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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Tea Party Coverage; Fringe Journalism?
Aired September 19, 2010 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: The media narrative has hardened like quick- dry cement. These Tea Party candidates are shaking up what's left of the Republican establishment, but just can't win in November.
But what if the pundits are once again wrong? Are journalists raising legitimate questions about Delaware's Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell -- her financial problems, her past comments about sex, her dabbling in witchcraft, or ganging up on the latest conservative winner?
The White House denounces "Forbes" magazine for saying that President Obama "got his anti-colonial views from his Kenyan father." And Newt Gingrich talks about the theory. Is this fringe journalism?
From breathless coverage of a kooky pastor here to the phone- hacking tabloid crooks in Britain, are the media sinking into an ethical swamp? A conversation with The Daily Beast's Tina Brown.
Plus, a New York Jets reporter gets cat calls in the locker room, and some commentators are blaming her for dressing too provocatively. We'll ask ESPN's Christine Brennan whether that's out of bounds.
I'm Howard Kurtz, and this is RELIABLE SOURCES.
A couple of weeks ago no pundit on the planet would have wagered a nickel on diehard conservative candidate Christine O'Donnell winning the Republican nomination for Joe Biden's old Senate seat in Delaware. That shows what we know. And when O'Donnell upset veteran congressman and former governor Mike Castle this week, she stepped into a blazing- hot media spotlight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CANDY CROWLEY, HOST, "STATE OF THE UNION": A triumphant night for the upstart Tea Party's Christine O'Donnell with Sarah Palin's backing.
JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS: The Republican leadership is just stunned by what happened last night in Delaware, and now they are scrambling to get control of a movement that seems to be taking over their party.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: And here's what went viral: O'Donnell talking up abstinence in an MTV special back in 1996.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRISTINE O'DONNELL (R), DELAWARE SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: The bible says that lust in your heart is committing adultery. So you can't masturbate without lust.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: But it wasn't just the so-called liberal media raising questions about her record of financial struggles and other problems. Bill Kristol has chided her as "no Sarah Palin," and his "Weekly Standard" magazine found out that O'Donnell had lied about taking graduate courses at Princeton and had filed suit against her former employer for gender discrimination, citing mental anguish.
On primary night, it was Bush-strategist-turned-Fox-News- Commentator Karl Rove who questioned O'Donnell's character and said she was a sure loser in November.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KARL ROVE, FOX NEWS COMMENTATOR: The serious questions about how does she make her living, why did she mislead voters about her college education, how come it took her nearly two decades to pay her college bill so she could get her college degree, how does she make a living, I mean, there's just a lot of nutty things she's been saying that just simply don't add up. This is not a race we're going to be able to win.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So have the media, including the conservative media, been fair to Christine O'Donnell and the Tea Party movement she represents?
Joining us now here in Washington, Craig Crawford, columnist for "Congressional Quarterly." In New York, John Avlon, senior political columnist for "The Daily Beast" and a CNN contributor. And in San Francisco, Debra Saunders, columnist for "The San Francisco Chronicle," who also blogs at TokenConservative.
John Avlon, Christine O'Donnell has a checkered history, no question about that. But is the press piling on now?
JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No. I think they're doing their due diligence after the fact, though. And that's part of the problem.
I mean, a lot of conservative magazines, "Weekly Standard," "Reason," even "National Review," tried in the late innings of this primary campaign to start raising very legitimate questions about her fitness for office, her qualifications, her honesty. That's what we're supposed to do, is hold political figures accountable and to try to be the honest brokers here.
The problem is it came very late, and now it's all happening after the fact. She has the nomination, and of course the GOP's very nervous about what that means. And the fact that she's withdrawn from the Sunday shows is another sign I think of a campaign and a candidate in crisis and on defensive.
KURTZ: I think the reason that you didn't see that media scrutiny during the primary is because most of us in the establishment press didn't take her seriously.
AVLON: Yes, that's right.
KURTZ: Debra Saunders, when journalists report that she only made $6,000 in the last year, or that she had her home foreclosed upon, or wasn't honest on her college education, aren't those legitimate questions to raise about Christine O'Donnell?
DEBRA SAUNDERS, COLUMNIST, "THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE": Those are very legitimate questions to raise about her. Voters in Delaware have a right to know about these issues. And I'm glad that the media reported them.
But I have to tell you, Howie, there's never going to be a bill in Washington about masturbation. And there's only one reason to show that video, and that is to make fun of her.
And I do think that there's been a bit of a pile-on where people are -- I mean, that's it. We just want to make fun of her.
It's like the media are the cool kids and she's the geek or the nerd or whatever. And we're just going to find every stupid thing she said 15 years ago, we're going to put it on TV, ha, ha, ha. Aren't we cool and isn't she a nut?
KURTZ: And on that point -- I'll come back to you, Debra.
And on that point, Craig Crawford, the latest video to surface -- some people have a paper trail; she has a video trail -- was from Bill Maher on "Politically Incorrect" back in the '90s. Here's a little bit of that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: I dabbled into witchcraft. I hung around people who were doing these things. I'm not making this stuff up. I know what they tell me they do.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, what do they do?
