Return to Transcripts main page
CNN RELIABLE SOURCES
Perry Announces Presidential Run; Interview With Tom Friedman
Aired August 21, 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: There was no question that Rick Perry would shake up the presidential race by throwing his 10-gallon hat in the ring, but his tough Texas talk has triggered a media backlash. Is the press holding Perry accountable for such rhetoric as suggesting the Fed chairman is almost a traitor, or unfairly painting him as a conservative cowboy?
Even Jon Stewart is making fun of the media's lack of interest in Ron Paul. What gives?
A "New York Times" columnist throws his weight behind the creation of a third party. That's an unusual stance. Tom Friedman, on beltway gridlock, the economy, and why the coverage of politics reminds him of ESPN.
Plus, Yahoo! digs up allegations that money, cars and sex were improperly provided to University of Miami athletes. Is this a shocking scandal? Buzz Bissinger takes a swing at that one.
I'm Howard Kurtz, and this is RELIABLE SOURCES.
He's an instant front-runner in some polls, but Rick Perry hasn't had an easy ride in his first week as a presidential candidate. The kind of red meat rhetoric that plays well in Texas drew plenty of attention from voracious political reporters and pundits, most of it negative. That was especially true when the governor said Texas would treat Ben Bernanke pretty ugly if the Fed chairman keeps printing money, and said that would be "almost treasonous."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REV. AL SHARPTON, MSNBC: Isn't Perry crossing the line with all of this talking about treasonous, talking about black cloud over the country? I mean, isn't this way over the line?
KARL ROVE, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, a bad way to start. You don't want to accuse the Federal Reserve chairman of being guilty of a crime punishable by death, which is what treason is.
ED SCHULTZ, MSNBC: Worlds like "treason," I mean, just roll off Perry's lips because he knows that's exactly what the Republican base is hungry for. Base Republicans want to crush everyone in their path.
(END VIDEO CLIP) KURTZ: So, are the media giving Perry a fair shake, or giving him what some might call the Michele Bachmann treatment?
Joining us now here in Washington, Matt Lewis, senior contributor at "The Daily Caller"; Christina Bellantoni, associate politics editor at "CQ Roll Call"; and in Denver, columnist and radio talk show host David Sirota.
And David Sirota, Perry didn't exactly say that Bernanke should be lassoed and lynched. Are the media blowing this just a little bit out of proportion?
DAVID SIROTA, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, I think the media has been culturalized to look at more and more violent rhetoric in our political debate, and look at it more as an issue unto itself. I think we've seen over the last few years more and more coarsening rhetoric, especially from Republicans, using a kind of rhetoric that at least allegorically alludes to violence.
And so I think the media itself, having covered that in the past, is now on the lookout for it. And I think it's fair to be on the lookout for it.
When I heard what Perry said, I was a little bit taken aback. I didn't hear him really call for violence, but I think you're right in saying that this is really a play to the Republican base, a Republican base that has shown that it responds to this kind of coarse, at least violently, allegorical rhetoric.
KURTZ: All right. Let me get Matt Lewis in.
David Zurawik, writing in "The Baltimore Sun: this weekend, says the press has an almost palpable bloodlust to bring this guy down.
We are jumping on a lot of things about Rick Perry as he gets into this race.
MAT LEWIS, SR. CONTRIBUTOR, "THE DAILY CALLER": Well, look, a couple things.
I think, first of all, if you look at who the commentators are who have been uber critical, I mean, you just showed Reverend Al Sharpton --
KURTZ: And Karl Rove.
LEWIS: -- and Karl Rove, who hates Rick Perry.
LEWIS: And the Bush folks hate Rick Perry. So, it is interesting to see who the people are who are coming after him.
I think this is more a product of the modern media age than it is an anti-Rick Perry movement. I mean, nowadays, the press follows every candidate -- it's not just the press. It's trackers, it's Web sites who weren't around five or 10 years ago. So the scrutiny that these candidates have -- I mean, Rick Perry wants to talk about jobs. Texas has created about a third of the jobs that have been created, but when he slips up, they're there and that's what they show.
KURTZ: But it's not just commentators. This morning, as if to underscore my point, "The New York Times" front page story about Perry raising millions of dollars from people he appointed to various state boards and commissions. "Washington Post," front page story about how many of the jobs you just mentioned in Texas are actually government jobs.
So, Christina Bellantoni, when a lot of reports start picking through your record -- we saw this with Bush 43 in Texas, Bill Clinton in Arkansas -- it can seem kind of prosecutorial.
CHRISTINA BELLANTONI, ASSOC. POLITICS EDITOR, "CQ ROLL CALL": It can seem like that. I mean, you asked the question about wanting to tear a candidate down. Well, first, you have to build that candidate up. Right? So we saw multiple stories before Perry got in about the vacuum and the Republican nomination.
KURTZ: And he was going to sweep in.
BELLANTONI: Exactly. So I think that these stories were all obviously being worked on for weeks in advance. Everybody sort of expected it. But it's also the media searching for -- you know, how many times have we seen "Texas-size" in a headline this week?
They're looking for narratives that feed into the fact that he's a cowboy from Texas. And it's just so easy to give somebody a label like that instead of actually delving into their record.
