwise known.

Last night when I went on and I started Twittering about what was going on in Iran, I learned as much about the situation in Iran as I would have watching, frankly, my network, the BBC, the "New York Times," the "Washington Post" combined.

And here's why. Social media allows those people to link these URLs to whatever it just has been written. So it's hey, great, did you just read this story that crossed two seconds ago in the "Washington Post"? Take a look at this.

KURTZ: Yes.

SANCHEZ: Look what they said about what happened in Tehran.

KURTZ: I appreciate that.

SANCHEZ: That's interesting.

KURTZ: By the way, URL is a Web lingo for linking to a story.

But, Greg, you know, it is one thing for Ashton Kutcher tore get more than one million followers, as he has, but you know, Ann Marie Cox who is on this program earlier, 600,000 followers. John Dickerson 560,000 followers. So people must get something out of trying to follow the feeds of these journalists.

DOYEL: They do. But I think the people that would subscribe to a journalist will subscribe not just to one. We're fooling ourselves if we think they're subscribing to me only.

They're subscribing to me, and you and him, and them and them, and eventually they're going to subscribe to the point there's going to be a diminishing return point, there's going to be a tipping point where it's just a little bit too much.

So I can see Twitter at the very outset being OK for some people, but I see as the trend goes on, crash and burn.

SANCHEZ: Let me just respond to that because I think there's something going on, Howard, that people should be aware of.

KURTZ: I got 20 seconds, Rick. SANCHEZ: No, that's fine. This will be real easy.

Over the next year what's going to happen is, you're going to see more focus and more filtering in Twitter to dissipate the arguments that Gregg makes.

KURTZ: Right.

SANCHEZ: Where he's right. It's too busy. There's too much stuff going on. There will be a way where you can get in there and say look, I only want to talk to people about the NBA Finals or I only want to talk to people about Iran.

KURTZ: All right, got to cut you off.

SANCHEZ: And go.

KURTZ: NBA Finals, Gregg, Orlando Magic, game five tonight. Any chance of coming back against the Lakers?

DOYEL: I hope so because I like to travel. I like to go down there...

(LAUGHTER)

KURTZ: He doesn't want the season to be over.

DOYEL: It's all about -- it's all about me.

KURTZ: All right, gentlemen.

SANCHEZ: And stay off of my lawn.

SANCHEZ: Teach them to hit a free throw, will you?

KURTZ: All right, guys.

Up next -- thank you very much -- the new normal. We'll talk with ABC's David Westin about the network's week-long effort to examine how the financial crunch is changing the country. And what about those rumors of a new time slot for "Nightline"?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: From the housing bubble popping to the stock market swoon, from the collapse of Wall Street banks to the bankruptcy of GM. The media have devoted enormous time and attention to the struggling economy. But have they really captured the human impact?

Starting tomorrow ABC New will spend a week examining how the economy is changing American life, on its news programs, including a "20/20" special on Friday, on its radio network and online.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ELIZABETH VARGAS, ABC NEWS: So today, do you have credit cards still?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No.

VARGAS: So you are cash only?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's right.

VARGAS: And what kinds of adjustments in daily life have you had to make?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One simple example is the car. It's a dented up 10-year-old Toyota that...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But it's paid for.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's paid for. And we haven't taken a regular vacation in a couple of years now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: Can such an effort provide more than a glimpse of a complicated and far-ranking subject. I spoke earlier to ABC News president David Westin from New York.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: David Weston, welcome.

DAVID WESTIN, PRESIDENT, ABC NEWS: It's nice to be with you, Howard.

KURTZ: You know covering the economy has been pretty job one for all of us in the media since last fall. Except when we're covering John and Kate. So what makes this series you call "The New Normal" different from the previous coverage?

WESTIN: What we're specifically trying to get beyond is the day- to-day, almost box score way that a lot of the media coverage has been handling the economic stories. You say it's -- in many ways the most important story we've covered in recent years because it affects everyone. But a lot of what we see is, is the stock market up today, is it down? Are housing prices up or down?

And unfortunately, I think, implicit in some of that coverage is the notion this is going to be over sometime soon and we'll go back to where we were in 2005/2006 and from what I've heard from the experts, I don't think that's accurate.

KURTZ: Well, when you talk to the ABC -- the ABC News release does about Americans goals and values may be changed permanently by this emerging economy. How do we know that? How do we know it won't be fleeting like $4 gas and then everybody will go back to partying and buying stocks and living on the next bubble? WESTIN: Well, if we've learned anything from the last 10 or 12 years of news coverage, we should know that we can't know anything for certain -- about the future given all the twists and turns that we've taken.

KURTZ: Right.

WESTIN: That said, we started last fall having a series of editorial meetings, one a week, with expert economists, an d business leaders and regulators to try to learn what we could about the economic crisis we were in.

And they disagree about a lot of things. Have different views about what's been done and what should be done. But the one thing that came through very consistently from everyone, from every persuasion is whatever happens, we are not going to go back to where we were.