O'DONNELL: I mean, and one of my dates --
BILL MAHER, HOST, "POLITICALLY INCORRECT": Wait. I want to hear about this.
O'DONNELL: One of my first dates was a witch who was on a satanic altar. And I didn't know it. And there was a little blood there and stuff like that. (END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So, Craig, what about Debra's point that the media are trying to marginalize her by focusing on masturbation and witchcraft?
CRAIG CRAWFORD, COLUMNIST, "CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY": I think it's very true that it was time to scrutinize her because she was on the national stage. But --
KURTZ: It's fair scrutiny?
CRAWFORD: And it's fair scrutiny because she's new on the national stage and these things happen. The problem for the media, as always in these cases, is her response is, oh, the liberal media. And this is what so often happens. It plays into that narrative for her.
Another narrative for her, you mentioned the home foreclosures, trouble paying for college. She talks about how she's not elite and she didn't have the money.
KURTZ: She's had personal (ph) problems, right.
CRAWFORD: She talked about John Kerry and said, you know, I didn't have to find a place to park my yacht to save on taxes, you know. So that's her response to those. So it plays into two of her narratives and makes her stronger.
KURTZ: You have set me up with that phrase "liberal media" to play some tape, because the morning after her primary victory on Tuesday, she did the network morning shows, and none of the anchors particularly pressed her on the specifics of her record. Then she went on Sean Hannity, and he seemed upset that she had gone to the mainstream media.
Let's roll this montage.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATT LAUER, "THE TODAY SHOW": Boy, they've said some terrible things about you. You're unelectable, unqualified. Most people thought I'd be sitting here this morning talking to a guy named Mike Castle.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: All right. So my question is, why have you decided to subject yourself to the -- what I would argue probably biased, tough questions, and obviously the advancement of some of the attacks against you?
O'DONNELL: Well, because I wanted an opportunity to counter those attacks. My opponent is putting out lies. They're being exasperated -- or was. And they're being exasperated by the liberal media. (END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: John Avlon, the exasperation aside -- I think she meant exacerbated -- has now led her, as you alluded to at the top, to cancel an appearance this morning on "Face the Nation," cancel one on "Fox News Sunday" as well.
So what does that tell you about her view of the media?
AVLON: Well, it tells you that the campaign is in crisis, in containment mode. They're trying to figure out just how much is out there, because that sort of due diligence wasn't done either by the media or her campaign.
But I've got to say, what Karl said is right. The idea of playing defense, of playing the victim card, which is one of the narratives that she's going to play when there is accountability for what she said in the past, people have to be held accountable for what she said in the past.
These are statements of principle, presumably, that she made. And if she put herself out there, then she made herself into this caricature of a social conservative activist.
And now they're in defense mode. But she can't play the victim card. The campaign she ran against Mike Castle, which was ugly and full of smears and innuendoes, so much so that the media had trouble figuring out how to cover that, because you don't want to advance those smears by addressing them, but then to turn around and play the victim card in the face of the liberal media, well, that doesn't strike me as credible.
KURTZ: Well, it wasn't covered much because the race wasn't seen as a competitive race.
Debra Saunders, Karl Rove says, look, my job now is to go on Fox and call them as I see them, and that's why he said those things about Christine O'Donnell, although he's now kind of pulled back and at least endorsed her.
What did you make of Rush Limbaugh and Michelle Malkin and other conservatives going after Rove for daring to speak his mind about this candidate?
SAUNDERS: Well, you know, I tuned in to some talk radio shows the day after she won and I kept thinking, boy, they sound like she lost. All they're doing is complaining about the people who criticized her.
Obviously, Karl Rove and everybody else has a right to criticize her on fair issues, especially if she hasn't been honest. There are questions about her finances. These are things that Delaware voters would want to know about.
I still think -- I mean, she's made herself, it's true, the first Facebook Senate candidate, except she's Facebook squared, because she's got this YouTube background. And let's face it, this stuff is horrible.
But we didn't get into journalism so we could just point at people and laugh. We ought to be looking at her record and her positions and what she said about witchcraft --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But she has no record.
SAUNDERS: -- 15 years ago. Well, she does have a record of positions.
I mean, I understand what you're saying, but she does have positions. She has run before. In fact, there have been stories about her past campaigns. I mean, those seem to me a lot more substantive. This is just prurient.
KURTZ: John Avlon, you want to respond to that?
AVLON: I just think she has a record, and they're based on all her past statements and in her previous campaigns. So I don't think it's prurient to focus on what she has said in public in the past, especially because she's never held elected office. All she's really been is a professional social conservative activist who's gone on television shows.
KURTZ: Right. And when you say things in front of a camera, obviously that becomes part of the public record.
Craig Crawford, let's look at the political fallout. Whether we're talking about Christine O'Donnell in Delaware, or Joe Miller in Alaska, or Sharron Angle in Nevada, these people went out and beat establishment candidates, often with not a lot of money.
