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STATE OF THE UNION WITH JOHN KING
Aired November 22, 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: The hottest author of 2009 has hopscotched from Oprah to Barbara to Rush to Hannity to O'Reilly this week, slamming the media, ripping her former campaign colleagues, and kicking up the kind of fuss that, well, sells truckloads of books. And every news show that Sarah Palin didn't go on just talked about her anyway.
The former VP nominee has put herself at the center of a raging media debate over politics and ideology and motherhood and sexism and fundamental fairness toward a compelling yet polarizing figure. All of that came into play as Palin sat down with a carefully-selected mix of big-name TV personalities and sympathetic conservatives. She said she's even been approached about reality shows.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARBARA WALTERS, "GOOD MORNING AMERICA": You say no to that?
SARAH PALIN (R), FMR. ALASKA GOVERNOR: Absolutely not. I would never. No, I would not ever want to put my kids through such a thing. Shoot, our life has become kind of a reality show.
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: Look, I follow this president every day. I think he's a socialist. Do you think he's a socialist?
Is the president then more radical than he let on? Do you think the president's radical?
PALIN: I will not hesitate to say that his associates have been extremely radical.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So, how did the journalists and commentators fare at pinning down Palin, and are the media devoting ridiculous amounts of attention to one losing candidate's book?
Joining us now here in Washington, Matthew Continetti of "The Weekly Standard," author of the new book "The Persecution of Sarah Palin: How The Elite Media Tried to Bring Down a Rising Star"; Julie Mason, White House correspondent for "The Washington Examiner"; and in San Francisco, Joan Walsh, editor-in-chief of Salon.com.
Julie Mason, Sarah Palin keeps sniping at the media as she uses the media to promote her book. Smart strategy?
Yes, it's a great strategy. It's us versus them. And the media is using her, too.
MASON: We were so sick of that health care debate, and here comes Sarah Palin with this book and all this controversy and these outrageous statements. I think one of the most interesting things about this has been the fact-checking that's been going on about her book, the point and counterpoint. That's been really interesting to watch, and just watching her and trying to figure out, what's her end game here?
Maybe Matt knows.
KURTZ: Matthew Continetti, before we get to that, after those first two interviews with Oprah and Barbara Walters, Sarah Palin was interviewed by you, "National Review," O'Reilly, Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Christian Broadcasting Network.
It sounds like she's preaching to the choir, by and large.
CONTINETTI: Well, right now she's trying to reach her base of support, and the way to do that is to speak to conservative audiences through conservative media.
KURTZ: Other people buy books.
CONTINETTI: Other people, and they're buying her books, too. But I think the question -- you're right about this, Howie -- if she wants to broaden her appeal, which is crucial if she wants to run for elected office again, she's going to have to sit down with, I think, personally, Katie Couric, among others, in the future.
KURTZ: Boy, that would do a big number, Joan Walsh.
Do you think Sarah Palin's finger in the eye criticism of the media is just payback, pure and simple? Is she playing to that base?
WALSH: I think she's playing to the base. I think she also feels like she has a grievance. You know, I'm very hard on her in policy ways, but I think she feels like she's been held to a different standard.
On the other hand, I mean, I'm excited to be here with Matt today, because he wrote a column about how she can redeem herself and possibly run for office last week. I think it was in "The Wall Street Journal." And it really read like either science fiction or satire in the sense that Matt had high hopes that she could do that, and she didn't take any of his advice this week.
You know, she really is poking her finger in the eye of the media, really ignoring Independents. Matt called her more popular than John Edwards, or less unpopular than John Edwards, and that's a really low bar.
KURTZ: Let me get Matthew to comment.
CONTINETTI: Well, Joan, since you bring -- I'm glad you're closely reading my work, but the fact is, public perceptions of political figures change over time. And look at Hillary Clinton, who has gone from one of the most polarizing figures in American politics to now one of the more popular members of the Obama cabinet.
Or look at Bill Clinton, whose career was declared dead over and over again. Ronald Reagan, the same thing, ran for the Republican nomination in '76, lost it, and then people declared him as an out of work actor.
KURTZ: All right. Let me jump in, because I want to bring this back to the media.
And I'll come back to you in a second, Julie.
In your book, you lump together, it seems to me, with the big news organizations -- "The Nation" and "Daily Kos" and "Gawker" and even "The National Enquirer" -- all as part of the media that are beating up on Sarah Palin. But shouldn't we make distinctions here between left-wing Web sites and "The New York Times"?
CONTINETTI: You know, yes, absolutely. And I think I make those distinctions in the book.
But I would say what's interesting about the reception of Sarah Palin, which I talk about at the beginning of the book, is that things that originated in left-wing Web sites ended up being parroted on the front pages of places like "The New York Times," or highly trafficked blogs, like TheAtlantic.com. So, sometimes the line between the far left Web sites and the mainstream media, for lack of a better word, is very thin, Howie.
KURTZ: Julie, do you think that Palin and the book tour and the rollout is being covered -- that she's being covered as a personality, as a cultural figure, or because we all want her to run in 2012 because she's such a great story as a potential presidential candidate?
MASON: Absolutely. All those reasons.
KURTZ: All those reasons.
