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CNN RELIABLE SOURCES

Obama Administration Accuses Suskind of Distorting Facts; Coverage of GOP Debate; Interview With Connie Schultz; Interview With Nate Silver

Aired September 25, 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: When the president of the United States sits down with an author, that's a pretty good sign the White House is cooperating. But now the Obama administration is savaging the book by Ron Suskind, accusing him of distortion and worse.

Did he nail down the disputed facts? We'll ask him.

Much of the press all but writing off Rick Perry after this week's Fox News debate. Is that fair? And why are journalist promoting the Chris Christie rumors again?

A statistical whiz kid has somehow become the most buzzed about blogger in the political world, and he think some of the media's coverage is pretty clueless. Our conversation with Nate Silver of "The New York Times."

Plus, Pulitzer winner Connie Schultz resigns as a "Cleveland Plain Dealer" columnist after criticism that she was favoring her husband, Senator Sherrod Brown. Can the wife of a politician have a journalism career? She'll be here.

I'm Howard Kurtz, and this is RELIABLE SOURCES.

The pre-game chatter when I was at the Fox News debate in Orlando this week wasn't about the candidates, it was about the lavish spread put on by the co-sponsor, Google, everything from shrimp on a stick, to a smoothie bar, to a guy mixing root beer floats. But the post- game chatter was about whether Rick Perry had blown it.

Politico going so far as to run the headline "Texas Toast?" Well, at least it was a question mark. But as at last week's CNN debate, it was the anchors who peppered Perry with difficult questions and tried to foment a fight with Mitt Romney.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MEGYN KELLY, MODERATOR: Governor Perry, Governor Romney has been hammering you on your idea of turning Social Security back to the states repeatedly. Can you explain specifically how 50 separate Social Security systems are supposed to work?

CHRIS WALLACE, MODERATOR: How do you feel being criticized by a number of these other candidates on the stage for being too soft on immigration, sir?

Governor Romney, the other day Governor Perry called Romneycare socialized medicine.

BRET BAIER, MODERATOR: Governor Romney, I hate to follow up here, but you called Governor Perry unelectable based on his Social Security.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: So, have the media decided to take Perry down?

Joining us now here in Washington, Jennifer Rubin, a "Washington Post" blogger who writes "The Right Turn" column. In New York, David Shuster, chief substitute anchor for Current TV's "Countdown with Keith Olbermann." And in Orlando, Craig Crawford, former "Congressional Quarterly" who blogs at CraigCrawford.com.

David Shuster, no question Rick Perry stumbled on that stage, but is there any question that the media in general, even Fox News, are trying to ruin the governor of Texas?

DAVID SHUSTER, SUBSTITUTE ANCHOR, "COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN": Well, look, I mean, the media lacks a sort of focus on the short term, who won, who lost. And by all accounts, Rick Perry did not have a very good night. But for the media to write him off, or the "Texas Toast?" headline that you referred to in Politico as insanity.

There are a lot more debates. We're still several months away from anybody even really talking about the Iowa caucuses and how that process is going to work.

And so, for somebody to suggest that any candidate is toast, to write off anybody, or to suggest that somebody is simply -- is done is bizarre. And I think it gets to one of the media narratives that you've talk about a long time, and that is the media tends to be so focused on the short term, that they ignore some of the substance of what really comes out in these debates.

KURTZ: Right. And Perry is still leading the polls, of course.

And Jennifer Rubin, conservative pundits on your side of the aisle apoplectic over this performance. William Kristol, the editor of "The Weekly Standard," writing an editorial called, "Yikes," saying Perry's performance is close to disqualifying.

What explains the sense of panic in the conservative punditocracy?

JENNIFER RUBIN, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, I think it's several things.

First of all, it's not just this debate. He's had two other debates in which he did arguably mediocre in the first and really poorly in the second. So it's a series of these. I think there is also a realization by people on the right side of the aisle that he has lacked real substance in this contest, that he repeats the same platitudes in what he is done in Texas and kind of gestures to Texas, but hasn't really set forth any specifics. I think --

KURTZ: Do you would say the panic is justified?

RUBIN: I would. And talking to people in the party, operatives, people in Florida, where he lost very badly in the straw poll on Saturday --

KURTZ: OK. Hold on. A straw poll of 2,500 people. Remember how we all said the Iowa straw poll was really important because Michele Bachmann won it? I don't think so.

RUBIN: Well, if you're the front-runner, and you participate in these and really try to win them, and you lose, that's significant. And he lost also badly in Michigan. So I think there's something to this.

KURTZ: Let me go to Craig Crawford, who's still on location in Orlando.

Those Fox anchors not only went after Rick Perry pretty hard, but they invited Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney to beat him up, as well. So of course you're going to get headlines the next day saying Perry under fire.

CRAIG CRAWFORD, CRAIGCRAWFORD.COM: Yes. And, you know, what we've seen with the media on the flip side of what David said, rushing to write off candidates, I think it's crazy to name front-runners this early.

I mean, look at the history of that. We've had people like Howard Dean and Wesley Clark named front-runners this early -- Hillary Clinton, Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson. The list goes on. I don't know why we have to name front-runners so early.

And this group here these last three days, in talking to these delegates, Howard, they are soft on Perry and Romney. And that's what led the way for Cain.