KURTZ: Now, some of this obviously revolves around what Perry is saying on the campaign trail, David Sirota. So, on the subject of climate change, he said the other day, "There are a substantial amount of scientists who have manipulated data, questioning the original idea about manmade global warming."
Now, should reporters, not pundits, not commentators like yourself, just report that straightforwardly, or should they say this is a bit crazy, compared to the scientific consensus on climate change?
DAVID SIROTA, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, I think reporters have an obligation to put it up against what science is telling us. And if there is a scientific consensus -- which there is -- about the fact that global climate change is happening and humans are contributing to it, reporters have an obligation to put up that science next to what Rick Perry is saying.
And to your point about whether that's prosecutorial or not, what I would say is, if this guy is running for president of the United States, like any of the other candidates, the public has a right to know as much about his rhetoric as possible. So it is the press' obligation to be maybe not prosecutorial, but at least adversarial, in trying to find out what this guy is all about. KURTZ: Is any of this cultural? Is any of this a reaction to another sexist governor with cowboy boots who drops his Gs?
LEWIS: I do. I think so.
I think, again, we talk about this every couple weeks, I'm sure, on a media show. But, you know, look, most of the media are folks who are educated at elite universities, who live in places like New York or Washington, D.C.
KURTZ: I went to a state school, buddy.
LEWIS: Well, some of us. I went to a college in West Virginia. But you know where I'm going.
There's a cultural divide. I mean, I go to Whole Foods. Other people go to Wal-Mart. I mean, there's a difference. And sometimes I think that is the bias that I think is more insidious than liberal bias.
I think the press needs to hold candidates accountable, of course. So, for example, "The Wall Street Journal" reported that when Perry said again the other day that farmers are being required by some federal regulation to get commercial drivers' licenses to drive their tractors, not true, according to The Journal.
You used the word "narrative." Could there be a narrative developing here that Perry is a guy who shoots off his mouth and mangles the facts? And then, every single time he's off by 10 percent or something, we fire at him?
BELLANTONI: Sure, although look at Michele Bachmann. People give her I say far more heightened scrutiny to her gaffes than male candidate gaffes.
BELLANTONI: I mean, that is just a fact of what's happened so far.
KURTZ: Is that ideological, or is that because she also had some well publicized missteps?
BELLANTONI: I think it could be all of the above. And in his case, he's getting a lot of scrutiny because he's so new to this. People want to se him trip up and say some sort of Texas swaggering, slang that's going to allow them to have a nice headline on this.
Eventually, he's going to be a candidate just like everybody else, on the debate stage like everybody else, and he'll get equal treatment. But in this week, he's been on the front page almost every day this week.
KURTZ: That is true. And that's not unrelated to the fact that he has shot up in the polls.
Now, on this program last week, right after the Iowa straw poll, the much-hyped Iowa straw poll, I should say, Roger Simon was one of the guests and talked about how Ron Paul, who almost beat Michele Bachmann, finished second by 150 votes, wasn't getting much attention.
Jon Stewart is among those that picked up on that. Let's roll the tape.
CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS: We have a top tier. It is Mitt Romney, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's now a top tier, and it's Perry, Mitt Romney, and Bachmann.
CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: There's now a top tier in this race, at least for now, of Romney, Perry and Bachmann.
BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS: And I think that's fair to say.
JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW": Really? Fair to say? You're not forgetting, I don't know, anyone, say an ideologically consistent 12-term congressman who came within less than 200 votes of winning the straw poll?
KURTZ: David Sirota what explains Michele Bachmann appearing on Fox Sunday shows the next morning and Ron Paul being shut out?
SIROTA: Because Ron Paul doesn't fit the narrative. And we were talking about other narratives that are embedded in our media debate in this country, our political debate.
Ron Paul is an antiwar, pro-drug legalization, pro-civil liberties Republican. That doesn't fit into not just Republican politics, it frankly, unfortunately, doesn't really fit into Democratic politics either. And so he's being sort of written out of the story because he can't be put through the prism, necessarily, of that red versus blue summer camp color war idea that dominates so much of our politics.
It's really sad, because here is a guy who has had political success, who, by every other metric that any candidate would be judged by would be included as a front-runner, or at least in the debate about who is going to win or could win the Republican nomination.
BELLANTONI: Yes. I'm disagreeing with David on this. There's a couple things.
First off, he's not very well thought of in the polls. One of the reasons he has a national presence is because the media built him up in 2008 because we all got Web traffic off of him, any time you put Ron Paul in a headline.
That is one of the dirty secrets in this business. Right? We built him up.
Another issue here is that he's 76 years old. And I think that if this were a 55-year-old candidate who was making all this platform, having this sort of liberal Republican platform on a lot of social issues, he would have a much better chance of getting nominated.
LEWIS: The other thing though is it's not -- look, I think Ron Paul gets the press he deserves, because, number one, it's not like we haven't been down this road before. He's run for president a couple times. He wins straw polls, or performs well in them, he raises a lot of money.
KURTZ: But that can be a self-fulfilling prophesy if you decide in advance that he's not going to win the nomination.
LEWIS: Well, the other thing though is he is -- again, the last time that Republicans had a foreign policy like Ron Paul's it was Tom Dewey. He is out of touch with the Republican mainstream foreign policy. He's not going to be president.