MASON: All those reasons and more. And we don't know. Is she going to run again?
KURTZ: She probably won't run. I mean, she quit after two and a half years as governor of Alaska, and I think that we're -- that it's sort of an interest that journalists have in kind of ignoring that and saying, well, she's going to run, so let's...
MASON: Or speculating about it, and therefore legitimizing all the attention she gets. She's a public personality now, and I don't see what else she is.
KURTZ: Joan Walsh, I think in your earlier comments you kind of conceded that there was some unfair coverage of Sarah Palin during the campaign, particularly on personal stuff involving her family. But when reporters -- I mean, this is a woman who was virtually unknown in the other 48 states -- and when reporters went to places like Alaska to check her record, which Matthew Continetti takes issue with in his book, isn't that our responsibility when somebody is running for a job a heartbeat away, to use the cliche, from the presidency?
WALSH: Of course it is. I mean, you know, I differ with Matt on a lot of points here.
"The New York Times" wrote about Bristol's pregnancy after she herself confirmed it. I think that the barrier from the blogs to the "mainstream media sites" is thinner, but she did a lot to put certain things into the national framework. And then she's made enemies now from Wasilla to Washington, D.C.
She had basically run a very tiny town before she became governor, so I think most of what the media did really was fair and was our job. I think she did face sexism. I'm on record saying I happen to think that the "Newsweek" cover was sexist to depict her legs that way on a national magazine.
KURTZ: Let's put that up so people can be reminded.
KURTZ: Here she is, actually, wearing the jogging outfit that she originally posed for "Runner's World."
MASON: I thought it was exploitative, but I didn't think it was sexist.
KURTZ: Well, she did pose for it, obviously.
MASON: She obviously posed for it, and now she's playing the victim, which is the role she loves to play.
WALSH: Well, and I think that's a really good point, Julie, because I feel that that was sexism. We can disagree. But what's striking now on the right is, you know, the right has now adopted identity politics, and the right has now adopted the politics of victimhood.
And you see these people at her rallies who -- and you saw them -- last October we started to see them -- who feel that their country is being taken away from them. Some of them have a kind of populist anger that I think the Democrats should be afraid of to try to tap into.
KURTZ: Let me jump in again.
Now, you make a lot about the liberal media, the elite media, but some of your colleagues on the right during the campaign, whether it's David Brooks, David Frum, Kathleen Parker, Christopher Buckley, who hit Sarah Palin pretty hard -- they didn't think she was qualified to be VP.
CONTINETTI: And I think it gets to the heart of the reason that we're fascinated about Sarah Palin. She's become this lens in our politics that refracts all these different ways that people see the different world views and ideologies. And, you know, so even -- that applies even on the right. They've recoiled from the same things that the left does with Sarah Palin.
KURTZ: Let me play some of her interviews this week where she's asked about those famous or infamous interviews with Charlie Gibson, who had questioned Sarah Palin about the Bush doctrine, and Katie Couric, who, among other things, asked what kind of newspapers and magazines she read.
Let's roll that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
O'REILLY: Do you think Gibson did that to demean you, to make you look stupid?
PALIN: Those are the "gotcha" techniques that some in the -- what some people call mainstream, others call now the lame stream media, who want to participate in a tactic like that.
OPRAH WINFREY, TALK SHOW HOST: You're saying now that the reason why you had the responses to Katie Couric is because you were annoyed with her?
PALIN: Well, I was annoyed with where we were, what we were doing at the time. She opens the curtain for me to get backstage, and there's the perky one again with the microphone and the cameras rolling.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Julie Mason, as a representative of the lame stream media, why is she still fuming about this? And here she's calling Katie Couric "the perky one," as opposed to, say, a journalist.
MASON: Because the media really made a fool of her. They really did. And she made a fool of herself in the campaign.
KURTZ: Did the media make a fool of her intentionally, because they did not like Sarah Palin?
MASON: I think there was a definite subtext of that. I do think a lot of people were doing a credible job of trying to cover her, trying to figure out who she was. But I think in the end, the combination of her ambition and journalists' ambitions just created this firestorm.
KURTZ: Matthew, you take her side there, too. You say Katie Couric was biased. Most people think that she asked no question that was out of bounds and that Sarah Palin, who at times has kind of hinted that it was not her finest moment, but that she just blew it. CONTINETTI: I write in my book that Katie Couric is not known for her sympathy with conservatives, which is actually true. But I would say that I also write in my book that it was a bad interview, and Sarah Palin now admits that it was a bad interview and that she made mistakes.
It's funny. As I talk about my book and Sarah's book over the course of the past week, that one interview did so much to shape people's opinions of Sarah Palin, and it may have derailed her future ambitions.
KURTZ: I hear her book is doing a little better than yours.
Joan Walsh, you want to weigh in on this?
CONTINETTI: Why am I on your show, Howie?
KURTZ: You want to weigh in on this?
WALSH: Yes, I do, because, you know, let's leave Katie aside. I think there's -- speaking of sexism, there's just a weird vibe between her and Katie, calling her "the perky one." That's diminishing, so she's the pot calling the kettle black.
WALSH: The Charlie Gibson interview, for me, was actually of a turning point. Everybody picked up on it later, when Katie sat her down. But she was stumbling and idiotic in the Charlie Gibson interview.
