Return to Transcripts main page
CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Michele Bachmann Wins Ames Straw Poll; Rick Perry Announces 2012 Run; Tim Pawlenty Drops Out of Presidential Race
Aired August 14, 2011 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST: It's on all the front pages this morning, at the top of the newscasts. The results of the Iowa straw poll are in, and Michele Bachmann is the big winner.
And Tim Pawlenty -- can you believe this? Word just hours ago that he's pulling out of the race. But what if this exercise is a scam -- that's right, a scam -- driven by 700 hungry journalists covering fewer than 17,000 voters in a non-binding poll?
Rick Perry jumps into the race. Is the national press too quick to paint the Texas governor as another George W. Bush? We'll ask one of the top reporters in Austin.
As the stock market continues its painful plunge, this question: Why didn't all those media outlets covering the Beltway debt deal see this bloodbath coming?
Plus, former CNN executive David Bohrman takes over at Current TV. Will he make Keith Olbermann's network all liberal all the time?
I'm Howard Kurtz, and this is RELIABLE SOURCES.
They came by the busload, and that's no accident. In yesterday's Iowa straw poll, the campaigns ponied up to bus in their supporters, supplying them with free food, free entertainment. A crazy way to run an election, but that did nothing to mute the media drumbeat leading up to the vote and how in August of 2011, it could be crucial, all important, do or die, now or never.
CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS: Tim Pawlenty, he knows Saturday's straw poll could make or break his candidacy.
MIKE HUCKABEE, FOX NEWS: For a candidate like Time Pawlenty, it could be a make-or-break moment.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But Pawlenty has put all his eggs in this basket, so he has the most to lose.
CARL CAMERON, FOX NEWS: Ron Paul, of course, is favored to do fairly well in the straw poll.
NORAH O'DONNELL, CBS NEWS: Bachmann has made Iowa the linchpin of her campaign and has been sharpening her attacks against President Obama.
ELLIS HENICAN, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: You have Michele Bachmann, who is likely to win this straw poll.
KURTZ: When the results came in last night, it was a high moment for the Minnesota congresswoman, even though she won by just 200 votes.
CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: Michele Bachmann won. That certainly cements her position as a serious player in this race.
DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS: Michele Bachmann is in sync with a lot of the mood of the primary voter on the Republican side right now.
TODD: I felt as if the Bachmann folks embraced the urgency of winning the straw poll.
KURTZ: Tim Pawlenty, finishing a distant third, and he cut short all the media obituaries by deciding this morning to pull out of the race.
Joining us now in Ames, Iowa, Jackie Kucinich, correspondent for "USA Today." In Los Angeles, syndicated radio talk show host Stephanie Miller. And here in Washington, Roger Simon, chief political columnist for Politico, and Jennifer Rubin, who blogs for "The Washington Post."
Roger Simon, you wrote about the straw poll. Let me quote it exactly. "A delightful fraud, an amiable hoax, organized bribery on a grand scale."
You're not a fan. Why?
ROGER SIMON, CHIEF POLITICAL COLUMNIST, "POLITICO": Oh, I'm a fan of attending it. It's a lot of fun. But it is organized bribery.
The campaigns buy the tickets, they hand them out to people. They put the people on air-conditioned buses, stick them in air- conditioned tents, give them free food, let them watch free entertainment, and then push them into the auditorium to vote.
KURTZ: And the reason media take this so seriously is?
SIMON: Because it is fun and it is -- it does narrow the field. We're the ones doing the narrowing, but it does cut down a large field.
The media does not like large fields because it's expensive to cover 10 people. We'd rather cover a top tier of three people. And now that's what we have. KURTZ: We are in the business of kicking candidates out of the race.
Jackie Kucinich, according to Roger's analysis, how do you feel being out there and aiding and abetting this scam?
JACKIE KUCINICH, "USA TODAY": I don't know they're aiding and abetting it. I mean, Tim Pawlenty, there were some problems there. There were some early problems there that you could see. So I don't think it's necessarily our fault, but I do think we have a responsibility to vet these candidates.
I mean, Rick Perry, for example, hasn't really been on the national stage yet. So it will be interesting starting to look into his record and seeing how he plays on the national stage, because right now he didn't have any debates during his --
KURTZ: Right, he got in late.
KURTZ: Jackie, if there weren't hundreds of reporters there, and 17,000 people voted in a non-binding poll, would this have pushed Pawlenty out of the race? You have to acknowledge that the media hype here is a factor.
KUCINICH: Well, yes, of course. Absolutely. However, he could have stayed in.
I mean, there wasn't -- you'd think that people would have started going after Rick Santorum or something like that, narrowed the field that way. So I don't think it was the media that pushed Pawlenty out, if that's what you're asking. I think the fact that he had single-digit poll numbers going into kind of the beginnings of the real race here where people pay attention, I think that's why he got out, not because we were needling him.