Now some things about where we're going are less certain, some things are more probable. But the one thing that was absolutely emphatic was there's no way, structurally, we can go back to the economy just the way it was in 2005 and 2006.

KURTZ: Now you know of the media, and maybe particularly television which I think has a hard time covering economic stories because there are a lot of numbers and some of those abstract.

Didn't every in this story do a pretty lousy job at warning the country, at picking up on the warning signs that a financial meltdown might be coming? To lose too much risk in the financial system?

WESTIN: Yes, this is my direct answer to you. I think all of us fell short of the goal. Now there was some individual reporting in some places. "World News" some years ago, I remember doing some pieces on particularly some of the mortgage lending in California where people were paying zero money down and paying zero principle over the term of the mortgage because I remember being shocked by it.

So there were isolated instances, but as a group we did not do our job as well as we might have.

KURTZ: Let's talk about the battle at 11:30. Jay Leno, as you know, who is number one in that time slot for most of 17 years, has moved on, turned over the reigns to Conan O'Brien. Has this provided an opportunity for "Nightline"?

WESTIN: Well, things will be different and whenever things are different, it provides an opportunity. I think -- now I'm prejudiced and I admit to it. I think "Nightline" has largely created its own opportunity because even before Jay Leno moved off of the 11:35 time slot, and now he's going to come at 10:00, before that "Nightline" had made substantial inroads, not only overtaking Letterman but actually narrowing the gap with Leno.

I often say -- how you heard me say I think this is more a game of golf than tennis. We should play the course, rather than play one- on-one with competition. They'll do whatever they do, and the chip will fall where they may.

Our job is to put on the best, most compelling program we can. And we have, I think, a very strong program and one that is a true alternative to stand-up comedians doing monologues, however expertly they do it, and doing interviews.

KURTZ: Right. Journalists can be funny on occasion, but not on the Letterman/Leno level. But now what about the buzz I see in some media columns that ABC might be considering moving "Nightline" up to 10:00 to fill that primetime hour?

WESTIN: I saw that. I have no idea where it came from. And if it's a buzz, it certainly hasn't reached me.

KURTZ: All right. Well, you're the president of ABC News, I'll take that as a no.

"World News", the evening news race, Charlie Gibson. I think the consensus is that Gibson has done an excellent job since he became the anchor of that broadcast but he has been stuck in the ratings at number two, substantially, behind Brian Williams. Is that frustrating?

WESTIN: We went up to number one, as you know, for a while.

KURTZ: Right.

WESTIN: And we went back to number two. My response is, number one, we continue to reach a lot of people, millions of people every night, and that is deeply gratifying. At the same time we're not reaching as many millions as we would like to and we won't rest until we grow that audience.

KURTZ: Katie Couric is reaching even fewer millions at the "CBS Evening Weeks" and the week before last she slipped to the lowest rating that "CBS Evening News" had in a long time. Well, over five million, compared to seven to eight million for Charlie and Brian.

Why do you think that she's had such trouble pulling in the numbers?

WESTIN: Boy, I don't know. I have a tough enough time trying to explain what we're doing, rather than trying to analyze what they're doing. But please understand, I take no pleasure at all when CBS News does not do as well as they would like to do you don't root for them to lose. And I don't think that helps us all.

KURTZ: You don't root for them to lose?

WESTIN: No. Never. It doesn't help us. As I say, this is more of mental golf. We need to track viewers, a lot of the competition was -- it's not CBS, it's all the other things online and on air that people are going to turn to. And I don't think it's good overall for news, for a broadcast to be falling down any more than I think it's good for a newspaper if one of the papers is faltering.

KURTZ: Right. Which, of course, is happening in far too many places. There's far too many (INAUDIBLE) have gone down bankrupt.

Now there's a renewed competition on Sunday morning, including from our "STATE OF THE UNION," people trying to catch up with "Meet the Press" now that David Gregory is the host. George Stephanopoulos on "This Week" has made some progress in the ratings. She's made quite the transition, hasn't he, from a one-time Democratic operative.

WESTIN: I'm very proud of George and the job he's done on Sunday because as I know, he got a lot of flack for it, a lot of criticism, a lot of doubts. And George is a very intelligent, very committed, well-prepared man who does a great job. And has grown substantial in that role and in that time period. I think that he can be a very powerful source in Washington for many years to come.

KURTZ: But do you think there is skepticism when he does something like he did last week, interview Hillary Clinton, and who wouldn't want to interview the secretary of state? Since he worked in the Clinton White House, worked alongside her when she was first lady, hat that -- you know make people just a little bit skeptical now that Democrats are back in power.

WESTIN: Well, that's of course in the eye of the beholder. And you'd have to ask all the Americans who watched what they thought. I will tell you that all of the research we've done would indicate that in the early days there were some questions raised, and that that has entirely gone away.

Absolutely. We see no indication of that at this point at all.

