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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Are Media Obsessed With the Palins?; Ailes Apologizes for Comparing NPR to Nazis
Aired November 21, 2010 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: It seems like Sarah Palin is in the news every 20 minutes or so, whether it's calling out the press or saying she could beat Barack Obama. That is, when she makes up her mind about running.
Now it's her family that's in the news as well -- Bristol, on "Dancing With the Stars," Bristol and Willow for using derogatory terms on Facebook.
Has the media's Palin obsession gone too far, or is this Alaska family lapping it up?
Roger Ailes apologizes for language he used in attacking NPR in an interview with me. And Joe Scarborough becomes the second host at MSNBC suspended for making political donations.
We'll have a report.
Jimmy Carter still carrying a grudge against journalists three decades later, but he also makes a surprising admission. Part two of my interview with the former president.
Plus, a royal engagement sparks a media love-in on both sides of the Atlantic. William, Kate and a press that can't wait.
I'm Howard Kurtz, and this is RELIABLE SOURCES.
It's not exactly shocking that Sarah Palin says she's talking to her family about whether she should run for president. What's remarkable is that she told this to "The New York Times" magazine for this issue out today. Yes, the former governor actually communicating with the dreaded mainstream media, and made this boast about 2012 with Barbara Walters.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH PALIN (R), FMR. ALASKAN GOVERNOR: Looking at the lay of the land now and trying to figure that out, if it's a good thing for the country, for the discourse, for my family, if it's a good thing --
BARBARA WALTERS, "10 MOST FASCINATING PEOPLE": If you ran for president, could you beat Barack Obama?
PALIN: I believe so. (END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Palin is intensifying her media presence with a new book and that new Alaska series on TLC. That, amid the state's natural beauty, allows her to make some political points, such as when she fired back at author Joe McGinniss, who moved into Wasilla, into the house next door.
PALIN: He doesn't need to be seeing what I'm writing and reading. Right?
TODD PALIN, SARAH PALIN'S HUSBAND: Yes.
S. PALIN: Todd and his buddies got out there and built a 14-foot fence, and very thankful for that. By the way, I thought that was a good example, what we just did, others could look at and say, oh, this is what we need to do to secure our nation's border.
KURTZ (voice-over): But Palin isn't the only family member soaking up the spotlight. Her daughter Bristol, once known primarily for having a baby as a teenager, is still competing on "Dancing With the Stars," and there are conspiracy theories about whether conservatives are voting to keep her in the competition.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anything you're going to make of this? I hear a lot of people saying the only reason you're getting this far is because of who your mom is --
BRISTOL PALIN, SARAH PALIN'S DAUGHTER: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- and the Tea Party. What I think is that people are at home, and they're thinking, that's exactly how I would be.
B. PALIN: Yes, I think I'm definitely relatable to the audience out there, and untouched and raw and vulnerable.
No offense to anyone else, but I'm not fake. People do connect with me because they feel I'm real and I'm not typical Hollywood.
KURTZ: Even 16-year-old Willow is the news for her Facebook page. We'll get to that in a moment.
So, is Palin truly manipulating the media, or are journalists pumping her up because she is, after all, a great story?
Joining us now here in Washington, Steve Roberts, the former "New York times" reporter, now professor of Media and Public Affairs at The George Washington University; Margaret Carlson, columnist for Bloomberg News and Washington editor of "The Week" magazine; and Matthew Continetti, associate editor at "The Weekly Standard" and author of the book "The Persecution of Sarah Palin." Steve Roberts, does Sarah Palin deserve this avalanche of coverage, or is that she boosts ratings and Web traffic?
STEVE ROBERTS, THE GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Well, look, Sarah Palin --- in many ways, this is unusual, that the mainstream media, the "lamestream media," as she puts it -- because she's created her own network, PNN, the Palin News Network, through Twitter, through Facebook. You know, Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, saying the other day she just sits up there in Alaska and issues these tweets, and we all have to react to her.
KURTZ: Well, we don't have to react to her. We choose to react -- yes.
ROBERTS: Well, he feels he has to react to her. In fact, PNN is not really the story. She's really Oprah. You know, that's what she's become, with her own TV show, her own book. I mean, except Oprah is not running for anything except, maybe, queen.
KURTZ: Well, it helps to have Fox News as a platform.
And Margaret Carlson, I want to play for you some sound from a radio interview that Governor Palin did with the "Bob and Mark Morning Show" in Anchorage, asking about the current president.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
S. PALIN: We know that Obama wasn't vetted through the campaign. And now, you know, some things are coming home to roost, if you will, with his inexperience and his associations.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
KURTZ: So, Sarah Palin, who almost never talks to reporters, except for those on Fox, is complaining that the press didn't vet Obama?