I'm sorry. The Bush doctrine is a "gotcha" question? The questions of war and peace and our defense policy were and are central to the governing of this United States.
WALSH: So, she can't call that "gotcha." It wasn't like a pop quiz on, you know, obscure foreign leaders.
And the other thing is she really is nursing this grievance against the media, and she loves it. She loves it.
KURTZ: Well, and maybe it's working for her.
Now, with all the fact-checking, there are times when she has contradicted herself. I want to play you back to back something she said about her decision to run for vice president, first last year on "Hannity," then this week on "Oprah."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PALIN: It was a time of asking the girls to vote on it anyway, and they voted unanimously yes.
This time, there wasn't a family vote. No.
WINFREY: This was the mommy rules.
PALIN: This was -- yes. Yes, this was, I'm going to make the decision.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So her...
MASON: Yes, I know. So it's a lot of revisionist history. The truth is a moving target with her sometimes.
And I don't think it's a very important point. I don't think how she decided to run...
KURTZ: Yes, sure.
MASON: But it underscores why people are uncomfortable with her, the people who are uncomfortable with her.
KURTZ: All right. Meanwhile, she sold 300,000 books the first day. This thing is going to be a huge blockbuster.
And thank you all for stopping by this morning, Julie Mason, Matthew Continetti, Joan Walsh in San Francisco.
When we come back, journalists push back against that federal panel's recommendation on delaying mammograms, particularly female journalists. We'll talk with one cancer survivor about the line between the personal and political next.
And later, Jerry Springer joins us to talk about, who else? Oprah.
KURTZ: News organizations routinely report what experts say because, well, they're experts. But when a federal advisory panel said this week that there was no need for women in their 40s to get regular mammograms, there was something of a media-led revolt led by female journalists.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HODA KOTB, NBC NEWS: Women between 40 and 49, they say there's a one in 1,900 chance that you will be diagnosed with breast cancer. I was one of those.
MEREDITH VIEIRA, NBC NEWS: But you can't get away from the fact that a lot of women believe that they were saved because of a mammogram.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Forget the death panels, but this is rationing, saying, OK, we could do this, we could save some lives. It's just not worth the money.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: And joining us now to talk about the coverage of this breast cancer controversy is "TIME" magazine's Karen Tumulty.
Karen, it took about 10 seconds before the media started pushing back against this federal advisory panel's recommendation. Was that surprising?
KAREN TUMULTY, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Not at all. Not to me, at least, because, you know, the message on cancer, and particularly breast cancer, for decades has been one of hypervigilance. It was just two or three weeks ago that we had a big pink ribbon hanging on the front of the White House. So, the idea that suddenly we have a bunch of experts, yes, but, you know, looking at only the statistical aspects of medicine coming out with these recommendations was pretty jarring.
KURTZ: This, for you, is a very personal issue, as you wrote this week. Explain why.
TUMULTY: Well, because I actually had my first mammogram, my first breast biopsies, when I was 19 years old. And I think that -- I mean, I am a thyroid cancer survivor, and at the time that I had my first breast cancer scare, I had no family history at all.
Since then, both my mother and my aunt developed it. My mother survived it; my aunt didn't.
KURTZ: So, ,you can't look at it as, let's see what statistics the experts have come up with and what percentage chance that if you were in your 40s and didn't get a mammogram, that you might develop cancer. You can't look at it that way.
TUMULTY: No, but I think the statistics are extraordinarily valuable. And I think that this is a debate that we need to have. But I think, ultimately, that this -- that in this health care debate, we are looking at a country where the vast majority of people, blessedly, do have decent health care coverage, and they don't want to feel like, you know, some government panel or scientific statistics are going to come between them and the conversations they should be having.
KURTZ: But when you write about this and when you talk about this, you can't separate your real-life experience from the scientific arguments, can you? Or should you?
TUMULTY: You know, I didn't. And that was one reason I decided to blog about this, because, you know, certainly, in some ways it's bringing more transparency to journalism. I mean, when people read what I have to write about these things, they can know that I'm a human being who brings a personal experience to this.
KURTZ: And Gail Collins did that in "The New York Times," writing about that she was a breast cancer survivor. And I found these perspectives very valuable.
Isn't the problem here with any kind of health care recommendations that, while there may be a marginal chance for the system as a whole that cancer would be detected from these routine tests -- one in 1,900, I guess, is the figure -- that it looks very different if it's you or your sister or your mother.
Who wants that take that chance?
TUMULTY: And it's also that different people have different amounts of risks that they want to tolerate. So I think it's very important that you have the evidence that tells you what the real trade-offs are, the dangers of too much screening versus what you might miss. I think the thing that threw a lot of women back on this panel's recommendations, though, was the recommendation that women not be taught self-exam. I mean, that is what, to me, had a little bit of paternalism to it, because it felt as though, you know, they were trying to essentially keep information from women so they wouldn't be sort of wasting their doctor's time.
KURTZ: Yes. And this whole business about anxiety, because if you got a positive you might be anxious about it, I think most women would rather make that decision themselves.
Did you get a lot of reaction to that blog?