They are very much taken aback by what they see as Governor Perry's liberal views on treating illegal immigrants. They are underwhelmed by Romney's -- what they see as his technocratic style, and they are very much tired of the bickering between Romney and Perry. I hard that a lot.

KURTZ: Craig, I want to bring this back to the media's performance.

And let me ask David Shuster, because you worked at Fox a long time ago, it's a news network with a lot of conservative anchors, obviously --

SHUSTER: And I still have a lot of friends there, too.

KURTZ: Conservative hosts, I should say, not anchors.

But isn't this the third debate where the Fox moderators -- in this case, Megyn Kelly, Bret Baier, Chris Wallace -- asked pretty tough and aggressive questions of the candidates?

SHUSTER: Look, they did ask some tough questions, but there were also some questions, Howard, that were frankly incredibly silly and stupid. I mean, for Megyn Kelly to suggest -- for her to ask Mitt Romney, oh, are you going to call President Obama socialist, too, or for Bret Baier to say, wait a second, how are you going to turn this country around, candidates, you have 30 seconds, I mean, it is not that simple. And to the extent that journalists -- yes, they did ask some sharp questions, and there was some substance that came out, but for the journalists it almost seemed, Howard, like they ran out of time, like they were just throwing things up there, and what they did by --

KURTZ: What's wrong with seeing whether Romney would take the bait and pander to the right by using the "S" word, socialism, against President Obama, as some of --

(CROSSTALK)

SHUSTER: Because the better way to enlighten people and voters is to say, what do you view as socialism, as opposed to saying do you agree with a conservative label that may or may not apply. They could have asked specifics about, what is your view about socialism? And then, do you believe how much of that is President Obama's?

Likewise, instead of saying, how are you going to turn the country around in 30 seconds, why don't you ask a specific question like, what's the most important thing that you can do to turn the country around? Instead, what they do is they suggest that this is al jingoistic, it's all simplistic, problems can be solved so simply. And what it does is it contributes to the dumbing down of the electorate. And for all of the smart questions that Fox asks, there were also some pretty stupid ones at that debate.

KURTZ: All right. Now -- go ahead, Craig.

CRAWFORD: Howard, my favorite debate ever was the California debate with Schwarzenegger and all the crowd when they had no moderator, when the candidates just talked to each other, asked each other questions.

KURTZ: You're going to put journalists out of work, Craig.

CRAWFORD: I don't like journalists as moderators to begin with.

(CROSSTALK)

SHUSTER: Well, wait a second, Howard. If you're going to have journalists as moderators, at least pick people that have experience covering politics. I mean, Bret Hume, Carl Cameron. There are a lot of folks at Fox News who bring a certain level of sophistication to their understanding of politics. And I think when Fox News goes to the Megyn Kellys, the Bret Baiers, and people who don't have much experience, who haven't covered campaigns, the result is, sometimes you have these inane questions that come out and, frankly, waste everybody's time.

KURTZ: Well, I didn't think there were that many inane questions. And Chris Wallace certainly has a lot of experience covering politics.

But before I go to you, Jennifer -- Craig, did the YouTube videos, the Google searches, and all that, did you think that added something to the debate, or was it kind of a distraction?

CRAWFORD: It certainly brought the most provocative moment of all when the gay soldier asked a question on video and the crowd reacted. And we've been talking about it ever since.

I actually think some of those questions, if they're carefully chosen, are -- they're more from the heart. They're from the grassroots. Those are the kinds of questions I actually like best. I don't like journalists as moderators in these things.

One technical thing I liked about these last couple of debates is letting the crowd react. I don't like seeing journalists constantly admonishing the crowd to shut up. And that's one reason these have been more entertaining debates, is they've just opened up the spigot to let the audience be part of the show.

KURTZ: Well, for those who didn't see it, Stephen Hill is the gay soldier who appeared on YouTube and talked about how he had to keep his sexuality private because he didn't want to lose his job. And the crowd booed. And I thought it was just an credible moment. And I'm surprised that none of the anchors and the media generally haven't made more of that, just as there was a booing at the CNN debate when Wolf Blitzer asked a question about a -- what would you do if somebody didn't have health insurance died in an emergency room? The crowd cheered.

Crowds can do whatever they want, but I think some of this behavior should not go unremarked by those of us in the news business.

Now, I want to turn to you, Jennifer --

CRAWFORD: Yes, and none of the candidates --

KURTZ: Go ahead.

CRAWFORD: Well, what about the candidates? I mean, the candidates saw this crowd booing a soldier. I can't believe none of them stood up to the mob.

RUBIN: Well, let me respond to that, actually. And it wasn't the entire crowd. There were about two or three people.

And I think just as the media perhaps shouldn't ignore it, they shouldn't exaggerate it and make it seem like the entire room was booing. They weren't.

KURTZ: That's a fair point.

Now, you have been blogging in the last couple of days about Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey. Maybe he's going to reconsider, maybe he's going to get in.

This is a guy who said on numerous occasions, he's not running for president, he doesn't feel like he's ready to run for president.

What does he have to do, commit suicide, to convince you people in the press that he's not running for president? Isn't this kind of a media fantasy you're indulging?