KURTZ: Stephanie Miller, do you have any problem with hundreds of reporters going out there eating pork on a stick and hyping the results of the relatively few Iowans who bothered to show up for this thing?
STEPHANIE MILLER, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I don't know, Howard. I'm just already missing the electricity that is the Tim Pawlenty campaign. So it's hard for me to even --
KURTZ: You are bummed.
MILLER: Although Marcus Bachmann looked like he was singing the opening number to "La Cage Aux Folles." He was so excited. It was -- I don't think it really matters who wins the Iowa poll. They never win the presidency anyway. I think you're correct on that.
KURTZ: You don't think it really matters? So doesn't that put all of us in the embarrassing position of pretending that it does matter?
MILLER: Well, I mean, Mitt Romney didn't even take part in it. And certainly Governor Perry sort of stole the thunder of whatever happened in Iowa. So I think it's going to be a topsy-turvy year.
KURTZ: Jennifer Rubin, if the media didn't go crazy over this straw poll, it would be a blip. And yet, you have Pawlenty driven from the race and Michele Bachmann appearing on all five Sunday shows this morning.
JENNIFER RUBIN, BLOGGER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, it's a conspiracy, actually. And the other half of the conspiracy, of course, is the candidates.
Mitt Romney chose not to play because he didn't want to lose to Michele Bachmann. Bachmann needed to show her organizational strength. She did that. Pawlenty need to get out of single digits, so he put everything in the basket and went for it.
So, it's the combination of them trying to invest this with meaning and the people on the other side covering it. So I think for Pawlenty --
KURTZ: So the journalists are part of the conspiracy?
RUBIN: Yes, absolutely. And the candidates use that, because how else would Tim Pawlenty get up into double digits, at least, if not for winning some kind of straw poll and generating all this hype?
SIMON: May I say one thing about Ron Paul? I find it odd for me to be a Ron Paul supporter, but he lost to Michele Bachmann by .9 of one percentage point in a straw poll that isn't supposed to pick winners, but is supposed to tell us which way the wind is blowing. That's as good as a win.
So we had a tie for a first. But where is he on the morning shows this morning? Where are all the stories analyzing what it means that Ron Paul essentially tied for first place at Ames?
KURTZ: And the reason he's essentially being ignored is?
SIMON: The media doesn't believe that Ron Paul has a hoot in hell's chance of winning the Iowa caucuses, winning the Republican nomination, or winning the presidency. So we're going to ignore him.
MILLER: Well --
KURTZ: Go ahead, Stephanie.
MILLER: Yes. I mean, I think, Howard, because that's the one thing Donald Trump has ever been right about, is that he's unelectable. I think my favorite part of the debate Thursday night is that Rick Santorum broke the golden rule of Republican debates, and that's pretending Ron Paul is invisible. So I think you're right, there's more media attention than there is this is going to have to do with the actual results. KURTZ: Well, just to remind people of the numbers here, this great victory won by Michele Bachmann -- and I'm not taking anything away from her. She got in late, and she's got a lot of momentum, but she got 4,823 votes. Ron Paul got a couple hundred less, as you say, Roger. Pawlenty, with 2,293.
Jackie Kucinich, you mentioned earlier Texas Governor Rick Perry, of course, trying to upstage this whole thing by announcing his candidacy yesterday in South Carolina.
How much of a shadow did he cast over this whole proceeding in Ames in terms of the way reporters are covering it?
KUCINICH: He definitely -- he was definitely a factor here. I mean, everybody was wondering how many write-in votes Perry got. I think he got, like, 718.
He's here today. He's in Waterloo, which is where Michele Bachmann launched her campaign.
He was definitely a presence and in the back of everyone's mind. That is for sure. And because he wasn't really participating in the straw poll, there is that factor there that you don't know. You just don't know how it would have been if he was in the race and whether it would have mattered a little bit more than having Bachmann win.
RUBIN: Well, I think for Rick Perry, this was his big debut. He quite intentionally stepped on the news of Bachmann. That's a smart move for a politician. But he may have also poisoned the well for him to come back to Iowa. They may be a little annoyed with him for having scooched their news out of the full frame of the --
KURTZ: Are journalists in love with him, or they are happy to have a second storyline?
RUBIN: Oh, I think people are very happy to have another candidate. And there's a wealth of information. He's been in office a very long time. It's sort of a reporter's dream.
KURTZ: Well, we're going to talk more about that later on this program.
But I want to play for you, Stephanie Miller, just a snippet of somebody else who decided that it might be a good idea to be in Iowa while 700 reporters and camera crews were roaming around. And that is somebody we used to talk about a lot in the media, Sarah Palin.
Let's roll that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH PALIN (R), FMR. ALASKA GOVERNOR: I don't think I'm stealing any spotlights. In fact, if anybody thinks I'm stealing the spotlight, go find the other folks and say hello. (END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: So, Stephanie, with all these real candidates in the race, and more getting in, she got the most attention Friday at the Iowa State Fair. Why are reporters still chasing after Sarah Palin?