Shouldn't journalists respect that? Instead, there seems to be, well, this is mutual antagonism. We seem to be -- some of us -- I don't want to include everybody. Some of us seem to be looking down our noses at these insurgents, and they don't seem to be big fans of the mainstream media.
CRAWFORD: I hate to see the mainstream media doing that, because I certainly respect them and their politics, their tactics. They have been very successful.
The thing about the Tea Party that strikes me is it's very similar in particularly their fiscal conservative views to the Perot movement. And this argument that they're bad for Republicans doesn't wash as much with me because as least they're inside the Republican Party. The Perot people were outside the party and much more damaging to Republicans.
Craig, just briefly, what about this instant journalistic wisdom when these candidates, when Christine O'Donnell being the latest, well, of course this hurts Republicans because they're all going to lose in November, they're too extreme, it's one thing to win 30,000 votes in Delaware, another thing to win in state election? We've been wrong all year on these races. Could we be wrong again?
CRAWFORD: And sometimes we're wrong when we listen too much to the Democratic message. That's the Democratic Party message, that the Tea Party is bad for them. I think we should scrutinize that a bit more, be a little more skeptical of it.
The other is that they're all crazy. And that's the trouble with focusing on all these statements and everything. We're playing into the Democratic message that these candidates are insane.
KURTZ: Journalists of course are perfectly sane. We all know that.
When we come back, the White House slams "Forbes" magazine over an article painting the president as a crusader from an African culture.
And later, Tina Brown on whether journalism has gone off the deep end.
KURTZ: White House spokesman Robert Gibbs minced no words about the cover story in "Forbes" magazine this week. It was, he told me, a new low for journalism.
Conservative author Dinesh D'Souza writes that President Obama has adopted an anti-colonial world view from his Kenyan father, Barack Obama Sr., who, by the way, left the family when his son was 2 years old. The article says of the president, "He adopted his father's position that capitalism and free markets are code words for economic plunder. He must work to wring the neocolonialism out of America and the West. Clearly, the anti-colonial ideology of Barack Obama Sr. goes a long way to explain the actions and policies of his son in the Oval Office. The invisible father provides the inspiration."
The piece was embraced by House-speaker-turned-Fox-News- commentator Newt Gingrich.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
NEWT GINGRICH, FOX NEWS COMMENTATOR: It's really a stunning insight to say what if he is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan anti-colonial behavior can you begin to piece together, and that that's the most accurate predictive model of his behavior?
(END AUDIO CLIP)
KURTZ: But some conservatives were appalled by the "Forbes" piece.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID FRUM, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: And it also sends a message -- and I say this as a Republican -- there are a lot of other people who are the descendants of African traditions. Are they not welcome in our party? Do we not think they are real Americans?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Liberals, meanwhile, focused their fire on Newt.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ED SCHULTZ, MSNBC: Newt Gingrich I think has hit a new low, playing to the birther fringe of the Republican Party, accusing the president of the United States of having a Kenyan world view.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Debra Saunders, you wrote this week that the media and others are taking Newt Gingrich's pronouncements way too seriously. But he's not just some talk show blowhard. He's a former Speaker of the House.
SAUNDERS: He's also a walking blurb. I mean, everything is the most astounding revelation. And if anything is trendy and it has a lot of polysyllabic words in it, he's going to jump on that surfboard.
So, of course he said something about that. I mean, he's asked about Dinesh D'Souza and "he had the most insightful revelation." But it was just silly.
And I think the White House was right about the Dinesh D'Souza piece. It was -- I don't like psychoanalyzing the president. I think that there are better things that we have to do as journalists.
I think this was psychobabble, it wasn't even psychoanalysis. Dinesh D'Souza, it's like -- you know the stripper song "You've Got to Have a Gimmick"? Well, his gimmick is, hey, I grew up in Mumbai and Obama spent time in Indonesia as a kid, so I have this unique understanding to how he sees the world. And he came up with this just silly construct.
SAUNDERS: And as you pointed out, Howie, there were mistakes in it too.
KURTZ: And we'll get to those in a moment.
D'Souza did tell me this was a psychological theory that he had devised.
John Avlon, what do you make of this whole argument that Obama is adopting these anti-colonial policies and believes in the white man's oppression because of his dad?
AVLON: Look, I don't believe -- and I think Americans in general, we don't believe that -- forget that the individual is separate from the sins of the father -- that somehow a belief system is passed on through osmosis from the father to the son, especially when they last met when they were 10 years old. Look, we've seen these sinister psychological profiles of presidents that began actually with Woodrow Wilson. We saw a lot during Nixon, Clinton, George W. Bush.
They're always hyper-partisan and hyper-paranoid, but rarely do they leap to the cover of a respected national magazine like "Forbes." And that's part of what's troubling here. It's a sign of the rise of the partisan media. And "The Columbia Journalism Review" I think was right to call this smear journalism.
KURTZ: Let me pick that point up with Craig Crawford.
Robert Gibbs really went after "Forbes" for publishing this. He told me that there was no fact-checking, that some facts were left on the cutting room floor. Now, obviously, Steve Forbes, the editor-in- chief was a Republican candidate.