RUBIN: No. He's changing his mind.

KURTZ: He's changing his mind?

RUBIN: I mean, this is based on real reporting. I mean, I've spoken to people within the Christie campaign. I've spoken to other people around. They are no longer denying it. They're no longer using the "suicide" line. I was told over the weekend --

KURTZ: He's not going to kill himself?

RUBIN: He's not going to kill himself, but he may run. And I'm also told that he doesn't have a Mitch Daniels problem. That is, a wife who's not supportive.

He is talking to real people. That's donors, that's policy thinkers within the Republican Party.

This is a reconsideration. It's real. He has seen the meltdown of Rick Perry. He has seen a lack of specificity in terms of bold reforms. And he is now reconsidering that, maybe I am the best that the Republican Party has.

KURTZ: What is it -- I have got half a minute here -- where journalists and columnists are always pining for somebody who's not in the race to get into the race?

CRAWFORD: Well, Howard --

CRAWFORD: Let me stick with Jennifer, Craig.

RUBIN: Right. I think part of that --

(CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: Just a minute. Let me stick with Jennifer, please.

Go ahead.

RUBIN: Thank you.

I think there's two things. One, this reflects in large part what we're hearing from members of the party. So I think it's not the press that's always pining, I think constituents, voters are always pining for the perfect candidate, the man on the white horse.

KURTZ: Conservative columnists love Chris Christie.

RUBIN: Well, they do, but I'm sure when he enters, there will be criticism of him, too. And they'll probably be looking for someone else. I think it's human nature.

But I think there's also something else --

SHUSTER: And Howard, they also love Jeb Bush. And to the extent we're talking about people who are not in the race, that benefits those people regardless of whether it's Chris Christie or Jeb Bush or Sarah Palin, because it suggests the mainstream Republicans in the current field is inadequate. And that helps somebody who wants to get in late.

KURTZ: To be continued.

David Shuster, Craig Crawford, Jennifer Rubin, thanks for joining us.

When we come back, the book the White House has been trying so hard to discredit. Author Ron Suskind on how he reported it and how he responds to the administration's pushback.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Ron Suskind had all kinds of cooperation from the White House for his new book on the administration, interviews of plenty of top advisers, and nearly an hour with the president himself. But it turns out the Obama team doesn't much like the book and has pushed back hard, with some top officials denying they said what the book quotes them as saying.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: What we know is that very simple things, facts that could be ascertained, dates, titles, statistics, quotes, are wrong in this book. So I think that -- in fact, one passage seems to be lifted almost entirely from Wikipedia in the book. That analysis is wrong. Tim Geithner, who lived it, just told you that it bears no resemblance to the reality he lived.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KURTZ: The book is "Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President." And Ron Suskind joins me now here in the studio.

Welcome.

You spent a couple of years on this book. As I said, you had a lot of cooperation, a lot of access. And now the White House has mounted this campaign -- there's no other word -- this campaign against you. This must tick you off.

RON SUSKIND, AUTHOR, "CONFIDENCE MEN": Well, you know, the fact of the matter is, Howie, when the book was completed through this summer, I got a sense that the reaction would be different than what it might have been in the spring. When we were coming at the end of the reporting, after the interview with the president and the final areas of reporting, the president was sort of riding a very strong wave.

I think the White House felt very good about many of these disclosures being in a part of the presidency that they viewed as over, that the president had evolved and moved past it. That's what he says strongly.

KURTZ: But then things got worse for the president.

SUSKIND: Right. That looked like a false spring very quickly by the end of the book.

And what I did at the finish of the book, as I've pointed out, is I went back to everybody again and again to say, look, this is what the book says next to your name. Let's talk about it so you understand and you're ready for that. And frankly, the White House knew everything that was in the book prior to publication.

KURTZ: There is a lot of reporting in this book. You talked to a lot of people. You have got internal memos.

When the White House press secretary stands up there and says you're plagiarizing a passage, I mean, that is a concerted effort to discredit you.

SUSKIND: Yes. You know, I've had a lot of pushback. Sometimes we get a lot of pushback when these books come out. They pull back a curtain on something that heretofore has not been revealed. Certainly Bob Woodward has had his examples, other reporters and writers as well.

I, during the Bush era, on all three books, certainly the first book, which really was similar to this in pulling back the curtain of the Bush administration, they were vigorous. If you recall, they filed a frivolous federal investigation against me and Paul O'Neill, which of course dissolved a few months later.

KURTZ: So you're used to this. But hasn't the Obama team succeeded in this respect -- when your book first came out, the headlines were about dysfunctional administration, president -- inexperienced president not ready to govern, and women in the White House felt that they were being given short shrift.

Now all of the stories and interviews, and I guess we're doing it here to some extent, are about the credibility of Ron Suskind. So was this a tactic to make you the issue?

SUSKIND: I think that as people read the book, they're often surprised to say this is not sensational, this is very well sourced. It's complete, it's credible, and in the book, there are long passages of responses from the key actors to all of the major disclosures.

That was part of the idea of making the book complete as a text in and of itself. I think much of the attacks, they came prior to the book being in people's hands. Now that it is in people's hands, already that is turning.

KURTZ: But does it disappoint you that some of the criticism from people in this administration has been so personal towards you?