MARGARET CARLSON, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Well, self-awareness is not her long suit. I mean, you'll remember that the McCain campaign was at pains to say oh, we thoroughly vetted her. Yes, we knew that her teenage daughter was pregnant. Yes, we knew about Troopergate. We knew that she tried to have her brother -- we knew all this, but, in fact, ,they hadn't had time to vet her.
And one of the, you know, problems with her that she was not vetted. Now she's using vetting as a weapon against Obama. I mean it is -- you know, it just is another amazing Sarah Palin moment.
KURTZ: Now, you could certainly say, Matthew Continetti, that the media were way soft on Obama during the campaign, but in terms of vetting, at least he talked to reporters, ,which Palin was very reluctant to do.
MATTHEW CONTINETTI, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Well, actually, toward the end of the campaign, Palin was available for reporters. It's kind of a misunderstanding that she was unavailable.
KURTZ: She held a news conference.
CONTINETTI: Well, talking to reporters versus a news conference, we can get into the semantic distinctions, but, listen, when you look to the future -- and I think that's what we ought to be looking at here -- this is a problem for Palin. She needs to figure out, is she a pop culture figure or is she a political figure? And I don't think she's made that distinction or that choice in her head. She needs to if she wants to be president.
KURTZ: But a problem for her only if she wants to have a political future, as opposed to a celebrity future.
CONTINETTI: That's right.
CARLSON: Right. But she's had recently to show -- to keep the political -- to keep the celebrity going, she has to keep the political interests going. And lately, she's done more about running for president. And I think she kind of pushed into that to keep it all going.
KURTZ: To stoke the fires around the time that her second book is coming out perhaps?
CARLSON: She's got to stoke the fires. Yes.
ROBERTS: But it's also true that --- I agree, and that's why I mentioned the Oprah paradigm, because that, you can make a lot of money as Oprah, and you can get a lot of publicity, but can you be elected president? And I think Karl Rove, no one's idea of a liberal, has talked about this conflict, and has said she lacks gravitas, and that, in some ways, while making all this money, she can also diminish her political appeal. And 67 percent of Americans don't think she's qualified to be president.
KURTZ: Well, let me move the discussion along to her family members because, look, maybe it's a different way of running for president, and all of us are dumb and she's figured it out. But I find that TMZ has this report about Willow -- she's 16 -- Willow Palin's Facebook page.
And I'm looking at it here, and most of it I can't read on television, but she says things like -- to guys who are taunting her, "You're fat as hell," "You're so gay." She uses the word "faggot," which is a very derogatory term. Bristol weighs in with some words.
And my question is, Margaret, should the media be picking this up? I mean, she's 16 years old and they're trash-talking.
CARLSON: I give all 16 years old a pass as a mother of a teenager once. I would not want to be held responsible for everything. Sarah Palin, however, has put her family so much in the news, not just with Bristol, but the whole family is on a reality TV show, that it is more fair for game. However, I would still give the kid a pass.
CONTINETTI: What's interesting is when I spoke to Palin last year, when her first book came out, she told me that she didn't let the kids on Facebook. And so something must have changed.
KURTZ: Or she didn't know about it.
CONTINETTI: Or she didn't know about it.
ROBERTS: She wouldn't be the first parent not to know about it either.
CONTINETTI: But I think the kids did the right thing. They apologized. This was inappropriate language. It's also unfortunately common language in high school.
KURTZ: Sure. But let me pick up this point, and that is my instinct, whenever these things come up about the children of politicians, is leave them alone. They didn't choose to run for public office. They got dragged into the spotlight. But, if they're on the TLC reality show, and if Bristol is dancing up a storm on "Dancing With the Stars," and some people are saying, oh, it's a conspiracy, Tea Party people -- you know, they're not exactly running from the spotlight.
ROBERTS: But this is an important point. Look, we have had examples in Washington of very clear understandings between the media and political figures to keep certain children off limits. It was true with Chelsea Clinton, it was true of the Bush girls in many ways. But once you use them as props, once you use them as part of your message that, I'm such a good mom, help elect me president, then I do think Margaret is right that they change the rules.
CARLSON: And Howie --
CONTINETTI: The question is -- John Sears, the old Reagan hand, had a word -- appropriateness. Do you look at a political figure and think they're appropriate for high office? And I think the more Palin --
KURTZ: But come back to the question of the media. Is it now fair for us to be dissecting and scrutinizing what Bristol and Willow do if their mother is allowing them to be on public television?
CARLSON: There's a scene in the reality show in which Sarah says, "That's a no boy zone upstairs," when Willow is about to go. That was obviously scripted.
KURTZ: It certainly wasn't cut out.
CARLSON: I mean, reality shows are scripted. And that is to, you know, say oh, listen, I can look at this and laugh. Sarah Palin used Willow in that scene for that purpose. I mean, that is what Sarah Palin is doing.
KURTZ: What about the privacy questions? Are the media going too far?