KURTZ: All right.
I have one more piece of videotape I need to play. But I should mention that we invited Ron Paul on this program to talk about this very subject. He declined. He also declined an invitation with CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION" last week, so there are opportunities he is missing.
Now, here is Fox News' Martha MacCallum talking to Ron Paul about an ad that ran in a Texas paper. Let's take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARTHA MACCALLUM, FOX NEWS: One question surfaced in "The Austin Chronicle." And that question was in the form of ad that is said to be from a Ron Paul supporter. And the question is, "Have you ever had sex with Governor Rick Perry?" And it goes on to say, "Are you a stripper, an escort, or just a young hottie impressed by an arrogant, entitled governor of Texas?"
What's your response, what's your campaign's response to this coming from one of your supporters?
REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I don't know how something like that qualifies as a question on national TV as if it's something serious.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Should those kind of unsubstantiated charges in an ad be raised on national TV?
BELLANTONI: Well, that's -- I mean, it's a supporter. Is it somebody that works for his campaign?
KURTZ: He had nothing to do with it as far as I can determine.
BELLANTONI: Yes, that was surprising to me. I hadn't seen that. I would say that, you know, how many supporters of another candidate are raising questions about other candidates? That seems a little ridiculous.
KURTZ: And in the process, it smears Rick Perry by raising these allegations that so far nobody has supported. And I was surprised to see it out there as well.
Let me get a break.
When we come back, President Obama dares to take a vacation. Why are some journalists carping about his Martha's Vineyard retreat?
And later, our conversation with Tom Friedman of "The New York Times."
KURTZ: President Obama and his family are on Martha's Vineyard this weekend, and that vacation has somehow become a media controversy. In fact, CBS' Anthony Mason raised the subject during a sit-down with the president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANTHONY MASON, CBS NEWS: This has been a scary summer for a lot of people.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Absolutely.
MASON: Because of the stock market, the economy is struggling.
MASON: Should Congress be back in Washington? Should you be going on vacation?
OBAMA: Well, no, because I think if all we're doing is the same posturing that we saw before the debt limit vote, that's not going to encourage anybody. That's going to discourage people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Christina Bellantoni, why is the press pounding away at this vacation? There's always something bad going on in the world.
BELLANTONI: Of course. And if Congress were in town, and he was off vacationing, that might be a different story. But they're gone for four weeks. So it --
KURTZ: Yes. The city is deserted.
BELLANTONI: Yes. And the idea -- I asked supporters on Twitter about this, saying, you know, "Hey, what do you think about this?" And pretty much everyone says give the guy a break.
It's true, not every American can have the opportunity to have a vacation on Martha's Vineyard. But taking vacation with your kids is not completely out of the question.
KURTZ: I think this is a media-generated controversy.
And Matt Lewis, I guess you could make the case that Martha's Vineyard is maybe not the best setting at a time when so many Americans are hurting. But unlike Bush 43 and Reagan, Obama doesn't have a ranch to go to.
LEWIS: Yes, he can't be out there clearing brush with the chainsaw and the cowboy hat.
Look, I think that in terms of substance, I do not begrudge the president. This could actually be healthy. I want to get the Congress away from Washington. Let them think, let them relax. Good ideas sometimes --
KURTZ: You're in favor of less government, too.
LEWIS: Yes, I am. But also, good ideas sometimes come from rest and relaxation.
But in terms of optics, it does look bad to go to this sort of hoity-toity place while other people are out of work struggling. It looks bad.
BELLANTONI: Which is one of the reasons why last year, he made a point to go to the Gulf Coast right after the oil spill to show his family that this was a good place to visit with your family, and then went to Martha's Vineyard.
KURTZ: But, David Sirota, would the pundits prefer that President Obama conduct a poll on where he should go on vacation, as Bill Clinton famously did before going to Jackson Hole?
SIROTA: I guess so. I mean, I guess maybe that is -- and I think what we're keying on here, it is the optics of Martha's Vineyard, I think.
I mean, look, Ronald Reagan went on vacation to his ranch for a 25-day vacation during 9 percent unemployment. George Bush did three times the amount of vacation Barack Obama has done at this point in his presidency.
But again, I think it's not just the vacation. It's the vacation at Martha's Vineyard. And the fact that when Bush went on vacation, it wasn't reported that he was going to his mansion in Crawford, or Reagan wasn't going to his compound in California. Martha's Vineyard says what wasn't said about Reagan and Bush. And I think that's what this is about.
BELLANTONI: And don't forget, the president goes to his home state of Hawaii for Christmas every year for two weeks. And people don't really complain about that because it's his home state. But it's certainly more luxurious than Martha's Vineyard.
KURTZ: I don't think the average person cares about this. And, of course, the president is always working, he's always getting an intelligence briefing, and always has to respond to events.
Let me throw in a last sound bite. The president also sat down with CNN's Wolf Blitzer this week. And let me play that for you.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: When we spoke here, end of 2008, hope and change. You know what I see in Washington still to this day?
OBAMA: More of the same.
BLITZER: The same old, same old.
BLITZER: A lot of bickering, back-stabbing.
OBAMA: Maybe a little worse.
BLITZER: Name -- why?