What do you make of the magazine's decision to put this thing on the cover?
CRAWFORD: I think it was not only a cover story, but cover for politicians like Gingrich to connect to this birther movement, even though this article does not assert that he was born anywhere but Hawaii, because I think a lot of politicians like Gingrich are looking to do that. And that's what this accomplished.
This author in particular in the past has been a foundation for these kinds of things. He wrote a whole book claiming that cultural icons, American icons like Britney Spears, caused 9/11 by outraging Islamic values, offending Islamic values.
KURTZ: I've never heard those two words in the same sentence.
CRAWFORD: I know, Britney Spears -- and a lot of politicians like Pat Robertson went on to say yes, it's the godless American cultural leaders who caused 9/11. And that was -- that's what this author accomplished in that case.
KURTZ: Dinesh D'Souza told me he explicitly rejects the whole birther movement, and he says he drew this from Obama's own memoir, "Dreams From My Father."
Let me read another quote and I'll toss it back to you, Debra. "Here is a man," the article says, "who spent his formative years, the first 17 years of his life, off the American mainland in Hawaii, Indonesia and Pakistan, with multiple subsequent journeys to Africa."
Well, Hawaii may be off the American mainland -- and, by the way, he only visited Pakistan once as a college student. So your thoughts on that briefly?
SAUNDERS: Well, yes, that was a real problem in that piece, because I do consider Hawaii part of the United States, whether it's part of the mainland or not. And he did spend some time in Indonesia.
I read the book. And one of the -- I think that he talked about when he went to Indonesia sort of becoming more might is right in his thinking when he was a kid there. So I just don't know where that -- where these ideas come from.
This is a mystery to me. That "Forbes" printed this and gave it that is a mystery.
KURTZ: OK. I've got to go.
By the way, the article says that -- blames Obama for an export- import bank loan to Brazil, which in fact was done by a commission that had no Obama appointees on it at the time. That was just one example that people pointed to.
John Avlon, Debra Saunders, Craig Crawford, thanks very much for joining us this morning.
And coming up in the second part of RELIABLE SOURCES, Glenn Beck, Michelle Obama, and one outlandish tabloid tale is just one part of today's "Media Monitor."
But first, are the media playing an inflammatory role in all these religious and racial controversies? An in-depth conversation with Tina Brown.
And later, the New York Jets get penalized for unnecessary roughness toward a female correspondent. But she's the one getting tackled by the media.
KURTZ: Every week it seems we examine some new embarrassment for journalism, lowering the bar a bit further each time. Hype, sensationalism, rushing to publish without the key facts, the American media sometimes resembling the tabloid hucksters in London.
And who better to talk about that than a woman who's well known on both sides of the Atlantic? Tina Brown, edited the British magazine "Tattler" before coming to America to take over "Vanity Fair" and then "The New Yorker." Now she's taken a plunge into the digital world with a launch of "The Daily Beast."
I spoke to her earlier in New York.
KURTZ: Tina Brown, welcome.
TINA BROWN, CO-FOUNDER, "THE DAILY BEAST": Good to be here, Howie.
KURTZ: This is in some ways an ugly time in America. You have an obscure pastor threatening to burn Korans, you have the mosque controversy here in New York, you have these phony accusations against Shirley Sherrod, whether she was a racist.
Are the media playing an inflammatory role in these kinds of stories?
BROWN: The media's undoubtedly playing an inflammatory role in the sense that, to be honest, at this point cable TV, particularly, is only about conflict. And the Web is there to amplify it.
But the fact is, is that it is what it is. The media isn't going to change. That aspect of life is not going to change. So it actually behooves people who are actually facing controversial things to be very, very careful when they're going in that they're not going to start pressing all these buttons.
KURTZ: Why are you so willing to accept it as a fact of life? I mean, it seems to me that, especially if race is involved, if religion is involved, if some fringe character like this pastor Terry Jones is involved, we not only obsess on this story, we practically create the story. And you're saying that I should just accept that because that's the way it is.
BROWN: Well, I don't think it's attractive to accept it, but I think we live in a world where there's massive aspects of the media which can't in any sense be controlled. I'm talking about social media, I'm talking about what Sarah Palin can post on her Facebook and it goes viral.
So whatever the so-called responsible media are doing, there's so much other media, that it drowns out anyone who's playing responsible in the media.
KURTZ: Part of that drowning out, it seems to me, is increasing polarization in cable news. I mean, any night you can turn on Fox and MSNBC and see their hosts sniping at each other. And I just wonder, does that remind you, for example, of the (INAUDIBLE) papers in Britain?
BROWN: Well, actually, the difference is that because there are so many papers in Britain, and because the quality of the quality papers is so good, and because it's a smaller country where everybody can pick one paper that it speaks to, that polarization in fact isn't nearly really as influential as cable news is here, frankly, or to polarize the country. And everyone knows -- for instance, the London "Daily Mail" is a wildly inflammatory tabloid newspaper, but people kind of recognize it for what it is, which is kind of Vaudeville, if you like.