SUSKIND: You know, Howie, you know as well as anybody it's a tough town. Many of the folks who were praising me mightily during the Bush era -- these are the most definitive works on George Bush, this is the historical record -- now are doing their best to struggle really to discredit those books and discredit this book.

KURTZ: Are you suggesting it's ideological, that some people who were liberals are perfectly happy to have you go after President Bush and not so happy to have you go after Barack Obama?

SUSKIND: Well, certainly many commentators have pointed that out. That's not just me. I think that's part of the way this works.

When they look at this president, I think that this book will help people on balance get involved in a more thorough analysis of how we got here. This is a difficult time for everyone in America. We're feeling enormous pressure. Is America in a decline? This economic nightmare is growing, it seems, and I think the point of the book is to look at that clearly so we can have a more fulfilling and more productive discussion, and I think that's already happening.

KURTZ: Let's get into some of the details.

The most attention has turned on Anita Dunn, the former White House communications director, because of a fairly explosive thing that you quoted her as saying, that the White House would be in court for hostile workplace in terms of the attitude toward women. You actually played a tape of your interview with Anita Dunn for a "Washington Post" reporter, and here's the full quote --

SUSKIND: Yes.

KURTZ: "I remember one I told Valerie" -- that's Valerie Jarrett, White House official -- "if it weren't for the president, this place would be a court for hostile workplace." In the book, you took out the six words, "If it weren't for the president," which seems to me to change the meaning of what Anita Dunn said.

SUSKIND: Right. I said and "The Washington Post" has reported that that was at Anita Dunn's request. At the end of the process, I called back Anita -- as I said, I called back all the key sources. I talked to her about the quote.

She was quite vigorous in saying, this is the way I think this the quote is most appropriate to what I believe as it appeared in the book. The issue about the president per se is one that I said, "Anita, I never was sure what you meant by that. If it's a hostile workplace and the president is not involved, as you and others have said, what difference would it make if you were there or not?" She says, "You're right, that doesn't make sense."

So the point --

KURTZ: Whether she asked you to or not, taking those six words out really changes the impact of what she is saying. Why didn't you as an author give us the full quote so we can make up our minds?

SUSKIND: Well, the fact is, Howie, is that with a quote like that, you press the subject. And you say, is this what you really mean? And if so, how? And if not, why not? So that they can stand up and take ownership of this quote when the lights come up.

This was something I did for Anita Dunn. And this is the quote that she accepted, to say this is what I truly believe.

The core of the quote about it being a hostile workplace does not change, but her point was that, I said it in present tense in the spring. Looking back, this is true to what I believe. And that's how the quote appear in the book.

KURTZ: Well, she continues to be unhappy with your rendering of it.

SUSKIND: But I think that issue is now settled.

KURTZ: Christina Romer, former economic adviser, also talking about the way the White House staff, the boys, so to speak, treated women. "I felt like a piece of meat after some of the meetings." Christina Romer now says, "I can't imagine saying that."

SUSKIND: Yes. Well, Christina and I talked for many, many hours. She said many, many things.

When the first call came on that, I simply don't think she remembered. I talked to her later. She didn't remember saying that.

So she said, "I can't imagine saying that." Christina said many, many things that were in line with that quote, or in many cases, even more dramatic than that quote.

But again, this is part of the pushback that's happening, where the White House is calling everybody and saying, are you loyal to the president? Certainly say something now, which in some ways kicks up dust about this book that we feel hurts him.

KURTZ: Hold it. You're making a serious allegation. You're saying that some of these former officials are disputing what they said to you because they're under pressure from the Obama White House, not because they disagree with your rendering of events.

SUSKIND: In a moment like this, when the president is seen under attack by a book in which they are a main character, they're going to feel pressure, period. They're going to feel pressured by simply living in America. At a moment like this, they do get calls. I'm not saying they did get calls. I don't know that. But it is indisputable that that's what happens. That's the way the world works.

KURTZ: Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, as you know -- you have an account in the book that he basically dragged his feet on coming up with a plan to restructure Citigroup, which was in deep financial trouble.

SUSKIND: That's right.

KURTZ: He denies this vigorously. That seems like a pretty substantive disputes between your account and what the treasury secretary says.

SUSKIND: I would direct readers to two pages in the book from a long-taped interview with the treasury secretary. Again, prior to publication, when people were confronted with the disclosures, right up to the president, where Tim responds step by step to what the evidence indicates in terms of the Citibank issue and the Citibank incident.

I think it's important people are now moving, reporters are now moving to the Pete Rouse memo which is there in full in the book, which says that Treasury, in cases, in instances, relitigated, meaning they essentially ignored or tried to re-debate issues when they disagreed with the president. I think the area of coverage now is asking the White House, what are those instances, how many instances, in what areas, on what issues? Because, interestingly, it shows where the president wanted to do something, but Treasury, for whatever reason, was not moving based on the president's will.

(CROSSTALK)

KURTZ: I just want to explain that Pete Rouse is a top White House official --

SUSKIND: Yes. Sorry.

KURTZ: Let me move to the broader question. Why would -- because there's a lot more here in the book than these incidents.

SUSKIND: Absolutely.