OBAMA: Some of it, frankly, Wolf, is I think the media has changed. It's much more splintered. You don't have the entire population just watching Walter Cronkite and hearing one source of news now. Everybody is kind of going off into their respective corners.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Obama mentioned other things, Matt Lewis, but is this blaming the media? Does it make sense to you?
LEWIS: Well, maybe -- it might not make sense politically, because complaining doesn't really work. But I think as an observer, I think he's probably right.
I mean, there's a double-edged sword to this stuff. Right? I mean, I don't want to go back to the days when my information came from "The New York Times," "The Washington Post" and three broadcasters. But on the other hand --
KURTZ: It's very polarized.
LEWIS: Yes. There is something to be said for it, too. It's good and bad.
BELLANTONI: Well, and he didn't really answer the question. Wolf Blitzer was asking about the change since 2008. Walter Cronkite was not on the air in 2008.
KURTZ: That is true.
LEWIS: You actually listened to the question.
KURTZ: OK. Well, presidents, like all politicians, hear the question the way they choose to hear it so they can give the answer they want to give.
David Sirota, Matt Lewis, Christina Bellantoni, thanks very much for joining us.
And coming up in the second part of RELIABLE SOURCES, "New York Times" columnist Tom Friedman on why he's suddenly pushing for a third party and what's wrong with the media's breathless coverage of politics.
Plus, Buzz Bissinger on a Yahoo! investigation into allegations that University of Miami athletes got improper gifts of money, meals and sex.
KURTZ: "New York Times" columnists serve up plenty of strong opinions about Democrats and Republicans. But Thomas Friedman is staking out some new territory, throwing his journalistic weight behind an effort to create a third party. Friedman is fed up with the idiocy of America's two political parties and wants to blow open the system, an unusual stance, to say the least, from somebody occupying the coveted real estate of the country's most influential paper.
He's the co-author of the forthcoming book, "That Used to Be Us: How American Fell Behind in the World it Invented and How We Can Come Back."
I spoke to him earlier here in the studio.
KURTZ: Tom Friedman, welcome.
TOM FRIEDMAN, COLUMNIST, "NEW YORK TIMES": Good to be here, Howie.
KURTZ: Now, "New York Times" columnists don't endorse candidates. But you're backing an outfit called Americans Elect. This is an outfit whose mission is to get third-party candidates on the presidential ballot in 50 different states.
So, has Tom Friedman given up on the two-party system? FRIEDMAN: I haven't given up on it, Howie, but I think that the two-party system.
KURTZ: You're frustrated.
FRIEDMAN: Definitely frustrated. You can see that in the column.
But definitely think the system needs a shock, that -- you look at what's going on today, Howie, it's like we're having an economic crisis and the two parties are having an election. And they barely meet. I mean, it's sort of the economic crisis here, and it just overlaps sort of with their election over there.
KURTZ: Well, it will overlap when the two parties seem unable to agree on a basic way to raise the debt ceiling and keep the country out of default. So that frustrated everybody.
KURTZ: But this idea of a third party, it seems like pie in the sky in a way.
FRIEDMAN: It certainly seems like pie in the sky to some. But the reason it's been pie in the sky, Howie, is because it's so difficult to get on the ballot. So that's why third-party candidates have rarely carried states.
I mean, George Wallace did. But if you have a third party that's already on all 50 states, and then you have an Internet election that doesn't turn out to be goofy, that doesn't end up with Lady Gaga, but actually produces a serious candidate, I think it becomes very interesting. Because what's the key? The key is to show the two parties that there is a constituency here for serious policies so they change.
That's the shock I think the system needs. And that's why I find Americans find (ph) it interesting.
KURTZ: And so you feel that given the current system, with the need to raise money and with the need to play to your ideological base on both sides, that the Democrats and Republicans essentially are not very good at governing?
FRIEDMAN: Yes. I mean, you know, you look at what's going on now, and you say, how could we actually be here today, Howie? We're waiting until Thanksgiving for these two parties to solve this crisis.
KURTZ: Meaning a super committee.
FRIEDMAN: Absolutely. And the markets are just saying, oh, yes, we'll wait. No problem. You get back to us on Turkey Day. You know what I mean?
That's part of a system that is so broken, it seems to me, that it's now dangerously broken. A friend of mine on Wall Street said to me the other day -- he said, "These politicians are dealing with the economy like it's a football. It's not a football. It's actually a Faberge egg."
It may look a little bit like a football, but you drop it and you can actually break it. And I think that's the frustration in the country today.
KURTZ: The stock market might suggest that.
You wrote a related column called "Bring Back Poppy." You miss the first George H. W. Bush, who you covered. The press didn't love him at the time. Remember those bumper stickers, "Annoy the media, reelect Bush"?
KURTZ: But now you're nostalgic of him.
FRIEDMAN: Absolutely. Well, you know, I was a reporter then, so I wasn't writing columns. So I can't tell you what opinions I had. I'm sure there were frustrations that I had at the time as a reporter.
But what did I admire about him and one do I think we need right now? One is -- first is that he believed in math. And it's hard sometimes to find Republicans who believe in math these days.
That is, when his aides came to him and said, Mr. President, we need to raise taxes, now you need to actually break that vow you made to the American people, "Read my lips, no new taxes." He did the right thing.