CONTINETTI: Look, privacy is a loose concept in the age of Facebook. And even a 16-year-old should know that the things that you put up on Facebook when you're the daughter of the most famous Republican woman in the world are going to be highlighted.
ROBERTS: And you invite -- you invite TV cameras into your living room to shoot a reality show. Haven't you changed the rules of privacy? And you can't have it both ways, but that's what she wants.
She wants it both ways. She wants to be able to control everything that's said about her, and she gets angry when other people write and talk in ways that she doesn't agree.
KURTZ: I agree with that point.
Interestingly, the new book is coming out, and Gawker, the gossip Web site, got excerpts. And now HarperCollins, Palin's publisher, which is part of the Murdoch empire, suing Gawker and getting an injunction against taking that post down. But lots of people write books. Bob Woodward -- you know, this stuff leaks. It's part of what happens in this modern world.
ROBERTS: HarperCollins is my publisher, too. But this is a perfect example of how her whole world view is -- I get to say exactly what I want to say when I want to say it, and no one can question me because -- she even said at one point, isn't it illegal to run excerpts? No, my dear. That's good reporting, is what that is.
KURTZ: A quick exit question. Tina Fey, of course, became increasingly famous doing Sarah Palin. At the Mark Twain Awards, at the Kennedy Center, had this to say about Palin -- this was not aired when PBS put on the awards program.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TINA FEY, COMEDIAN: And, ,you know, politics aside, the success of Sarah Palin and women like her is good for all women, except, of course, those who will end up, you know, paying for their own rape kit and stuff. But for everybody else, it's a win/win, unless you're a gay woman who wants to marry your partner 20 years, whatever.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Should the producers who did that for PBS have cut that out because it's too political?
CARLSON: No, they shouldn't have. And they claimed, well, it didn't get a lot of laughs. And I happened to be there. And what happened was there was a lot of applause for the first part of that -- isn't this great for women? -- so that the audience didn't hear much of the second part, because --
KURTZ: It was drowned out.
CARLSON: -- it was drowned out. PBS coming up with these excuses is ridiculous.
KURTZ: All right. Let me get a break.
When we come back, Joe Scarborough suspended from making campaign donations, the second host punished at MSNBC. Was this a misdemeanor or something worse?
Plus, Roger Ailes using some rough words and having to apologize. Was he being fair and balanced?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JON STEWART, "THE DAILY SHOW": And of course I have grouped as a Google alert NPR and Nazis. So, you can imagine my surprise this morning when my Google alert hit pay dirt.
I clinked the link. It's an interview in "The Daily Beast" with Fox News chairman Roger Ailes, who says about NPR, "They are, of course, Nazis."
STEWART: Of course. I think you'd agree even the most casual observer of Nazi history can't help but notice the eerie parallels between Adolf Hitler and "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Jon Stewart talking about my interview with the Fox News chairman.
Margaret Carlson, he also said that President Obama just has a different belief than most Americans, and that Jon Stewart hates conservatives.
So, should the president of a news network be talking this way?
CARLSON: Well, Roger Ailes is always going to talk that way. That's who Roger Ailes is. And, you know, he had a point. NPR behaved abominably in the Juan Williams thing.
KURTZ: That's what triggered it.
CARLSON: However, it seems nobody in public life and nobody being interviewed by Howie Kurtz should ever make reference to the Holocaust or Nazis. This is, like, off limits. This comparison is off limits. However, it does mean that we're talking about it for a long time.
KURTZ: Unless it's Simon Wiesenthal or somebody, I would agree with that.
And Matthew Continetti, Ailes apologized for using that Nazi reference, but then he said, "Yes, what I should have called them was nasty, inflexible bigots." And NPR put out a statement saying executives there were disappointed that he added a new insult to the original scurrilous remark.
What do you make of the whole flap?
CONTINETTI: Well, look I appear on NPR regularly. I love NPR. I listen to it.
They're certainly not Nazis, and I don't think they're bigots either. I think they made the wrong decision with Juan Williams, but I have to disagree with Roger Ailes on this particular question.
ROBERTS: And look, what Ailes was doing is reflecting the way people talk these days about politics. This is channeling Glenn Beck about calling everybody a fascist, everybody a socialist.
He was just using that kind of hyperbolic language which is inappropriate. And far more than inappropriate, it coarsens the whole debate.
He's smarter than that. And the other fact about NPR is -- I also appear on NPR, truth in labeling -- but if you talk about somebody who is fair and balanced, NPR is far more fair and balanced than Fox News.
KURTZ: Despite the liberal reputation?
ROBERTS: Despite the liberal reputation.
KURTZ: All right.
ROBERTS: Because Matthew Continetti and a lot of conservatives appear on NPR.
KURTZ: That's a good point. So we have a whole NPR contingent here at the table.
Let me move on to MSNBC.