TUMULTY: I did. I did. And I was also interested in some of the other women who wrote about it.
For instance, Michelle Cottle, at "The New Republic," in a situation very much like mine, wrote that it had been recommended to her that she should have more screening. And she took into account other factors in her life and decided no. And I think that's the kind of decision that people want to have remain with them and their doctors.
KURTZ: Let's turn to last night's vote in the Senate.
You've covered the health care debate every single day. Big headlines this morning about Harry Reid and the Democrats mustering 60 votes to get that health care bill to the floor, but was that really much of an accomplishment?
TUMULTY: You know, I think for weeks it's been pretty clear that in the end, he was going get his party together. And also, it's very clear that the really hard vote is the one that's going to come a few weeks down the road to get this bill off the floor.
KURTZ: Right. So, the big headlines and the lead stories about what a big deal this was, I mean, if the Democrats couldn't even bet the bill to the floor, then they're not much of a party, are they?
TUMULTY: Well, that is true, and that is the big question, is -- you know, that they've got all of the levers of government in their hands right now.
KURTZ: Has there been enough journalistic attention to the deals that are made here? For example, Dana Milbank writing in this morning's "Washington Post" about what's called the Louisiana purchase. In other words, that Senator Mary Landrieu got a provision that could be worth up to $300 million for the state of Louisiana for her vote. I mean, she was bought off and maybe there's an age-old tradition of that on Capitol Hill.
TUMULTY: Well, and the bigger deals are the ones that have been made with the various industries. And I do think we have been writing too much about process and not enough about these deals, because those are things that are going to affect everyone's health care costs.
KURTZ: All right. A story that's clearly going to continue for some time to come.
Karen Tumulty, thanks very much for chatting with us this morning.
Coming up in the second half of RELIABLE SOURCES, Oprah Winfrey shakes up the TV landscape by announcing she'll pull the plug on her daytime show. We'll examine the impact with someone who knows the talk show racket -- Jerry Springer.
Nightline's Cynthia McFadden on her interview with the former Senate aide whose wife had an affair with John Ensign and whether both ran afoul of lobbying laws.
Plus, musical chairs. Why it's hard to keep up with who's up and who's down in media land.
KING: I'm John King, and this is STATE OF THE UNION. Here are stories breaking this Sunday morning.
A Democratic senator says moderates in his party should not be allowed to dictate the terms of the health care debate. Earlier here on STATE OF THE UNION, Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown said he believes the final bill should include a government-run option for Americans who do not have insurance.
Federal officials are investigating the cause of a radiation leak at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania. The leak happened yesterday during a refueling outage when the reactors were shut down. Officials say the leak posed no threat to the public, and they add about 20 workers were affected, but were quickly decontaminated.
Students at the University of California Santa Cruz are refusing to leave the administrative building where they've been staging a sit- in since Thursday. They say they expect the police will soon forcibly remove them.
The students are protesting a 32 percent tuition hike. The demonstration in Santa Cruz, just one of several protests at UC campuses across the state this past week.
Those are your top stories here on STATE OF THE UNION.
KURTZ: She is such a dominant figure on the media landscape, that the announcement that she's ending her daytime talk show two years from now made the front page of "The New York Times." Oprah Winfrey is abdicating her throne as the queen of daytime talk to concentrate on her new cable channel, modestly named the Oprah Winfrey Network.
Let's face it -- this is a woman who transcends the role of television host, who's become a cultural icon for millions of women. And she's been building that brand for 25 years.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WINFREY: Welcome to the very first national "Oprah Winfrey Show!"
I have lost, as of this morning -- as of this morning, 67 pound pounds.
The boy is gone. The boy is gone.
Did he ever beat you?
MICHAEL JACKSON, SINGER/SONGWRITER: Yes.
WINFREY: I'm going to surprise the winner with $1 million.
I feel duped, but, more importantly, I feel that you betrayed millions of readers.
A few of my favorite things!
These years with you, our viewers, have enriched my life beyond all measure.
So why walk away and make next season the last? Here is the real reason. I love this show. This show has been my life. And I love it enough to know when it's time to say goodbye.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Joining us now to examine Oprah's decision and the impact on the television business, in Las Vegas, Jerry Springer, who has hosted a syndicated talk show for nearly two decades. And in Los Angeles, Judy Muller, former ABC News correspondent, now an associate professor of broadcast journalism at the University of California's Annenberg School.
Jerry Springer, I'll start with the obvious question. You launched your talk show in 1991. That was about five years after Oprah went national.
Was she something of an influence on you?
JERRY SPRINGER, TALK SHOW HOST: Well, she's the best there ever was. I'd say she and Phil Donahue. And it's really hard to put me and her in the same sentence. I mean, because she does a real talk show. We do pretty much of a circus. But her impact on the whole industry has been enormous, because she probably was the first to take the genre of a talk show and to turn it into something personal for the viewer. In other words, people would go on and actually talk about something that was going on in their lives rather than a broad, general issue.
KURTZ: You say you do pretty much of a circus, but in 1998, for example, you were beating Oprah Winfrey in many markets across the country. But then she continued to soar. So what happened?
SPRINGER: Well, there's no accounting for public taste. I don't know why people would watch what we do, but, you know, it's a totally different element of it.