KURTZ: Possibly at the cost of his presidency.
FRIEDMAN: Absolutely. It certainly contributed. It paved the way to the good economy of the '90s.
At the same time, he believed in science. People forget, George H. W. Bush was the father of cap and trade, which he invented and installed to deal with the acid rain problem. Incredibly successful.
KURTZ: Which is anathema to the Republican Party.
KURTZ: But you also ask in one of your columns, Tom, "Where have the adults gone?" And you like Republicans like Dick Lugar, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Colin Powell. And you're not a fan of Michele Bachmann. Or you mentioned Rush Limbaugh, Palin, and Grover Norquist.
But, you know, some of that sounds ideological. You like the moderate Republicans. But the center of gravity -- I think the point you're trying to make is the center of gravity in the party has shifted.
FRIEDMAN: Yes, no question. I mean, in my next life, Howie, I want to come back as a member of the base. The base has all the fun, whether it's the settlers in Israel or the Republican Party. And at some point someone has got to talk straight to these people.
When you have a party where it is an act of courage, the ultimate act of courage, to say climate change may actually be real, OK, that's nuts. OK? That's so outside where the science is.
And that's a dangerous place I think for the Republicans to be. And the country can't be serious if our biggest opposition party isn't serious about these issues.
KURTZ: If the Republican Party has been hijacked by what you call the extremist Tea Party -- you argue that as a columnist -- has the mainstream press, the regular news coverage, has it reflected that?
FRIEDMAN: Oh, yes. I think certainly the commentary, when I see the columns and what other commentators raise, certainly.
KURTZ: Right. But is it -- in the straight reporting, is there a little bit too much he said/she said and not reflecting what some would say is a historical shift in the political center of gravity in the GOP?
FRIEDMAN: You would be in a better position to judge that than me. I can't say I've done any systematic survey of that.
KURTZ: But now I bet you some people out there are watching and saying, well, you know, this is just a typical liberal media bias, back the Republicans, powered by Tea Party sentiment, won the election of 2010, captured the House of Representatives. And you, Tom Friedman, don't like that.
FRIEDMAN: Well, first of all, I'm not such a liberal. Let's start there. OK? As the left will tell you. I'm a pretty centrist kind of person, number one.
But, number two, everyone says, I won the election, now I've got a mandate. Let's look what happened over the last decade.
So George Bush Jr. wins the election, and he takes basically the Reagan revolution, tax cutting, to its logical extreme and beyond. And Obama comes in and he takes FDR's New Deal in the form of health care to its logical conclusion, and some would say and beyond, to which I say, thank you very much. Both parties have now completed the agendas of their iconic leaders of the 20th century. Could someone please build a bridge to the 21st?
KURTZ: Given the limitations that we've seen in President Obama's governing style, the fact that he comes in late, his critics would say he's too much of a compromiser, what does he stand for, all that, did the media blow it in the portrayal of candidate Obama in 2008? Did we -- were we swept along by the emotion of the Obama oration?
FRIEDMAN: Way too soon to tell that.
KURTZ: Really? Almost three years in? FRIEDMAN: Yes. I really think way too soon.
Yes. I think, look, what have I been calling for the president to -- I mean, think there is -- we so desperately need a grand bargain that involves restructuring of debt, raising of taxes, cutting of spending, and investing in the sources of our strength, OK, as a country, from everything from infrastructure, to government-funded research, to education. It's so clear that's what we need.
My personal frustration with Obama has been that, while he certainly tried that grand bargain for a little bit, it just kind of went away. Well, it didn't work. He said Boehner backed out. I don't know who backed out. Whatever --
JONES: It takes two sides to negotiate, yes.
FRIEDMAN: Exactly. There's no question. But if I were Obama right now, I would be out with the American people every day on that bus tour, "I am for this grand bargain. Here is what it means specifically. Here is why it will work. Here is why it's the answer to our problem."
And my own frustration with Obama is that, as a commentator now who wants to get behind solutions, OK, and come out against obstruction, I don't have a solution right now that I can say here is my guy who has got my plan out there -- I mean, the plan I think will work best for the country. And I think there's a lot of voters who feel that way as well, a lot of Obama supporters who want to be supporting the president, but they don't quite know what it is. You know what I mean?
KURTZ: What essentially is the plan? What does he stand for?
You have played golf with President Obama.
KURTZ: Is that of journalistic benefit to you?
FRIEDMAN: Yes. Any time you spend four hours with the president, Howie, with a spoon in your hand or a golf club in your hand or nothing in your hand, you learn something.
KURTZ: So, for people who say, well, that's kind of a cozy relationship for a columnist?
FRIEDMAN: Look, if he invites you to lunch, any time you get a chance to talk to the president in any context, I find incredibly beneficial.
KURTZ: And you've done it with other presidents?
FRIEDMAN: With Clinton.
KURTZ: Yes, because you're a good golfer. Aren't you?
FRIEDMAN: I'm OK.
KURTZ: After the break, Tom Friedman weighs in on Michele Bachmann's promise of $2.00 gas and why we don't get more serious economic coverage from the media.
KURTZ: More now of my conversation with "New York Times" columnist Tom Friedman.