MILLER: Yes, to watch her eat, I don't know, fried butter on a stick or something. You know, it just goes to show you, Howard, I think, honestly, how desperate they are on the Republican side.
Everybody is -- they're looking for their savior candidate. And I'm sorry, but Rick Perry, I go, wow, an arrogant governor of Texas that thinks God wants him to be president. How could that ever go wrong?
You know, but I think the more focused, for instance, you get on Rick Perry's record, you're going to see that it's the highest percentage of minimum wage jobs in the country that he's created. He only balanced his budget with stimulus money and he's tripled the debt in Texas while he's been governor.
KURTZ: So are you suggesting that he's gotten an easy ride from the press so far as an unofficial candidate?
MILLER: Yes. Oh, everybody is the new bold, refreshing, courageous candidate. Everyone was dying for Chris Christie to get in. Well, you know, he loses by how many points in his own state to Barack Obama in polling? You know?
So, I think -- you know.
KURTZ: I want to move on to the Fox News to the debate in Iowa.
And I have a clip for you, Jennifer.
People who follow politics closely know that Michele Bachmann had -- there's a videotape of her five years ago in a church talking about how the bible says that women should be submissive to their husbands. That question was brought up by Byron York of "The Washington Examiner." Let's take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BYRON YORK, "THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER": Can you explain, "But the Lord said, 'Be submissive. Wives, you are to be submissive to your husbands'"?
As president, would you be submissive to your husband?
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What submission means to us, if that's what your question is, it means respect. I respect my husband.
(END VIDEO CLIP) KURTZ: The crowd did not like that question. Byron York getting booed.
Is it a fair question?
RUBIN: It absolutely is. It was something that she said. And she hit the answer out of the ballpark.
She used that question. You noticed the dramatic pause, let the boos build a little bit. And then she gave this wonderful answer that showed that she's her own independent woman. It was a great moment for her, so I think the people who were getting on Byron's case I think were barking up the wrong tree.
KURTZ: All right.
Another question. And actually, Newt Gingrich, the former House Speaker, a couple of times went after the president. It almost seemed like he thought he was at an MSNBC debate, not a Fox debate, because the Fox anchors -- and everybody has acknowledged this -- asked pretty tough questions throughout.
Here is Newt going at Chris Wallace. And he came back and said that this was a "gotcha" question. Let's look at part of that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WALLACE: How do you respond to people who say that your campaign has been a mess so far?
NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'd love to see the rest of tonight's debate asking us about what we would do to lead an America whose president has failed to lead instead of playing Mickey Mouse games.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Roger Simon, doesn't Gingrich and other Republicans -- don't they usually beat up on the liberal media?
SIMON: Well, he'll beat up on any reporter who asks him a tough question.
KURTZ: The question was about all the people who had quit his campaign and his fund-raising difficulties.
SIMON: And he complained about "gotcha" questions. Look, we're supposed to ask "gotcha" questions. Holding politicians responsible for what they say and do is what we do. And if that's a "gotcha" question, tough. Don't run for president.
KURTZ: But you're not really acknowledging that it is a "gotcha" question, because a "gotcha" question implies that it's a setup, that it's unfair, that you're pulling something out of left field -- or right field, in this case. But you don't lose any sleep about that? SIMON: No. To Newt Gingrich, a "gotcha" question is any question that he doesn't want to answer. And he doesn't want to answer a lot of stuff about his past.
His past is simply part of his life. If he wants to explain it as well as Michele Bachmann explained hers, let him do it.
KURTZ: And on that point, Jackie Kucinich, as Bachmann was on the various Sunday shows -- I caught her on "Meet of the Press," on "STATE OF THE UNION" -- she was asked about her role in the debt negotiation. She did not want the debt ceiling raised. But she was also asked about her past comments, rather harsh comments about gays, same-sex marriage, and she kept trying to deflect those who say, well, that's not what this election is really about, but these are comments that she herself has made rather prominently in her political life.
KUCINICH: I think as the campaign goes on, she's going to have to answer these questions eventually. I mean, she also really couldn't answer the question about any bill that she had that she compromised with. And I think at some points, I mean, how many times can you ask a question and not get an answer?
Listen, for whatever reason at this point, it's not resonating with voters and it's resonating in polls. And so I think now that she has won the straw poll, even though everyone thinks it doesn't matter, it elevates her enough that I think at some point, she's got to start answering these questions.
KURTZ: Stephanie Miller, where do you stand on this very important point about whether journalists should ask "gotcha" questions?
MILLER: Well, I don't blame newt Gingrich for being startled that anyone asked an actual journalistic question on Fox News. I would have been startled myself.
But I think that you're right, it's not a "gotcha" question. I mean, Michele Bachmann I think has a lot of questions to answer.