But with Oprah -- and it's really been something that's going in our society all together -- is that the individual -- the viewers have become the entertainment. I mean, that is true with the Internet. That is true in -- even in journalism now, where people with computers are suddenly becoming the journalists. You know, people sitting at home are going on the Web with their own information.
I just think the whole landscape is changing. But I think Oprah was very influential in making it OK for people to talk about their personal lives.
Judy Muller, everyone is trying to put a finger on this connection, this bond that Oprah Winfrey has with millions of women. What do you make of it?
JUDY MULLER, FMR. ABC, CBS CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think women relate to Oprah. Obviously, she's very rich, so, you know, as Gail Collins said in her column yesterday, she's worth a trillion-billion dollars.
So, even so, she seems like everybody's best girlfriend. She preaches the gospel of self-empowerment, and that's because of her personal story, raised on a poor farm in Mississippi and now one of the 300 richest people in the world, according to Forbes. This is a rags to riches story that everybody wants to believe in. So I think she really connects with women.
KURTZ: And people forget what a long shot she was considered to be. "TIME" magazine -- this was 1986, when she was launching -- wrote that, "In a field dominated by white males, she is a black female of ample bulk." She did not sort of fit the usual subscription for a successful television personality at that time.
MULLER: And the ample bulk is part of her appeal. I mean, we all relate to weight gain and loss and her struggle with that.
And speaking of Jerry Springer, she really became the anti-Jerry Springer, as he pointed out. While he was looking at sort of the tawdrier side of human nature, she looked to inspire and elevate. And as I said, talked about self-empowerment. So, she marked out turf that nobody had done before.
KURTZ: Although, Jerry, you are the perfect person for me to ask this, because I look at your Web site, and some of your videos are entitled "Stripper Showdown," "Hotheaded Homewreckers," "My Pimp Wants to Marry Me."
KURTZ: When Oprah started out, she was also seen as kind of working the tawdry side of the street. She did a lot of pretty tabloid stuff, and then she decided to kind of take a higher road.
Do you remember that?
SPRINGER: Yes. Whether we call it a higher road, it's certainly a different road.
What we do is tongue-in-cheek, and it's crazy. And as I said, I don't think Oprah ever really did that. She may have spoken about the same subjects, but she did it seriously.
With us, you know, basically, our show is a fraternity party. It's aimed at high school and college-age kids, and they kind of get it, and that's all it is.
So again, I think Oprah really created new ground. She opened the doors and says it's OK to talk about yourself.
Look, Phil Donahue had been on for 29 years. He created the genre, in a sense. But Phil Donahue never talked about himself. It really wasn't -- most of his shows had nothing to do with the individual person. It was a larger issue.
You know, he would talk about things like, let's say, health care or a war that was going on. With Oprah, it was really, I can tell you about my personal life.
She let people in, and that kind of became an OK thing then, to say, you know what? If she can talk about her personal life, I can talk about mine. And I think that has been happening across the media.
KURTZ: Oprah once said that without Phil Donahue, there wouldn't have been an Oprah. He started that show out of Dayton, Ohio.
But, Judy Muller, Oprah's not exactly disappearing. For one thing, the syndicated show continues until 2011, and then she's got the network that she's launching with Discovery, and she's got the "O" magazine and the whole empire.
So, I don't think she's going to disappear, but do you think she'll ever again have a platform as broad as this syndicated daytime show? MULLER: Well, I wouldn't put anything past her. Most of what she touches turns to gold. And I think the fact that we are talking about this and the -- is a testament to the impact of Oprah Winfrey on the industry.
This isn't going to happen for two years, and yet we're all analyzing the impact. And, of course, there are a lot of people who are going to feel the pain. All those ABC stations that count on the Oprah lead-in to their newscasts, they're wondering, who's going to fill in that spot? Who's going to bring that large audience as a natural lead-in to their newscasts? That's real money; that's real advertising dollars.
CBS, which owns the syndication rights, is going to see a loss. All those publishers who love touting their authors on Oprah, which is a natural bestseller route, they're all crying. I mean, she was tearing up yesterday, but quite frankly, there are a lot of other tearing up as well.
KURTZ: Right. And also, celebrities coming out of rehab like to go on Oprah Winfrey. And politicians who are in need of imagery, as we saw this week with Sarah Palin kicking off her tour on the Oprah Winfrey show.
Jerry Springer, but, you know, she has made mistakes. She's had problems with that South African girls school that she founded. We saw a brief clip there of her with author James Frey, and she says she got duped by a book that was full of fabrications.
So, I wonder -- there are even say that by endorsing Barack Obama, she give a major boost to the White House. I wonder if we kind of make her too much larger than life as we talk about Ms. Winfrey.
SPRINGER: Well, I think that, you know, in fairness, that's probably true, simply because we in the business of television or the media tend to be pretty self-absorbed. In other words, we really think that everything we do, wow, the whole rest of the world is just watching and changing their life because of what we say on the television tube.
KURTZ: That is a stunning admission. Let me write that down. We're kind of self-absorbed.
SPRINGER: Yes. So, in other words, no. I don't think the rest of the world, the rest of America -- I think most people go about their daily lives, frankly, not watching any of us.