You'll remember a couple of weeks ago that Keith Olbermann got suspended for donating to three Democratic congressional candidates, a violation of NBC policy. The latest to get caught in that is Joe Scarborough, the co-host of "Morning Joe."
He gave a series of eight donations, $500 a piece, to friends in Florida, which is where he was a congressman, including his brother, by the way. He got suspended for two days, ,the same as Olbermann, and he apologized rather profusely.
So, Steve, should Scarborough have been suspended?
ROBERTS: Well, I think he should have paid a penalty. He agreed with the penalty, actually. But there's a much larger problem here.
You mentioned the Juan Williams case. Part of what happened with Juan Williams was the confusion in who he was. Was he a commentator? Was he a reporter?
In Scarborough's case, this is a former Republican congressman from Florida. We know that he's a political figure. We know that he has been a partisan in the past. Olbermann makes no secrets of his views. In some ways, the flaw --
KURTZ: But is there a distinction between somebody who is paid for a living to have opinions and come on TV every day, or every night, and opening up your checkbook and giving money to candidates? But, of course, I would say Scarborough's was a lesser offense because it was state races --
KURTZ: -- not -- so it was nobody he would interview on the show.
ROBERTS: No one should be doing this, but the problem is that you have mixed traditional mainstream media, NBC owning MSNBC, NPR having Juan Williams, with far more opinionated people, and you confuse viewers by not making it clear who these people are.
CARLSON: You know, there was a bigger problem with Olbermann that we kind of ignored in the press, which is that he actually had someone on that he had supported without saying so. That seems to me --
KURTZ: A congressman from Arizona.
CARROLL: You know, money is money, but to use air time, which is about the most valuable thing you can have -- and, you know, let us just shout out for one minute, Joe Scarborough gave a full-throated, you know, un-hedged apology, which never happens from a politician. And I would say that Joe Scarborough, as Steve points out, is -- you know, he's still a politician. He's not like a journalist.
KURTZ: No, no, but he's not still a politician. He's employed by a news network to be a commentator.
CARLSON: But you do mix the roles. He apologized. Now it's a rule. I think they will abide, but I go back to the real problem would be to actually give people air time because you're supporting them.
CONTINETTI: He broke the rules. I mean, Olbermann broke the rules, Scarborough broke the rules.
KURTZ: Should there be a rule at Fox News, for example? If you're a talk show like Sean Hannity if you're a commentator like Karl Rove, it's fine, you can give as much money as you want, you can even raise money. Should there be a rule?
CONTINETTI: I think it's a stupid rule.
KURTZ: You think it's a stupid rule?
CONTINETTI: They broke it, and so they should be punished.
KURTZ: But if you were running MSNBC, you'd abolish the rule tomorrow?
CONTINETTI: Well, of course. Everybody knows where Olbermann's and Scarborough's sympathies lie.
KURTZ: OK. I've got to disagree, because there's a difference between everybody knowing what your sympathies are and playing a role in the financing of campaigns. I'm giving myself the last word.
Matthew Continetti, Margaret Carlson, Steve Roberts, thanks very much for stopping by this morning.
Coming up in the second part of RELIABLE SOURCES, "The Huffington Post" says Joe Scarborough is eyeing the White House. Really?
Plus, Jimmy Carter tells me he's still steamed over the way the press kicked him around, but takes some of the blame.
And the media love-fest over Prince William and Kate Middleton. Will this be Charles and Diana all over again?
KURTZ: There was a time soon after he took office when Jimmy Carter was riding high. The longest of long shots, he was elected after Watergate by promising never to lie to us.
He downsized Richard Nixon's imperial presidency by carrying his own bags and wearing a cardigan during fireside chats. But as his administration ran into trouble, Carter increasingly blamed the press.
Three decades after losing to Ronald Reagan, Carter still feels strongly that journalists gave him a raw deal, as he describes in great detail in his new book, "White House Diary."
I spoke to the former president earlier from Seattle.
KURTZ: President Carter, welcome.
JAMES CARTER, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a pleasure to be with you and the folks all over the world who are watching CNN.
KURTZ: That's great.
You left the White House 30 years ago. Are you publishing this diary now, after all these years, because you're perhaps trying to change the shorthand verdict that your presidency was unsuccessful?
CARTER: No, that's not the reason at all. I read over my diary -- began a couple of years ago -- and I was amazed, first of all, at how voluminous it was, 5,000 pages. And secondly, I was really surprised, most of all, by how many of the issues I had to face back in those days that are still on the desk for President Obama to address, both in domestic and foreign affairs, energy and health care, and dealing with the budget on the one hand, and in foreign affairs -- obviously, Afghanistan still --
KURTZ: That's right.
CARTER: -- the Mideast peace process, dealing with China, and so forth. I could go down a long list -- nuclear arms control.