She was rooting for a default for the United States. That was a Tea Party downgrade we got from S&P, clearly. You know?
And I'd like to know how she's a fiscal conservative, small government person, whose husband's clinic is taking government money to do dangerous reparative therapy on gay people. I mean, there's a lot of questions that I think are valid.
KURTZ: Well, for the record, she denies she wanted a default, but she certainly opposed an increase in the debt ceiling, which might have led to a default.
And I must say, this is the second straight debate which Bret Baier and Chris Wallace of Fox News clearly asked lots of tough questions. They did not roll over for these GOP candidates.
When we come back, "Newsweek" under fire for that crazy looking cover shot of Michele Bachmann.
KURTZ: There's been a storm of criticism this week about the photo of Michele Bachmann on the cover of "Newsweek," where I work, a rather wild-eyed picture. We see it there. She looks slightly deranged.
And let's take a look at some of the criticism, and then editor- in-chief Tina Brown defending her choice of the cover photo.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MEGYN KELLY, FOX NEWS: We talked before on the program about how certain women, politicians -- it's not limited to conservative women, but you see that often -- get deemed -- and pardon the terms, folks -- as either nuts or sluts when they're running for office.
TINA BROWN, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, "NEWSWEEK": Some people look at this picture and think Michele Bachmann looks crazy. Some people look at it and think it's the next president of the United States. But the fact that these two things are not mutually exclusive is what I think makes it pretty compelling.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Looking cross-eyed at the lights?
BROWN: Not cross-eyed. Listen, she has -- the intensity in her eyes in all the photographs of her.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Jennifer Rubin, what's your view of the cover?
RUBIN: Well, I think Tina was being disingenuous. Of course they chose a photo to make her look odd the way they chose to make Newt Gingrich or to make Rush Limbaugh seem odd. I don't think it was sexism.
I think "Newsweek" is a journalistic outfit that has a certain perspective, has a certain bias, and they choose covers that will match that perspective. They think Michele Bachmann is nuts. Tina brown just said it. And so they chose a photo that --
KURTZ: Well, she didn't say she was nuts.
RUBIN: She said there's a coincidence between people who can be president and people who are crazy.
KURTZ: Well, I do want to point out that the cover story by Lois Romano was widely viewed as fair and did not paint her as crazy.
I agree with the critics. It was a very unflattering photo, and I certainly would not have used it.
Stephanie Miller, I know you're not a Michele Bachmann fan. But even liberals like Ed Schultz have criticized it.
What's your take?
MILLER: Yes, those stupid liberal cameras, Howard. You know, I think that it's not the picture that makes her look crazy, it's the things she says that make her look crazy, in my opinion.
But look, it wasn't Photoshopped. That was her. That was the face that she made.
KURTZ: Wait a minute. If she we did a photo shoot with you, we could even make you look crazy or even bad, because not everybody looks terrific every second when one photographer is rattling off those frames.
MILLER: Right. Well, it doesn't take much to make me look crazy, Howard. But I just don't get it.
Remember about the migraine story? People were like, oh, that's sexist. That's not sexist to me. It's, does she have a condition so debilitating? What does that have to do with being a woman? Does she have a condition that would affect her being president of the United States?
I think that's valid. Don't you?
SIMON: I worked as a news magazine. It was the one you found in your doctor's office. But still, the selection of the cover is very, very important.
It's a meeting with 15 people in it. The cover I think was designed to have less to do with Michele Bachmann than getting buzz for a news magazine, getting buzz for "Newsweek." News magazines need buzz to survive, and they're going to put whatever is on the cover that gets them the most buzz.
KURTZ: So, therefore, is it a smart marketing move to put a picture like that, get everybody talking about the magazine, even if the buzz is largely negative?
SIMON: You can get away with it a couple of times. And after that people begin to react negatively.
KURTZ: Jackie Kucinich --
MILLER: Howard, I think the important point though is it's not sexist. They make everybody look -- they use unflattering pictures of everybody, as your other guest points out. Who needs to see Newt Gingrich's nose hair? I mean, you know, they always use extreme close-ups that can be unflattering and controversial.
KURTZ: Well, I mean, I don't think it's sexist either. The question is whether it's something that some publications do more to conservatives than liberals.
So, let me ask you this, Jackie Kucinich, since you're in Ames, Iowa. Michele Bachmann, I've watched many interviews with her this week. She did not criticize the cover. She refused to engage, she declined, she ducked. And maybe that was smart politics.
KUCINICH: I agree. I mean, I don't think she had to acknowledge it. I think everyone was acknowledging it enough for her. Sarah Palin was even asked about it, and she said that the headline was worse than the cover.
But yes, I think it was smart. I mean, if Bachmann didn't engage it, she made it more of a story. And I think that's exactly what "Newsweek" wanted it to do, and the fact she didn't engage was smart.
KURTZ: "The Queen of Rage" was the headline.
We are out of time.