KURTZ: But these incidents are helping you sell the book, and the controversy, let's face it, helps you sell the book.

Why would these top government officials, people very experienced at dealing with the press, tell you over a period of time these negative and sometimes embarrassing things despite even given the fact that, you know, the White House was cooperating and the president gave you an interview? Why would they say this, knowing one day it would be between hard covers?

SUSKIND: Well, you know, their own context to many things in the book -- there are many things in the book that I think are positive about the president. The president finishes with a great burst, I think, in the last third of the book, which was part of the goal of the book, is to show the evolution of this man, frankly, across four years. And when people talk for hour after hour about their actual experiences, it is a truth that they own, they will tell you everything they know.

KURTZ: But are they confiding -- you're not their friend. You're there as a journalist.

SUSKIND: Sure.

KURTZ: And yet, they are saying things, and you say they are saying things --

SUSKIND: Of course.

KURTZ: -- that ordinarily they wouldn't tell reporters.

SUSKIND: We develop long-source reporter relationships that often stretch across years. And I have those relationships, those source reporter relationships -- again, common for all reporters -- with many, many sources, all of whom live at the same time and the same experiences.

KURTZ: And they know you're not writing this for the next day's paper or for the next week's magazine.

SUSKIND: Exactly.

(CROSSTALK)

SUSKIND: And I think that's a key advantage that all of we book writers understand, is especially an advantage at a time when there's a lot of access journalism. If you write something bad in a newspaper, you may lose access the next day. We can spend years in some cases getting at least a first draft of a record of this period.

KURTZ: All right. Ron Suskind, thanks very much for coming in this morning. We appreciate it.

Coming up in the second part of RELIABLE SOURCES, clashing careers. Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Connie Schultz talks about why being married to a senator led her to give up her longtime jobs at "The Cleveland Plain Dealer."

Then, the blogger who makes political predictions based on nothing but statistics. Nate Silver of "The New York Times" on his "538" blog and why he says media coverage often misses the boat.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: Connie Schultz has worked for "The Cleveland Plain Dealer" for 18 years. Back in 2006, she took a leave of absence to campaign for her husband, Sherrod Brown, a Democrat who won a Senate seat from Ohio. Earlier this month, Schultz covered a Tea Party event, but made no mention of one of the speakers, Ohio State Treasurer Josh Mandel, who attacked her husband. She later apologized.

Connie Schultz resigned from the paper this week, saying her position had become untenable. She joins me now from Cleveland.

Good morning.

CONNIE SCHULTZ, FMR. COLUMNIST, "THE PLAIN DEALER": Good morning.

KURTZ: Your husband's been a senator for almost five years. What was the tipping point that made you decide to give up your column now?

SCHULTZ: Well, first of all, I want to make it clear, I'm still writing a syndicated column for Creators, and I'm so glad for that. Creators came to me in 2007.

And I'm also writing essays for "Parade." So I'm not resigning from journalism, I resigned from "The Plain Dealer."

It's the largest paper in the state of Ohio, and it continues to cover my husband's Senate race, which it should. He's running for re- election.

And I found that, increasingly, it's very different back in 2006 and now both for me professionally, but also for how it's working out there in politics. And I just felt I was getting a bigger target on my back, and I was going to make my editors worry too much.

They had been so supportive. They did not want me to leave. But they understood why I did.

KURTZ: With the benefit of hind side, was it naive kind of to believe that you could write a column for Ohio's biggest newspaper while being married to a United States senator?

SCHULTZ: Of course not. I've been doing it since -- well, first of all, let's be clear.

I started writing the column in 2002, before I even met Sherrod. And I was married to Sherrod in 2004, at the age of 46. And I've been writing a column throughout this period of time.

I had been writing a column for nine years. So I don't get how that's naive. I've been doing this for quite sometime now.

KURTZ: But you seemed to suggest you that were under some pressure and your bosses were under some pressure from those who either don't like your husband or just felt that you had a built-in conflict.

SCHULTZ: No, I think what has changed for me is I finally just want to be unleashed. And that's how I feel by leaving "The Plain Dealer" at this point, because I love that paper. I have so much respect for so many people who work there.

I don't want to become a distraction for them trying to do their jobs. And I want to keep writing and weighing in on issues that matter deeply to me.

A number of papers picked me up just this week after my resignation, which means a great deal to me. And I'm in "Parade" magazine today, as a matter of fact, in their issue.

I'm doing what I've always done. I'm just eliminating one of the distractions.

And I'm reminded of two of quotes from Lucille Clifton, the late poet. I've had these on my two desktop computers for years.

"What they call you is one thing. What you answer to is something else." And I am married to Sherrod Brown, but I do not define myself or my life as being a senator's wife.

KURTZ: You, as well -- I totally understand that. You had a very successful journalism career before you even met him. And so, does some part of you kind of resent this? I mean, you are giving up the job at this paper that you love in part because of the perception problem, perhaps?

SCHULTZ: No. You know, I love that old quote, "Resentment is when you drink the poison and expect the other person to suffer." I'm not big on resentment.

I did this because I wanted to do this now for my life and my career. I'm working on a third book, and my future looks very different to me now than it did back in 2006.