KURTZ: And yet, in the cable arena you have more and more Republicans only appearing on Fox News, more and more Democrats only appearing on MSNBC. And it seems to me that it kind of reinforces the partisan views of those who watch, who already may be leaning to the left or the right.
BROWN: I'll tell you what I do think is a great danger, is that in the Web world now we're seeing that -- I'm told that soon we're going to see a situation where, for instance, when you type in "mosque" on Google, if you're somebody of the Tea Party's persuasion, you're going to get one kind of search coming to the top. And if you're somebody of the more liberal persuasion, you're going to get another answer coming to the top.
KURTZ: Because the --
BROWN: Search can be tooled soon to the self-selecting searcher.
KURTZ: So the Google guys are going to anticipate what you want and give it to you? And by doing so, in a way insulate you, because we all rely on Google and Yahoo!
BROWN: Right. We're going to be echo chambers of our own making, which is extremely dangerous, because it actually will mean that we just reinforce our own prejudice, hysteria and ignorance. It's a disastrous notion, which is why we still need to fight for media that is objective, that is fair, that has standards.
KURTZ: I love to read people I disagree with, as long as they're not utterly predictable and you're going to get the same talking points every time.
On this same topic, Glenn Beck has become an influential and certainly divisive figure after that Lincoln Memorial rally, that huge rally.
Do you see him as something of a cultural phenomenon? What's your take?
BROWN: Well, I do. I think that he's a fascinating demagogue, actually. He really is a demagogue.
And he has become sort of the white Malcolm X in a strange way. I mean, the way he goes out there with this kind of very -- he's very much kind of -- it's white racial politics, in a sense, because he's really saying -- a lot of his message is, you know, that Obama is a racist.
I mean, all the stuff that we keep hearing about "Hussein Obama" and the references to Obama being undoubtedly kind of racist, really, in all the terminology.
KURTZ: He's backed off that a little bit, and now he seems to be talking a lot about God and America --
BROWN: Yes, he talks about God, but when you drill down to what he's actually saying, he calls him a Nazi and socialist who's taking over the country. I mean, his language is extremely inflammatory.
And he likes to play it now revivalists and religious bring it together. But he's playing a double game, because actually he's a hypocrite. And he's a Tea Party hypocrite. He's preaching one thing and he's actually being another.
KURTZ: Speaking of the president, let's take a step back. How would you describe Barack Obama's coverage by the news media during the campaign?
BROWN: It was idolatry, I would say. Pure idolatry. I mean, he had his rough moments, but the media drank the Kool-Aid in such gulps, that it was really shocking to me.
KURTZ: And embarrassing?
BROWN: I thought it was embarrassing in the sense that it was so clear that they were in love with Barack Obama. I mean, I thought he was an extraordinary candidate, but I did feel that Hillary Clinton got an incredibly rough ride, that she could not in fact compete with the -- those (ph) who fell in love with that new story, because it was a great story. It was an "American Idol" moment.
When Obama spoke at that convention in -- the John Kerry Democratic Convention, that was an "American Idol" debut like Susan Boyle. And (INAUDIBLE), he rose.
KURTZ: Right. And Obama got the best coverage of any presidential candidate in my professional lifetime or maybe in recorded history.
And now you go to 2010, and the president is widely depicted, I would say, in the press as ineffective, as professorial, as too passive, as boring, even. What happened in terms of -- did journalists fall out of love with their heartthrob?
BROWN: Well, there is for a start no way he could have met those expectations.
KURTZ: No. We jacked them up sky high.
BROWN: Jacked him up so high that there was no place to go but down. But I do think that what has surprised and dismayed the media is the sense that they really felt that he was a candidate -- you had connected with him on some deep, hopeful level. And actually, since he's been in office, his major flaw that really surprised us all, I think, is that his communications and connective skills have been the weakest part of his presidency. And that, I think, has baffled people.
KURTZ: But, to some extent, he never could have walked on water the way he was portrayed in 2008. And so here's a guy who has gotten a fair amount done, if you want to measure it by legislative success, and yet we're just pounding on him. And I'm not saying unfairly, because there is this sense that he's not connecting with the public.
BROWN: Well, I think that right now there's this philosophy herd (ph) instinct which takes one way or the other. For instance, I think that we are hypnotizing ourselves now about the bad news in the economy to such a degree that it's out of control. I mean, if you talk to people from China and India and so on, they do not see the American economy in the same kind of dismal terms that if you turn around every single publication says that you're in.
KURTZ: But, I mean, clearly there's a lot of pain.
BROWN: A lot of pain.
KURTZ: Long-term unemployed, people who never expected to lose their jobs out of work for a long time.
BROWN: The jobless recovery is a horrific and painful experience right now in America, but it's also -- we don't want to make it even more of a self-perpetuating philosophy so that --
KURTZ: And you think that is happening?
BROWN: I think it could happen because, again, I think that the media velocity that goes on is such that you can also hypnotize yourself into a further depression. You see what I'm saying?
BROWN: That the real depression is bad enough. Let's not also psych ourselves into a place where we really feel that we've depressed ourselves and we're in some kind of a paralysis.