KURTZ: Tom Friedman, among the things that you have written about -- in fact, you've written books about it -- is economics, international economics. In the presidential campaign we have Michele Bachmann the other day saying that she will make sure that America gets $2.00 gasoline once again. She didn't offer a lot of specifics. Her Web site says, well, she's going to ease restrictions on drilling, roll back federal regulations on the shale gas industry.
Is that a responsible pledge for a candidate to make, $2 gas?
FRIEDMAN: It's flat-out nuts. There's no way that that's going to happen. We're heading just -- I wrote a book, "Hot, Flat, and Crowded." OK? And I often hold it up when I'm going to talk about it.
KURTZ: You're trying to sell it.
KURTZ: You can sell it right now.
FRIEDMAN: Yes. I don't need to sell anymore.
And I often say to audiences who don't believe in climate change, oh, you don't believe in hot? OK. Anybody done your research (ph) out there? Let's take hot off. But you better believe in flat and crowded.
What does it mean? It means more and more people out there can see how we live, in a flat world, aspire to how we live, and live like we live: American-size homes, driving American-size cars, eating American-size Big Macs. That's going on in Brazil, India, China, now all over. So the world is getting flatter and flatter, middle class is growing everywhere, and there are just more people.
Now, when you put flat and crowded together, more people and more people want to -- and able to live like us -- energy prices are only going to go one way, and they're not going to go toward $2.00 a gallon.
KURTZ: But, in fact, you don't think there should be $2.00-a- gallon gas, even if it could be achieved. FRIEDMAN: Not at all.
KURTZ: You want more expensive gas, or a gas tax --
KURTZ: -- because you think we need to discourage consumption. That's not a very politically popular stance, which probably has something to do with the fact that it hasn't happened.
FRIEDMAN: And that's why she's playing to that. But it's so unrealistic.
And at the end of the day, let's think about it from the jobs point of view. If the world is getting flat and crowded, what's going to be the next great global industry?
It's got to be clean energy that can satisfy that huge growing middle class market. So do you want to be actually telling Americans, let's keep investing in this old technology and this fuel that's a diminishing resource, or should we be looking to actually create this whole new industry?
KURTZ: When we look at the coverage of the presidential campaign and the economic -- I guess you'd call it a crisis here in this country, because we still haven't made the budget cuts that at least S&P thinks we need to make, obviously we all, as journalists, tend to gravitate towards tactics and polls and strategies and attack ads.
KURTZ: But has there been enough focus on the fact that the candidates are not, some would argue, speaking candidly about some of the sacrifices that Americans need to make, both in terms of serious spending cuts, entitlement reform, raising taxes? I mean, different people have taken on different pieces of it.
Has the press gotten serious about this?
FRIEDMAN: Well, it's a very good question. And this is what our new book is about, because our argument is that we're not in the post- subprime crisis. We're actually in a crisis that's 20 years old, that goes back to the end of the Cold War. We dug this hole for 20 years, and we're not --
KURTZ: Living beyond our means.
KURTZ: Spending money we didn't have.
FRIEDMAN: Exactly. And for all those reasons --
KURTZ: Financing wars without (ph) tax cuts.
(CROSSTALK) FRIEDMAN: That we didn't pay for. And not educating our kids, but giving them steroids instead of cheap mortgages and credit. That's a scale (ph) we need.
FRIEDMAN: And so we're not getting out of this in one month, one year, with one presidential jobs program. And that's the honest truth. And no one out there is telling the American people that.
KURTZ: Has there been enough focus in the press -- I mean, we have this big megaphone, right?
FRIEDMAN: Yes, absolutely.
KURTZ: You go on TV, you work for a big newspaper. I guess it becomes less newsworthy because it happens every single day. But the unemployment rate in this country and the people who have been out of work for six months, and the people who have had perfectly good jobs that are not coming back, and yet we get absorbed by the beltway game- playing, who is going to play chicken on the debt ceiling.
What about this long-term trend of Americans not being able to find good jobs?
FRIEDMAN: That's why we wrote a book about it, because, basically, what I see is so much politics is sports now. We have ESPN. Now we have PSPN.
You know, it's really covering politics purely as a sporting event. Who's up? Who's down? What's your batting average? Who slam-dunked who?
All that's missing are the Tarzan outfits, basically, and not stepping back and I think serving -- I'm not a press critic. All I can tell you is that what we did in wanting to write this book is that.
KURTZ: You say you're not a press critic, but what you have just described sounds like a colossal failure on the part of the media establishment. You had the time and the platform to write a book about it with your co-author.
KURTZ: But if we're covering politics like sports, and at the same time you say we're at the culmination of a 20-year crisis, and the country is living beyond its means, and we've got 14 million unemployed, that sounds like there should be a daily drumbeat about a very serious matter. Yet, you say it's sports, you say it's ESPN.
FRIEDMAN: Yes. And that is how I've tried to cover it in my own column. I'm only responsible for myself. Do you know what I mean?
KURTZ: Sure. I'm not asking --
FRIEDMAN: I do think drawing attention to these longer-term trends is something very much part of the story, the news story right now. And again, I'm not surveying the media. I don't -- there's a lot of good journalism out there, too. And so I don't want to sit here and say it's not being done.