You mentioned that I took a leave of absence. I did not take a leave of absence initially to campaign for Sherrod. I took a leave of absence because I was worried that my column was going to be become increasingly constricted by my choice because I was afraid of giving the impression of championing anything that Sherrod was actually talking about on the campaign trail.

This time around, I really just want to be able to be set free and write what I want to write, focus on national issues. You know, when you write for a regional newspaper -- and I chose to stay at "The Plain Dealer" all these years. I wanted to.

I loved being this liberal columnist in the Midwest. And I will continue that in syndication. But when you write for a regional paper, you also have to cover the region more.

KURTZ: Sure.

SCHULTZ: And now I won't have to do that as much. Now I can just write and weigh in on national issues, which I'm looking forward to.

KURTZ: What went through your mind at that Tea Party event when one of the state's top Republicans attacked your husband and you decided not to quote him?

SCHULTZ: The reason I didn't quote him is because, while he's an undeclared candidate -- it's Ohio State Treasurer Josh Mandel, an undeclared candidate against my husband, but he is raising money obviously to run against my husband. My concern was I didn't want to look like I was covering him at all. I wasn't, and I had not intended to -- first of all, he wasn't an announced speaker there. I didn't know he was going to be there.

I went to the Tea Party because it was part of that Tea Party Express. Do you remember when it was going around the country? And it was going to be the only stop in Ohio, and it was right down the street from my house.

And I've been criticized by readers, rightly so, I think, for being very critical of the Tea Party members without actually going to any of their events. So I decided to go to this event, which was at a public stadium. It was a ballpark that my community where I live in actually voted for an income tax increase to help fund it.

KURTZ: Right.

SCHULTZ: So I was there as a journalist covering a public event. I had been there about two hours interviewing a lot of people.

KURTZ: I'm short on time. But in retrospect, you think the omission, not quoting him, was a mistake?

SCHULTZ: No. No, the mistake I made was when I held up -- what happens, they kicked out another photographer. I found out they kicked out a photographer of the Democratic Party.

When I held up my camera, I was being a journalist, saying you cannot cherry-pick who covers a public official's speech at a public event. What I had not anticipated was that a blogger for that candidate would hold up a camera, focus on me, and make it a post.

KURTZ: All right. Well, we'll continue to follow your work elsewhere.

Connie Schultz, thanks very much for joining us.

SCHULTZ: Thank you.

KURTZ: We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KURTZ: Let's toss it to CNN's Candy Crowley, who has the latest on those two American hikers -- Candy.

CANDY CROWLEY, HOST, "STATE OF THE UNION": They have returned home, Howie, to the good old USA. Shane Bauer and Joshua Fattal, along with their close family members, as well as Sarah Shourd, who is the fiancee to Shane Bauer, have touched down at JFK Airport.

Now, the pictures you're seeing right there are when they were released from Iran about four days ago and came to Oman. What we know now is that they have arrived at JFK here in New York.

There are no pictures of this at the moment because of security concerns. We do expect at some point to have some pictures, at least of that flight over. CNN did have a photographer on board.

Right now we want to go to JFK, where standing by is our Susan Candiotti.

Susan, can you tell what sort of reception they're going to have, or is this all being done sort of privately?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we can tell you -- you alluded to one of our employees on board that flight. And he told us that Josh Fattal, one of the two freed hikers, had a big grin on his face right after the plane landed, and that the family members -- they all moved to the front of the plane so they could be the first ones off.

They were to have a brief family reunion here with other relative who were to meet them at the airport. And then, we were to get a picture of them walking out, but because of security concerns, as you indicated, that's not happening.

However, they will be appearing at a press conference later today in New York City. And I am told that in prepared remarks -- they won't take any questions -- that the two hikers will be very frank about their conditions while they were held for those two years in Iran.

So we'll have a full report on that, live coverage of that news conference, later today -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Susan Candiotti at JFK, where Shane Bauer, Josh Fattal, and their families have touched down, a very long trip from Oman to JFK. They, of course, had been imprisoned in Iran for more than two years.

I want to bring in our Elise Labott, who is a producer at the State Department.

And ask you, Elise, why now? I mean, it's been more than two years since they were hitchhiking along the Iraq/Iran border. They, along with Sarah Shourd, were both detained by the Iranians, put on trial. She was released on humanitarian reasons. Now, after two years, suddenly they're out.

Why is that?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN SR. STATE DEPARTMENT PRODUCER: I think, Candy, that they -- the Iranians came to the conclusion that they weren't really getting the bang for their buck anymore with these hikers. This was really becoming an international incident. They had hoped maybe they could get some leverage with the United States, maybe make a trade for some Iranian detainees that they felt were unjustly detained in U.S. jails. And that just wasn't happening.

And as I said, this became an internal incident. Because the U.S. and Iran don't have relations, the Swiss were getting involved, the Omanis, and international celebrities. So I think it was -- as President Ahmadinejad came to New York, I think they felt it was time to let them go -- Candy.

CROWLEY: No longer useful in the PR department.

LABOTT: No.

CROWLEY: Elise Labott, thank you so much.

Once again, Shane Bauer and Joshua Fattal, back in the U.S. after two years, more than two years in prison in Iran. We do expect that they will hold a news conference, without question, sometime later this afternoon. CNN, of course, will be there.