KURTZ: Up next, more of my sit-down with Tina Brown as we turn our attention to London's tabloid troublemakers and whether print magazines still have a future.
KURTZ: More now of my conversation in New York with Tina Brown.
KURTZ: This phone hacking scandal at "The News of the World" in your home country, where the newspaper, you know, tapped into the messages of all kinds of celebrities, British royals, maybe even Diana, you refer to that Rupert Murdoch paper as a "squirming zoo of lowlife." But that doesn't mean it's not popular, right?
BROWN: It actually means that's why it's popular.
KURTZ: But that's interesting to me, because why do Brits tolerate -- why do the British people tolerate these kinds of tactics? And we saw it with the sting against Sarah Ferguson, where reporters lie, where they will do anything to get a story, where they will break the laws. Certainly a couple of people from "News of the World" have gone to jail.
Or do they secretly kind of love it?
BROWN: Well, "The News of the World" has always been a "yellow journalist" rag. I think the difference is that those tactics alas have spread beyond "The News of the World." That's the issue, really, not that "The News of the World," which has always been a squirming zoo of lowlife, it's just that, all of a sudden there's a ton of other papers that do the same thing.
So I think -- I mean, there used to be such a thing really as the sort of popular tabloid that was a popular punchy paper, but it didn't have --
KURTZ: And still sort of responsible journalism, yes.
BROWN: Yes, still kind of responsible. But actually, a lot of these kind of tactics are going on in other tabloids.
KURTZ: But why is there no pushback against that? Why do they not seem to pay a price, at least from my distance across the Atlantic?
BROWN: Well, you know, the problem is, is that so much of the media is actually owned by Rupert Murdoch. He owns the quality papers too, the two biggest ones.
KURTZ: He owns The Times and The Sunday Times.
BROWN: You are having pushback from "The Guardian," which is not owned -- not part of that group. You are getting pushback from "The telegraph." You are.
But a large portion of the media is now owned by News International. So I'm not suggesting that The Sunday Times, for instance, or The Times uses such tactics as "The News of the World" does. But there is a kind of -- there's a lot of media out there that is of the same persuasion. And that --
KURTZ: And if other people see that it works --
BROWN: And the success of it, it's a bit like with Fox News. I mean, if you start -- the Glenn Becks of the world, the stuff they do and the stuff they say is very popular. And actually, it means that the other cable channels are chasing for that success.
KURTZ: I've seen that once or twice.
You became pretty well known as the editor of "Vanity Fair," and then of course as the editor of "The New Yorker." Is it more challenging in some ways to put out "The Daily Beast," to deal with an online publication where you're virtually always on deadline?
BROWN: I'm absolutely loving it. And I finally found something commensurate to my own impatience.
KURTZ: That's the secret?
BROWN: Yes, it is. It's alive. It's fresh.
You know, I'm actually really loving it. And of course the challenge is to keep your standards up while being fast. But I've got a really great staff who understand that there is such a thing as rigor and standards while doing it on the run.
And it's not easy, but it can be done. And I think we've created a really good journalistic culture there. We now have over five million unique visitors. We've just been nominated as one of the five best news sites in "TIME" magazine, which was very thrilling because we were right there underneath "The Guardian" newspaper. So we felt pretty good about that since we're only a little toddler, not even 2 yet.
KURTZ: But as somebody who group liking to hold a magazine or a newspaper in his hands, was it just a mental adjustment to not have a paper product?
BROWN: It was a mental adjustment. I still love print. And I'm not one of the people who thinks that print is dead at all. I think that print is never -- it's always going to have its role.
Yes, I've missed that sometimes. But I am really enjoying the mobility and the nimbleness of having been able to grow a company in which I've been, you know, a founder and develop it out from there. There's nothing quite as thrilling as having your own company that you share with a group of wonderfully like-minded, you know, partners who, you know, are allowing us to be journalistically sort of free and easy.
KURTZ: But you don't think that speed fuels superficiality and sometimes mistakes? I mean, we all --
BROWN: You can --
KURTZ: -- feel that pressure. Oh sure.
BROWN: You can make mistakes, and we do. And then we try to make sure that we correct those mistakes quickly.
But what I am finding is, is the best writers can write fast because it's not that they are being sloppy. They have to be able to think. So if you want something really good done, go to a really smart person because they know what they think.
KURTZ: What about a magazine like "Newsweek," which is in the process of being sold? In fact, there's been rumors you that might be a candidate to take them over.
BROWN: I think "Newsweek" very much has a future. I'm not one of these people who thinks that "Newsweek" doesn't have a future. I think it's a great brand. I think that, actually, they had a very good issue this week, as a matter of fact, on the Gates piece. It was terrific.
KURTZ: Could you be part of that future?
BROWN: No. I mean, I very much love what I'm doing, Howard. You know, I feel very much that I'm in the Web world and I'm loving it. So I haven't really thought about it.
KURTZ: But magazines in general are hurting. Fewer people are reading them. A few people are always watching TV news. People are also picking up newspapers, although they do go to newspaper Web sites.
So there is this sort of mentality now that the Web is not only the future, that it might be the only future. You're not ready to give up on print?