I mean, for example, Oprah Winfrey, on a normal day, will get seven million people watching her. Well, OK. That means about 293 million people aren't. And, you know, it's going to be fine.
It's going to be like -- you know, people will watch something else. And it's not just watching television. They go on the Internet. Some people still read books. I mean, there are lots of other source of information. Politicians will find other shows to go on.
You know, I remember when they said Johnny Carson was leaving, oh, my God, there goes "The Tonight Show." And the reality is that "The Tonight Show" continued. Television will continue and there will be other people coming on. KURTZ: Right.
SPRINGER: So, I don't think this is the end of the world, I just think it will an effect on the industry for a while.
KURTZ: All right. It's not the end of civilization as we know it, but there are very few personalities, even in television, even people who have big numbers, who have that kind of personal connection with the audience that I spoke about.
So, Judy Muller, a number of programs, including some I've been on, the question always comes up, who's going to be the next Oprah? I wonder -- and names have been kicked around -- Ellen DeGeneres; Dr. Phil, who Oprah syndicates; Katie Couric, when her contract expires at CBS. But I wonder whether there can be another Oprah in this fragmented age of blogs and podcasts and cable channels?
MULLER: I think you're absolutely right and Jerry Springer is absolutely right that we're fractionalizing the media. And I think Oprah saw this and is acting on it.
She's creating a new cable network, OWN, Oprah Winfrey Network, and I think she sees the writing on the wall. Cable is doing much better than the broadcast shows, the big four, because they count on advertising alone. Cable gets the subscription fees and the advertising, and it's more profitable. So, she's making that change at a very good time, at a time when we sit down to watch one show and talk about it the next day.
MULLER: Those times are over in the way that Walter Cronkite did. That's over.
KURTZ: That's a past era. I've got to get going here.
MULLER: I think she's what's coming and is acting on it.
KURTZ: All right. Well, at least we've established that this is not the end of television as we know it.
Thanks to Jerry Springer and thanks to Judy Muller as well. Appreciate you joining us.
After the break, is the John Ensign saga just a beltway sex scandal or a case of potential lawbreaking?
ABC's Cynthia McFadden on the man who says Ensign should quit the Senate for carrying on with his wife.
KURTZ: Washington has had a spate of sex scandals this year, but the John Ensign saga stands out as one of the most troubling. The Nevada senator has admitted having an affair with his former campaign treasurer, Cindy Hampton. She is married to Doug Hampton, one of Ensign's top Senate aides before he left that job.
Doug Hampton later became a lobbyist who traded on his ties with the Republican lawmaker, but Hampton remains very angry at his former boss. And in an interview airing tomorrow night on "Nightline," says Senator Ensign continued the affair after claiming it was over.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CYNTHIA MCFADDEN, CO-HOST, "NIGHTLINE": He's still sleeping with your wife, you think?
DOUG HAMPTON, FMR. ENSIGN AIDE: Yes, that's hard to hear. Yes. I think he's absolutely at this time pursuing her. He's absolutely fixated on Cindy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: I spoke earlier to Cynthia McFadden from New York. She, of course, the co-host of ABC's "Nightline," who reported the Ensign story.
KURTZ: Cynthia McFadden, welcome.
MCFADDEN: It's a pleasure to be with you.
KURTZ: John Ensign admitted having this affair with a former aide back in June. I know there's still ethical questions, but why dredge all this up now?
MCFADDEN: You know, I think the key question is -- we know he admitted the affair, but the question is was there more than an affair? Was there, in fact, some kind of ethical or even legal violations associated with this affair? And so we decided it was time to dig a little deeper and have the opportunity to do that.
KURTZ: But this is, at heart, a sex scandal, a story that's good for ratings, right? MCFADDEN: Boy, I think it is at heart a question of whether there was an abuse of power. It is at heart a question of whether or not a sitting United States senator knowingly violated ethics laws, knowingly violated tax laws. That's what it's a question of, I think, Howie.
MCFADDEN: Now, is there a sex case to go around it? Yes, there is. But I don't really think that's the selling point.
I think the real question here is it's a political story, and I hope that after you've seen it on Monday night, you'll agree with me there's a very intriguing political tale here.
KURTZ: Now, this story that you've reported is basically a single source story. When Doug Hampton, who you interview extensively, he's angry. He's angry that John Ensign slept with his wife. He's angry that John Ensign fired him and his wife.
Should you, as a journalist, be very wary of what he says, because, clearly, he is out to get John Ensign?
MCFADDEN: Absolutely, we should be wary. And there are a lot of supporting documents around what Doug Hampton has to say, and the documents have been very important to our reporting of the story.
You know, I have to show that Doug Hampton certainly has an axe to grind here. He was John Ensign's chief of staff. John Ensign had an affair with his wife. John Ensign fired both of them. Yes, he has a big axe grind, so as a journalist you have to be super conservative and very careful about following the trail.
KURTZ: Right. Yes, and Hampton acknowledges that. He says he thinks Senator Ensign should resign.
Now, there was a letter that came out a few months ago that Senator Ensign actually wrote to Cindy Hampton, Doug Hampton's wife, former campaign treasurer for Ensign's campaign, in which he said, "I have done wrong. I have sinned. I have betrayed what I believed in."