We want to go back now though to Howard Kurtz and RELIABLE SOURCES.

KURTZ: Thanks, Candy.

Blogger Nate Silver of "The New York Times" in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: He's a 33-year-old data-driven dude who digs deeply into everything from campaigns to hurricanes. Blogger Nate Silver took his act to "The New York Times," and I sat down with him this week in New York.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: Nate Silver, welcome.

NATE SILVER, "NEW YORK TIMES": Yes. Thank you, Howard.

KURTZ: Before you got into writing about politics, you had kind of a cult following in analyzing the statistics of baseball. What did you find so absorbing about analyzing that sport?

SILVER: I like -- I guess I like numbers, period. And I had grown up in Michigan, so I was 6 years old when the Tigers won the World Series in '84.

I think just those things coming together where, you know, it was a big thing to do with my dad and my friends. You know, and I felt like even -- I was 10 or 11 years old. I would invent new statistics, which I probably wouldn't think are very good now.

But, you know, it's a way to be more hands on as you follow something so it's not quite so passive. And -- KURTZ: I can guess which side of the jocks versus nerds debate you came out on.

SILVER: Definitely, yes. You know, I think --

KURTZ: But then, when you made the turn into writing about politics, you started out as an anonymous blogger for the liberal Web site "Daily Kos." Why the secrecy?

SILVER: I mean, at the time I wanted to -- I mean, I had my job, I was running a spaceball company, a spaceball startup, basically. And politics and sports don't always mix so well. I tried to -- I'm on the blog now. But I guess I wanted to have some distance.

I'm not a big fan of anonymity on the Internet in general. And then it kind of became -- people were asking me for interview requests and saying, "Can we run your stuff?" And so I dropped that fairly quickly. But, you know, it was a good transition, I think, to feel things out a little bit more.

KURTZ: Some people would say there's a lot in common in the coverage of sports and politics. But, you know, when you took your independent "538" blog to "The New York Times," did you worry at all that it would lose a little pizzazz, that you would have to watch your tone more carefully now?

SILVER: I think with "The New York Times," you're writing for a wider audience. And I assume that people might come in from the front page and read the piece. So, you know, the blog's targeted at a general -- I mean, certainly, like a high interest in politics audience, a literate audience. Right? But an audience that I'm not assuming is a partisan audience.

And if I make an argument that's saying this side is doing better than the other, I think it has to be framed in a way that people can be sympathetic to and agree to. And one thing I look at a lot is, you know, who is following me and who is re-tweeting me and who's debating against me, but in a respectful way? And it seems like we get about equal traffic from liberal and conservative blogs.

KURTZ: So you're keeping -- you're making more of an effort to keeping your personal political opinions out of it?

SILVER: Well, the easy thing with this is that we're mostly looking at the numbers. And, you know, I mean, last year, it was pretty clear that Democrats were going to get slaughtered in the election, right?

KURTZ: There's no way to spin that.

SILVER: There's no way to spin that, right? It's clear this year, that Obama could be in a lot of trouble. I think it's kind of a 50/50 election.

I think if you stay with that kind of stuff, then it's hard to get yourself in too much trouble. I mean, if you look at policy debates, they can be more difficult.

And that's one reason why I try and steer clear of stuff. We did cover health care last year. I wasn't personally thrilled with everything -- with how we managed to do that and the context of everything else.

KURTZ: So you did -- coming back to politics, you did a post saying Obama is not a lock. You were taking on an analysis by professor Allan Lichtman, who you said didn't give enough weight to the economy. But you also -- let me just run through some other posts.

Michele Bachmann, 1 in 25 chance, you say, of winning the Republican nomination. Where do those numbers come from? That's pretty specific.

SILVER: Well, there are places where you can go online and bet on this like you can bet on everything else. And that's about where she is.

KURTZ: I don't engage in that sort of thing.

SILVER: I don't either. I don't either. That would be a conflict of interest.

KURTZ: But this is your take that she's got a 1 in 25 --

SILVER: So, it's looking at the numbers, and it's looking at what happens when candidates are this far down in the polls. And also, in her case, she appeals to a relatively narrow constituency.

People talk about how conservative Republicans are, but I'm not sure they're quite that conservative. And Rick Perry is someone who I think has taken a lot of what her support might have been.

KURTZ: And yet, Rick Perry, you write, Nate Silver writes, is "not as electable as many people might think."

SILVER: I think that's right. I mean, I think, over time, candidates tend to do better when they're closer to the middle of the spectrum. And Romney, I think, might do four or five points better in a general election than Rick Perry would, which isn't a huge number, but considering that it might be quite close, depending on where the economic numbers come in, you know -- I mean, I'll put it like this -- I think based on what we know right now, and things can change, I would say Mitt Romney is a favorite to beat Barack Obama next year, and I would say Rick Perry is probably a slight underdog.

KURTZ: And, of course, that could change 50 times between now and then.

But you're not just -- there are a lot of armchair pundits out there. When you come to these conclusions, and sometimes you're right, sometimes you're wrong, you are looking at polls and other data. You're kind of a data-driven guy. SILVER: That's the idea, right, to be as data-driven as possible? So, you look at polls, you look at political science research that might have been done, you conduct your own analyses. Even things that seem like they're kind of abstract and arbitrary can be quantifiable.