BROWN: No, I'm not. I think the Web is powering the future, without question.
I think that the energy of the Web is going to end up reversing what we expected, which was that magazines would sort of have a Web site or newspapers would have a Web site. I actually think that the digital is powering the print now. But it doesn't mean to say that print doesn't have a role. I just think that the emphasis has flipped.
KURTZ: So are you getting less sleep these days as a digital journalist?
BROWN: I sleep like a baby.
KURTZ: Tina Brown, thanks very much for joining us.
BROWN: Thank you, Howie.
KURTZ: And after the break, are we still arguing about female reporters in locker rooms? Christine Brennan on why the pundits are piling on a woman who covers the New York Jets in a moment.
KURTZ: You've probably never heard of Ines Sainz before this week, or her Mexican network, TV Azteca. But the reporter who covers the New York Jets has suddenly gotten a dose of media celebrity.
She says she was the target of catcalls when she was in the NFL team's locker room. "The New York Post" saying that coach Rex Ryan had some of his players run drills so they accidentally ran into Sainz.
The Jets have apologized, but the narrative has taken an unusual twist, with some pundits kicking Ines Sainz around like a used pigskin, and interviewers questioning whether she is the problem.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC: Various women's media groups have thrown their weight behind her, even as she undermines every hardworking woman sports reporter who knows the game.
(END VIDEO CLIP) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOY BEHAR, "THE JOY BEHAR SHOW": Ines, what I'm driving at is that some people are saying that when you call yourself the hottest reporter in the -- in Mexico, and you're wearing tight jeans, et cetera, that people say you shouldn't be shocked if the men respond to you with catcalls.
How do you respond to that?
INES SAINZ, SPORTS REPORTER, TV AZTECA: I don't believe that my dress is a point of the discussion here, because I do not do anything to provoke it, the teams or the players. I believe that I only go to work my job, and if the jeans are or not in the way that they like it or not, that's not my problem.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Joining us now to talk about this curious case and the obstacles facing female sports reporters, Christine Brennan, contributor to ABC News and a sports columnist for "USA Today."
So when you first heard about this, did you empathize with Ines Sainz?
CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CONTRIBUTOR, ABC NEWS: Oh, absolutely, yes, because we're talking, Howie, simply about a workplace issue. And as having done this for 29 years, and there's more than 1,000 women covering sports in this country --
KURTZ: And you've been in a few locker rooms in your time.
BRENNAN: I certainly have. I've covered the Redskins '85, '86 and '87, and been in hundreds of locker rooms. Absolutely. And the fact that it was reported by other New York journalists, that she in fact didn't do the early reporting, but it was other journalists --
KURTZ: She didn't file a complaint.
BRENNAN: That's correct.
KURTZ: There was this group called the Association for Women in Sports Media, which she's now criticized, that he said she was treated unfairly.
BRENNAN: Well, I helped start it. Four women started our group, and I was the first president from 1988 to 1990, of the Association for Women in Sports Media. I'm very proud of our group and what we've done this week. Absolutely.
KURTZ: What do you make of some of these commentators -- and I could have played five more -- saying it's about your dress, you dress too provocatively, what do you expect? What do you make of that line of commentary?
BRENNAN: I'm shocked. I'm absolutely shocked, Howie, that that is the conversation in 2010.
What we're talking about here, as you well know, the New York Jets have control of who gets into their practices as journalist reporters, what have you. They credential the media. And they gave a credential to Ines Sainz.
And to me, that is the end of the conversation. If the Jets didn't believe she was a working journalist, they didn't -- a working reporter, whatever, they did not have to give her a credential.
Once you give anyone a credential, you have to treat them right. It's a workplace. I know it sounds like a strange workplace, but it is a workplace.
KURTZ: Because guys are with towels and some of them are naked, but that's where you get the interviews right after the game.
BRENNAN: Well, and I've contended, if Barack Obama said, "Follow me into the locker room after a basketball game," all the reporters, male and female, would come in. It's not something we want to do, it's something we have to do for our jobs.
KURTZ: And so this notion -- and the day this happened, she was dressed in a regular blouse and jeans. But if she dresses flashy sometimes, you would say, so what?
BRENNAN: Well, I would say the Jets can drill credentially. And so the NFL, any team, any organization gives credentials, and now also decides not to credential people. If you give a working media credential to a journalist, you have to treat them right. End of conversation.
KURTZ: And the National Football League has now asked that all 32 teams be trained in the sensitivity of dealing with female journalists, which does seem a very '70s or '80s or '90s problem.
Here's Rush Limbaugh weighing in on Ines Sainz. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Ines Sainz knows what she did and does that attracts men. She knows that she has an asset. Depending on that part of you're coming from, boobalicious, bootylicious, whatever, she's got it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BRENNAN: Yes, unbelievable.
BRENNAN: Unbelievable. You know what has happened this week? Is that coming out of the woodwork, all kinds of Neanderthals, or Neanderthal-like opinions, Howie, that have come out that have basically had a conversation about an issue that has been resolved for 25 years. Women have been in the NFL locker rooms, equal access, male and female reporters, for 25 years. Of course, men are allowed in women's locker rooms. That is also settled.