So I thought that it would be good just to give the American public an insight into both the good and bad side, the successes and failures of a very action-packed and, I think, very successful administration.
KURTZ: All right.
You write about the press in this book. We'll get to some of that.
What really jumped out at me was that you did not want to go and be part of the entertainment at the White House Correspondents Dinner. You said you felt you were being blackmailed into it, and you had this to say about members of the White House Press Corps: "They ask superficial questions. They're more interested in their questions than your answers." And you also said that at least some of them were irresponsible and unnecessarily abusive.
With the passage of time, do you feel that strongly about the White House Press Corps?
CARTER: Well, I don't have any insight now. I would say that I don't feel that strongly, obviously, about one side or the other of the White House Press Corps. But I don't think --
KURTZ: No, but looking back at your tenure.
CARTER: Well, I think -- I don't think I want to take back any of those statements, because it was obvious to me in the questions and answer that I got that the questions were pretty well predictable and superficial, and that a lot of the reporters there wanted to be on television then. And we didn't have 24/7. We only had the major news channels --
CARTER: -- back then, the three networks. And they wanted to be on television and give their question, and they weren't very interested in the answers.
KURTZ: You write about somebody who was on television at the time, Dan Rather, then with "60 Minutes." And you said that before an interview with you, he secretly sent word to you that he was not going to ask negative questions because, you write, "He wanted to restore his image to be more like Walter Cronkite." But then you say, "The interview was frivolous and edited in a way that used all his negative questions and just brief snippets" of your answers.
So, you felt that interview was just totally unfair?
CARTER: I don't remember that particular interview, but what I wrote at the time was accurate. And I never did think that what I wrote back 30 years ago would be published, but I didn't change any sentences or any meaning in the entire document. It's just the way I felt and the way I honestly made a judgment back in those days, so I didn't try to modify it to suit present opinion.
I'm just going to run through some of the other judgments you made, and I guess you were not writing for history at that time.
Of other news organizations, you say there was an NBC special on you that treated you with disdain and betrayal. You talk about "The Washington Post," in one instance, being childish and irresponsible. "Newsweek," you called "the most inaccurate periodical I read." I guess you still read it.
Do you feel like the press just kind of had it in for you? I mean, those are some pretty harsh phrases.
CARTER: Well, I came in at a time when the press was in the post-Watergate period, and when two reporters in "The Washington Post" had become famous because they had revealed some secrets that had brought down the Nixon administration. And when I got there, shortly thereafter, I think a lot of the reporters were looking for something within my administration that might be scandalous or put them in the headlines as very notable investigative reporters.
* CARTER: And there was kind of a bad atmosphere back in those days. In fact, that's one of the reasons that I was elected, because we were in the aftermath not only of Watergate, which I just mentioned, but also the aftermath of the Vietnam War, and the assassination of John Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. And the Church Committee had revealed that American presidents and the CIA had violated international law and committed murder to get rid of some more liberal leaders in different countries than we wanted.
KURTZ: It was a contentious time.
CARTER: So, I was in an atmosphere that's very similar to the way it is now with the Tea Party. That is, dissatisfaction with Washington and dissatisfaction with incumbents.
KURTZ: So, you're saying that there was a kind of -- almost a prosecutorial mentality in some elements of the media, people wanting to be the next Woodward and Bernstein, because that period of Watergate was so fresh in everybody's minds, so fresh in the culture?
CARTER: Well, I would use the word "investigative" rather than prosecutorial. They were just probing for something they thought was there that they could reveal. They would put them on the top of the headlines.
KURTZ: You write about having a discussion with Katharine Graham and Ben Bradlee of "The Washington Post," wanting to know who you could talk to there if you wanted to share anything off the record. And you talked about how you did have that kind of relationship with Scotty Reston at "The New York Times."
CARTER: That's right.
KURTZ: So what happened with that meeting?
CARTER: Well, they were in the White House as my guests, having supper. And I just asked the question because I had a good relationship with Scotty Reston. I could talk to him about things off the record, and he would make a good judgment about what to publish and what not to publish.
And I asked "The Washington Post" leaders the same question, and they spent the rest of the evening arguing back and forth about what they would do, and never could quite give me an answer. So, from then on, for instance, when I got ready to go to Camp David with Begin and Sadat, I would like very much to have been able to give a background story to "The Washington Post," but I didn't have anybody with whom I could talk.
But I did share that secret information with Scotty Reston so he could prepare his story when the event finally took place, and he could be prepared for it. That's what I wanted, but I didn't have that relationship, unfortunately, with "The Washington Post."
KURTZ: I see. It's interesting, because I was going to ask you whether looking back, you feel that you might have fared better, at least in the court of public opinion, if you had made more of an effort to court journalists and columnists -- and obviously if you have Kate Graham over for dinner, that's one thing, but I'm talking about the beat reporters.