And yet, after he wrote that letter, Doug Hampton is telling you that he believes that the affair actually continued.
Is that something that he believes or is that something that can be proven?
MCFADDEN: He says that, in fact, John Ensign called his wife and that he had the telephone records to prove it. Called his wife, subsequent to mailing that letter, and said, "Disregard the letter. I'm in love with you."
And Doug Hampton says that that very weekend -- which, parenthetically, was Valentine's weekend -- he confronted John Ensign and said, "What's going on?" and Ensign said to him, "I'm in love with your wife. I'm not going to apologize for it. And we're going to see where this goes."
KURTZ: And of course it's all the more poignant because the two families were friends for years in the Las Vegas area.
MCFADDEN: Well, they weren't just friends, Howie. They were super friends.
This is a friendship of two families for 20 years. You'll see on Monday night lots of photographs to document the families we're close. They called one another brother, Ensign and Hampton.
In fact, Ensign recruited Hampton to come work in Washington despite the fact that Doug Hampton had no political experience. Really because of their common faith, both devout Christians -- and John Ensign -- Hampton says John Ensign said to him, "I need a brother in Christ to walk with me in the corridors of power," encouraged, by the way, by the C Street fellowship.
KURTZ: This is of course the house that Ensign lived in and that Senator Tom Coburn also lived in.
But let me move on back to your reporting of the story.
We know that Ensign's parents mysteriously, suddenly, abruptly gave the Hampton family $96,000. They said it wasn't hush money, it was just a goodwill gesture. And then Doug Hampton's lawyer asked Senator Ensign for $8 million after Doug and Cindy had lost their jobs.
MCFADDEN: Actually, $8.5 million...
KURTZ: Excuse me. Didn't mean to understate.
MCFADDEN: Even more. There you go.
KURTZ: Did you ask him whether this was some sort of blackmail?
MCFADDEN: Indeed, I did. He said that it wasn't. He said that it was simply a question of his lawyer attempting to talk to Senator Ensign's lawyer about severance, about some sort of compensation, some sort of recompense to the fact that both Cindy and Doug Hampton had lost their jobs at this point since both of them had been employed by Ensign.
MCFADDEN: The $8.5 million figure was rejected, and Doug Hampton claims that Senator Coburn from Oklahoma got involved and attempted to negotiate a $2 million settlement, and that that was rejected by Senator Ensign as well. But Doug Hampton says he wasn't threatening anything, that he was asking for good faith.
KURTZ: All right.
After both of the couple lost their jobs, Doug Hampton says that Senator Ensign set him up, basically, as a lobbyist. You asked him about that.
Let's roll the clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCFADDEN: So, there is not doubt in your mind that John Ensign understood that ethics laws were being broken as well?
HAMPTON: There's no doubt in my mind.
MCFADDEN: This is a serious allegation you're making against a sitting United States senator.
HAMPTON: Why would a client hire Doug Hampton if he didn't think that he was going to have access to John Ensign's office? It's the only reason why I would hire him.
(END VIDEO CLIP) KURTZ: There is a federal law that bars former Congressional staffers from lobbying anybody in the chamber, let alone their ex- boss, for one year. So, in asking him about whether or not he thinks John Ensign broke the law with this lobbying business, isn't Doug Hampton also a potential lawbreaker here? Did you press him on that?
MCFADDEN: Yes, and as you'll see in the broadcast, one of the reasons that Doug Hampton's credibility starts to go up is because Doug Hampton implicates himself in having broken ethics laws while he's trying to implicate John Ensign.
He says, look, clearly, I was doing what I just sent a document saying that I wasn't supposed to do, which was to lobby the Senate for which I had just left. Not only the Senate, the very Senate office that I just left as AA for.
So, Doug Hampton, in saying that, certainly implicates himself, but he says it's important to him that the truth come out. He claims that John Ensign set him up with clients and then told him to call his AA. And that then, in fact, he was lobbying the senator that he just stepped down as a chief of staff for, a clear violation of ethics law, if in fact that's what happened.
KURTZ: I've got about half a minute.
Do you have any concern, given how angry, perhaps understandably, Doug Hampton is, that he is using "Nightline" to pursue a personal grievance?
MCFADDEN: You know, journalists are always concerned about being used. I think that our responsibility as journalists is to make sure that we can substantiate the facts with the -- as to the extent that we can. We have certainly contacted everyone for comment, and you will see what people had to say in regards to Doug Hampton's allegations on Monday night.
KURTZ: Cynthia McFadden, thanks very much for joining us. MCFADDEN: My pleasure.
KURTZ: Senator Ensign recently told CNN he's confident an investigation will show he complied strictly with all of the laws and rules and ethics of the Senate. You can see that "Nightline" interview tomorrow night, 11:35 Eastern.
Up next, from George Stephanopoulos to Diane Sawyer, to Lou Dobbs, trying to make sense of the media's revolving door.
KURTZ: As a media reporter, you get to grapple with all kinds of thorny issues from bias to plagiarism, to plain old sensationalism. But you'd be surprised at how much of the job involves keeping track of who's in, who's out, who's up, who's down, who is coddling whom, and who is stiffing whom?