All I can tell you is that's what I'm trying to focus on. You're in a much better position. All I know is that a lot of the surface stuff does feel like politics as sports more than looking at these long-term trends.
KURTZ: I'm sure a lot of people would agree that there is too much politics as sports.
KURTZ: And there is some good journalism being done out there.
KURTZ: But I think given the magnitude of the situation we're in, there probably could be a lot more.
Tom Friedman, thanks very much for stopping by.
FRIEDMAN: Thanks, Howie. A pleasure.
KURTZ: I also spoke to Friedman about the recent turmoil in Israel and Syria, as well as the media coverage of Egypt. You can see that exclusively on our Web site, ReliableSources.blogs.CNN.com.
Up next, Buzz Bissinger on the media's role in exposing the scandal at the University of Miami, where football players allegedly got big-time gifts and the coaches are accused of looking the other way.
KURTZ: Sports is an arena that attracts a lot of investigative reporting. But after 11 months of research, Yahoo! correspondent Charles Robinson came up with a blockbuster. Nevin Shapiro, a major financial supporter of the University of Miami's sports teams, who, by the way, is now behind bars for fraud, alleges that he provided millions in illicit benefits to at least 72 football and basketball players over an eight-year period.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHARLES ROBINSON, YAHOO! SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: We've talked to multiple players who have told us, yes, Nevin Shapiro -- on multiple different days. We talked about prostitution, money, a lot of the different benefits that Shapiro provided. Many players who took those benefits admitted to us they didn't want their name attached to it, but said, yes, Nevin Shapiro is telling the truth, these things did happen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: Joining us now from Philadelphia to talk about this story and the way the media portray college sports, Buzz Bissinger, contributing writer for "Vanity Fair," and of course the author of "Friday Night Lights."
Buzz, let's start with the reporting. This investigation by Yahoo's Charles Robinson, `00 interviews, 20,000 pages of records, 5,000 pages of cell phone records. It took a lot to crack this case.
BUZZ BISSINGER, CONTRIBUTING WRITER, "VANITY FAIR": Yes. I mean, it took a hell of a lot. And I've read the story two or three times. I've done investigative reporting, and I think they did a heck of a lot.
A lot of people, a lot of boosters in Miami, a lot of fans, are saying it's just a "he said," the guy is a convicted criminal. Yes, that's true, but they did a lot of other reporting, 11 months, interviewed players who corroborated it, didn't want their names used, which is understandable, and comment, thousands of pages of documents.
And, you know, I don't hear the University of Miami saying this stuff is out of left field. And the same with federal prosecutors who prosecuted him criminally. I mean, they seemed to corroborate it as well. I think Yahoo! Sports did a terrific, tremendous service to college football, which is completely -- and I'm not saying this for hyperbole -- is really out of control.
KURTZ: Well, we'll come back to that.
But you've put your finger on a potential weakness in the story. And yes, it's true that Robinson talked to players, former players, he looked at checks. But Nevin Shapiro is serving 20 years for this giant Ponzi scheme, and Robinson himself told "The Chicago Tribune" that Shapiro had an ax to grind, that players abandoned him when he got into legal trouble. And he's ticked off.
So I suppose it's perfectly natural for someone to question his credibility.
BISSINGER: Well, it's natural to question someone's credibility. A lot of stories, a lot of murder cases depend on witnesses who have unsavory reputations, who have committed crimes. As far as I know, I don't think Shapiro is getting a reduced sentence for this.
And as I say, they just instantly take his word and put it out as a story, which, as you know, is very common today, because a lot of stories are based on one rumor, or one guy just sort of yapping his mouth off. They exhaustedly checked records.
Some of what Shapiro said did come up publicly in his trial. And I don't see many weaknesses in the story. Because you know what? It also makes sense. These players are pissed off, and I understand this. These schools are making millions of dollars off their backs. So why aren't they going to take a thousand bucks here and there?
Players like prostitutes. You know, a lot of people like prostitutes. Why aren't they going to partake in that?
You see the pictures that Yahoo! Sports produced. I mean, this guy is all over these players, and I think they sort of used him as a tool. And I think he is angry, because when push came to shove, they all said, you know, Nevin, go away, you little 5'5" white guy. Go away.
KURTZ: We barely know that guy.
Now, it's striking to me that this story did not break in "The Miami Herald." A lot of people must have known about this given all the players and former players who were involved.
Is there a reluctance by some news organizations to aggressively investigate the sacred cow of the local university teams which most of their readers, of course, are going to root for?
BISSINGER: Well, you know, I don't know if that's true. I mean, a lot of the best stories, for instance, that have been broken by the Kansas City papers, because the NCAA is or was based in Kansas for a long time, I don't know if "The Miami Herald" was shielding this. It's a good question.
"The Miami Herald" is the hometown paper for the Miami Hurricanes. Why they didn't do it, particularly when it came up publicly during the trial, it seemed like everybody knew something was going on. You'd have to ask them.
Maybe Yahoo! Sports got an early beat on it, or maybe Shapiro didn't want to deal with "The Miami Herald." He did, by the way -- you know, they just didn't do one or two interviews with the guy, they did 11 exhaustive interviews.
KURTZ: Right. And I'm not implicating "The Miami Herald." I am saying that I think any local newspaper that wants to take on this kind of corruption at the local university risks facing a backlash.