CARTER: I don't think there's any doubt about that. Yes, I think I should have had a much more assiduous desire when I got into the White House to court the friendly relationship and a compatible and mutually trustworthy relationship with the key members of the press corps. There's no doubt about that.
KURTZ: Why do you think you did not do that?
CARTER: It just wasn't my character. You know, I had been in an adversarial mode when I ran for president. I was an outsider looking in, and when I got there, I never was one that was part of an evening cocktail circuit like some of my predecessors and some of my successors were. I think in retrospect, it was a mistake I made.
KURTZ: Just ahead, Jimmy Carter spills the beans on one of the strangest stories of his presidency -- the killer rabbit.
KURTZ: More now of my interview with former president Jimmy Carter.
KURTZ: It's also interesting to me in reading your book, Mr. President, that the way things might have seemed to you at the time, versus the way they seemed to those who were watching from the outside -- for example, at the1980 convention, I was there at Madison Square Garden, and you talked about -- after your acceptance speech for renomination -- that Ted Kennedy, up on the stage, didn't shake your hand. And you say, "The press made a big deal out of it."
As somebody who was watching, it seemed like a big deal to me. It seemed like he was doing everything he could to avoid having that photograph that would have been on every front page of you and him with your hands clasped.
CARTER: Well, that's exactly, I think, what I put in my diary. I was very willing, of course, to make up with him and have him support me in the general election, but Kennedy was not prepared at that time to be reconciled in public and to shake my hand as a worthy opponent would do once one of them is defeated.
He fully expected in late 1979 to beat me overwhelmingly. In some of the polls, he was 3-1 ahead of me, in the public opinion polls, and I still beat him by 2-1, as you may know.
And we never were able to heal the schism that divided the Democratic Party. And although Ronald Reagan got less than 51 percent of the total vote, the divided Democratic Party cost me a lot of votes.
I've always wanted to ask you about a story that got a lot of attention at the time. Of course, this is before cable news, it's before blogs. And it was the story of the so-called "killer rabbit."
Supposedly, you were in a boat, on vacation in Georgia, and a somewhat crazed rabbit attacked the boat. How much truth was there in that?
CARTER: Well, the basic story was true that Jody Powell told, but I don't know what Jody told in the middle of the night in a bar, after a lot of drinking had gone on. But wild animals -- you know, wild rabbits, wild squirrels, raccoons, foxes and so forth, all of them know how to swim. Otherwise, they couldn't go from one place to another and cross a creek. So, I was fishing one afternoon, and Jody was there, and a rabbit was being chased by hounds. And he jumped in the water and swam toward my boat.
When he got almost there, I splashed some water with a paddle, and the rabbit turned and went on, ,and crawled out on the other side. And there was nothing to it at all. But when Jody told it to his fellow, you know, drinkers, it became a very humorous and still lasting story. Here it is 35 years later --
KURTZ: And here I am asking you about it.
CARTER: -- and you're still talking about it.
KURTZ: A lot of --
CARTER: But it was nothing to it. By the way, after that, a lot of people that had tame bunny rabbits threw them in a swimming pool and so forth around the nation and wrote me said that that rabbit could swim, too.
KURTZ: I did not know that. Well, a lot of cartoonists had some fun with that one.
CARTER: Yes, that's true.
KURTZ: For all the contentious relationships that you had as president with the press corps -- and as I say, you call some of them out in pretty blunt language in this book -- isn't it fair to say that journalists generally have treated you a lot better in your post- presidency?
CARTER: I think so. You know, there was a professional -- an academic analysis made, I think, by the University of Nevada -- I think it was Indiana, by a professor that showed that I had the worst press coverage during my 48 months in the White House than any other president in the post-Second World War period. But that's beside the point.
I don't think there's any doubt that since I left the White House, the coverage has been much more balanced. You know, we do a lot of things like building Habitat houses and trying to do away with diseases in Africa, so they're much more admirable and much less controversial.
KURTZ: All right.
CNN started six months before you left office. Now, of course, cable news is a much bigger operation, three 24-hour channels.
And you write in the "Afterward" to your book that, "To gain viewers, these 24-hour news channels have now come to rely on reporting that often dramatizes or exaggerates each reported rumor or fact." "In addition, "you say, "the more radical presentations of information or commentary have proven to be most popular, so radio and television programs, like political alignments, have tended toward extremes."
It sounds like you're disappointed in cable news when you talk about exaggerations and dramatizations.
CARTER: The talk shows with Glenn Beck and others on Fox News, I think, have deliberately distorted the news. And it's become highly competitive. And my Republican friends say that MSNBC might be just as biased on the other side in supporting the Democratic Party, the liberal element.
But that's part of give and take. And I think CNN, more than others, has kind of tried to play the middle to their detriment as far as viewership is concerned and profits are concerned. So, I think that describes maybe more than I -- more than my credentials warrant about what I think about -- quickly the balance.