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": Immigration policy...
KURTZ (voice-over): When Lou Dobbs resigned from CNN, he said he doesn't know what he's doing next and hasn't talked to other networks. But he did show up on "The Factor," and apparently he's welcome there.
O'REILLY: I would like you to come back on, like, a semi-regular basis. Would you be willing to do that?
DOBBS: It would be my honor.
KURTZ: Bill O'Reilly asked whether Dobbs abruptly quit because CNN was unhappy with his stance against illegal immigration.
O'REILLY: Then your ratings leveled, as well as all the ratings for CNN, and began to go down. Correct me if I'm wrong.
DOBBS: No. No, you're absolutely right.
O'REILLY: OK. So then they didn't like your anti-immigration stuff so much. Did they?
DOBBS: You know, I discern more of a difference between then, which was under the Bush administration, whom I was criticizing, and now, when it is the Obama administration. And an entirely different tone was taken.
KURTZ: Very interesting. But wait. In the rest of the sentence he exonerated the CNN brass.
DOBBS: Not so much in the case of CNN management, certainly, because there's no -- my contract was very explicit. I had absolute editorial control.
KURTZ: The Obama White House, as you know, has been blowing off Fox News as part of an attack that viewers first heard on this program.
ANITA DUNN, FMR. WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: Certainly, the way we view it is that it really is more a wing of the Republican Party.
KURTZ: But while the administration has been boycotting hosts such as Chris Wallace, the president did grant an interview this week to Fox correspondent Major Garrett, who Anita Dunn told me is fair, along with other network reporters on the Asia trip.
George Stephanopoulos, who worked for Bill Clinton, has been getting good reviews lately as ABC's man in Washington and the host of "This Week." Now the network is strongly considering moving him to "Good Morning America," where he'll have to deal with this sort of thing...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And also tomorrow, we have a day in the life of Martha Stewart. So, Martha Stewart, Shakira, a lot to look forward to.
KURTZ: Stephanopoulos has told management he kind of doesn't want the job unless the morning show is revamped with more hard news and less fluffy stuff. "GMA" news anchor Chris Cuomo, the son of former New York governor Mario Cuomo, very much does want the job of succeeding Diane Sawyer, who is moving to the evening news to replace Charlie Gibson. Follow the musical chairs.
Those chairs are almost impossible to follow at "The Washington Times," which is owned by followers of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon. And Reverend John Solomon has resigned after the owners ousted three top executives.
Editorial page editor Rich Miniter wanted to keep his job, but was fired, though the paper didn't tell anyone. And now Miniter has filed a discrimination complaint against The Times, saying he was coerced into attending a mass wedding presided over by Sun Myung Moon.
KURTZ: "The Washington Times" denies any discrimination and says it will be vindicated in the case.
Now, I know, it all gets a little confusing. Will Lou go to Fox? Will George jump to "GMA"? Will Diane trump Katie? Or will Brian benefit as the only male network anchor? Will Jay go back to 11:30 and bump Conan?
It's a tough job, but somebody's got to keep score.
Still to come, Twitter talk. Your feedback on whether the media are unfairly skewering Sarah Palin.
KURTZ: Time now for some Twitter talk, where you get to sound off. I asked my followers, "Has the coverage of this week's book blitz been fair or unfair to Sarah Palin? And does she warrant this media attention?"
Here's what some of you had to say.
Philip Sorensen, "SP does not warrant the attention. Even a sitting VP doesn't get nearly the attention an unsuccessful VP candidate is getting."
Maybe Tweet: "She does not warrant this much media attention. I sense reporters covering her feel that same way, so are harsh on her."
Laurano: "I think the media are indulging themselves while I know next to nothing of what's been going on in the U.S. Big health care clinic in New Orleans, Iraq?"
MSSSTAG: "The media has made this woman of no substance relevant... even if it is unwarranted. Thanks a lot."
ToeDog10: "Palin's 'Newsweek' cover is unfair since it tries to demean her. And I'm a hardcore Democrat."
And ThreeWickets says, "Fairness aside, it has been unfair. The media likes and needs the bumps to ratings and circulation like last year."
And John King, as I turn things back over to you this Sunday morning, a lot of people out there not that happy with the tone and the sheer volume of the Sarah Palin coverage. But on the other hand, she's a heck of a story.
KING: I think there are open questions about the volume of the coverage, the total -- totality of it, why it's everywhere. But she is a fascinating story, Howie, whether you like her or not. She is as polarizing a political figure as Bill Clinton was, as George W. Bush became late in his term. And she is somebody right now who is out there trying to write the next chapter, literally, with this book.
And she is a fascinating figure. Those who say, oh, she has no future, I would remind you, the American people have been forgiving over time to actors like Ronald Reagan, to a guy like Bill Clinton, who nobody said could ever win, to a guy like George W. Bush, who nobody said could ever win. So, she's trying to do something quite fascinating in her politics, and she's worth attention.
Is it too much? That's debatable.
KURTZ: She's having a fine time skewering some of us in the media as the media giver her the platform.
KING: Yes, she is.
KURTZ: All right, John. Take it away.
KING: Howie, you take care.