Jackie Kucinich, Stephanie Miller, Roger Simon, Jennifer Rubin, thanks very much for a wide-ranging discussion.
And coming up in the second part of RELIABLE SOURCES, with Rick Perry joining the presidential race, we'll ask veteran Texas Wayne Slater about whether the national press is getting him right.
A week of dramatic twists and turns in the struggling stock market. Were journalists too caught up in the debt negotiations to see this coming?
Plus, former CNN executive David Bohrman takes over at Keith Olbermann's current TV. Will he create the next great liberal network?
KURTZ: While most of the media mob was in Iowa for the straw poll, some reporters went to South Carolina yesterday, as Rick Perry tried to steal the headlines by jumping into the presidential race. The Texas governor bashed the nation's capital and the culture of government itself.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID MUIR, ABC NEWS: Another Republican with a lot of money is shaking up the presidential race this evening. Texas Governor Rick Perry, making it official.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: It was Governor Rick Perry with that announcement in South Carolina who stole the show.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Joining us now from Austin to talk about the way Perry is being covered, Wayne Slater, senior political writer for "The Dallas Morning News."
And Wayne, many journalists in part are portraying Perry as the second coming of George W. Bush. They certainly sound similar.
But what does the national press not get about Perry?
WAYNE SLATER, SR. POLITICAL WRITER, "DALLAS MORNING NEWS": That he's not George W. Bush. I mean, George W. Bush, the caricature that was sort of created a decade ago -- and Bush contributed to it, I think -- sort of the dumb, bumbling southern --
KURTZ: Good old boy.
SLATER: -- Texas governor -- yes, good old boy, that kind of thing. That actually -- except for the dumb part, that actually is Rick Perry.
Rick Perry is much -- politically much more shrewd than George W. Bush. He's actually a very smart guy, but he is not interested in policies like George Bush was.
I know that sounds funny to people who think Bush was not interested in policies. Actually, Bush was a smart guy, interested in policy issues. Perry is not.
Perry was born on a ranch, raised on a ranch. Bush wasn't. He was born in Connecticut. Rick Perry went to Texas A&M, the Aggies school. Bush went to Harvard and Yale.
KURTZ: I think we can see that he's a real Texan.
SLATER: These are very different people.
KURTZ: Right, very different people.
SLATER: He's a real Texan.
KURTZ: And it can be journalistic laziness to lump the two of them together.
What has been Perry's attitude toward the media in Texas? Is he accessible to reporters?
SLATER: No, not particularly, especially in recent years. He doesn't particularly like the media.
As a personal thing, he's wonderfully engaging, very enjoyable. I've covered him for 20 years. A wonderful guy. Bush was just a wonderful guy to be around.
But I think increasingly, in recent years, he's tried to get away from the media, to distance us. Increasingly, they've tried not to make him available as much. He rarely has had news conferences, and when he has, they've been fairly short.
In recent years, he's not let us know in the capital press where he's going to be until very late. For example, we might find out at 5:00 at night that he's going to be in Dallas or Houston or El Paso the next day, doing some kind of event. And in part, that's because Perry doesn't see us as all that valuable in this process of what he does --
KURTZ: I wonder.
SLATER: -- in part because he has -- well, he has people around him who really have contempt for the media. Not Rick, but some people around him.
KURTZ: Well, I wonder if he'll be forced to adjust that attitude in the glare of a presidential campaign.
Now, earlier this month, Perry held that seven-hour Christian prayer rally at a Houston stadium and drew a lot of attention.
Would there have been even more negative coverage if he had already been in the race?
SLATER: Oh, I think there would be, because it would have been so patently obvious that this was an effort to pander to a constituency -- a religious constituency -- for political reasons. I certainly don't want to question, I don't think anybody who is a serious journalist would question the governor's -- the depth of his religious faith, but this was a political event.
One of the things that was kind of interesting was that, not being a candidate allowed him to go into that event -- and I was there for the full seven hours -- and see him talk in terms that were purely evangelical, about the need for God to come into our lives and be part, and to help fix the problems that we have. The press that was largely in the room, I think, didn't quickly understand, I think in some ways, that this was a political message. It was a message that went right -- like a dog whistle -- to Evangelicals who understood that they want a more biblical world view imposed, or at least expressed, by our government.
KURTZ: Let me jump in. He certainly wasn't hiding it if he's doing a seven-hour rally in a stadium.
The television started replaying the sound bite from a couple years ago where the government started to be flirting at least with the idea of Texas seceding from the union. Is that fair?
SLATER: It's fair to understand that he wasn't really talking about Texas seceding from the union. What's fair is to understand that he will use a rhetorical device, states' rights, secession, other things that play successfully to the exact Republican, conservative, Evangelical, Teavangelical base that he's trying to appeal to. He'll entertain the idea of secession.
And where Bush very often tried to be more careful about his expressive views, about politics and religion, Rick Perry has no such compunction. He'll be right out there in your face, sort of bold colors, not pale pastels.