Now, you wrote, in a column for my Web site, "The Daily Beast," that the NCAA should now, as a result of these voluminous and very troubling allegations, give the University of Miami the death penalty, meaning end the football program. And you also say that the president of the university, Donna Shalala, should resign.
Aren't you kind of jumping the gun here? There hasn't been an investigation of who knew what among the higher-ups.
BISSINGER: Well, you know, I am probably jumping the gun.
KURTZ: You admit it. That's what columnists do, they jump the gun. BISSINGER: But there was a picture that was produced during the investigation by Yahoo! Sports of Donna Shalala accepting a $50,000 check from Nevin Shapiro. That indicates at the very least she knows who this guy is.
I also know for a fact that Donna Shalala finds and thinks that college football is enormously important to the lifeblood of a university. I know that. I interviewed her in the early 1990s, when she was the chancellor at the University of Wisconsin, where she simply said it, football is very, very important.
I was shocked that she said it. And they made a big change to Barry Alvarez, and they became a top 10 power.
I think at the very least, we should find out what she knew. I mean, look what's happening with Murdoch and the News Corporation. There are all these hearings in front of parliament. We're all assuming he must have known. I find it hard to believe that Shalala did not know what was going on when it seems like three-quarters of the athletic department knew what was going on, when this guy was hanging around for 10 years and she's taken a check from him.
KURTZ: Fair question.
Coming up on a break, but front page headline in "The New York Times," "College Football's Ugly Season Facing Scandals of Every Stripe."
How widespread is this sort of conduct, and do the media need to more aggressively investigate?
I seem to have puzzled you with that one. Otherwise, we've lost the connection?
BISSINGER: Oh, no, no. I'm sorry. I must be out to lunch.
KURTZ: More aggressive investigation of corruption in college sports?
BISSINGER: Well, there should be more aggressive investigation. I mean, these stories sort of pop up, you know, once every six months, eight months, you know, 12 months.
BISSINGER: There are numerous programs that are under investigation. There are at least a dozen big-time programs that are under investigation --
KURTZ: We've got to go.
BISSINGER: -- whether it's Ohio State, University of North Carolina, and they should be doing stuff.
KURTZ: A lot of areas out there.
Buzz Bissinger, thanks for joining us.
Still to come, an MSNBC show twists Rick Perry's words; fresh evidence of a cover-up at Murdoch's company in that phone-hacking scandal; and that political reporter who proved the president was wrong.
Our "Media Monitor," straight ahead.
KURTZ: Rick Perry can be loose with his words, but the pundits better be careful about going beyond those words. There's plenty of room to scrutinize the Texas governor without resorting to misleading editing.
Here's a clip of what Perry had to say this week about the federal debt.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Getting America back to work is the most important issue that faces this country, being able to pay off $14.5 trillion or $16 trillion worth of debt. That big black cloud that hangs over America, that debt that is so monstrous --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: And here's how it appeared on MSNBC on "The Ed Schultz Show."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PERRY: Getting America back to work is the most important issue that faces this country, being able to pay off $14.5 trillion or $16 trillion worth of debt. That big black cloud that hangs over America --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCHULTZ: That black cloud Perry is talking about is President Barack Obama.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: No he wasn't. The very next words, as Andrew Breitbart's Web site pointed out, were "that debt." By cutting off the tape, Schultz seemed to be suggesting it was some kind of racial reference.
Perry may be blaming Obama for the debt, just like every other Republican, but he wasn't calling the president a black cloud. Instead, it was a black mark on the MSNBC program.
To his credit, Schultz acknowledged his mistake and apologized. I think it's now fair to accuse Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. of a cover-up. He and his son James insisted to the British parliament they didn't know about the phone-hacking scandal at their now-defunct "News of the World" tabloid, despite mounting evidence that higher-ups were involved. But a letter released this week from the man accused of being a rogue reporter in the hacking made that harder to swallow.
Clive Goodman, who went to jail in the scandal, wrote that hacking into people's voice mail was "widely discussed at the paper," even in daily news meetings -- quoting again -- "until explicit reference to it was banned by the editor." That editor, apparently, Andy Coulson, who went on to become a top aide to Prime Minister David Cameron, and since been arrested in the case.
It never made sense that top executives wouldn't know about a practice that was producing so many scoops. And Murdoch and his minions now have some serious explaining to do.
Finally, here's one I like. Sometimes good reporting doesn't involve digging through dusty documents. An Illinois farmer complained to the president the other day about more rules and regulations involving such matters as dust, noise, and water runoff. And Obama was skeptical, saying, well, just call the USDA.
So Politico reporter MJ Lee did just that, and she got bounced around from the feds, to various state agriculture offices, all without getting a clear answer, with the USDA press office ultimately saying the matter wasn't within the department's jurisdiction. Lee took the president at his word and wound up in a bureaucratic maze that's all too familiar with anyone who's dealt with the government.
Well, that's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.
I'm Howard Kurtz.
We're off next Sunday, ,when CNN will be providing love coverage of the dedication of the Martin Luther King Memorial on the Mall here in Washington, but we'll be back the following week with another critical look at the media.
"STATE OF THE UNION" with Candy Crowley begins right now.