(CROSSTALK)

WESTIN: If you look at the interview itself, I don't think any reasonable person could conclude that that was nothing anything other than a superb interview.

KURTZ: No, and I've seen him do an aggressive interview with Rahm Emanuel who he was friendly with in the Clinton White House and of course is now President Obama's chief of staff.

You know, ABC does not have a cable news network but you've got a digital network, ABC News Now. Do you see more and more of the news product and the news audience migrating online? And is that a challenge for you as well?

WESTIN: It's an opportunity as well as a challenge. Our audiences are going increasingly to online whether it's printed or video, streaming video. We need to go to where the audiences are and reach them any way they want to complain to us.

My sense is that people aren't so much just turning away from television and turning to online, they're adding it on. They're doing both. And we need to be there for them.

KURTZ: All right. David Westin, looking very normal as he's here to talk about "The New Normal" series. Thanks very much for joining us. WESTIN: Thank you, Howard.

KURTZ: And before we go to break, as you probably know, Laura Ling and Euna Lee of Al Gore's Current TV were sentenced this week to 12 years hard labor in a North Korean prison camp after drifting over the border. They are political pawns. They are not spies. That notion is just ludicrous.

But here's the challenge for journalism. How do we keep this in the news when such a shroud of secrecy over the whole case so they're not simply forgotten?

After the break, Rupert Murdoch's Washington magazine is getting a new owner. The "Boston Globe" is looking for one and one of the ladies from "The View" will be doing a little moonlighting. Our "Media Minute straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Rupert Murdoch is selling off a small piece of his media empire, his only outpost here in Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ (voice-over): "The Weekly Standard" has always had more influence, especially on the right, than its modest 80,000 circulation would suggest. Founding editors Bill Kristol and Fred Barnes are also high-profile pundits on Murdoch's FOX News Channel. Now a Denver billionaire named Philip Anschutz is buying the 14- year-old magazine from Murdoch who's got his hands full with such big outlets as the "Wall Street Journal."

Never heard of him? Anschutz owns two small papers, the "Washington Examiner" and "San Francisco Examiner" but also a chunk of such major sports arenas as L.A. Staples Center and such teams as the Los Angeles Kings and the L.A. Galaxy, the soccer team that paid a fortune to get David Beckham to America.

The "Standard's" ideology probably would not change. Anschutz is a big time Republican donor.

Speaking of media properties for sale, the "Boston Globe" is now looking for a buyer. The "New York Times" company slashed newsroom salaries by 23 percent this week after the journalists union voted down a smaller pay cut. And the "Globe" disclosed that "Times" has hired Goldman Sachs to arrange a sale.

Former GE boss Jack Welch used Twitter to blast the "Times" for what he called its brutal dark ages approach to labor relations.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: Three men have emerged as possible bidders, including a member of the Taylor family that sold the paper to the "Times" 16 years ago, and a co-owner of the Boston Celtics. But whether any of them can pull off a deal and rescue the struggling "Globe" remains an uncertain question.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ (voice-over): Joy Behar, the funny, outspoken and sometimes controversial panelist on "The View" has decided to moonlight. HLN, CNN's sister network, says it has signed Behar to host a nightly talk show at 9:00 p.m. Eastern. Behar is no stranger to the moderator's role having frequently filled in for Larry King. She is also an unabashed liberal who got into with it with John McCain during the campaign.

JOY BEHAR, CO-HOST, "THE VIEW": Those two ads are untrue. They're lies. And yet you at the end of it say I approve these messages. Do you really approve them?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Actually they are not lies.

KURTZ: Which mean she'll fit in with the likes of opinionated HLN host, Nancy Grace and Jane Velez-Mitchell.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: Still to come, landing the interview, the anchor who was so determined to talk to a foreign president that she did something that I wouldn't do in a million years.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KURTZ: Journalists have been known to go to great lengths to score an interview. I mean will convince, cajole, sweet talk, bag, you name it. But HLN anchor Robin Meade really took a leap of faith to get some face time with the elder George Bush. A man who still likes to jump out of airplanes.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBIN MEADE, HLN ANCHOR: What was your penchant for jumping still?

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: Well, two reasons. One, it still feels good.

MEADE: Yes.

BUSH: You still get a charge out of it. It's not easy to do at 85. And I get...

(LAUGHTER)

MEADE: I don't think it's easy at any age.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: John King, I don't jump out of airplanes myself. Is that something that you would do to connect with a former president?

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: You know I keep saying we should take this show on the road. Maybe we should go jump out of an airplane. KURTZ: Do you think it would boost the ratings?

KING: I don't know if it would boost the ratings but it looks like it's a fun and Robin had fun and it looked like the former president had some fun. Why not?

KURTZ: How about this? You jump out of the plane and I'll interview you when you land.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: I think I'd rather rob an interview when I land.

(LAUGHTER)

KURTZ: Thanks very much, John.

KING: All right. Take care.

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