KURTZ: Wayne Slater, come back to the point we were touching on earlier about Perry not being terribly accessible to the media, maybe not liking the media very much. People allowed him to use the word "disdain" for the media.
Can he get away from that campaigning for president, or is he going to have to adjust?
SLATER: I don't he can get away with that. Every candidate tries to sort of define their own narrative their way. And I think Perry is going to be among the candidates -- certainly Michele Bachmann looks like this kind of candidate -- where you try to focus your attention to appear on Fox News in the run-up to the religious gathering, to religious and evangelical television programs, to friendly reporters and maybe "National Review" and elsewhere. But I don't think he's going to be able to get away with it.
And one indication that he may not exclusively do that, he did an interview with Mark Halperin at "TIME" magazine. Halperin, a great reporter, a mainstream reporter. And so I think they recognize that he's going to have to go beyond this inaccessibility, but he's not going to do any favors for reporters and media outlets he doesn't think like him.
KURTZ: Right. It will be fascinating to watch.
Wayne Slater, thanks very much for joining us from Austin.
Bachmann, of course, as I mentioned, did all five Sunday shows, so she's not just hiding out on Fox News.
Now, after the break, a very rough week for anyone who owns stocks. Are journalists focusing too much on the wild gyrations without explaining what's going on?
KURTZ: If there was ever a case study in the media asking the wrong question, the latest gyrations on Wall Street would seem to be it. After weeks of covering Washington's bitter debt negotiations, with an obsessive focus on whether some deal, any deal could get done, journalists watched days later as the S&P downgraded America's credit rating and the Dow dropped more than 500 points.
And then, this past Monday, started to get bloody.
MARIA BARTIROMO, CNBC: Panic selling on Monday causing U.S. markets to take a big plunge, fueled by Standard & Poor's credit downgrade of the United States.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: And we begin with what has been a brutal day for anyone with a 401(k). BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS: This was a dark day for the nation's finances and for millions of Americans with a financial stake in the markets. The very same Americans who are still processing the fact that our country has lost its top credit rating.
BARTIROMO: Today, big losses for the markets on Wednesday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average ending at the lows of the afternoon, a decline of 520 points. The Nasdaq dropped over 101 points.
KURTZ: As the market rebounded on other days this week, another bloodbath would be followed by another up day. And while the swings continuing throughout the week, the dramatic declines producing an equally dramatic shift in the coverage.
Joining us now in New York, Felix Salmon, financial blogger for Reuters.
And welcome, Felix.
FELIX SALMON, FINANCIAL BLOGGER, REUTERS: Thank you very much.
KURTZ: Did the press kind of miss the boat here? Because there were all those headlines, "11th Hour Compromise," "Deal is Done," "The Crisis is Over," and then, suddenly, it seems like the real economy was sending a very different message.
SALMON: Well, let's not confuse the stock market with the real economy. The stock market is not the real economy. The stock market is a bunch of traders who are all trying to make money. And frankly, in mid-August, most of them are on holiday anyway.
And it can gyrate. It can go -- it can get volatile. You get a news event like the downgrade, and stocks can move up and down.
I think it's very easy to overstate the importance of that. And it's very important to remember that what happens in the stock market is not some kind of referendum on what's happening to the economy as a whole.
KURTZ: Well, I suppose a partial rebuttal to that would be that in this age of 401(k)s, that a lot of people are at least indirectly invested in the stock market. But let's come back to your --
SALMON: Well, no. Let me --
SALMON: -- add on to that, because it's important. If you are investing in a 401(k), you actually want stocks to be cheap. If you aren't retiring tomorrow, if you're still putting money away, month after month, this is like -- you know, if stocks go down, that's good for you because it means you can buy them more cheaply. This idea that stocks falling is always bad and stocks rising is always good is incredibly simplistic, and it's not actually true. KURTZ: So is this a fatal miscalculation in terms of the media coverage? Because it's hard to cover the whole economy, so we have this snapshot. The Dow went down 680, the economy is tanking. Are we really making too much of these gyrations and these market indexes?
SALMON: Absolutely. You know, the Dow went up over the past couple of years. It went down a bit.
You know, I think people concentrate far too much on what happens on any given day. And the fact is that if you're investing for a period of 20 or 30 years, what happens on any given day is completely irrelevant.
And people massively concentrate too much on that. They don't put things in perspective, and then you get this very silly phenomenon, as you said, of people talking about, it's panic, the stocks are going down. And then, oh, my God, the stocks are going up!
And they don't know why. No one knows why. And it's not informing the viewers and the readers.
They're not any wiser at the end of it all. All they know is it's crazy panic, I shouldn't trust stocks, that kind of thing. It's very unhelpful.