KURTZ: Well, you're a television viewer with a fair amount of experience in the political game, so your credentials are good in my book.
KURTZ: And I appreciate President Carter taking the time to talk about his book, "White House Diary."
Up next, a royal hullabaloo, the enormous media frenzy over Prince William and his new mate, Kate.
KURTZ: I haven't seen the press this excited since the days of Diana. The long-awaited -- well, I haven't been breathlessly waiting, but a lot of people have -- the long-awaited engagement of Prince William and his girlfriend, Kate Middleton, has the media -- not just the British media, but the Yanks as well -- in a full swoon.
Here's a look at the royal excitement.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have breaking news this morning. A royal engagement. Prince William finally pops the question.
KIRAN CHETRY, CNN: Big news out of England, where the royal family announces there's going to be another royal wedding.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are feeling the excitement all the way over here.
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS: Female hearts around the globe are breaking tonight. Yes, England's Prince William is out of play.
LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC: It's the announcement royal watchers have been waiting for and no sane person should care about.
(END VIDEO CLIP) KURTZ: So, why are journalists going gaga over this story?
Joining us now in New York, Emily Bell, head of the Digital Journalism Program at Columbia University, and a longtime reporter and editor with "The Guardian" in London. And here in Washington, Amy Argetsinger, who co-authors "The Gossip Column" at "The Washington Post."
Emily Bell, it's a good news story. I'm happy for them. But isn't the coverage going a little overboard?
EMILY BELL, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: Yes. Well, I can't really understand why I've traveled all this distance from London to find myself besieged by wall-to-wall royal coverage. So, I'm as baffled as you are, actually, on this one, Howard.
Yes, you have to understand the context at the moment, both on -- on both sides of the Atlantic, because there's a lot of rather grim news, grim political news. And this represents, if you like, an opportunity to try and replay -- you mentioned the days of Diana -- replay, really, sort of a royal fairytale that went very badly wrong, and for which I think, certainly in the U.K., the press feels an enduring sense of guilt. And an opportunity, if you like, to make good on that has sent newspaper editors who are also hoping that their circulations will rise, and cable news channels are hoping their viewership will rise into a frenzy.
KURTZ: There is that as an extra motivation, no question about it.
Amy Argetsinger, that's the British view. What excuse do you Americans have?
AMY ARGETSINGER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": It defies all comprehension, but this story is just huge.
Your montage didn't even get into the years' worth of speculation that we've had in the mainstream media, especially on the Web, about whether they're about to get engaged. I mean, there has been a countdown, a watch for this engagement. Various publications doing stories for the past several months about an imminent engagement.
And then the engagement wouldn't happen, and I'd think, well, they're just going to keep writing this story until it finally happens. And it finally did.
KURTZ: All right.
The newly engaged couple sat down with ITV. Tom Bradby was the interviewer. Let's take a look at a little bit of that exchange.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TOM BRADBY, ITV NEWS: People are bound to ask, you leave university, you've been going out a bit, and you split up, famously, all over the papers -- what was all that about? I mean, people are bound to want to know.
PRINCE WILLIAM: Well, I think, to be honest, I wouldn't believe everything you read in the paper. But, you know, in that particular instance, we did split up for a bit.
KATE MIDDLETON, ENGAGED TO PRINCE WILLIAM: And I think at the time, I wasn't very happy about it, but, actually, it made me a stronger person.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Emily Bell, don't believe everything you read in the papers. Ouch. But do you see an effort here -- you alluded to the Diana coverage -- for particularly the famously raucous British tabloids to restrain themselves a bit at this time?
BELL: Yes. I think that, you know, you forget that when Diana and Charles got married, which was 30 years ago, we were just at a point where the press really changed. It was the beginning of a very intense tabloid war in the U.K., led by the red-tops, "The Mirror" and "The Sun," who were trying to very much outdo each other.
Now, various editors told me that you could add 20 percent to any edition of your paper by having Diana on the front. We're only just getting 24-hour news. And I think that things have changed, and the press doesn't look very restrained in that this story is absolutely all over everywhere.
But I think the premium on those very personal and intrusive stories is dropping because the exclusivity on them has really dropped. And that has to do with the Internet and the Internet economy.
And I think that there is a sense both that the palace was really left behind in 1981, didn't realize that the world had changed. Now it's much more savvy in terms of how it handles the press and exchanges access, and we saw that with the Tom Bradby interview. Access --
KURTZ: Right. They do one interview and everybody gets to play --
BELL: Yes. There's a new deal.
KURTZ: It wasn't exactly the most aggressive interview.
But it's kind of hard to be snarky about an engagement story, Amy, although that could change later on. I mean, this may be the high point for this couple.