If you look at, for example, how much media coverage is Sarah Palin getting, it's actually dropped quite a bit. You can just go through LexisNexis or other online resources and see how often her names is mentioned at the top of each articles.

So, you know, almost everything you can find a way to quantify. I think we do try and make clear that it's not always perfect, that sometimes it's just a take and it's just an angle, and we encourage debate. We have a feature we post every three weeks where we basically post comments that were critical of things we wrote, and we try to be very open about it.

KURTZ: So you let people take a swipe at you.

SILVER: I think so.

KURTZ: You enjoy the debate.

SILVER: I think like -- I enjoy the debate. I used to be a debater in high school.

KURTZ: You did?

SILVER: Yes.

KURTZ: But you also enjoy taking on the press. Sometimes it's kind of embedded in what you write, sometimes a little more explicit. For example, you say there's just too much hyperventilating over each individual poll by journalists who are sort of hungry for the latest numbers, or here's the trend.

SILVER: Sure.

KURTZ: Who makes you say that?

SILVER: I mean, there is an element implicitly -- I guess and explicitly sometimes -- of media criticism and what I do. Part of the reason I got into it was because I felt like watching MSNBC and Fox News and CNN during 2007, when I started writing about politics, you have the same kind of cliches repeat every day, and maybe the wrong themes emphasized. And so I got into it as someone who had seen what happened in baseball, where I thought the coverage had gotten a lot smarter, and said maybe we could have some of this for politics as well.

KURTZ: So you were the guy yelling at the TV set, "No, that's wrong!"

SILVER: Not really yelling, but frustrated enough. But I think in general, there's a media that covers politics, and it's their jobs, and so they tend to maybe overemphasize how important the story on any one given day is.

KURTZ: This debate, this poll, this --

SILVER: A debate --

KURTZ: -- this sound bite.

SILVER: But I think the sound bites are -- you know, one example might be this controversy over when the Obama speech would be scheduled, which was important for two days, until he gave the speech, and then everyone had something more substantive to talk about, which is not to say that -- you know, we've had some very consequential Republican debates this year. Tim Pawlenty's entire candidacy, which had been planned for more than a year, basically went poof because of his performance in two two-hour debates. And so they can be significant.

And Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann, those debates have been pretty interesting this year. I think the special election in New York was interesting. But when there's not real news like that, when it's just kind of the beltway stuff, where the audience is quite narrow, and it's so early before the election, then that stuff can get overemphasized.

KURTZ: So you seem to be suggesting that reporters are a little quick on the trigger, and sometimes they make a lot out of not much, an occupational hazard, and maybe that they don't pay enough attention to the kind of statistics that you thrive on?

SILVER: Well, I mean, part of it is that if you look at the way elections are decided, it's maybe 50 percent about the economy and 25 percent about the candidates and 25 percent kind of mystery, right? And those fundamentals don't change very much over the course of a year, where the story is basically like, well, Obama's in a fair amount of trouble, but the economy can get better and Perry will be easier to beat that Romney. And that's really going to be the headline for most of the next six months, unless there are major scandals, unless there are major shakeups in the Republican campaign.

KURTZ: The 25 percent mystery fascinates me.

SILVER: I know.

KURTZ: Because we don't know what's going to happen.

SILVER: We can't predict perfectly.

KURTZ: Right.

SILVER: And by political science models, then Gore, for example, should have defeated Bush in 2000.

KURTZ: Now, I can just imagine reporters out there watching and saying, well, your approach, Nate Silver, very interesting, but it's kind of bloodless, you're kind of inside this academic bubble.

SILVER: Sure.

KURTZ: You're dealing with numbers and you're divorced from the messiness of the real world when it comes to politics. I'll give you a chance to respond to that.

SILVER: Well, I think one thing we try and emphasize in all the products that we put out there is that there's a lot of uncertainty. I think do sometimes political scientists or sometimes people who take political science research overestimate the certainty associated with some conclusions.

It's true, for example, that the economy is a major, major determinant of presidential elections, and that if the economy is close to recession next year, Obama is a favorite to lose. But it's not for sure.

I mean, Harry Truman won in '48 when he had a low approval rating and the economy was in recession at the time of the election. You know, you can go back to McKinley, in 1900, who won with a recession. And there are cases of politicians who, like Gore, who had a good economy and then lost.

KURTZ: Nate Silver, thanks very much for joining us.

SILVER: Thank you, Howard.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KURTZ: More RELIABLE SOURCES in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KURTZ: I've been interviewing Roger Ailes for a piece in this week's "Newsweek." And while I don't have time to tell you much about it, what's interesting is that he's held private meetings with some of the leading Republican candidates, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, and often seems to sympathize with the politicians against the press in the way they are treated by the media.

He talked about fair and balanced journalism, as you might expect. I asked him about that, and Roger Ailes said this: "Every other network has given all their shows" -- take that down. We're going to read something else.

"Every other network has given all their shows to liberals. "We," says Roger Ailes, "are the balance."

That's it for this edition of RELIABLE SOURCES.

Thank you for watching.

Let me turn things over now to Candy Crowley and "STATE OF THE UNION," which is up right now.