KURTZ: So when there is rather breathless coverage on a particularly bloody day, when stocks are going down, and you see it all day long on cable, and it leads the evening newscast, are journalists sort of like traders who have short-term mentality in that they're only looking at this snapshot and the larger picture is just really blurry?
SALMON: Well, the larger picture is certainly blurry. And as I say, you can't -- all this talk about panic and bloodbath and that kind of thing is incredibly unhelpful. And the problem with journalists is they're always looking for news. And if it didn't happen today --
KURTZ: We're terrible that way, aren't we? We're always looking for news.
SALMON: Well, you know, the fact that U.S. stocks are doing much better than just about any other stock market in the world seems to have escaped everybody's attention because they're just concentrating on the big headline, red figures on the stock ticker, even though that's not really where the important news lies.
KURTZ: But if you look at the last couple of weeks, where the trend has largely been downward, despite the certain up days, and if you leave aside the emotions of looking at your retirement statement, and you feel like you have less money, you're worth less than you were before, isn't there something of a referendum or a verdict being delivered here, and aren't the media correct in highlighting that, that the economy is not strong? And secondarily, that the politicians in Washington, as we have painfully seen, seem unable to reach reasonable compromise that involves both spending cuts and some revenue increases?
SALMON: To a certain extent, yes. A case can be made that the big fall in the stocks of 15 percent to 20 percent off their highs is related to worries that we might be entering a double-dip recession. But remember that you're tying this to the S&P downgrade, that kind of thing.
The main referendum on that in the markets actually happens in the bond markets, not in the stock markets. That happens in the treasury bond market, which is even bigger and even more liquid.
And what saw there was yields going down and people saying, you know what? We trust the full faith and credit of the U.S. government. And when we're scared, what we do is we lend money to the Americans because we know they're going to repay us no matter what. And that is a safe place for us to put our money.
And we saw bond yields fall, which meant prices went up quite a lot in the treasury markets. And again, I think that was underreported.
KURTZ: Well, in our final minute, it does seem to me that if you wind back the clock to six months ago, there was certainly plenty of coverage in the budget, but there wasn't a lot of headlines about a debt crisis in the United States of America. So, maybe to some degree, the downgrade, the market gyrations have served as a wake-up call for journalists who focus on the fact that the country is $14 trillion in debt?
SALMON: Well, the problem with the debt is the willingness to pay. It's the willingness of Congress to raise the debt ceiling. It's not the U.S. ability to pay.
KURTZ: Right. It's not that we can't afford to do it. It's a political question.
SALMON: It's a political question, not an economic one.
KURTZ: All right. Well, I feel very much better educated now as a result of our conversation.
Felix Salmon, thanks very much for joining us.
SALMON: Thank you.
KURTZ: Up next, former CNN executive David Bohrman is tapped as the new president of Current TV. What's his vision for Al Gore's network? We'll ask him.
KURTZ: David Bohrman has been a fixture at CNN for more than a decade as Washington bureau chief and senior vice president. He's the guy who helped develop the Magic Wall and other technological gismos, and most famously during the 2008 campaign, the hologram.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Tell us how you do it.
DAVID BOHRMAN, CNN SR. VICE PRESIDENT: There's this green room, and I think we have some pictures of it.
BLITZER: There it is right there.
BOHRMAN: And there were about 40 of these cameras in a semicircle in this rig. We began to call it the transporter. And the cameras were fixed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: But soon after resigning from CNN, Bohrman was tapped this week as president of Current TV, the network whose biggest star by far is now Keith Olbermann.
What does this mean for the channel co-founded by Al Gore? David Bohrman joins me now here in the studio.
You know this studio well.
BOHRMAN: I do.
KURTZ: It's no secret that Current TV has had trouble getting traction in the ratings, at least until Olbermann was hired, although he's not putting up huge numbers either.
How are you going to change that?
BOHRMAN: Well, Current had their fifth anniversary, and they went through two or three identity crises over what they were as a network. It began as a user-generated content network, and in the last couple of years it's sort of been like a Nat Geo "Frontline" documentary network.
Al Gore and Joel Hyatt got the brilliant idea to go and try to hire Keith. They did, and discovered lightning.
I mean, the program did great, is being talked about. And all of a sudden, they realized that that was going to be the destiny of what the network is. And they're going to --
KURTZ: How do you build on that, is the question that you're hired to answer.
BOHRMAN: Right. And so they hired me to completely transform the network from a bunch of taped documentaries that have been cycling through the day, to a live news analysis, discussion television network that's going hopefully 24 hours a day, talking about the events of the day and finding other people with something to say like Keith.
KURTZ: But with Olbermann not only as the host of "Countdown," but the chief news officer of Current, is this going to be an all- liberal network?
BOHRMAN: I think it will provide a fair amount of time for liberal viewpoints to be made. It's not going to be exclusively liberal viewpoints, and we're going to try not to hide behind the word "progressive," that I think so many liberals do, and then the people on the right, the conservative world, scoff at.