ARGETSINGER: Well, exactly. You see a lot of -- I mean, you saw this back in 1981, though, too. No one really seemed to think it was strange at the time that a 32-year-old guy was getting engaged to a 19-year-old. It seemed to me at the time that the media was very much complicit as pumping this up as this ideal love story.
KURTZ: Which, of course, it turned out not to be.
ARGETSINGER: Of course it turned out not to be. But right now you see making favorable comparisons in the media saying, oh, well, they've been together longer, she's older, this will work out better. But it seems to be very admiring coverage, but extremely extensive coverage.
KURTZ: But what about all this speculation about, how much is the wedding going to cost and all these details that we can't possibly know?
ARGETSINGER: I mean, it's absurd.
KURTZ: It's just kind of filling air time?
ARGETSINGER: Well, I mean, we saw the same thing with the Chelsea Clinton wedding. People endlessly speculating on what this cost, or what her dress would be, just to fill up air time just because people wanted to talk about it.
KURTZ: And Emily Bell, did the media play this up, all this business about the future queen and so forth, in part as a form of escapism?
BELL: Oh, yes, definitely. As I say, this is a fantasy story at a time when, actually, what the press is really reporting in the U.K. is incredibly deep cuts to public spending in exactly the same way that we've had here.
BELL: So there is an element of fantasy, but I think that it's right to say that nothing could really go as badly wrong, if you like, as the Charles and Diana fairytale. So, whilst there's sort of a heightened sense of expectation around having an event which will be a national event in the U.K., and probably a worldwide event, I think the long-term expectation is simply that the story is never going to be as good or bad as it was for the two decades --
KURTZ: Well, you might be right on that, but we will do our best to pump it up.
Emily Bell, Amy Argetsinger, thanks very much for joining us this morning.
Still to come, is Joe Scarborough running for president?
Tina Brown takes on Sam Zell. And did a senator really say he wants to kick MSNBC and Fox off the air?
The "Media Monitor" is next.
KURTZ: Time now for the "Media Monitor," our weekly look at the hits and errors in the news business.
Now, I like political speculation as much as the next junkie, especially if it involves a cable news host. So my antenna went up when "The Huffington Post" reported that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg could team up with MSNBC's Joe Scarborough for an Independent presidential run. Howard Fineman quoted what he calls Scarborough's carefully-worded denial, which is that the former congressman thinks people around them have discussed it.
Now, this is interesting. Here's Scarborough describing the call with Fineman.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC: No, it's not going to -- I told him no. And we keep going and talking -- no, no, no, like the song, right?
MIKA BRZEZINSKI, MSNBC: Why do you keep talking? Why? Why do you have to talk on the record?
SCARBOROUGH: It's a professional courtesy. Mike Bloomberg and I have not talked about this directly or indirectly or super-super- secret indirectly.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So, if they haven't even talked about it, even super- secretly, it doesn't sound like much of a story. But it got a screaming headline at the top of "The Huffington Post." Maybe it was a slow news day.
Here's what I call chutzpah. Sam Zell, the Chicago mogul who bought the Tribune Company and drove it into bankruptcy, popped off on CNBC this week about the merger of "Newsweek" and "The Daily Beast," where I work.
SAM ZELL, CHAIRMAN, TRIBUNE COMPANY: Like, you know, two ants mating under an ant pile. It's not exactly major media.
I don't think anybody has talked about "Newsweek" as being a force for at least 10 or 15 years. I'm not really terribly familiar with "The Daily Beast," but that's not exactly "The Washington Post" and "The New York Times" merging.
KURTZ (voice-over): The next day, The Beast's Tina Brown, who is taking over as the first female editor of "Newsweek," took vigorous exception to Zell's remarks.
TINA BROWN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, "NEWSWEEK": Is that the same Sam Zell who took the "L.A. Times" to rack and ruin, who has been a joke in the publishing world? I'm sorry, but I don't want to hear any media pronouncement from a guy who has single-handedly done more to wreck journalism than Sam Zell.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That is a great comeback.
KURTZ: Now, Brown is my new boss, and lots of people are skeptical of the economics of the "Newsweek"/"Daily Beats" merger. But, look, Sam Zell didn't just wreck the "L.A. Times," he devastated the company that owns "The Chicago Tribune" and "Baltimore Sun" and other newspapers, and major television stations.
He will now walk away from the carnage of the bankruptcy proceedings. You would think a touch of modesty might be in order.
And finally, here's one I'll call confusing. Senator Jay Rockefeller declared the following about Fox and MSNBC at a committee hearing this week --
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JAY ROCKEFELLER (D), WEST VIRGINIA: There's a little bug inside of me which wants to get the FCC to say to Fox and to MSNBC, out, off, end, good-bye.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Now, he's entitled not to like the channels, but the chairman of the Commerce Committee should know that the FCC has no jurisdiction over cable networks. Shouldn't he?
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 at the media.
"STATE OF THE UNION" with Candy Crowley begins right now.