So you've got all these people chiming in on issues they know nothing about, and I would include Mr. Limbaugh, and it's time to -- it's 2010. And we don't have to discuss stuff that has already been resolved.
KURTZ: But here's a column in which Ines Sainz takes a shot at this group that you helped found. And she says, "A group of news people and communicators, eager to make an even bigger scandal out of the situation, have moved women's rights backwards at least 50 years."
Do you believe that point?
BRENNAN: No. I disagree.
You know, I've spent the better part of a week defending a woman I'll never meet, Ines Sainz, and proudly, as have so many other women, Howie. And we didn't want to do it this week, we didn't pick this battle, but it came to us, and we have taken the battle on. And again, I'm very proud of that.
Again, I would say that New York reporters who cover the team, they were the ones that broke this story. They were talking about catcalls and hooting in the locker room. I've never dealt with that, and that is completely over the line.
Rex Ryan, the coach of the team, leading these drills to throw a football near her, that sounds like something right out of a fifth grade playground, not out of a workplace. So I'm proud to have talked about and dealt with this issue and defended Ms. Sainz, and I certainly hope she would understand why we did that.
KURTZ: Right. Just briefly, once the Jets apologized, I would have thought that that's sort of the end of the story. And yet, the story really became about her. You saw some of those interviews.
BRENNAN: I know. Well, I think it was because it was New York, because the Jets had a day off. You know, it was the weekend, it was the opening season of the NFL.
KURTZ: The male attitudes here are not entirely enlightened in your view?
BRENNAN: Oh, I don't think so. The good news is the NFL spoke with its very big voice saying, we're not revisiting this issue, end of conversation. And that's important.
KURTZ: Christine Brennan, thanks for helping us to revisit it.
Still to come, a Maine newspaper apologizes for a story about Muslims praying, Glenn Beck gets slimed by a tabloid, and the "TIME" magazine tornado photo that seemed to come out of a time warp.
Our "Media Monitor," straight ahead.
KURTZ: Time now for our "Media Monitor." And here's one I could hardly believe.
Last weekend, on September 11th, "The Portland Press Herald" ran a story that began, "Muslims from throughout greater Portland gathered at the Portland Expo on Friday to celebrate Eid al Fitr, one of the holy fest festivals in Islam, marking the end of the month-long Ramadan fast. Three thousand people showed up."
The newspaper went on to describe the prayers, the handshakes, the hugs, the worshippers who dug into their pockets for charity, a perfectly nice feature story. The next day, editor and publisher Richard Connor apologized to his readers, profusely. Many saw the front page photo and story as offensive, he said. The paper offered no balance to the story, and should have handled the matter with "greater sensitivity to the painful memories stirred by the anniversary of 9/11."
Are you kidding me? This was not a story about a controversial mosque or terrorism or a Koran burning. There wasn't a single political comment in the piece.
What Connor did was cave in to criticism from readers who don't think there should have been a front-page story about Muslims and couldn't wait until the next day to read about the 9/11 remembrances. Connor's apologize was embarrassing.
Here's what I found laughable. I don't usually pay attention to "Al-Ahram," the state-run newspaper in Egypt, and I might have thought little of this photo showing Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in the forefront during the recent Middle East peace talks at the White House. But the BBC reports that the newspaper doctored the photo.
Here's the original. President Obama was in the lead, not the president of Egypt. Not exactly subtle.
This one kind of blew me away. There were a couple of tornadoes in New York City this week, and "TIME" magazine was on the case.
"TIME" posted a photo on Twitter of a twister passing the Statue of Liberty. No, it wasn't fake, it's just that the photo was taken back in 1976.
A little late, guys, but at least that was an accident.
Here's what I really didn't like. Lots of people say lots of things about Glenn Beck, some of it fair, some not so fair. But "The Globe" supermarket tabloid has accused him of -- oh, here. Let him tell it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GLENN BECK, FOX NEWS: "Glenn Beck Sex Tape Scandal and the Mystery Woman Behind It."
Oh, I had to read it.
Prepare yourself. It's me in green lighting. No.
"Glenn Beck Sex Tape Shocker: Michelle Obama Behind the Savage Attempt to Ruin the President's Number One Enemy." Yes.
Somewhere in here, too, a man had an alien baby or something. But you can believe this story. Sure, sure, sure.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Sure, it must be true. I mean, have you heard Michelle deny it?
Pretty farfetched, even for "The Globe."
Beck dealt with it for what it was, a joke.
Speaking of Beck, two other TV guys are stealing -- borrowing his idea for a big rally on the Mall. Jon Stewart is orchestrating a major gathering on October 30th to Restore Sanity, while Stephen Colbert will hold a counter-rally to Keep Fear Alive.
They may not draw the huge crowds that Beck did, but they'll probably be a tad funnier.
Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.
I'm Howard Kurtz.
Join us again next Sunday morning, 11:00 a.m. Eastern, for another critical look the media.
"STATE OF THE UNION" with Candy Crowley begins right now.