I think there's a lot of time on radio and television and on the Web that actually is conservative points of view. There's not a lot of time for the left. And I think --
KURTZ: So, this is interesting. You see this as a balance to conservatives, particularly on talk radio, whereas conservatives often talk about the media as being so much tilted to the left, that they need an outlet like Fox News.
BOHRMAN: Well, in an odd way, I think what Roger Ailes started to do 15 years ago when he built Fox News, he wanted to barge into a media environment he saw as liberal. And remember, he talked about, "We report, you decide."
Well, I think they've -- Fox is now the mainstream. Fox tells a lot of people what to think. And I think that we want on one level to be a counterpart to that -- a counterpoint to that --
KURTZ: A counterpoint, yes.
BOHRMAN: -- and be able to provide time for intelligent, long sometimes, discussion of really important issues. The debt, for instance, in the last couple of weeks, it was dysfunctional in Washington and it was dysfunctional on cable news.
KURTZ: Let me ask you about the elephant in the room. A lot of people have asked me, well, does your taking this job suggest that you were a closet liberal during your years here at CNN?
BOHRMAN: Well, you know, it's -- I do feel like I crossed a line and have been somewhat -- and outed myself. All right? Overtly, I need to say that. I will tell you that --
KURTZ: But just to be clear, you outed yourself as somebody whose views lean to the left?
BOHRMAN: Yes. Yes. And that's what this network is going to be.
But I will tell you, in the hundreds if not thousands of hours of programming that I produced here at CNN and at NBC and at ABC, with Wolf Blitzer and John King and all of the others, I don't think any of us ever knew our politics. Wolf and I did everything in the '08 election. I have no idea how Wolf felt. I don't think he had any idea of my politics. I produced at NBC News the funeral for Richard Nixon. I produced here at CNN the funeral for Ronald Reagan. They were the most moving, respectful programs that you could find anywhere.
KURTZ: So you're saying you set aside your views to do your job.
BOHRMAN: I completely set aside my views to do my job, and I think I did that really successfully. I also think that the left needs to recapture patriotism and not let the right own the flag and own patriotism. You know, I still -- you still get a lump in your throat when you walk in the White House or in the Oval Office and are with the president of the United States, regardless whoever that person is.
KURTZ: We're running short on time.
Isn't there already a liberal commentary network, at least at night, MSNBC, where Olbermann worked? And do you see Current as taking viewers from MSNBC and perhaps from CNN, as well?
BOHRMAN: Well, I see us taking viewers from them both. I think MSNBC trots it out a little bit at night. I think most of the day, 20 hours a day, it's the NBC News network.
And the one trap even at night that I think we see at MSNBC, and I think we see here even at CNN, as well, there's almost this false equivalency where everything is a minute on this opinion and then a minute a counter-opinion. And by default, it's a lot like an old program we had here, "CROSSFIRE." There's too much yelling and shouting for the appearance of balance.
KURTZ: But do you think --
BOHRMAN: So I hope that we can have 10-or-15-minute discussions, and maybe there's a conservative thinker, but we probe and we have a long conversation.
KURTZ: As opposed to the "CROSSFIRE" style.
KURTZ: Well, we'll be watching.
David Bohrman, thanks very much for coming back to CNN.
BOHRMAN: Thank you.
KURTZ: Still to come, the Obama team rolls out the red carpet for the folks making a film about the killing of Osama bin Laden. What's wrong with this picture?
KURTZ: The Obama administration has been unusually aggressive, more aggressive than the Bush folks, in fact, in going after leaks of classified information. The Justice Department, for instance, recently subpoenaed "New York Times" reporter James Risen in the prosecution of a former CIA officer charged with providing information about Iran's nuclear program.
But the administration's approach has been very different when it comes to dealing with Hollywood. The White House has thrown out the welcome mat for director Kathryn Bigelow, who's making a film about the killing of Osama bin Laden that -- guess what -- is slated for release just before the presidential election.
The Pentagon's Hollywood liaison -- no, I didn't know there was one either -- has been working with the filmmakers, and "New York Times" columnist Maureen Dowd says the movie folks have "top-level access to the most classified mission in history."
Republican Congressman Peter King is demanding an investigation into whether there's improper collusion between the administration and those making the Bin Laden film. A top Obama aide denies this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC: Is the Obama campaign really relying on Hollywood to save it in the end?
DAVID AXELROD, SR. STRATEGIST, OBAMA RE-ELECTION CAMPAIGN: The truth is, I didn't even know about this movie until I read about it in Maureen's column. Maureen is a great friend of mine, and a really talented writer, but she pays a lot of attention to that kind of stuff. I don't.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: I'm glad they're such great friends, and the filmmakers certainly have some dramatic material to work with. But if the administration is viewed as spilling state secrets for an election eve movie designed to tout the president's greatest success, both sides could wind up looking tarnished.
Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.
I'm Howard Kurtz.
Join us 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.